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What is Up with Thunderbolt?


Thunderbolt, which used to be known as Light Peak is the one of the fastest connection standards available to consumer computing devices.

There are currently three generations of Thunderbolt. The first two generations use a mini-DisplayPort connector and the latest Thunderbolt 3 standard uses USB Type-C connectors. Believe it or not Light Peak has been around since 2011 as a consumer product.

The Light Side of the Force

Why was it called Light Pea Well, originally it was designed to only use flexible fiber optic cabling. In the end, Intel and their partners discovered that copper wiring was actually good enough to hit the 10Gbps target for generation one.

Today Thunderbolt provides a means to connect devices with very high bandwidth demands, such as SSD drives and external graphics cards.

The Third Generation

Thunderbolt 3 has specifications that are quite astounding. It has 40Gbps of bandwidth. This is four times as much bandwidth as any other single cable solutions. All while providing as much as 100W of power. In total there are two 10Gbps downstream and two upstream channels at work simultaneously. As many as 6 devices can be daisy chained through a single port.

Already some computers on the market (notable form Apple) have only one IO port on the entire device: a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port.

Video Killed The...

Thunderbolt is amazing for its ability to carry various protocols, including compatibility with USB, Displayport and PCIe. All combined into a single cable and understood by these various devices at the other end.

Eight displayport lanes means that a single Thunderbolt 3 cable can support the following video formats:

  • One 4K display (4096 x 2160) 30-bit @ 120 Hz
  • One 5K display (5120 x 2880) 30-bit @ 60 Hz
  • Two 4K displays each (4096 x 2160) 30-bit @ 60 Hz

You Have it Backwards

Thunderbolt 3 is Backwards compatible with generations one and two as well as with USB. The USB-C connector was chosen for generation three in order to allow for smaller form factors. In other words, thinner phones, tablets and notebooks.

Docking Complete

The fact that Thunderbolt 3 can carry so many different protocols makes it an elegant and effective docking station solution. One cable can charge a notebook while connecting it to multiple displays, USB devices and even external graphics hardware.

Amazing Things Happen

According to Intel Thunderbolt 3 can transfer a 4K film in under 30 seconds. Three hours of GoPro 4K footage can be transferred in less than a minute. It would take about five minutes to transfer enough MP3 data music to fill every minute of every day for a whole year. YouTube gets 300 hours of video every minute. Thunderbolt 3 can transfer that data in less than 20 seconds.

These facts from Intel Corp really bring home how much of a game changer Thunderbolt is.
If you are in the market for a new computer it is well worth getting one that supports this new standard. If you have a free PCIe X4 slot you can even get an add-in card to upgrade your current desktop computer.

Clearly Thunderbolt is going to be an essential technology for film, audio and 3D content creators who can make full use of the bandwidth provided. Speak to one of our sales staff today to find out if a Thunderbolt equipped computer is right for your needs or check out some of the models below: