Intel has announced its latest effort to push the Thunderbolt standard as an alternative to USB 3.0 in mainstream products, pushing a new certification for easily-upgradeable motherboards.
Intel's Thunderbolt Ready programme allows OEMs to offer add-on Thunderbolt cards to bring the high-speed interconnect technology to selected Thunderbolt-less motherboards.
First introduced in 2011 on Apple's at the time latest MacBook Pro, Thunderbolt combines PCI Express and DisplayPort signalling with up to 18V at 550mA - almost 10W - of power for peripheral devices. While Apple has standardised on including Thunderbolt ports on all its x86-based hardware, adoption of the standard has been slow in the rest of the x86 market with the rival USB 3.0 - boasting, as it does, full backwards compatibility with prior USB standards - easily winning out.
Now, Intel is encouraging its partners to push Thunderbolt on their products through an upgrade programme dubbed Thunderbolt Ready. Boards that include Thunderbolt Ready support, the company has explained, will support the addition of Thunderbolt capabilities post-purchase using an add-in board connected to a specific PCI Express slot. This card will then additionally connect to a general-purpose input-output (GPIO) header on the board and a free DisplayPort connector on either the motherboard itself - for boards using CPU-integrated graphics - or on an external graphics card.
'The benefits of the Thunderbolt ready program are plain to see,
' claimed Intel's Dan Snyder at the announcement. 'If a user has a system with an existing Thunderbolt ready motherboard, all they will need to do is purchase the Thunderbolt card and follow the simple instructions for installation. For those looking to build a new system, the only requirement is to make sure both the Thunderbolt card and motherboard are Thunderbolt ready. Finally, for custom desktop resellers interested in expanding Thunderbolt within their available product mix, the number of potential motherboards that can be offered will increase dramatically.
The first confirmed Thunderbolt Ready partner is Asus, which has confirmed plans to launch a Thunderbolt upgrade card, dubbed the ThunderboltEX II, for its Asus Z87 Pro motherboard in December this year with additional boards supporting the ThunderboltEX II add-in card being introduced some time in 2014. Other, unamed, OEMs, are also claimed to be signing up to the programme.
'Since the beginning, “Is there an add-in card for this?” has been one of the more popular questions asked of Thunderbolt,
' claimed Dnyder. 'Today, the answer is an enthusiastic “yes”, and the introduction of the Thunderbolt ready program will dramatically increase the availability of Thunderbolt technology, bringing 20Gbps bandwidth, data and display over a single cable, and daisy-chain connectivity of up to six devices, to a far larger range of users in the marketplace.
Pricing for the add-in boards, which provide a single Thunderbolt 2 connection, have not been confirmed.