Apple and Intel early last year announced Thunderbolt, a high-speed interconnect that much like USB connects host computers to peripherals such as external storage devices or monitors. Apple quickly adopted the technology and is now putting Thunderbolt ports on all its Macs, while top Windows PC makers including Dell and Hewlett-Packard remain hesitant, given the lack of peripherals and the expense of implementing the technology. The port of choice for Windows PC makers remains USB 3.0, which has a wide installed base and is backward compatible with USB 2.0.
But Thunderbolt is twice as fast as USB 3.0 with data transfer speeds of 10Gbps (gigabits per second), and Lenovo, Acer and Asus have announced or are shipping laptops in which Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 ports co-exist. Sony has implemented a customized version of Thunderbolt on its Vaio Z to connect a specific dock. Thunderbolt has a promising future with the pending adoption of fiber optics that could enable cable runs of up to 20 meters. Intel is also working to double the data transfer speeds of Thunderbolt with the adoption of the new PCI-Express 3.0 protocol, and is also plotting a successor to Thunderbolt based on silicon photonics that can transfer data at 50Gbps. Intel has also said around 100 peripherals that support Thunderbolt will be available by year end.
Acer’s Aspire S5 ultrabook
Acer’s US$1,399 Aspire S5 ultrabook is a thin-and-light laptop that has a 13.3-inch screen and is 14.99 millimeters thick. The laptop has a “MagicFlip I/O Port,” which pops out to reveal Thunderbolt, USB 3.0 and HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) ports. The ultrabook has Intel’s Ivy Bridge Core i7 processors and a 256GB solid-state drive. The ultrabook’s battery is not impressive at 6.5 hours of run time on a single charge, but if you want a Thunderbolt port, this is one of the thinnest and lightest laptops available. Amazon is selling the laptop for $1,299.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad Edge S430
Lenovo has only one laptop model, the ThinkPad Edge S430, with a Thunderbolt port. The laptop was originally announced ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show in January, and recently started shipping in some parts of Europe and Asia-Pacific, but is yet to ship in the U.S. The laptop has a 14-inch screen, is 22 millimeters thick and weighs 1.8 kilograms, but that can vary depending on the battery and components. The Thunderbolt port is accompanied by a USB 3.0 and a mini-HDMI port. The laptop comes with a choice of Ivy Bridge Core i3, i5, i7 processors, Microsoft’s Windows 7 OS and up to 1.5TB of storage. An Nvidia graphics card can be added for improved multimedia capabilities. The laptop’s price varies by region: It starts at £739.99 (US$1,156) in the U.K.
Asus’s Thunderbolt laptop coming
Asus showed off a G55 gaming laptop with a 15.6-inch screen and Thunderbolt port at the Computex trade show in Taiwan. The laptop is already available with a Mini-DisplayPort monitor connection, but the company said it may replace that with a Thunderbolt port on some models. Thunderbolt supports PCI-Express for data transfers and DisplayPort to connect monitors. The G55 models with Thunderbolt were due in early July in some regions, but Asus wasn’t immediately available for comment on when the laptops will ship. The G55VW laptop comes with Intel’s Core i7 or i5 processors and a choice of graphics cards, ports and storage options. A GS55VW model without Thunderbolt is available for $1,220 on Amazon.com.
Asus is already releasing a range of motherboards for Thunderbolt and Windows 8, so it is safe to assume the company will be incorporating the technology in future PCs.
Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org