News Reviews

The State of Thunderbolt: Two Months Later

Apple and Intel showed us the way to the future of I/O technology in late February with the debut of new MacBook Pros outfitted with a Thunderbolt (formerly Light Peak) port disguised as a mere mortal Mini DisplayPort. Now that the high-speed data port is a reality — and likely headed for other Mac models in the near future — who’s taking advantage of it and how?
The annual NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) event in Las Vegas wrapped up on April 14, where Apple previewed its next-generation Final Cut Pro X to a crowd of nearly 2,000 video professionals at the annual Supermeet. While that preview made a big splash, the real story was unfolding on the show floor, with third-party vendors eager to show how they planned to adopt the new Thunderbolt I/O technology first introduced with Apple’s MacBook Pro line in late February.
LaCie Little Big Disk featuring Thunderbolt
At the time of its announcement, Thunderbolt was an immediate hit with storage vendors including Western Digital and LaCie, who announced an update to their Little Big Disk hard drive for this summer. Other companies expressed interest, but it wasn’t until NAB that we had a chance to see what else will be coming down the pipeline.
Matrox plans to introduce a Thunderbolt adaptor box in July, which will easily allow any of the company’s MXO streaming and editing boxes to work on computers without a PCIe slot — including the iMac, which is rumored to be getting a Thunderbolt (and Sandy Bridge processor) update any day now.
Sonnet NAB 2011 new products announcement
Sonnet is going Thunderbolt crazy, announcing the Allegro FW800 Thunderbolt Adaptor to allow FireWire 800 devices to be used on a Thunderbolt port, as well as the Presto Gigabit Ethernet Thunderbolt Adaptor to add a Gigabit Ethernet connection wherever Thunderbolt is available. The company will also be offering a few RAID storage systems as part of their Fusion line.

Even more exciting, Sonnet is also planning the Echo Express PCIe 2.0 Expansion Chassis, which will enable the use of PCI Express 2.0 cards with any Thunderbolt-packing computer — including 8GB Fibre Channel  and RAID controllers, 10Gigabit Ethernet cards and even pro video capture cards.

Speaking of video capture, Blackmagic Design is planning to take full advantage of Thunderbolt for their upcoming Ultrastudio 3D, a dual stream capture device capable of two SDI streams, one for each eye, to enable some pretty fantastic 3D capture and playback possibilities. The portable box features SDI and HDMI 1.4a in and out, as well as an analog breakout cable for old-school setups.

There are also rumors that rival video capture company Aja is also hard at work on something code-named “Phaser,” which is expected to be an update to the company’s popular Io Express box, this time with two Thunderbolt ports as well as HD-SDI and HDMI connections.

Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt RAIDPromise Technology is using Thunderbolt for a series of forthcoming Pegasus RAID drive enclosures, and used the NAB show floor to demonstrate early prototypes of what’s to come. MacRumors reported on Adobe After Effects senior product manager Steve Forde’sreaction to the Promise RAID on Twitter, where he remarked, “Wow! We have one of only two Promise RAIDs in world with Thunderbolt at the Adobe booth at #NAB. CS5.5 screams on it,” Forde proclaimed, referring to the company’s pending Creative Suite 5.5 update expected in May.

Promise is also planning a SANLink adaptor that will provide users with a dual 4G Fibre Channel link and two Thunderbolt ports, which will take advantage of the technology’s low latency when daisy chaining devices.

With rumors of an imminent iMac refresh with Thunderbolt on board and even a potential MacBook Air spec bump in June for the same, it looks like exciting days ahead for the new technology — and users can rest easy knowing they’ll have plenty of options for plugging into that I/O port this summer and beyond.