Intel’s Thunderbolt provides 1250Mbps bi-directional data transfer speed

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When you plug pen drive to a laptop’s USB 2.0 port, the maximum achievable data transfer speed is just 35-50Mbps. Recently, USB 3.0 came onto the scene which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0 with a shooting speed of 310Mps.

And, the latest addition to the list of external port interface is Intel’s Thunderbolt. Just like the name, it gives a thundering data transfer speed of 1250Mbps when connected across computing devices.

Thunderbolt is the fastest technology for data transfer through external ports. Its 4 times faster than USB 3.0, and more than 40 times faster than existing USB 2.0 port. This is not all, it comes with many more features.

We tested and unpacked the technology. Here is what we found out,

What is Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt technology is basically a protocol that allows faster bi-directional data transfer through a single channel, connecting multiple computing devices. Yes, both upstream and downstream data can be transferred at humongous rate between more than 6 devices.

Thunderbolt protocol is designed in such a way that both streams can use the full channel bandwidth without interfering, or slowing down the data transfer speed. Not only this, as many as 7 devices can be interconnected together with Thunderbolt interface and data can be exchanged seamlessly across them.

Data transfer speed across the Thunderbolt channel, i.e Thunderbolt cable, is 10Gb per second. The only limiting factor for the Thunderbolt speed is slower hard disks and computing devices that it connects, which results in slow overall data transfer speed.

Theoretical speed of Thunderbolt during operating is specified as 1250 Mbps while its practically somewhere close to 900Mbps. Though its a bit disappointing but still very very fast when compared to USB 3.0 and eSATA.

Here is diagrammatic representation of data transfer across Thunderbolt cable with 3 devices connected to it,

diagram showing data transfer through Thunderbolt cable

Market acceptance and potential

Thunderbolt protocol is built on two of the existing and highly successful data transfer protocols, DisplayPort and PCIe. Thunderbolt protocol efficiently packs data together before transferring it across the channel. Transport layer of Thunderbolt protocol ensures synchronous transfer for both upstream and downstream data.

Devices are now provided with Thunderbolt ports to plug the cable. Macs have it, most PCs and notebooks in 2012 would come with Thunderbolt ports. Apple’s laptop are among the first users of this technology while Asus, Sony and Acer would use it in their coming ultra-thin laptops.

A great advantage of Thunderbolt cables is they can be used to transfer power to connected devices. As per Intel, a single Thunderbolt cable can transfer upto 10Watt of power.

Cost of Thunderbolt cable is very high, a 2 meter cable costs $49. For cost reduction, Intel is using copper wires in place of proposed optical fiber cables. In the coming years, Intel is looking to further improve the Thunderbolt technology. Its expected to reach a data transfer rate to 50Gbps by 2015 and 100Gbps by 2019.

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