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What Does Thunderbolt Mean?

Thunderbolt is an I/O technology that combines fast transmission rates for data, audio and video streams, along with in-line power, into one interface. Developed by Intel Corp. and first released on Apple’s Macbook Pro line in February 2011, Thunderbolt uses existing display port and PCI Express architectures, but combines them to create a new serial data interface that provides high-speed connections to peripherals such as hard drives, RAID arrays, video-capture solutions, and network interfaces. Thunderbolt also enables high-definition video streams using the Display Port Protocol. Thunderbolt interfaces allow the supported peripherals to be daisy-chained together while retaining their original speeds. Thunderbolt was originally codenamed Light Peak.


Techopedia Explains Thunderbolt

Prior to Thunderbolt, Intel used USB and PCI Express technologies as its standard peripheral connection interfaces, while Apple used FireWire. Thunderbolt improves upon all previous peripheral technologies. Its main features include:

  • Speed: Thunderbolt offers ultra-fast transfer speeds as compared to its predecessors. This may be has high as 100 Gbps, compared to 5 Gbps for USB 3.0.
  • Multiple Data & Video Streams: Thanks to its mini display port technology, Thunderbolt supports 10 Gbps video transmissions and can simultaneously stream data at 10 Gbps. This ensures up to eight simultaneous streams of high-definition video.
  • Power Over Cable: Thunderbolt interfaces provide an inline power source that can supply up to 10 watts for its peripherals.
  • Flexibility: Thunderbolt has tremendous flexibility with respect to the types and number of peripherals that can be connected to a single Thunderbolt interface.
  • Backward Compatibility: Thunderbolt is fully compatible with PCI Express and FireWire devices. It is also expected to be able to support other peripheral interfaces like USB, DVI and HDMI, among others, once third-party party adapters are developed.
  • Security: Because it is based on PCI Express technology, Thunderbolt allows very low-level access to the system’s main memory. FireWire and other PCI devices often have unlimited access to system memory, which can compromise system security.

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Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor
Margaret Rouse
Senior Editor

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.