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Thunderbolt analysis

Intel's announcement yesterday of chips for desktop and notebook was notably light on details -- and of course there was no mention of the new Thunderbolt interface, which effectively externalises the PCI bus. It opens up a lot of possibilities.
Written by Manek Dubash, Contributor

Intel's announcement yesterday of chips for desktop and notebook was notably light on details -- and of course there was no mention of the new Thunderbolt interface, which effectively externalises the PCI bus. It opens up a lot of possibilities.

The new connector and its five-wire copper cable is being touted by Intel -- and has so far been deployed only by Apple -- as a display and hard disk connector. We've also seen external storage vendors such as LaCie already queuing up to show themselves as among the first to produce Thunderbolt-compliant products.

It leaves a lot of manufacturers with a choice: USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt? It's fast, and has the potential to reduce the number of sockets on space-limited laptops.

However, although it's royalty-free, no other manufacturer has so far admitted publicly to developing Thunderbolt chips, so it's hard to say if it'll be widely adopted. It's also expensive, we're told, as you'd expect from a first run technology from a single vendor: it costs about the same as a Gigabit network chipset, according to the EE Times. It's a big mistake, one large Intel customer reportedly said.

But from an enterprise perspective, could it open up new networking possibilities? For example, you could imagine that HPC clusters would benefit from an extension of the PCI bus, as they have a need for high-speed, low-latency data sharing. And would you, could you also connect it to the high-speed storage in a SAN -- tier zero SSD RAIDs anyone?

As time goes by, other possibilities will undoubtedly emerge. The big question is whether it'll remain a niche technology -- just Apple -- or go mainstream. For now, the big PC and server vendors have remained silent on this question.

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