Since the late 1990s, USB has been the dominant PC connectivity technology for external devices. As anyone who remembers the era of parallel, serial, and PS/2 connectors can tell you, USB is a wonderful thing--whether you're talking about the original 1.1 standard, the now-pervasive 2.0 version, or the still-emerging 3.0 variant.
But what if there was a connectivity standard that was faster than the fastest version of USB? And what if it worked with even more types of devices, including displays? And what if it was even compatible with USB itself, through the use of an adapter?
It's no fantasy--it's Thunderbolt. And I have high hopes for this technology, even though it's not yet clear that it'll be anywhere near as universal as the good old Universal Serial Bus has been for years.
Thunderbolt originated in Intel's labs as a technology called Light Peak. It mashed up PCI Express (the zippy standard used for cards you install inside a PC) with DisplayPort (the new standard for connecting displays), and added compatibility with various other connection technologies. Apple got excited about the idea and began working with Intel to commercialize it. Under the catchier moniker Thunderbolt, it's now available on all new Macs except for Mac Pro desktops, and it's a safe bet that Apple will add it to those machines in their next big upgrade.
With two 10-Gbps channels, Thunderbolt is supercharged by any definition: USB 3.0, which is itself no slowpoke, provides a single 5-Gbps channel. (USB 2.0, still the most pervasive port out there, chugs along at a comparatively pokey 480-Mbps.) … Read more