Intel doubles speed of Thunderbolt interconnect

Intel has doubled the speed of the Thunderbolt data transfer technology, which will soon shuttle data between host computers like Macs and peripherals at a rate of 20 gbps (gigabits per second).

This is the first big speed boost for the interconnect, which has held steady at a 10 gbps data transfer rate since the technology’s introduction in early 2011.

The enhancement will give Thunderbolt an edge over USB 3.0, which transfers data at 5 gbps. However, Thunderbolt so far has been poorly adopted by makers of peripherals, PCs and other devices.

The improvement could set the stage for Macs to support 4K displays, whose resolution of 3840 by 2160 pixels is four times today’s standard high-definition resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixels. Thunderbolt ports are available in a few PCs from Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Dell.

The Thunderbolt speed boost will enable “4K video file transfer and display simultaneously,” Intel said via email in a statement. At 20 gbps, the speed enhancements could enable the simultaneous transfer of 4K video to screens and 4K video files to storage devices. Compatible storage devices and displays can be attached to a single Thunderbolt port.

The speed boost comes through a new Thunderbolt controller chip code-named Falcon Ridge, which Intel is expected to introduce at the NAB Show, to be held from April 6 to 11 in Las Vegas. The controller chip will go into production by the end of this year, Intel said.

Thunderbolt supports the PCI-Express data transfer and DisplayPort protocols. Other enhancements include support for the latest DisplayPort 1.2 standard, but an Intel spokesman declined to say whether Thunderbolt carried the latest PCI-Express 3.0, a faster data transfer protocol which the company said it would adopt in a future version of the interconnect.

Intel has more plans in place to improve Thunderbolt speeds. The company is researching the use of silicon nanophotonics in Thunderbolt by 2015 to improve data transfer speeds to 50 gbps.

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