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I've heard about this a lot recently, mainly involving Apple and Intel. Some says it's a protocol, others say it's fibre optic, and others say it's copper. One source even said it was a "wireless wire".

Apparently it can carry data, but not video streams, surely the cable can't know the difference between 1s and 0s representing data, and 1s and 0s representing video streams.

Or it will replace all the wires we currently have except power, another place said it is for inside laptops.

Those are just examples so I haven't given any sources, I just want to know what on Earth Thunderbolt (formerly known as Light Peak) is?

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I think Wikipedia says it succinctly:

Light Peak is a proprietary optical cable interface designed by Intel to connect devices in a peripheral bus. The technology has a high bandwidth at 10 Gbit/s, with the potential to scale to 100 Gbit/s by 2020.

Light Peak is being developed as a single universal replacement for current buses such as SCSI, SATA, USB, FireWire, and PCI Express in an attempt to reduce the proliferation of ports on contemporary computers. Bus systems such as USB were developed for the same purpose, and successfully replaced a number of older technologies. However, increasing bandwidth demands have led to higher performance standards like eSATA and DisplayPort that cannot connect to USB and similar peripherals. Light Peak provides a high enough bandwidth to drive these over a single type of interface, and often on a single daisy chained cable.

So, basically, it's a device-to-device optical cable connection. Think USB or SATA but fiber optic.

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So in the future, you will be able to plug external graphics cards into the same port that you could plug a Hard Drive or display? Also on CNET it says the first version will be copper, yet still ahve the same bandwidth as if it had fibre optic. – Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 22:38
@Jonathan - That's sort of their hope, apparently. Keep in mind all that has been demo'd is VERY early prototypes. – Shinrai Feb 22 '11 at 22:48
And to add to that, there were originally speculations saying it would be fiber optic, then there was a rumor about it being copper because it would be cheaper, but now there were corrections and intel said it would be fiber optic. – a sandwhich Feb 22 '11 at 22:49
Well apparently according a more reliable cnet post. There will be an announcement on Thursday possibly coinciding with the likely MacBook pro announcement from apple. – Jonathan. Feb 23 '11 at 0:12

Apple's implementation as described by Arstechnica:

In its initial out-of-the-lab incarnation, Thunderbolt can use either copper or fiber connections for 10Gbps bidirectional communication. That speed is 20 times faster than the theoretical limit of USB 2.0, 12 times faster than FireWire 800, and twice as fast as USB3. According to Intel, however, the 10Gbps isn't just a theoretical peak speed, but usable bandwidth. This allows a single port to communicate with multiple devices simultaneously for a combined throughput of 10Gbps.

That 10Gbps is much faster than most current I/O technologies. With two devices pushing data at the maximum rate, you could back up a full Blu-ray movie in 30 seconds, or sync 64GB of music to a portable device in about a minute. Copying the entire contents of the Library of Congress in digital form—approximately 20TB of data—would take about 35 minutes.

Active electrical-only cables can be up to 3 meters (just under 10 feet) in length, similar to current FireWire and USB standards. Active optical cables, which use fiber for data transmission and copper for up to 10W of power, can be "tens of meters" in length. Passive fiber-only cables could potentially be hundreds of meters long. These lengths enable more flexible positioning between devices and computers instead of relying on specialized connections or relatively pokey wireless solutions.

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Thanks Jared for putting the info inline with my answer. I did not even think to do that. – ivonesh Apr 3 '11 at 5:19

From Intel's website on Thunderbolt:

At 10 Gbps, Thunderbolt™ technology gives you great responsiveness with high-speed data and display transfers in each direction—at the same time. With a single cable, connecting a PC to multiple devices is simple, making it easy to get and see what you want, when you want it. Thunderbolt technology gives you incredible flexibility; high performance expansion is just a cable away for new and novel uses, now and in the future.

Developed by Intel (under the code name Light Peak), and brought to market with technical collaboration from Apple. Thunderbolt technology is a new, high-speed, dual-protocol I/O technology designed for performance, simplicity, and flexibility. This high-speed data transfer technology features the following:

  • Dual-channel 10 Gbps per port
  • Bi-directional Dual-protocol (PCI Express and DisplayPort)
  • Compatible with existing DisplayPort devices
  • Daisy-chained devices
  • Electrical or optical cables Low latency with highly accurate time synchronization
  • Uses native protocol software drivers
  • Power over cable for bus-powered devices

Intel's Thunderbolt controllers interconnect a PC and other devices, transmitting and receiving packetized traffic for both PCIe and DisplayPort protocols. Thunderbolt technology works on data streams in both directions, at the same time, so users get the benefit of full bandwidth in both directions, over a single cable. With the two independent channels, a full 10 Gbps of bandwidth can be provided for the first device, as well as additional downstream devices.

And all Thunderbolt devices share a common connector, allowing users to daisy chain devices one after another with interoperable cables.

What Thunderbolt means to users

Thunderbolt technology enables using the thinnest and lightest laptops and connecting to the extra power and performance of other devices when needed, using a single cable. Adding new performance devices is simple and easy—just plug and play—making Thunderbolt technology powerful and flexible.

Thunderbolt technology was specifically designed with professional audio and video applications in mind, where the inherently low latency and highly accurate time synchronization features play a crucial role.

With Thunderbolt enabled products, video editing and sharing using Intel® Quick Sync Video technology is even faster and easier.

Data transfers for backup, sharing, and editing are tremendously accelerated using Thunderbolt products, significantly reducing times to complete these tasks.

And Thunderbolt enabled products are compatible with existing DisplayPort devices so you don’t have to go buy a new display to take advantage of a Thunderbolt technology enabled computer.

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