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Intel doubles Thunderbolt speed to 20Gbps

Will anyone other than Apple care?

Thunderbolt Intel branding

Intel's speedy but seldom-used networking standard Thunderbolt will double in speed to 20Gbps by year's end.

Revealed at the NAB show, an event for broadcasting and content creation types, Intel said the next generation “Falcon Ridge” Thunderbolt controller will run at 20Gbps and “Supports 4K video file transfer and display simultaneously”. The first such controllers will emerge “before end 2013” and “ramp in 2014”.

Daisy chaining will still work, leading Intel to talk up a single Thunderbolt connection as sufficient to connect two monitors and an external storage device to a single PC.

Whether Falcon Ridge will work on the 100-meter-long optical cables Chipzilla also promised will arrive for today's Thunderbolt in 2013's second quarter hasn't been revealed. Cables of that length suggest connection to resources it makes sense to locate away from a computer. Perhaps long cables suggest linking to network attached storage (NAS), a scenario often raised by Intel as one use for Thunderbolt.

Intel has secured Thunderbolt support from NAS vendors like Promise and video production niche specialists Avid and Black Magic Design. Top tier NAS vendors aren't showing similar enthusiasm.

Kamil Gurgen, Intel Australia's distribution business & technical manager, says such vendors may eventually get interested. But for now, he says, Thunderbolt is aimed squarely at those who need to move a lot of data in a hurry. More often than not that's folks in video production. He also feels home users want to move video around, or do backups, rather more quickly than is possible with USB.

Chipzilla can point to numerous motherboards bearing Thunderbolt as evidence their demands can be met by new desktops. Intel also points to millions of Macs as having adopted the standard and says ten PCs – from Asus, Acer, HP, Lenovo and NEC – offer Thunderbolt.

Intel also mentioned “more than 75 devices certified” for Thunderbolt. That's a tiny fraction of the myriad devices employing USB 2.0 or 3.0 and another demonstration of less-than-stellar enthusiasm for and uptake of Thunderbolt.

Gurgen thinks there'll be more, in short order, and that Thunderbolt use in PCs and peripherals will “ramp” in 2014, thanks in part to two new controllers “targeted for upcoming systems with 4th generation Intel Core processors”. The new controllers, the attractively-named DSL4510 and DSL4410, respectively boast four channels and two ports and two channels and one port, but only move data at 10Gbps.

At that speed Thunderbolt will still beat USB 3.0. But that's no guarantee of success in the peripheral connection caper: Firewire's 400Mbps and 800Mbps both beat their USB rivals, versions 1.0 and 2.0 respectively, but never escaped the video ghetto. With little enthusiasm for Thunderbolt beyond that community, might it be headed for the same fate? ®

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