What ThunderBolt I/O (Light Peak) Means For The Mac

Posted in Mac on 23/02/2011 by J. Glenn Künzler


According to numerous rumors from across the web, Intel’s Light Peak technology will be coming to the Mac very soon, likely with the MacBook refresh Thursday.  Apple has rebranded the technology as ThunderBolt I/O, and plans on using it as a crossover port – that means that they won’t be replacing primary ports such as USB and FireWire with ThunderBolt, but instead adding one or two ports in addition to the current input ports.

These crossover ports, according to a claimed spec sheet of a 13″ MacBook Pro found at MacRumors, will be able to handle high speed I/O as well as Mini DisplayPort for video/audio output.  My thoughts on the matter are that if ThunderBolt can handle 10 GB/S bandwidth, and have support for Mini DisplayPort, then why not HDMI, USB 3.0, and other standards?  This could be achieved in a variety of interesting ways.  A high bandwidth input method like ThunderBolt could lend itself to a variety of interesting applications.

This is an interesting concept, and I see a lot of possibilities embedded therein for Apple.  For instance, by using ThunderBolt as a crossover, Apple could essentially replace the ExpressCard slot by acting as a live connection point.  Considering that the current ExpressCard/34 standard is limited to a maximum bandwidth of 2.5gbps, and the fact that the impending ThunderBolt implementation is capable of up to 10GBPS of bandwidth, anything that currently takes the form of an ExpressCard could take the form of a Light Peak dongle or hub.

Another interesting possibility for the ThunderBolt port is docking.  Since the ThunderBolt port has such high bandwidth, it can support a number of current technologies all at once.  Theoretically, this would allow a docking device to be built that could handle a display, as well as the USB and FireWire ports standard on a Mac, while only connecting to a single port, or would allow a dock that connected to ALL ports to provide previously unseen features on MacBook docks, such as a large number of extra ports, ports that are not standard on Macs (such as eSata or USB 3), etc.

Any way you spell it out, Apple new Light Peak-based Thunderbolt connection technology, which will undoubtedly evolve throughout the years, may become the ultimate addition to your Mac, and will surely improve today’s Macs in a way that will not only set Apple far ahead of its competition, but leave a permanent checkpoint in history as well.

  • Beto

    The new Macbooks with thunderbolt ports are out today.

  • dns

    Did you see the intel light source demo? With a docking station you will be able to support USB, etc. Just need to see if one is on the market yet.

  • macgizmoguy

    This is probably going to be a bigger technology leap than I even imagined. Because the next logical step is for Intel to incorporate a ThunderBolt port into their OEM logic boards – so this really is far, far more than a 'Mac' thing. But Apple WILL lead the way. Given that the MacBook Pro is Apple's #1 selling computer (2 out of every 3 Macintosh sold are MacBooks) and recent gains in market share – we'll likely see 2 million new ThunderBolt I/O ports per quarter for the year ahead. And that means peripheral makers will be falling all over themselves to provide gadgets to fill them.

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J. Glenn Künzler

Glenn is Managing Editor at MacTrast, and has been using a Mac since he bought his first MacBook Pro in 2006. Now he’s up to his neck in Apple, and owns an old iBook, a 2012 iMac with an extra Thunderbolt display for good measure, a 4th-generation iPad, an iPad mini, 2 iPhones, and a Mac Mini that lives at the neighbor’s house. He lives in a small town in Utah, enjoys bacon more than you can possibly imagine, and is severely addicted to pie.