Apple Thunderbolt Macs have chips for optical links
Circuitry, yes - but what about optical ports?
Got a new Mac with a Thunderbolt port? Then it is compatible with upcoming optical cables, Intel has revealed.
According to a spokesman from the chip giant, which devised Thunderbolt, a technology originally codenamed 'Light Peak', the circuitry in the latest Macs will support optical connections, Macworld reports.
But, we wonder, will the ports themselves? Handling the conversion of light pulses into electrical signals is one thing - actually including optical transmitters and pick-ups is another.
Next time we get one in the office we'll have a look. So far, we've seen nothing in teardown pictures and the like, or the comments from our reviewers who've peered at the ports, to indicate that current Macs do indeed have optical interconnects, even if they contain optical-compatible controller chips.
At Intel Developer Forum earlier this month, the chip giant said Asus and Acer will add Thunderbolt ports to some new PCs at some point next year.
Not exactly an overwhelming industry endorsement, that, but then USB 3.0 is only now going mass-market. SuperSpeed USB can hit 5Gb/s, though current USB external hard drives and the like transfer data at much lower speeds - though still faster than USB 2.0.
Thunderbolt promises a peak performance of 10Gb/s, though again the speed attainable will depend on what storage tech the connected peripheral contains. ®
Go-go active cabling!
I was under the impression that Thunderbolt cables were "active" (see http://www.ifixit.com/blog/blog/2011/06/29/what-makes-the-thunderbolt-cable-lightning-fast/ ) - i.e. they contain processing circuitry in the plugs themselves. Thus, the potential is there for the optical interconnect bits to be *in the cable themselves*, meaning you don't need different ports for optical and copper links. It's make the cables more expensive, but, then again, they're hardly cheap to begin with.
Presumably it will be an active cable with the electronic to optical converters inline (similar to optical DVI cables you tend to see in AV installs, eg: http://www.networktechinc.com/dvi-fiber-cable.html).
My understanding was that the copper thunderbolt cables were already (fairly expensive) active cables with significant processing happening in the connectors.
In addition to the correct points above (the optical conversion will be done in the cable for some reason, so nothing to see in the ports), the cables will also be required to carry power as well, so presumably will look very similar to existing cables.