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Intel boosts Thunderbolt to 20Gb/s with Falcon Ridge

Intel boosts Thunderbolt to 20Gb/s with Falcon Ridge

Intel's latest Thunderbolt controller, dubbed Falcon Ridge, allows for bi-directional data transfer at up to 20Gb/s - twice that of USB 3.0.

Intel has formally unveiled its next-generation Thunderbolt controller, dubbed Falcon Ridge, which doubles the interconnect's performance to a whopping 20Gb/s.

Developed by Intel in partnership with Apple, which was the first company to adopt the standard, Thunderbolt is Intel's answer to USB 3.0. Combining DisplayPort and PCI Express connectivity into a single cable, the standard previously allowed for 10Gb/s bi-directional performance - a significant boost over the 5Gb/s offered by the rival USB 3.0 connection standard. In January this year, the USB Promoter Group announced that a new USB 3.0 standard would match Thunderbolt's 10Gb/s performance with a revised specification that increased the performance of the data encoding system and also boosted power efficiency to boot.

While Intel is part of the USB Promoters Group, it has something of a vested interest in pushing its own Thunderbolt standard as well - and when USB reached 10Gb/s, it was pretty clear Intel would be following up with an announcement of its own. Sure enough, the company has formally announced the Falcon Ridge Thunderbolt controller which doubles the potential throughput to 20Gb/s - once again twice that offered by USB 3.0.

The new Falcon Ridge controllers won't be arriving with Haswell, however: instead, a controller dubbed Redwood Ridge will début with the company's fourth-generation Core processor family. While this offers improved power management, support for the DisplayPort 1.2 standard and a reduced production cost, it will be limited to the same 10Gb/s performance as its predecessors. Falcon Ridge, meanwhile, will enter production later this year, and appear in the first consumer devices some time in 2014.

With USB 3.0 managing to saturate most common peripheral devices - it's rare to find an external hard drive that can keep up with a 5Gb/s sustained data transfer rate - Intel is going to have a fight on its hands to convince consumers they need Thunderbolt in their lives, however. One way it is doing this is by emphasising the DisplayPort connectivity inherent in the system, which allows it to transfer image information to a display device as well as raw data. Accordingly, the new Falcon Ridge controller was announced at the National Association of Broadcasters event in Las Vegas, where Intel pushed its support for 4K and Ultra HD video resolutions.

The company also talked up its optical cabling system for Thunderbolt, something USB 3.0 can't offer: swapping the standard copper wire for fibre optics, Thunderbolt allows for data transmission over a 30m length - to be boosted to 100m before Autumn, Intel claimed. Doing so comes at a cost, however: using optical cabling means Thunderbolt is no longer able to transfer power at the same time as data, meaning devices connected in this manner need a dedicated power supply to operate.

One thing Intel hasn't announced is pricing. With the new Redwood Ridge controller offering reduced production costs, however, it's likely the company will continue to push 10Gb/s Thunderbolt for mainstream users while targeting cash-rich enterprise and video production houses with the upcoming, and likely significantly more expensive, Falcon Ridge chip.

12 Comments

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Mankz 9th April 2013, 12:11 Quote
Until they drop the price of Thunderbolt drives and the like, I don't care how fast it is.
Gareth Halfacree 9th April 2013, 12:21 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Mankz
Until they drop the price of Thunderbolt drives and the like, I don't care how fast it is.
That's Intel's plan: Redwood Ridge is already going to be cheaper - well, cheaper to manufacturers, which hopefully means cheaper to consumers too rather than just boosting people's profits - and Intel's presence at NAB spoke volumes: "Buy Thunderbolt, 'cos it's chuffin' quick when it comes to shuffling 4K video around the place."

When you're spending £5K-£500K on a display, the cost of the interconnect isn't really a prime concern. If Intel can sell enough expensive Thunderbolt gear to that kind of customer, economies of scale kick in and it will be able to sell cheaper Thunderbolt gear to the consumer who just wants to connect his monitor, camera and external hard drive over a nice quick bus.

At least, that's the theory. Remind me about this post some time towards the end of 2015, we'll see if Thunderbolt is in any way affordable as a mainstream alternative to USB 3.0 then...
jrs77 9th April 2013, 12:45 Quote
I tested a LaCie 4TB d2 with Thunderbolt and USB3 in the Apple-Store a few weeks back.

Datatransfer was around 10% faster with Thunderbolt than with USB3, but that doesn't justify the costs for such a device.

Thunderbolt isn't really that interesting imho, allthough it has some cool features like daisy-chaining all your periphal devices (screen, NAS, etc). The price for the devices and the cables is simply too high.
runadumb 9th April 2013, 14:34 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree


At least, that's the theory. Remind me about this post some time towards the end of 2015, we'll see if Thunderbolt is in any way affordable as a mainstream alternative to USB 3.0 then...

I'll remind you everyday UNTIL mid 2015. Then I'll go dark.
Gradius 10th April 2013, 00:17 Quote
What a coincidence! Only because USB-IF announced today 10Gb/s + 100W on USB Intel decided to do that too (with Thunderbolt of course) !
Gradius 10th April 2013, 00:18 Quote
2015? By that time we'll have USB4. ;-)
blackerthanblack 10th April 2013, 10:49 Quote
Reminds me too much of the Firewire/USB2 situation where the Firewire group really priced themselves out the market. By the time they lowered the licence fee it was too late. Manufacturers have to sell at a price being in a competitive market - ultimate speed isn't the only concern. Manufacturers realised with camcorders that selling on one point and raising the price wasn't enough, hence the huge switch from Firewire camcorders to USB2 ones in the past.

Oddly enough it was mainly Apple that adopted Firewire in the early days just as they are now with Thunderbolt.

I think that they are going about it from the wrong end of the pricing spectrum (though it's understandable with Apple involved). They need to offer a similar speeds to USB but at a lower price point, with extra speed possibly for higher price points. Their current strategy is heading for high end niche product status and I think it will be stuck in that bracket - not selling enough to recoup development costs and lower the price - though the interested parties may be happy at that with Apple having a unique 'selling point' and Intel have both sides covered.
Corky42 10th April 2013, 14:26 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gradius
2015? By that time we'll have USB4. ;-)

Before that it looks like we will be getting SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.0) upping the speed to 10Gps and 100w
Gareth Halfacree 10th April 2013, 14:59 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Corky42
Before that it looks like we will be getting SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.0) upping the speed to 10Gps and 100w
Why link to an external site when this very article has a link to a story on that subject, written back in January?
LightningPete 10th April 2013, 15:24 Quote
Well it looks like it wont make a difference to the average PC consumer then. Heres me thinking pre reading article USB was already suceeded. Thank god its getting to much to upgrade an entire motherboard just to have USB 3 capability, its bad enough to keep up with CPUs and GPUs and DDRx.

This will however will be a nice welcome to though univserities that need this kind of transfer speeds for all the devices they use at once
Corky42 10th April 2013, 15:37 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Why link to an external site when this very article has a link to a story on that subject, written back in January?

Because the article that was written back in January does not mention.
Quote:
that the new specification is nearing completion and should be ready in June
And
Quote:
that there is further headroom in the standard to again double the speed to 20Gbit/s
And
Quote:
and it probably will be 2015 before the new standard is integrated into chipsets.

If i knew posting updated details would offend you so much i wouldn't have bothered. :(
Gareth Halfacree 10th April 2013, 15:48 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Corky42
If i knew posting updated details would offend you so much i wouldn't have bothered. :(
Apologies if that was the impression I gave: my post was terse because I'm on my phone, and the forum text input box doesn't play terribly well with the browser...
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