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Thunderbolt heading to Windows

by Alistair Lowe on 14 May 2012, 11:11


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Up until now an Apple Mac exclusive, Thunderbolt, a relatively modern I/O standard co-developed by Apple and Intel, able to pass both a PCIe and DisplayPort signal over a single cable, has begun its first steps in heading over to the Windows platform.

Recently, Anandtech had the chance to trial MSI's latest Z77A-GD80 Ivy Bridge motherboard, featuring Thunderbolt I/O, likely based on the previously announced Cactus Bridge interface chip, the first Windows friendly motherboard to emerge with support for the standard.

MSI Z77A-GD80 Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt holds significant importance to those with compact/embedded PCs or with Ultrabooks and other thin notebooks, as it essentially extends the PCIe lanes, typically exposed as card slots on a full-sized motherboard, to external devices, allowing the integration of external components with speeds typically found only on internal, native parts, enabling true hardware expansion for space-limited devices, though, at one extreme, you would have to ask the question of why buy a space-limited device if you need to add multiple extra components.

Thunderbolt, tapping off PCIe, should function transparently in respect to the Windows OS, though, as Anandtech rightfully pointed out, Windows was never designed to support hot swapping of cards on the inside of a PC and so the new motherboard will require updated drivers to support this functionality.

MSI's motherboard is still in testing, though we should see Thunderbolt emerging in the Windows PC market soon enough. This writer is, however, more interested in seeing Thunderbolt ports pop-up on Ultrabooks, though, with Intel claiming to want to push down the price off its specially branded Ultra-thin partner devices and, given suggestions that Thunderbolt bridge chips aren't the cheapest around, it'll be interesting to see if Thunderbolt manages to find its way to any but the most costly of Ultrabooks.

HEXUS Forums :: 10 Comments

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I can't ever see myself using this I/O.
I definitely can. If it means not having to wait hours to transfer the 200-500GB of data we routinely collect in 24h at a synchrotron facility (and more if it's a good trip!), this would be really, truly useful. As it is, we end up transferring it over the interweb, which can take the best part of a day.
For home use, I would also find it useful in order to speed up backups. I don't yet have a NAS, though I'm looking at this more seriously now, but I have hundreds of gigabytes of pictures (in RAW and jpeg) which I could really use backing up elsewhere, but the thought of transferring those over a USB connection makes me a little bit sick :)

Finally, ultra-high res 3- or 5-way monitor set up with only 1 cable to the computer? Sure it's not there yet, but that would be a neat application :)
I am a bit confused. What exactly is this ?
I am a bit confused. What exactly is this ? explains it well (or at least well enough for me to understand!)

Although the mention of being able to daisy chain devices makes me think of good old SCSI for some reason. :help:
Best use of this technology I can think of is to finally make the docking station a really useful item.

On your desk you have a 24" monitor, high-res with built in gigabit ethernet, USB 3.0 hub, USB 2.0 hub for your keyboard and mouse, extra storage (for backups etc) and maybe even a more powerful graphics card.

You walk up to your desk with your sleek, sexy lightweight ultrabook or tablet, plug in the 1 single Thunderbolt cable and work like you're on a full size PC, you small device screen becomes a second monitor or perhaps a separate display with email/IM handled in a similar way to how Windows Sideshow was supposed to work.

Sounds great to me, maybe the docking station can include better cooling and power so your small device can clock up when docked.

I would seriously consider this and it would be great in a lot of businesses with mobile workers - would suit the hotdesk scenario as well.