One of the developments from CES 2013 that didn’t get much fanfare was the noticeable increase in product support for the Thunderbolt standard. Because it’s just an interface, it didn’t attract the attention that flashy TVs or flexible smartphones may have. But the growing adoption of the Thunderbolt technology is something that will greatly benefit everyone who consumes large amounts of data.
Thunderbolt is a new computer peripheral connection standard that was created as a collaborative effort between Intel and Apple. It’s a multi-function interface that can transfer data (like the current USB connection) or video (like DVI/VGA ports on your computer monitor). We’re going to skip over most of the technical specifics of the technology, and jump right into the two areas we think Thunderbolt will benefit you most: speed of data transfer and ease of connecting peripherals.
Thunderbolt and lightning, very very frightening (speeds)
A Thunderbolt connection increases transfers speeds of data by about 2000% over the standard USB 2.0 connection on your typical home computer. Yes, 20 times the speed. What that means for you is greatly reduced wait times when, say, moving photos from your memory card to your computer. The Thunderbolt connection will be able to transfer a 4GB card filled with photos in a matter of seconds. No more waiting around for 15 or 20 minutes while an entire vacation-worth of photos slowly moves onto your hard drive.
Thunderbolt can also handle multiple streams of data, which will help eliminate that cable mess we all have under our computer desk. Instead of having separate cables from an external hard drive, a monitor and a printer all connected to your computer, one single Thunderbolt cable could carry all of that moving data. Because Thunderbolt cables can also carry up to 10W of power, the external hard drive, and possibly even the monitor, wouldn’t need a separate AC plug.
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Of course, with any revolutionary new technology, there’s bound to be a “but.” The major one for Thunderbolt is that it’s not yet widely in use, though that’s changing quickly. Apple’s line of Macbooks, iMacs and Mac Minis come spec’d with Thunderbolt ports, as do some of their displays. At CES, Josh chatted with Chelsea, from the Intel booth, about the growing selection of Thunderbolt-friendly products, including the new HP Spectre XT Ultrabook
New technology is often subject to a Catch-22 of consumerism: no one wants to buy it until it’s proven useful, but it can’t prove itself useful unless people buy it and use it. As more and more devices adopt the Thunderbolt interface, so too will more consumers, in turn driving the demand. That will also help soften the other drawback of the technology: it’s still relatively expensive when compared to competitors like USB. However, the potential time savings are already valuable enough for professionals who transfer large amounts of data to make the switch to Thunderbolt. We think it won’t be long before we start seeing the average laptop outfitted with a Thunderbolt port as well.