Intel Details Thunderbolt Spec: New Chips Coming Next Year, But What About Fiber Optic Cables?

This is my next reports on an Intel presentation at IDF yesterday detailing specifications for the Thunderbolt connectivity standard, demonstrating the company's commitment to the platform. The presentation reveals a long list of details on the standard, including the use of a Mini DisplayPort-compatible plug as found on Apple's Thunderbolt-enabled Mac models, officially disapproving of Sony's plans to utilize USB as the connector for Thunderbolt.

idf thunderbolt spec
The report notes that Thunderbolt cable lengths are currently limited to three meters due to their reliance on electrical connections. Thunderbolt, which began under the codename "Light Peak", was originally intended to offer fiber optic cables, but Intel is continuing to work on that technology to bring it to consumers. The company is apparently planning to make fiber optic Thunderbolt cables available beginning next year, but they will run at the same speeds as with the current copper wire cables.

What about active optical Thunderbolt cables? Intel says that they will be released “sometime next year” and enable lengths of “tens of meters.” Unfortunately, the first round of active optical cables will operate at the exact same speed as current cables, 10Gbps. Intel says that is necessary because it wants those cables to conform to the current spec, but that faster speeds are certainly possible into the further future. All cables have two channels and can work as a Displayport cable (but not, obviously, vice versa).

IDG News takes an opposing view based on an interview with Intel executive Dadi Perlmutter, seeing optical cables as still being years away from being competitive with the copper cables.

The trend of using copper wires could continue, and it could be many years before fiber optics are used in Thunderbolt.

"It's going to be way out," Perlmutter said. "At the end of the day it's all about how much speed people need versus how much they would be willing to pay."

The cost of implementing fiber optics is significantly higher than copper, and copper can transfer data at adequate speeds at this stage, Perlmutter said. There is still more room for data transfers to jump on copper.

"Copper will continue to improve, which happens. There have been many technologies that had been predicted dead 20 years ago that are still making good progress. We'll see," Perlmutter said.

Meanwhile, Intel continues to advance the technology used in its controller chips for Thunderbolt, planning for the successors to its four-channel Light Ridge chip used in the MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and iMac and its scaled-down two-channel Eagle Ridge chip used in the MacBook Air. According to AnandTech, Intel's 2012 Thunderbolt chip is known as Cactus Ridge, and will also be offered in four-channel and two-channel versions. No details on pricing or other improvements have yet been disclosed, but the Intel is said to be planning to offer Cactus Ridge in packages measuring in as 12 mm by 12 mm.

Top Rated Comments

BornAgainMac Avatar
151 months ago
I want to see Wireless Thunderbolt. I see it in nature all the time.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
cult hero Avatar
151 months ago
Thank goodness they're ditching USB-style connections...

USB has got to be the worst design for a connector ever as far as the shape. There's no easy way to see which way the thing should be inserted. I don't even care if it's Apple's standard that's adopted so long as it's a standard where I can simply look and see which way the cable should be inserted.

(Oh, and Firewire 800 also deserves similar mention as a poorly designed connection type.)
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Consultant Avatar
151 months ago
There's no need to have fiber at the same as copper, when copper can provide power.
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)
nemanjaj Avatar
151 months ago

This presents a problem if you're trying to attach a hard drive or some other future device, and from what I read a display has to be last in the chain, so you need to plug it thru an external drive case if you have one...

Display has to be last in the chain only in the case it is not a thunderbolt compatible display. Otherwise - you can daisy chain devices behind your display.

For this reason - I really do like the fact it is combined together with the display cable, because now display can be a docking station for a laptop.
Score: 3 Votes (Like | Disagree)
sporadicMotion Avatar
151 months ago
Not so facetious as you might think. I worked at a CompUSA when the original iMac was released. Windows PCs had had USB ports for a few years at that point (since early in the Win95 cycle), and Windows (as bought on a PC) had basic USB support since Win95 OSR3, OSR3.1 and OSR3.5. It was the release of the iMac that brought USB devices into the mainstream. About 90% of the USB devices came in 'bondi blue and/or frosted white' color schemes. (Including a number of printers!)

Believe, me I remember the complaints from the beige-box crowd about the color scheme on so many mice and joysticks. This was, of course, back before the 'everything has to be black!' craze hit the PC side of the market, when an internal CD-ROM drive with a black faceplate cost $5-15 more than the identical beige faceplate version.

How do you figure the iMac brought anything to the mainstream at that point in time? The market was 99.9% pc at that point. PC users made USB mainstream, the iMac just brought it to mac users.
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)
coder12 Avatar
151 months ago
"But What About Fiber Optic Cables?"

I dunno, MacRumors, what about fiber optic cables?
Score: 2 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Popular Stories

maxresdefault

Apple Announces WWDC 2023 Event Taking Place June 5 to 9

Wednesday March 29, 2023 9:58 am PDT by
Apple today announced that its 34th annual Worldwide Developers Conference will take place from Monday, June 5 to Friday, June 9. Like WWDC 2020, 2021, and 2022, WWDC 2023 will be an online event for the most part, and it will be open to all developers at no cost. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Apple will provide online sessions and labs, which will allow...
iPhone 15 Pro Buttons CAD Leak

iPhone 15 Pro Low-Energy Chip to Allow Solid-State Buttons to Work When Device is Off or Out of Battery

Wednesday March 29, 2023 1:54 am PDT by
The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will use a new ultra-low energy microprocessor allowing certain features like the new capacitive solid-state buttons to remain functional even when the handset is powered off or the battery has run out, according to a source that shared details on the MacRumors forums. CAD-based render of new solid-state buttons on iPhone 15 Pro models The source of this rumor is ...
CarPlay Phone Call

General Motors to Phase Out Apple CarPlay Starting This Year in EV Transition

Friday March 31, 2023 8:43 am PDT by
General Motors (GM) will phase out Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in its vehicles starting this year, shifting to a built-in infotainment system co-developed with Google (via Reuters). GM owns Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC in the United States. It will stop offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto starting with the 2024 Chevrolet Blazer, which goes on sale this summer. The company plans ...
iPhone 15 Pro Multi Purpose button Mute Switch Feature Green 2

iPhone 15 Pro Rumored to Feature Multi-Use Action Button Instead of Mute Switch

Wednesday March 29, 2023 7:28 am PDT by
iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max models are rumored to feature a customizable Action button like the Apple Watch Ultra, according to a MacRumors forum member who leaked accurate details about the Dynamic Island on iPhone 14 Pro models last year. The source claimed the Action button will replace the Ring/Silent switch that has been included on every iPhone model since 2007. They did not...
iOS 16

iOS 16.4 Now Available for Your iPhone With These 8 New Features

Friday March 31, 2023 8:55 am PDT by
Following six weeks of beta testing, iOS 16.4 was released to the public this week. The software update includes a handful of new features and changes for the iPhone 8 and newer. To install an iOS update, open the Settings app on the iPhone, tap General → Software Update, and follow the on-screen instructions. Below, we have recapped eight new features and changes added with iOS 16.4,...
iOS 17 on Phone Feature

Three New iOS Features Coming to Your iPhone Following Apple Music Classical

Thursday March 30, 2023 7:13 am PDT by
With the Apple Music Classical app and an Apple Pay Later early access program now available, the list of previously-announced iOS features that have yet to launch is beginning to shrink. However, there are still a few features we are waiting for. Below, we have recapped three more iOS features that are expected to launch in 2023, including an Apple Card savings account for Daily Cash,...
apple mixed reality headset concept by david lewis and marcus kane

Kuo: Apple Mixed-Reality Headset May Not Appear at WWDC as Mass Production Pushed Back Yet Again

Thursday March 30, 2023 4:50 am PDT by
Apple has again pushed back mass production of its mixed-reality headset and the device may not appear at this year's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo today said. Apple headset concept by David Lewis and Marcus Kane In a tweet, Kuo explained that Apple "isn't very optimistic" about whether the headset will be able to create an "iPhone moment." As a result,...