Thunderbolt moves up - and down

The slow-mo rollout of Thunderbolt peripherals continues with some critical milestones, including the first Thunderbolt product to add only $100 to retail cost. But that's not all.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

Thunderbolt is serious I/O for serious users. Here's the latest.

Blackmagic The folks at Blackmagic Design an innovative maker of video products, announced their Intensity Extreme Thunderbolt video capture card. I used this card in my old Mac Pro and have dropped back to HDV over FireWire for video capture on my new iMac.

The Extreme takes the standard Intensity PCIe card and puts it in a machined aluminum case with Thunderbolt for $299 - a $100 premium over the standard Intensity card's $199 price. That sets a new low for a Thunderbolt-enabled device.

But Blackmagic Design also offers a USB 3.0 version that illustrates the challenge USB 3.0 challenge to Thunderbolt. The similar USB 3.0 Intensity Shuttle is $199.

But the Shuttle's compatibility is much narrower: only a couple of HP workstations, one notebook and a few motherboards. Is reliable USB 3.0 performance a sometime thing or is this a Blackmagic test issue? Readers?

Magma Magma, a San Diego maker of high-quality, industrial-grade PCIe expansion chassis, has announced a 3 slot Thunderbolt-to-PCIe box. This isn't intended as a consumer product as they note they are working with:

. . . Apple, Avid, AJA, Red, ATTO, Fusion-io and Promise Technology to validate application performance with ExpressBox 3T in broadcast video and pro audio environments.

Pricing hasn't been announced, but I hope they go for a broad market. They can add Mac Pro-like expandability to every Thunderbolt Mac.

I'd buy one at the right price to expand my otherwise I/O limited iMac.

Sonnet For mobile flexibility, the Sonnet ExpressCard/34 adapter makes it easy to add additional I/O, such as eSATA and AJA's IO Express. At $150 it isn't cheap, but people laying out $3-4 grand for a high-performance mobile system won't balk.

The Storage Bits take Rolling out a successful new I/O standard isn't easy: low initial volumes raise costs; the available market - Thunderbolt-equipped Macs - is small; and many pro customers hesitate to move proven workflows to new technology.

Putting Thunderbolt on every Mac - a new Mac Pro is in the works - means Apple has done everything they can to goose Thunderbolt. But the Final Cut Pro X roll-out fiasco - hitting the core high-end video market - has created unneeded headwinds for Thunderbolt adoption.

Blackmagic's limited support for USB 3.0 suggests there may be a larger problem with high-performance USB 3.0 apps. Other promised specs have been crippled by cheap internal architectures.

Yet the availability of 40Gb/s cross-sectional bandwidth on PCs is staggering. 30 years ago the hot VAX 780's total bandwidth - 13.3MB/s - was less than what a USB thumb drive offers today.

Comments welcome, of course. The open-source Lightworks video editor now on Windows is coming soon to OS X and Linux. The functionality and business model look sound.

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