Thunderbolt Cable Teardown Reveals Electronics and Firmware

As noted by Arstechnica and iFixIt, Apple's new $50 Thunderbolt cable is actually a "smart" or "active" cable that contains circuitry and firmware. Arstechnica explains:

A source within the telecom industry explained to Ars that active cables are commonly used at data rates above 5Gbps. These cables contain tiny chips at either end that are calibrated to the attenuation and dispersion properties of the wire between them. Compensating for these properties "greatly improves the signal-to-noise ratio" for high-bandwidth data transmission.

iFixIt tore down the new ThunderBolt cable and found two Gennum GN2033 chips in the connector, one on each side. Additional support chips and resistors were also found for total of 12 chips and "tons" of smaller electronic components.

QBZvGuXR2nRD64NM
Gennum's chip is described as a transceiver that enables "reliable data transfer at cutting-edge speeds over low cost, thin-gauge copper cables." Early benchmarks of Thunderbolt drive enclosures show massive improvements over FireWire 800.

One interesting benefit of this "active" cabling is that current Thunderbolt ports found in the iMac and MacBook Pro will be future-compatible with planned optical Thunderbolt cables. Optical cables were part of the original plans for Thunderbolt which promises to offer much higher speeds, but the first version released are based on traditional copper wiring. Intel still plans on upgrading to optical cabling in the future, and existing Thunderbolt devices should be compatible with new cabling. This was mentioned during the original Thunderbolt roll out.

...the port you'll find in new MacBook Pros and storage devices can actually take an optical cable when those are cost-effective enough to roll out, because Intel will eventually bake the optical transceivers into the cables themselves.

Ars, however, suggests that the high cost and complexity of the cabling may be a hurdle to widespread adoption of Thunderbolt.

Top Rated Comments

cmaier Avatar
165 months ago
Yeah, I don't think Monoprice is going to sell these things for $8 like everyone expected.
Score: 47 Votes (Like | Disagree)
RoelJuun Avatar
165 months ago
And still everybody keeps telling that Apple isn't interested in de Pro market and thinks only of the consumers ;)
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
mrfoof82 Avatar
165 months ago
Not entirely surprising.

Keep in mind, Thunderbolt is two 10Gbps channels. Let's face it -- 20Gbps aggregate bandwidth is a LOT of bandwidth for an external cable which is getting up there in numbers to rival the amount of memory bandwidth most commodity computer chipsets have (I think two-channel X68 is 21.6Gbps), and those chipsets aren't exactly dirt cheap. This is bandwidth normally the realm of single mode fiber optics for cabling, and even then, the equipment on either side of that single mode cable isn't cheap.

This is not a dumb piece of shielded wire. This is a PCI-E breakout.

This is why the first thunderbolt peripherals are DAS RAID arrays and FCAL HBAs. This is stuff really intended for the professional market at the moment, not consumer devices, as there isn't a consumer device need for this crazy (yes, it's crazy!) amount of bandwidth. Not until production significantly catches up will things start to become cheap enough to make consumer devices.

This is why Apple is pushing Thunderbolt. Even in it's first incarnation it is an insane amount of overkill. It will not be quickly obsolesced.
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Justinf79 Avatar
165 months ago
And that's why they're $50. :)
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Eduardo1971 Avatar
165 months ago
Wow; is this the first time that iFix it has torn down a cable?

Too funny.:)
Score: 14 Votes (Like | Disagree)
elithrar Avatar
165 months ago
Why couldn't apple just put those chips in the computer themselves.
My gut feeling was so they have an excuse to charge an arm and a leg for the cables.

Because the chips help with handling attenuation on the cable, and it's part of the Thunderbolt spec. Without the chips, reaching 20Gbps over copper is incredibly hard.

PS: Read http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2711918 for a better understanding.
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

Apple car wheel icon feature yellow

Apple Cancels Electric Car Project

Tuesday February 27, 2024 11:05 am PST by
Apple has canceled all plans to release an autonomous, electric vehicle, reports Bloomberg. Apple has been working on an Apple Car for more than a decade and invested millions of dollars into development before deciding it was not a viable project. Apple's Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams today told approximately 2,000 employees working on the Apple Car that the project was canceled,...
General Apps Messages

iOS 17.4 to Add This 'Groundbreaking' New Messaging Feature

Friday February 23, 2024 5:05 am PST by
With iOS 17.4, set to arrive in March 2024, Apple is bringing a new cryptographic security feature to iMessage called PQ3. This "groundbreaking" and "state-of-the-art" protocol provides "extensive defenses against even highly sophisticated quantum attacks," according to Apple. Let's break down what that means. Apple's iMessage service already supports end-to-end encryption, but security...
Beyond iPhone 13 Better Blue Face ID Single Camera Hole

Six Reasons to Wait for Next Year's iPhone 17

Thursday February 22, 2024 4:20 am PST by
Apple's iPhone development roadmap runs several years into the future and the company is continually working with suppliers on several successive iPhone models concurrently, which is why we sometimes get rumored feature leaks so far ahead of launch. The iPhone 17 series is no different, and already we have some idea of what to expect from Apple's 2025 smartphone lineup. If you plan to skip...
iOS 17

iOS 17.4 Coming Soon With These New Features for Your iPhone

Monday February 26, 2024 6:08 am PST by
In a press release last month, Apple confirmed that iOS 17.4 will be released in March, and the update includes several new features and changes for the iPhone. Key new features in iOS 17.4 include major App Store changes in the EU, Apple Podcasts transcripts, and an iMessage security upgrade. The update also adds new emoji and includes preparations for the launch of next-generation CarPlay...
iOS 18 Mock iPhone 16 Feature Gray

iOS 18 Rumored to Be Compatible With These iPhone Models

Tuesday February 27, 2024 6:31 am PST by
iOS 18 will be compatible with the iPhone XR, and thereby also the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max models with the same A12 Bionic chip, according to a post on X today from a private account with a proven track record of sharing build numbers for upcoming iOS updates. The post was spotted by MacRumors contributor Aaron Perris, and it has since been deleted. However, this was likely because the...
applearcade

Game Developers Describe 'Smell of Death' Around Apple Arcade

Monday February 26, 2024 7:24 am PST by
Some game developers are dissatisfied with Apple Arcade amid concerns about the subscription service's future, a new report claims. Sources speaking to mobilegamer.biz described a "smell of death" around Apple's games subscription service and noted the difference between the company's investment in TV and music, and its interest in games. "At the very top of the company there needs to be a ...