Thunderbolt is a standard type of connection that combines data, video, audio, and power into a single connection and can be used by any type of device. It generally refers to the types of cables, ports, and connectors used to connect devices such as monitors, workstations, and audio equipment to computers. Thunderbolt is the culmination of Intel’s Light Peak in combination with Apple’s mini DisplayPort introduced in February 2011. Light Peak was developed to work over fiber, literally to support speeds of light, while Thunderbolt is implemented over copper.
The interface uses two channels to send data bidirectionally (input and output), each channel is capable of pushing 10 Gb/s in each direction. Thunderbolt uses one channel for device Input/Output and the other for display signaling, plus a 10-watt power supply for connected devices.
Thunderbolt is considered a possible replacement for USB, FireWire, PCIe, SCSI, SATA, and other data transfer methods, but for now it remains expensive. Considering the potential applications of Thunderbolt, it could eventually reduce the types of connections available on computing devices. Apple was the first manufacturer to include Thunderbolt in the MacBook Pro, other manufacturers are starting to follow suit, but only in HD products.
Thunderbolt can transfer 1TB (terabyte) of data in less than five minutes and a typical high-definition (HD) video file in less than 30 seconds. High speed and low latency make Thunderbolt ideal for backup, restore, and file operations. Based on PCI Express and DisplayPort architectures, Thunderbolt enables high-speed connection with high-speed peripherals such as hard drives, RAID drives, video grabbers and network interfaces, it can transmit high-definition video using the DisplayPort protocol. Due to its high transfer speed, Thunderbolt is the technology that is ideal for professional video gamers.
Thunderbolt allows up to seven devices to be “daisy-chained” using a single port, two of which can be DisplayPort-enabled monitors. As well as:
- Five devices and two displays based on Thunderbolt
- Six devices and one Thunderbolt-based display
- Six devices and one display via mini-DisplayPort adapter
- Five devices, one Thunderbolt-based display, and one display via mini-DisplayPort adapter
For example if you use a MacBook that has a Thunderbolt port you can plug an external hard drive into it, if you want to connect another external hard drive you can plug it into the Thunderbolt port of the first hard drive. The connection will pass through downstream devices until it reaches your Mac.