Guess what, Wintel loyalists? “Apple’s” Thunderbolt I/O port is coming your way. If you’ll recall, Thunderbolt was actually built with Intel’s collaboration (Light Peak, anyone?), and sensibly, the chip giant is now making it possible for the port to appear on non-Mac machines. The news was just broken here at IDF, where a Haswell-based machine was briefly teased with a heretofore unpossible T-bolt port. Mooly Eden, vice president and general manager of the PC Client Group, was on-stage to showcase six pre-production Ultrabook designs (all based on 3rd generation Intel Core processors), but stopped short of telling us exactly when the Thunderbolt I/O port would make its debut commercially available (Acer and ASUS are onboard for a 2012 launch!). Naturally, we’re hoping it’s sooner (tomorrow) rather than later (the 2013 launch of Haswell).
Thought Thunderbolt was the only superfast interconnect in town? Well, it is and will be for a little while yet, but the PCI Special Interest Group has just held its annual meeting and developer conference in California, where plans for a 32Gbps PCIe cable were revealed. Details are still fluid on precisely what such a connector would look like and do, but the expectation is that it’ll be built out of copper wire, will be flatter and thinner than Thunderbolt’s rotund construction, and will be able to channel power as well as data through to devices up to 10 feet (3m) away. Targeting consumer applications, and extra skinny tablets and laptops in particular, this cabled variety of PCI Express will start off based on the 3.0spec in 2013, but will then move on from there to PCI Express 4.0 and, potentially, optical data conveyance. Oh yes, PCIe 4.0 also got announced by the PCI SIG, though that’s at least four years away at this point — no need to sweat about having it in your next motherboard, not yet anyway.
Woah there, Mr. Speedy. We’ve barely caught up with the 10Gbps Thunderbolt interconnect, debuted in the new Macbook Pro, and now Intel’s hyperactive researchers are already chattering away about something five times faster. They’re promising a new interconnect, ready in four years, that will combine silicon and optical components (a technology called silicon photonics) to pump 50Gbps over distances of up to 100m. That’s the sort of speed Intel predicts will be necessary to handle, say, ultra-HD 4k video being streamed between smartphones, tablets, set-top boxes and TVs. Intel insists that poor old Mr. Thunderbolt won’t be forced into early retirement, but if we were him we’d be speaking to an employment lawyer right about now.
We were just pondering this very thing yesterday — would Intel dedicate itself to Thunderbolt and give USB 3.0 the cold shoulder — and now we have our answer from the Santa Clara crew, albeit delivered from Beijing. The Chinese capital is the site of Intel’s currently ongoing developer conference, which is where Kirk Skaugen, VP of the company’s Architecture Group, assured the world that the promise for native USB 3.0 support in Intel chipsets will be fulfilled. Not this year, mind you, but it’ll be with us in 2012 as part of the Ivy Bridge CPU refresh. That matches AMD’s plans to support USB 3.0 in Fusion APUs, and was augmented with a strong word of endorsement from Skaugen about the connector’s future. He urged developers to embrace USB 3.0 on an equal footing with Intel’s proprietary Thunderbolt interconnect, describing the two technologies as “complementary.” If you say so, captain.