In amongst the hoopla of Apple’s announcement of new MacBook Pros yesterday morning was Thunderbolt, Intel’s new I/O port. Code-named Light Peak, Thunderbolt will most likely be positioned to succeed USB 2.0 as the next high-speed data-transfer technology of choice, usurping the role of USB 3.0 which never really arrived.
So just how much faster is Thunderbolt? Transfer rates are at 10 Gbps in each direction—20 times the speed of USB 2.0. It also supports daisy-chaining (ala FireWire), which allows you to connect multiple Thunderbolt devices together: from your Mac to an external hard drive, then from the drive to your display.
The choice of a “lightning” symbol as its icon is somewhat perplexing as that’s often associated with hazards (close-up shot): do not touch or plug anything into this port! And as far as names go, Thunderbolt is pretty poor. Light Peak is far sexier, but perhaps more inaccurate as the current implementation uses copper wires, so there’s nothing strictly optical about it.
It’ll be interesting to see if Thunderbolt will displace the widely-used USB standard or remain on the fringes like FireWire. The original iPods used FireWire but Apple ultimately ditched it in favour of USB, which probably widened its mass appeal. But this isn’t 2001 and Apple is in a much better position to push the adoption of a new technology like Thunderbolt through their Macs and iOS devices.