It is Thunderbolt Time, So Hints CES

January 13, 2012, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

When people think of Intel’s high-speed interconnect called Thunderbolt, they have only a limited option to consider, including  a high-end professional RAID from Promise, an expensive portable RAID from LaCie, a pricey display from Apple, and a $50 cable necessary to connect them all.

But as the CES has seen many interesting products set to arrive this year, Thunderbolt seems to be ready to work its charm across the industry. Let us look at the details.

Belkin’s Thunderbolt Express dock is one among them, and features three USB 2.0 ports; FireWire 800, HDMI, 3.5mm audio, and gigabit Ethernet ports; and a downstream Thunderbolt port for daisy-chaining additional devices.

The design also includes a cable pass through for a MagSafe power adapter, designed to make it easy to keep on a desk for docking portable Macs.

The $299 alternative for Apple’s costly Thunderbolt display will not ship until September.

Western Digital’s large capacity MyBook Studio II drive comes with a Thunderbolt interface. The two-drive RAID will come in up to 6TB of capacity, though pricing and availability haven’t been announced.Hitachi’s G-Tech brand will also have a two-drive G-RAID available shortly as well.

Intel has a working sample of Elgato’s new mobile Thunderbolt SSD drive, which is set to ship in February for $429.95 for 120GB capacity and $699.95 for 240GB.

Its SSD internals are fast, silent, and durable. It’s also self-powered by its single Thunderbolt port. OCZ has also announced its own SSD-based drive with a Thunderbolt interface called the Lightfoot.

The device is thin and compact and has a sleek aluminum shell. It will come in capacities of up to 1TB, and like the Elgato drive has just a single Thunderbolt port.

Intel also has a working prototype of Lenovo’s recently announced ThinkPad Edge S430 connected to multiple Thunderbolt drives and an unknown AOC 27″ Thunderbolt display. All that is known about this one is that it has Ethernet and audio ports. It was streaming five different video files, each from a different drive.

Four of the video files were playing simultaneously on the AOC display while a fifth played on the S430’s main display. All the devices were connected using a non-Apple Thunderbolt cable, which is manufactured by Sumitomo. The Lenovo S430 is set to ship in the second quarter of 2012

Thunderbolt devices are taking so long to come to the market, but why? It could be that the supply of Thunderbolt controllers has been constrained somewhat as Apple was typically first in line to get them, with certain storage vendors then getting access, and others in line after that.

Also, there are potential intellectual property issues associated with licensing Thunderbolt, which is not exactly comfortable for vendors.

Vendors seem anxious to get their product ideas in the pipeline as they expect Thunderbolt adoption to grow significantly in the coming year.

The next gen Thunderbolt controllers should be available around the second quarter of this year whenIvyBridgelaunches. Intel also plans an official launch of general Thunderbolt availability at that time. Stay tuned.

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