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What is Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt is a new connector developed by Apple and Intel. Thunderbolt is a single peripheral connection technology that combines audio, video, data and power. This is in contrast to USB, which only carries data and power. In addition, Thunderbolt is also touted as being incredibly fast compared to both USB 3.0 and FireWire 800.

What Makes Thunderbolt So Fast?
Thunderbolt is built on top of two existing architectures: PCI Express and DisplayPort. As such, each Thundebolt cable is actually two channels. This allows Thunderbolt devices to read and write simultaneously without impacting throughput. The theoretical speed of Thunderbolt is up to 10 Gbps, which means you can read at 10 Gbps without affecting write speeds.
How Does Thunderbolt Compare to USB in the Real World?
As with other high speed interfaces, there are other factors that impact speeds in the real world. For example, although a Thunderbolt connector can reach speeds up to 10 Gbps, many hard drives will max out at 3 Gbps or 6 Gbps. In this way, the top speed of the Thunderbolt interface will be limited by the device it is connected to.
USB 3.0 on the other hand has a speed of 5 Gbps, which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0 (480 Mbps). In light of the hard drive speeds mentioned above, there might not be an immense difference in speed between USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt for a single external hard drive.
The other technology to compare Thunderbolt to is eSATA, which is the prevailing interface for internal hard disk drives. eSATA speeds are also between 3.0 Gbps and 6.0 Gbps, but will not have the bottleneck of USB 3.0, due to the direct connection to the motherboard.

What Other Advantages of Thunderbolt Are There?
In terms of connecting backup devices, Thunderbolt is advantageous because it allows you to “daisy chain” several devices. That is, you can connect multiple Thunderbolt devices together and then connect them all to a single Thunderbolt on the host computer. This requires that each Thunderbolt device has two Thunderbolt ports, however.
For applications other than backup, Thunderbolt is useful because it can be used for other devices, such as displays, speakers and other peripherals.
What Are Some Disadvantages of Thunderbolt Devices?
Thunderbolt is somewhat of a niche technology. Few non-Apple computers come with Thunderbolt connectivity, which means you’ll be limited in terms of connecting your Thunderbolt peripheral or backup device to a PC. There are adapters available for Thunderbolt devices, such as Thunderbolt to USB, but you will not see the same speed advantages while using these adapters.
To realize the full potential of Thunderbolt, you’ll also need to invest in some other high speed devices, such as solid-state drives and RAID enclosures or controllers. These investments will give you real performance boosts, but they will add to the overall cost of ownership. For many users, Thunderbolt may be overkill.

Can I Get Thunderbolt on a Windows PC?
Although Thunderbolt was rolled out as part of an Apple initiative, there are a few manufacturers that are including Thunderbolt ports on their laptops. The ASUS G55, Lenovo ThinkPad Edge S430 and Acer Aspire S5 laptops all have Thunderbolt ports.
Currently, there are no PCIe Thunderbolt expansion cards available for laptops or desktop towers.


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