What is Thunderbolt?


In February 2011, Apple updated its line of laptops MacBook Pro. On occasion, a detail caught the attention of a lot of people: all new laptops come with a port Thunderbolt.

This is the name of a technology that, during the their stage of development, was known as Light Peak. But, the what exactly is Thunderbolt? What are the advantages of this pattern? What is the speed of data transmission offered? Is the truth is that technology competes with USB?

For you to stay on the inside of the subject, the AbbreviationFinder gives the answers to these questions and describes the characteristics more important of the Thunderbolt in the next lines.

Thunderbolt Technology

Having Intel as the main responsible for your development, the Thunderbolt is a standard communication between devices that, in part, takes advantage of technological resources already existing. Originally, the technology has been developed to become compatible with almost all types of connection to the existing computers.

The Thunderbolt makes use of the protocols of the two standards is well known by the market: PCI Express and DisplayPort. The first is a bus a long time ago used to internal connection of devices to the computer such as video cards and Ethernet cards. The second is an interface for streaming video and audio very used by Apple and by companies that manufacture more sophisticated equipment. Up to a certain point, the DisplayPort competes with the HDMI.

Thanks to these features, the Thunderbolt allows you to communication among devices of the more varied types offering excellent performance. The technology makes it possible still the communication with certain devices via the connection FireWire, DVI and the other by through adapters.

But the most striking feature is the speed. The the first specification of the Thunderbolt can achieve up to 10 Gb/s (gigabits per second) in the transfer data, a rate that is equivalent to 1.25 gigabyte per second, approximately. The third (and latest) version of the Thunderbolt is still more impressive: it can reach up to 40 Gb/s.

The data traffic can be full-duplex (bi-directional), or is it possible to send and receive information at the same time — there is a channel 10 Gb/s for each “sense”. But it is important to note that that rate is the theoretical maximum. In practice, a number of factors could cause the speed to be a little lower (however, still high enough to meet the majority of applications).

It does not end there: the proposal of the technology is facilitate to the maximum the work of the user, therefore, a single Thunderbolt port enables data transfer, transmission of audio and video signals, and even supply of energy, thus avoiding, in many cases, the need to connect the device to a wall outlet.

Thunderbolt 1

The Thunderbolt is not, necessarily, a technology new, that is, “made from scratch“, after all, the protocols of the standards PCI-Express and DisplayPort, as you have already you know. We can consider as new the look of it physical, more precisely, the Thunderbolt cable.

The early research on the Intel they considered the use of cables with fiber optical, this being one of the most striking features when the technology was announced, still with the name Light Peak, in 2009. The idea was to launch the Thunderbolt with this feature, but fibre optic is a sophisticated material and complex manipulation, which certainly would result in costs significantly higher production.

Given this scenario, Intel has decided to opt for the traditional cables with copper wires, with a recommended maximum size of 3 meters. Special cables made with fiber optic up to can be found, but are uncommon (and expensive, in fact).

The first version of the Thunderbolt arrived offering speed 10 Gb/s, as already informed. Are, in fact, two channels of 5.4 Gb/s for sending and other two of the same ability for reception of data.

High rates may seem exaggerated, but are a growing need. Increasingly we rely on fast connections to the Internet, and videos in high-definition, for example. This implies the ever-increasing volumes data.

The Thunderbolt shows up as a solution to such demands not only on account of its speed, but also to be optimized to handle both transmission of data via PCI Express as with audio and video information (even in high resolution) via DisplayPort, all of this by the same cable.

The Thunderbolt 1 also allows the interconnection of up to seven devices on a single port-of-way chained, this it is with a device connected to the other. In an example given by own Intel, it is possible to connect an external HD to a monitor and a notebook. The data from the HD can then be accessed by the laptop.

It is interesting to note that the management of the Thunderbolt port it is done by a small controller chip, causing the technology is not directly dependent on a chip set or the same processor to work.

With regard to electrical power, each Thunderbolt port 1 can provide 10 Watts of power, with the the supply of energy being made by the same cable used for data.

Connector Thunderbolt

The Thunderbolt makes use of the Mini DisplayPort connector, widely used in Apple computers for communication with monitors or projectors. Here there are two advantages: 1) there is no additional costs for the development of a new pattern of connection; 2) it is possible to connect devices DisplayPort to the Thunderbolt port, because, as you already know, there is compatibility between both technologies.

Thunderbolt 2

In April 2013, Intel introduced the second version of the technology. The Thunderbolt 2 brings as main attraction the ability download, two-way, 20 Gb/s per second — twice of that offers the specification earlier.

Again, appears the question about the “exaggeration” in the speed, but the main goal of the Intel with the new maximum rate is to make the technology fully capable of transmissions videos in 4K resolution.

Intel also took care to keep the Thunderbolt 2 compatible with the first version of the standard. In in other words, the cables and connectors are the same. In addition, devices made for the Thunderbolt 1 may also work with the Thunderbolt 2, but, as a rule, keeping the maximum transfer rate of 10 GB/s.

Obviously, the compatibility with DisplayPort has been retained, but with one difference: the Thunderbolt 2 now supports the version 1.2 of the technology, on occasion, a specification new.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Thunderbolt 2 continues to allow the communication of up to seven devices on the chain in the same connection.

Thunderbolt 3

June 2015 marked the announcement of the third version of the technology. Intel has reserved for the Thunderbolt 3 two large features: data transmission speed of up to 40 Gb/s (also bidirectional) and a new connector.

Intel explains that the Thunderbolt 3 is able to transmit, simultaneously, video to two monitors with 4K resolution and 60 frames per second or for a single device, but in the 5K and 60 frames per second. For anyone who works with large volumes of data, technology you can also make a difference: to 40 Gb/s is the same as to download 5 gigabytes per second, approximately.

But, probably, what is most surprising is the new connector. In place port, Mini DisplayPort, Intel has decided to adopt the standard USB type-C (or USB-C), which was created especially for the USB 3.1.

The USB-C has two major advantages: it is compact, and can even be implemented in smartphones, and is reversible, that is, a cable can be connected facing up or down, both makes.

For users and manufacturers, the combination of Thunderbolt 3 with the connection standard of USB brings convenience. You can have a computer with three USB ports-C, for example, one of them is USB and Thunderbolt at the same time, an approach that saves space physical and reduces production costs.

It is easy to identify ports and cables USB-C compatible Thunderbolt: they have the symbol of the radius that is registered trademark of technology. Note, however, that the Thunderbolt 3 requires specific cables.

The technology was prepared to work with two types of cables. The cheaper, passive, limits the transmissions at 20 Gb/s. The more expensive, kind of active account (with a chip that increases the performance), is that it can work with 40 Gb/s.

The attributes of the Thunderbolt 3 does not end there. The version also is capable of providing up to 100 Watts for electrical power. This means that devices that consume more power, such as a monitor video or an external HD, you may not need a external source — the Thunderbolt connection takes care of the data and of the the supply of energy.

There is even support standards like HDMI 2.0 and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10G Ethernet). Connectors Mini DisplayPort continue to be compatible, but with the use of adapters.

The amount of devices that can be connected in chain, however, dropped from seven to six.


When Thunderbolt was introduced, a question took shape: so fast in the transmission of data, will be that the technology would take the place of USB in the market? As you can see, this has not happened — and little probably it will happen.

The USB has also evolved, becoming more rapid. In version 3.1, USB can reach 10 GB/s, more than sufficient for most current applications. In addition, the standard has implementation more inexpensive and is extremely popular.

So, the Thunderbolt ends up taking up a companion slot, given to users who have limitations in USB or other transmission standards. As exemplified in the text, it is the case of those who work with volumes very large data or makes a point of transmissions video with very high quality.

In the end, is what matters, isn’t it? There is options for all needs.

You can learn more about the Thunderbolt on the Intel web site (in English).

What Is Thunderbolt 1