OPLIN 4Cast #268: Thunderbolt is coming

Be warned, this post is a little heavier on technical jargon than our usual posts because it’s about an emerging technology, called Thunderbolt, that you may want to know about next time you buy new computers for your library. Thunderbolt has been available commercially in some Apple products for about a year now, and at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a few devices from other companies began to appear. Thunderbolt is a connection technology, like USB, but unlike USB it can (eventually) use fiber optic connections and can supposedly support real throughput speeds of 10 Gbps, about 20 times the theoretical top speed of USB 2.0. At that speed, you could copy a high-definition movie in about 30 seconds. It can also support more than one connection at a time. Thunderbolt is currently still pretty expensive and is used mostly for high speed transfers between computers and data storage devices, or between computers and high-definition monitors. But as is the case with all new technology, the price will come down, and you may someday have patrons asking if your library computers can connect with their Thunderbolt mobile storage devices.

  • Ultrabooks will be zapped by Thunderbolt in 2Q12 (Tom’s Hardware/Kevin Parrish)  “So what’s the big deal with Thunderbolt? We’ve covered every aspect of this tech for quite a while, but for the uninitiated, it allows multiple connections via one port, supporting both PCI-Express data transmissions and DisplayPort image/video transmissions. This will likely open the door to incredible upgrade options without having to purchase a new ultrabook or laptop. Paying the extra price for Thunderbolt will undoubtedly be worth the money in the long run.”
  • Is 2012 the year of Thunderbolt? CES analysis (Popular Mechanics/Kyle VanHemert)  “For now, Thunderbolt largely remains the province of audio/visual professionals – those who need to move serious amounts of data on and off their machines every day, and for whom latency is a serious concern. Is 2012 the year of Thunderbolt? Not quite.”
  • Thunderbolt: Ahead of its time or wave of the future? (Premiumbeat.com/Ashley Kennedy)  “Thunderbolt’s technology currently relies on additional processing chips that must be on an Intel motherboard, and building in these additional hardware designs (instead of just a software upgrade) will take time for manufacturers to totally redesign and retool their products. And that sort of hump could certainly prevent both manufacturers and users from making the jump right away.”
  • Will 2012 be Thunderbolt’s year? Devices arrive in force at CES (ArsTechnica/Chris Foresman)  “One vendor told Ars that supply of Thunderbolt controllers has been constrained somewhat as Apple was typically first in line to get them, with certain storage vendors then getting access, and others in line after that. We know that next-generation Thunderbolt controllers should be available around the second quarter of this year when Ivy Bridge launches, and that Intel plans an ‘official’ launch of general Thunderbolt availability then.”

Cable fact:
Currently available Thunderbolt cables cost about $50, mostly because they are “active” cables that have a silicon chip embedded in the end of the cable to boost performance.

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