What’s a Thunderbolt Hard Drive?


Thunderbolt external hard drive

Have you heard of a Thunderbolt External hard drive?


Want to know what Thunderbolt is and whether it will supersede UBS 3.0?

After reading the following Thunderbolt review, hopefully you’ll feel a lot more informed about the Thunderbolt specs, and the available Thunderbolt peripherals.

What is Thunderbolt?

Well, if you’re like me and get really frustrated with all the cables that you’ve got stuffed around the back of your computer collecting dust it could just help you out.

I know with the advent of the usb device you could get away with just one cable providing data and power, wireless keyboards and mice helped out too.

Problem is of course that with all the additional kit you want to hookup to your pc like a webcam, card reader etc,  you then end up needing a usb hub!

Seems like someone has been listening though. The new Thunderbolt technology developed by Intel in collaboration with Apple enables you to potentially cut down on the cable clutter.

It has recently been released for the first time with the New Macbook Pro laptop along with the Intel Sandy Bridge processor.

Thunderbolt, formely codenamed “LightPeak”, is a new wired connection technology that combines data transfer and video output capabilities via the thunderbolt display port.

It boasts speeds of up to 10 Gbps sharing a common connector that allows you to daisy chain up to six devices. Of course this requires that each device in the chain has two Thunderbolt ports.

Thunderbolt has two independent bi-directional channels, so a full 10 Gbps of bandwidth can be provided for the first device, as well as additional ones downstream. In addition there is up to 10 watts of power available per channel.

It basically combines data, video, audio and power in a single connection.

Thunderbolt is based on the PCI Express protocol. Via adapters it can support pretty much any other type of connectivity protocol, including FireWire, USB, and Gigabit Ethernet.

This won’t make these devices any faster. They will still be limited to the performance of their built-in components.

Thunderbolt technology is compatible with existing DisplayPort displays and adapters, but you’ll need a cable adaptor to connect an existing DisplayPort monitor.

Existing Mini DisplayPort-equipped monitors are already compatible and can be plugged in directly, and Mini DisplayPort adapters for VGA, DVI, or HDMI will also work.

Older displays, using DisplayPort 1.1 or earlier, have to be located at the end of a Thunderbolt device chain.

Thunderbolt speed

Regards speed, when compared to other current existing technologies Thunderbolt comes out on top.

It is 20 times faster than USB 2.0, 12 times swifter than the theoretical maximum of Firewire 800 and quicker than eSATA and USB 3.0 combined.

Apparently it can transfer a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds!

Intel is working with the industry on a range of Thunderbolt technology-enabled products including computers, displays, storage devices, audio/video devices, cameras, docking stations and more.

At the moment a few companies, Aja*, Apogee*, Avid*, Blackmagic*, LaCie*, Promise*, and Western Digital* have announced their support in developing Thunderbolt compatible devices.

LaCie* have already presented a Thunderbolt hard drive, the Lacie Little Big Disk:

Thunderbolt external hard drive

With capacities up to 1TB and built in Raid 0. It should be available in the Summer 2011.

Promise Technology has unveiled a new line of storage solutions for Thunderbolt machines. Promise Pegasus Raid R4 and R6 are the First 4-bay and 6-bay High Performance Hardware RAID Solutions available for the interface.

thunderbolt hard drive

The 6-bay enclosure will handle up to 12TB of storage. The enclosures support RAID 0, 1, 5, 6, 10, 50 and 60. They should be available sometime in Q2 2011.

At present only two devices, fast Thunderbolt hard drives are available and both are very expensive. As 2011 progresses you will probably see more monitors and smaller devices use the new technology.

Currently it is only available on the Macbook Pro laptop computers. However, Thunderbolt technology is not an Apple exclusive and Sony are planning to launch a Thunderbolt laptop sometime soon.

There is no confirmation at the moment whether it will be possible to intergrate Thunderbolt into existing computers via un upgrade.

Thunderbolt technology is powered by an Intel controller chip. It uses an Intel controller chip at each end to encode and decode the transferred data. A Thunderbolt chip has to be present in the computer and each Thunderbolt peripheral.

thunderbolt specs

The Thunderbolt controller chip provides protocol switching capabilities to support the two communication methods (protocols), PCIe and DisplayPort over a single cable:

  • Peripheral Component Interconnect Express (PCIe), otherwise known as PCI Express for data transfer

Thunderbolt relies on PCI Express, which is used in Macs and most PCs.

  • DisplayPort for displays


thunderbolt intel


Thunderbolt uses the same plug that current Macs use to connect to DisplayPort-compatible displays.

thunderbolt port

The Thunderbolt enabled port has the thunderbolt logo logo.

The connectors themselves are identical to Apple’s existing Mini DisplayPort plugs which are used to connect monitors.

display port cable

Initially the connectors will be electrical but there are plans to utilise fibre optic cables in the future, increasing the bandwidth to 100 Gbps.

Thunderbolt technology was specifically designed with professional audio and video applications in mind. The inherently low latency and highly accurate time synchronization will play a crucial role in meeting the demands of serious HD media creators.

Intel has confirmed support for both USB 3.0 as well as the new Thunderbolt technology in its Ivy Bridge chipset, likely to be launched in 2012.

Ultimately though Intel wants Thunderbolt to replace existing interfaces like SCSI, SATA, USB, Firewire and even PCI Express with only one connector becoming the standard.

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