MacMost Now 521: What Is Thunderbolt?

Take a look at Apple's new connection port, Thunderbolt. Now on all MacBook Pros, we'll soon find it on all Macs. You'll be able to use Thunderbolt to connect displays, hard drives, video equipment and other devices.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: MacMost Now 521: What Is Thunderbolt?.

Hi this is Gary at MacMost Now. On today's episode let's take a look at Apple's new connection port, Thunderbolt. So Thunderbolt is a new port that is found on all of the new Macbook pros and you can bet that it will be on all the Macs soon. It looks just like the mini display port connection, as a matter of fact it actual works as a mini display port connection on the Macbook pro. So you can take an existing monitor and plug it right into the Thunderbolt port and it will work just like the mini display port connection did in previous versions. In fact, you can also use adapters like a mini display port to VGA or to HDMI adaptor and hook up other displays to it so it works just like a mini display port for those purposes, but you can also use it to connect storage like hard drives and thunderbolt is very fast. It's much faster than say USB2 or firewire or even USB3 that appears on some PCs. Here is a chart that Apple has that compares all the different speeds. Thunderbolt can handle two streams of 10 GB per sec each so you can transfer things from hard drives very quickly and you can also use them for video in/video out. And in the future we may see Thunderbolt used for other things like certain specialised network connections for instance. So the reason Thunderbolt is so fast is because inside your computer the different parts communicates using something called PCI express, but with the peripherals say using USB2 or firewire, the USB2 or firewire bus then has to communicate with the PCI express bus inside your computer, but Thunderbolt is PCI express so devices can talk directly to the parts inside your computer. If you have a MacPro you can put a PCI express card in it to talk directly to your computer but with Thunderbolt you don't actually have to insert a card you can actually hook something up using your Thunderbolt connection so this means that the Macbook pros and soon all Macs will be able to be expanded in the same way that you could with Macbook pro you just have to use a Thunderbolt device rather than a PCI express card.
So heres some cool things about Thunderbolt: it is a single port on your Mac but that single port can take up to six devices. The devices will daisy chain with each other so it is important, for instance, if you get a hard drive that uses Thunderbolt that it has 2 Thunderbolt ports on it, one to attach from your Mac to the device and the next to go to the next device and it is a hard drive or say a display or a video capture device. So while the name of Thunderbolt is new this has actually been talked about for a while as Intel's Lightpeak technology and in fact even though the cables now are using copper wires in the future you'll be able to get fiber optic wires and they will work with the thunderbolt connections in today's Macbook pros. The advantage of fiber optics might mean longer cables. Right now the copper cables are kind of restricted in distance. You probably wouldn't see any of that greater than ten feet so they're for peripherals that are actually right next to your Mac not for something to communicate with over long distance. And the other cool thing about Thunderbolt is you actually can hook firewire and USB devices through Thunderbolt so in the future they'll be adapters. So you could add a USB device or firewire device to your Thunderbolt daisy chain. Now the speeds aren't going to be improved they'll still be USB or firewire speeds but there is the possibility in the future that we could simply have all Thunderbolt connections and any older devices will simply work through adapters. Now even though we have Thunderbolt on the new Macbook pros there is really nothing except the current displays that will hook up to them. But LaCie has announced something called the little big disc which is a Thunderbolt hard drive that actually is going to have SSDs on board so that it can transfer data very quickly and also Pegasus has announced at some point they'll come out with a RAID array for Thunderbolt and I'm sure a year from now we are going to have all sorts or hard drives, and RAID arrays and video devices that will hook up to Thunderbolt. So some things you may be wondering about, like for instance, since you can hook up to six devices through Thunderbolt does that mean you could hook up a whole bunch of monitors to your Macbook pro? Well no, that is a limitation of the video chipset. The current chipset inside the Macbook pro support the attached screen and one additional one. Thunderbolt won't get you any extras but it is possible, in the future, that the chipset may support more than one monitor through Thunderbolt. You can actually boot your Mac in target disk mode and use the Thunderbolt port to access the data on your drive but for some reason migration system doesn't support this yet. So I hope to see an update for that in the future. Now right now it is unclear whether or not you can actually boot from a drive connected through Thunderbolt. So looking into the future even though firewire ports are on the new Macbook pros I see them as being completely replaced by Thunderbolt, especially since you can still connect firewire devices using an adapter into Thunderbolt but looking at the iPad, the iPod touch and the iPhone I don't see Thunderbolt going there. The reason is, is because those devices don't have PCI express so there is nothing really for Thunderbolt to communicate with. It also appears that there won't be any expansion cards for current mac pros that add Thunderbolt that is probably because there is some sort of difference for how the motherboard needs to be set up to use Thunderbolt. So there is a quick look at Thunderbolt. Till next time this is Gary for MacMost Now.

Comments: 8 Responses to “MacMost Now 521: What Is Thunderbolt?”

    8 years ago

    I’m glad I didn’t buy USB 3.0 External HDD :-)

    8 years ago

    I just bought my first Apple laptop (the Spring 2011 13-inch MacBook Pro) and while Thunderbolt wasn’t on my radar I am impressed by what you have put here. I hope jumping onto the band wagon early means I might be an early adopter for anything cool that comes along taking advantage of Thunderbolt.

    8 years ago

    $50 bucks less for a refurb’d iMac fm july 2009, or a new iMac with Thunderbolt? Man that was a no-brainer!

    8 years ago

    meant July 2010 ^_^

    Mr Anthony Cotton
    8 years ago

    I did what Rishi says I bought the Western Digital My Passport Essential 500GB hard drive. Its got USB3.0 but the iMac has only got the USB2.0 ports. This is just a shot in the dark, is there any way that they would fit a Thunderbolt port on the Snow Leopard System. Gary

      8 years ago

      No. Thunderbolt is a direct line into the main bus. It is like adding a “card” to a Mac Pro. So it isn’t as easy as adding a port, it requires compatibility with the entire motherboard. The only way to get Thunderbolt is to buy a new Mac with Thunderbolt.

    Donald churchill
    7 years ago

    Gary how are you have a question I’m planning on buying a new Mac Pro server would you happen to know when they are planning on upgrading with thunderbolt and no last couple computers that I purchased after one months they came out with a new and trying not to let that happen again is there anyway to find out when the long-overdue Mac server or Mac Pro tower is going to be upgraded please let me know thank you very much don by the way I love your videos they’ve already help me a lot I wish you did something with the server software it would be cool thanks a lot again

Comments Closed.