The Asus P8Z77-V Premium is joined by the P8Z77-V Pro/Thunderbolt and MSI Z77A-GD80 as the first boards to come with Thunderbolt connectivity on board.
Motherboard makers Asus and MSI have become the first out of the blocks with Thunderbolt-equipped models, bringing the previously Apple-exclusive peripheral connector to PCs as an on-board feature for the first time.
The Asus P8Z77-V Premium, claimed to be the first Intel-certified motherboard to include the joint Apple-Intel developed Thunderbolt technology, includes multiple features designed to enhance and extend the included Intel Z77 chipset including true four-way Nvidia SLI and AMD CrossFireX on PCI Express Gen 3.0 slots, SSD Caching II with on-board 32GB mSATA SSD to get you started, two Intel-powered gigabit Ethernet ports, and six USB ports supporting the USB 3.0 Boost performance upgrade.
It's the Thunderbolt port that makes the P8Z77-V Premium special, though. Offering simultaneous bi-directional data transfer at up to 10Gb/s and support for daisy-chaining up to six devices - as well as a seventh Thunderbolt or DisplayPort display device at the end of the chain - the technology shows promise as a high-speed alternative to USB 3.0.
The same port is available on the new P8Z77-V Pro/Thunderbolt, and while pricing has yet to be confirmed it's likely to come in at a lower cost compared to the Intel-certified Premium model above while retaining most of the stand-out features of its luxury equivalent.
MSI's Z77A-GD80, which the company claims is the 'world's first mainboard with Thunderbolt support
' thanks to the fact it originally demoed the board back at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, offers many of the same features. While it lacks the on-board SSD and clever caching technology of its Asus rival, it packs MSI's top-end Military Class III components - including the usual highly-conductive polymerised capacitors (Hi-C CAP,) super ferrite choke (SFC) and solid capacitor parts - along with the MSI OC Genie II overclocking system.
At present, Thunderbolt is hardly ubiquitous. Aside from a handful of monitors and external storage devices, the port is nowhere to be seen on peripherals. As increasing quantities of motherboards with on-board support appear, that is likely to change - and with Thunderbolt offering features beyond those of USB, including the ability to use the PCI Express lanes inherent in a Thunderbolt connection to communicate with an external graphics card at full speed - it'll be interesting to see what the industry comes up with to make real use of the technology's flexibility.
This isn't the first time MSI has 'launched' its Thunderbolt board - as well as the CES outing in January, it issued a press release confirming the board earlier this month - but both companies are still quiet on UK availability and pricing.