Where are the Thunderbolt Devices?

Thunderbolt was announced by Apple some time ago. New Apple computers are featuring the port in their design. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a big rush for manufacturers to produce products that support the platform.

Storage devices including the LaCie Little Big Disk and the Sonnet Fusion RAID have joined the slow-growing list of devices that support Thunderbolt. At up to 864 MB/s, the data transfer rate offered by Thunderbolt is lightyears ahead of other standard currently on the market.

Even so, it appears manufacturers are opting once again to support the latest USB standard with its backwards compatibility over a faster technology. This is almost directly reminiscent of the competition between FireWire and USB that resulted in a divide between convenience and performance.

I brought this question to the community to get their take on why Thunderbolt seems to be taking so long to get off the ground. Here is what they said:

Sean Cooper – I might also note that Thunderbolt is the new Firewire. Give it two years, somebody will come out with a cheaper faster standard.

Blake Sabatinelli – On Apple’s enterprise RAID servers, where they belong. Does the average user really need 10 Gbps?

John Thompson – Thunderbolt devices will come much quicker when more companies adopt the technology. It’s a numbers game; USB 2.0 was/is more popular than Firewire 800 not because it’s the better technology but because it’s in every consumer laptop out there, so companies are bound to target the market where they can have the most impact.

There’s no doubt that Thunderbolt is great technology, but if it isn’t adopted by more manufacturers apart from Apple and Sony, then it will only lead to (i) less adoption by manufacturers of peripherals such as external hard drives and (ii) higher prices of those products when they hit the market.

Speaking of higher prices, $50 for a Thunderbolt cable from Apple is not going to win many fans, either. Just my two cents!

Max Huijgen – Thunderbolt is the Firewire of the future. Limited to Apple only environments where there is a need for high throughput otherwise know as the lower grade video editing world.

The masses will live with USB 3.0 which serve their needs for a lot less money and the serious people and the Linux and Windows world will go for the External PCI solution because it will be an open standard. No licenses to be paid, no manufacturer tie-in and a clear future. Check for instance this, or one of the many other sources of info.

Thunderbolt and PCI External will both need to wait for optical cables to deliver a revolution in speed instead of an incremental upgrade over USB or external SATA which is already available. The good news is that Intel already integrated PCI external in their newer chipsets so even they didn’t fully commit to Thunderbolt so it will go the Firewire way: a limited number of external devices with the connector mostly targeted at the smaller sized video editing studios.

In addition to my earlier comment I agree with +John Thompson that there needs to be a killer application to reach critical masses. USB 3.0 will find its way as it´s already on your new PC/notebook/tablet and is backwards compatible. PCI External´s killer application will be the gamers market.

The PCI-E connector is smaller than the Thunderbolt so will fit in the new generation of Thinbooks and tablets. It will enable external graphic cards to be connected to every laptop. No longer being restricted to a PC box just because you are into serious gaming. Getting rid of the super heavy weight Alienware notebooks which get hot, eat batteries for lunch and are a nuisance to carry around.

No, the future is a thin and slick portable, be it a thin book, a netbook or a tablet with keyboard with an external box which only leaves home for a gaming party connected by PCI-E. The bandwidth is sufficient, the market is for grabs and people will happily buy the latest and greatest video card in a box which can be upgraded separately. Gamers have an above average spending pattern so there are your numbers to warrant implementation of a new standard connection.