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Critics unhappy about Thunderbolt

Posted: 04 Mar 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Thunderbolt  USB 3.0  10Gbit/s Ethernet chips 

Intel Corp.'s new high-speed I/O interface, Thunderbolt receives an unhappy response from critics who feel that instead of introducing a new technology into the market, Intel should just focus its efforts on what already works for everyone—USB.

Thunderbolt brings new costs and complexity to deliver two bi-directional 10Gbit/s copper links that won't open up any major new applications, they say. USB 3.0 is already available at data rates up to 5Gbit/s over copper and, like Thunderbolt, can also ride optical links in the future.

Simply put, Thunderbolt "is a mistake," said one big Intel customer.

Their arguments—not generally being aired in the public—are the reasons why some of the biggest PC, display and HDD vendors are not backing Thunderbolt so far.

Thunderbolt will clearly carry a price premium, although Intel won't say how much. The controller, currently made only by Intel, will have a cost roughly in line with today's 10Gbit/s Ethernet chips. That represents a premium over the cost of a USB 3.0 chip.

In addition, Thunderbolt requires a unique five-wire active cable so far supplied only by Apple with modified mini DisplayPort connectors from an unnamed source. Other costs are hidden in the complexities of mastering a new technology, potentially with new supply chain partners.

Apple is so far the only system maker adopting Thunderbolt. It has a business model based on selling generally upscale products, typically with higher than average PC profit margins. Most PC and display makers primarily compete on cost in higher volume markets with thinner profits.

Companies not yet publicly backing Thunderbolt say there are no compelling applications that need more than the 5Gbit/s links USB 3.0 can offer. Intel managers say Thunderbolt is unique in supporting display resolutions greater than high definition, but that's a very limited niche.

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