One by one the barriers to mobile computing have been falling. In the early days you could move to a notebook but you'd give up a lot of CPU, GPU and I/O performance. SSDs really fixed the storage performance issue (2.5" hard drives are horrendously slow compared to their 3.5" counterparts), power gating and turbo boost helped address the CPU problem and I wouldn't be too surprised to see companies have another go at external GPU solutions for those who need the added graphics horsepower.

The idea of external GPUs brings up the current limitation we face in this mobile transition. Although being more mobile is great, we still want the best of both worlds: great performance when we're at a desk, and great battery life when mobile. Enabling the former is going to require new technologies as well as new high speed interfaces.

Intel has been at the forefront of many of the successful high bandwidth interfaces in the evolution of the PC industry. Will Thunderbolt be another feather in its cap? In February we got the first Thunderbolt enabled MacBook Pros and just last week Promise shipped the first Thunderbolt enabled storage device. It's time to put the two together.

Thunderbolt Recap

At the beginning of this year Intel, alongside Apple, finally introduced a productized version of the interface we'd previously only known as Light Peak. Given that the first instantiation of this interface used traditional copper wires and not an optical interface, Apple and Intel branded it Thunderbolt.


Thunderbolt Controller IC on 15" 2011 MacBook Pro - Courtesy iFixit 

The interface is royalty free, although Intel is the only company that makes Thunderbolt controller needed to support the interface. There's no word on the cost of the Thunderbolt controller. Thunderbolt isn't an Apple exclusive, however we won't see PCs ship with the high bandwidth copper interface until 2012 at the earliest.

Thunderbolt is a high speed, dual-channel serial interface. Each channel is good for up to 10Gbps of bi-directional bandwidth (20Gbps total) and with two channels a single Thunderbolt link is enough for 40Gbps of aggregate bandwidth.

Thunderbolt can carry both PCIe and DisplayPort signaling. Apple claims that one of the channels is used for DisplayPort while the other is used for PCIe. DisplayPort interface support extends to the connector, which is physically compatible with a standard mini-DisplayPort connector. DisplayPort support is key as it allows video to be carried in addition to data, potentially allowing for some interesting use as a single cable docking solution for notebooks.

In addition to carrying up to 40Gbps of total bandwidth, a single Thunderbolt cable can also deliver up to 10W of power to connected devices.

Each Thunderbolt port can drive up to 7 daisy chained devices, although all devices must share the 40Gbps (up/down) bandwidth to the host.

There's an obvious comparison to USB 3.0 which currently tops out at 5Gbps, however even it offers only 1/4 of the total available bandwidth of the Thunderbolt PCIe channel (not to mention its inability to carry DisplayPort).

The Pegasus: Hardware
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  • HW_mee - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    It is one thing if the thief steals the HDD/computer, learns a password or hacks the computer using some piece of software, as this often takes time, requires a lucky break or leaves obvious traces.
    Another thing is if someone can just hook up a cable turn the computer on and press T to access everything.
    Reply
  • takumsawsherman - Saturday, July 09, 2011 - link

    You mean like booting from a CD or USB flash drive and copying files to a very small, hideable storage container?

    Perfectly possible, and in fact I find myself doing this frequently (though copying the data in the other direction typically) when disinfecting PCs. I do this multiple times per week, removing data stealing trojans and rootkits.

    Compare with Thunderbolt, where you will "sneak in with only a laptop and a cable and reboot and press T, and ZOMG yor datas are hax0red! Ha HA ha stupid Apple!!!111oneonewonwon"

    Leaves obvious traces? Exactly what traces did the Boot CD leave?
    Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, July 13, 2011 - link

    As you can password protect (which can be bypassed with physical access any way) the firmware it doesn't matter if it is Firewire/Thunderbolt-target or USB-stick/HDD that access and or copies the files or simply a CD that changes your password so you can just log in an access everything without any effort at all. If you don't have limits on the firmware/bios any way you can just set up whatever, and access anything without any effort, less so then using slow target disk mode, even through network boot is possible which might be on in a corporate/university environment any way.

    Just disable the good damn features you don't like, it don't make your computer safe but I'm sure it will quit you whining for nothing.

    You will just access everything by running the system rescue tools on the install CD for OS X any how. Windows computers are essentially unprotected any way. So I really don't see how it's any worse then plugging in a USB stick to access everything or change the password (SAM) to blank/whateveryoulike. Screaming about a ten year old feature is just dumb. Just set up a firmware password and it stops people from simply booting a CD, USB-drive, HDD-drive, using target disk mode and network boot any way. It's simply not more vulnerable then PCs any way. It's quite easy to restore the firmware-password thus bypassing it on say an iMac any way, I could easily do it on older macs without taking the entire computer apart. And on a PC of course resetting CMOS password is often troubleless and manufacturers often has master passwords you get by calling the support any way. Later macs has got better protection from resetting the firmware password though. So just set the damn password.
    Reply
  • Penti - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    They are not driving the screen with a separate control-board. That's why target display is so awkward. You can expect third party stuff (and older macs) will work when Atlona has designed and released an Thunderbolt-compatible adapter/switch/converter/scaler though. It a integrated solution not a screen and a computer separate. The screen is when used normally connected directly to the ATi/AMD 6000M GPU. That's why you can't adjust the screen in Bootcamp/Windows without their software tool too. Reply
  • HW_mee - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    That makes sense, not much you can do to separate the two things if the screen is "merged" with the computer. I expected the computer part and screen part was seperate and the display input could be used in the same way as with most multiple input screens.
    If that was the case, a simple power circuit could control the screen and computer separately.
    Reply
  • youngjimmy - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    'Failing to do so will give you this all-*to*-familiar error' (bottom, The Pegasus: Software) Reply
  • Kimbie - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    You made mention about connecting up a monitor to the last port on the chain, by plugging in a thunderbolt cable into the imac and used it as a second screen.

    Does this still work if you use a mini-display port to DVI adaptor and into a bog standard DVI monitor?

    Kimbie
    Reply
  • Focher - Saturday, July 09, 2011 - link

    Just to clarify, the last connection in the chain to a mini DisplayPort monitor does not require a Thunderbolt cable. You would just use a mini DP cable. Reply
  • André - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    Does it support JBOD?

    Would be really great for us using ZFS+ arrays, although I would have preferred at least 8 bays.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Friday, July 08, 2011 - link

    The performance is impressive, though nothing like what you'd get transfering a large number of smaller files obviously.

    That said, for 2000 USD why wouldn't I simply build a high-end desktop /with/ 12TB of storage?

    It'd still be cheaper and I could put the remainder towards a gilded sticker for the case saying 'cheap-ass NAS'.
    Reply

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