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Intel announces Thunderbolt Ready upgrade programme

Intel announces Thunderbolt Ready upgrade programme

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.

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.

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.

26 Comments

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Stotherd-001 19th November 2013, 11:49 Quote
why would I want something that size, with an ugly cable required out the back, for ONE thunderbolt port?
GuilleAcoustic 19th November 2013, 11:57 Quote
Welcome back to the era of 3DFX Voodoo2 with the main GPU output connected to the 3D accelerator Input ... thanks for this progress Intel :D. I'd rather use a proper PCIe something daughter board.
MrJay 19th November 2013, 12:21 Quote
What a horible afterthought... Atleast there is an option there (of sorts) if you despiratly need it.
Gareth Halfacree 19th November 2013, 12:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Stotherd-001
why would I want something that size, with an ugly cable required out the back, for ONE thunderbolt port?
Oh, it's worse than that: you need a cable from the top of the card (although other manufacturers may locate it on a different edge) to a GPIO port on the motherboard, then another cable from the external part of the card to your motherboard or graphics card's DisplayPort output. Then, of course, a third cable to connect your actual Thunderbolt peripheral(s) up.

As for having only a single port: remember you can daisy-chain Thunderbolt peripherals.
Corky42 19th November 2013, 12:29 Quote
Seems a bit like a solution looking for a problem.
A quick search of a major retailer shows 20 results on thunderbolt products, versus its competition of USB 3 showing 122.
Phil Rhodes 19th November 2013, 13:02 Quote
Must reiterate the prevailing opinion - not really getting the point of this.

External PCIe has been done before (certain high-end video capture devices put a four lane PCIe device on the end of a DVI cable, which seemed to work), so if you need that, it's doable already. Thunderbolt seems to be an Apple-style attempt to put everything on one connector as if that helps somehow.

That said, I do wish people would stop comparing Thunderbolt and USB3; they're wildly different.
GuilleAcoustic 19th November 2013, 13:12 Quote
It'll just end the same way SCSI ended .... required a controller card, expensive, too few peripheral --> R.I.P.
Corky42 19th November 2013, 13:50 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Rhodes
That said, I do wish people would stop comparing Thunderbolt and USB3; they're wildly different.
In what way are they different, they are both interconnects.
Phil Rhodes 19th November 2013, 13:50 Quote
I'm not so sure if that's really a model; SCSI kept going in higher-end environments until quite recently (and has been replaced by SAS in much the same way as SATA replaced parallel ATA.)

P
Phil Rhodes 19th November 2013, 13:55 Quote
Quote:
In what way are they different

Thunderbolt, as a data connection, is effectively a raw single PCIe lane, whereas USB has all kinds of intelligence which allows it to do a lot more routing and timesharing. In the broadest possible terms, USB is much "smarter", although obviously there's a downside to that in terms of latency and bandwidth.

Also, thunderbolt is at least twice and possibly four times the native speed. Thunderbolt includes displayport (for some Appleish reason), too.

They may under some circumstances allow people to do similar things, but the tech is very different.

P
Teknokid 19th November 2013, 14:05 Quote
It would be nice if they copied the sony approach and added the optic fibres to a USB port...
GuilleAcoustic 19th November 2013, 14:06 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Rhodes
I'm not so sure if that's really a model; SCSI kept going in higher-end environments until quite recently (and has been replaced by SAS in much the same way as SATA replaced parallel ATA.)

P

Yes, but in all honestly, beside storage and scanner the SCSI was not used. SCSI was daisy chainable too (via a device ID you has to set on the peripheral).
Corky42 19th November 2013, 14:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Rhodes
They may under some circumstances allow people to do similar things, but the tech is very different.

P

And you think your average Jo Blog's cares about how they work ?
Apart from the small niche use market most people only care if they can use that hole in the front of their PC to plug their shiny new something in.

I know architecturally they are worlds apart, but most people only care if they can buy what they need for a reasonable price.
Phil Rhodes 19th November 2013, 16:30 Quote
Quote:
And you think your average Jo Blog's cares about how they work ?

Well, actually, yeah - because the architecture makes it impossible (or at least unreasonably difficult) to create a Thunderbolt PCIe card, which is what everyone keeps asking for. So in that sense yes.
Gareth Halfacree 19th November 2013, 16:41 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Rhodes
Well, actually, yeah - because the architecture makes it impossible (or at least unreasonably difficult) to create a Thunderbolt PCIe card, which is what everyone keeps asking for. So in that sense yes.
That's not a problem from the end-user's perspective, though, but for the manufacturers. "My motherboard doesn't have Thunderbolt, sell me an add-on card." "Sorry, there's no such thing because <technical reason>." "Fine, I'll buy a USB 3.0 PCIe card instead." "Bum."

Okay, there are a small number of scenarios where the customer would actually respond "damn, I'll buy a new motherboard/hooray, my motherboard is Thunderbolt Ready so I can get an add-on card after all" but for the overwhelming majority of the mainstream market the fact is simple: if Thunderbolt ain't easy to come buy, customers will use USB 3.0 instead.
Corky42 19th November 2013, 16:49 Quote
Who is this everyone ?
From what i can tell very few people are asking for a Thunderbolt PCIe card, some people may have a need for one, but my guess is that's a very small market.
ajfsound 19th November 2013, 16:54 Quote
Would make more sense for laptops if external GPU's are ever going move from being a niche product...
GuilleAcoustic 19th November 2013, 17:02 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Rhodes
Well, actually, yeah - because the architecture makes it impossible (or at least unreasonably difficult) to create a Thunderbolt PCIe card, which is what everyone keeps asking for. So in that sense yes.

If it needs a DP output as as Input and some GPIO ... I do not see why they couldn't make a card which creates a DP (small GPU), but instead of placing the DP connector they could reroute the signal to the DP --> TB stage of the card. Since with Intel solution you can use either the IGP displayPort or one from a discrete GPU ....

in short PCIe --> Display port --> thunderbolt, all in a single card. Except the possible "too high price tag", I do not see how this is not acievable. This sounds more like a "Do it dirty and cheap" vs "Do it clean but expensive".
-Xp- 19th November 2013, 18:06 Quote
Rather than making these add-on cards, why not provide Thunderbolt as standard on new motherboards? Is there really a huge market for upgrading current motherboards to Thunderbolt? Thunderbolt peripherals are rather limited, I'm sure most people will be happy to wait until thir next upgrade.
Cei 19th November 2013, 18:56 Quote
I'll believe it when I see it. My Maximus V Gene has a TB_HEADER on the board, with the PCIe 4x slot waiting for a card to slot in - a card that ASUS claimed to make (The ThunderboltEX). However, that expansion card simply never seemed to make it to retail.

Thanks ASUS!
alialias 19th November 2013, 20:37 Quote
-Xp- has hit the nail on the head for me here.
There is going to have to be a big boost in the number of Thunderbolt peripherals for there to be enough people who will use this product to upgrade to Thunderbolt compatibility too. I'm sure the majority of people who imagine they will need Thunderbolt in the future will just buy a mobo that's already has the port and cut out the middle man.
phuzz 20th November 2013, 12:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by GuilleAcoustic
Yes, but in all honestly, beside storage and scanner the SCSI was not used.
SCSI was used in basically every server up until SAS started to turn up about 7-8 years ago.
GuilleAcoustic 20th November 2013, 12:24 Quote
... but this is server, not consumer. Drives where too expensive, just like SAS HDD are damn too expensive, reason why they are only used in servers (and maybe a few enthousiasts who want 15K RPM mass storage).

Again, SCSI / SAS / TB --> server (and some Appleish for TB). Eveyone else only needs SATA / USB. Plus TB devices must have a special controler on their side, thus adding to their cost.
Gareth Halfacree 20th November 2013, 12:32 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by GuilleAcoustic
... but this is server, not consumer. Drives where too expensive, just like SAS HDD are damn too expensive, reason why they are only used in servers (and maybe a few enthousiasts who want 15K RPM mass storage)
Oh, how quickly we forget. SCSI was *incredibly* common in home computers. An SCSI upgrade (either PCMCIA-connected, like the Squirrel, or connected to the trapdoor slot, like the Blizzard-IV SCSI Kit) was pretty much required for the Amiga A1200. Mine has a Squirrel, off which I hang a CD-ROM with the option of chaining a scanner should I wish. Many Amiga external hard drives were SCSI too - even the ones that connected via the PCMCIA slot or, on earlier models, the expansion bay - and so were Atari drives. It was pretty much the only way to add a scanner to a home computer, too, beyond a few short-lived devices with strange proprietary connections. My Acorn Archimedes A5000 has a SCSI podule for a CD-ROM - and I'm pretty sure my RISC-PC has one as well, despite also having an internally-connected IDE CD-ROM.

Sure, in the IBM-compatible world SCSI was less common - but to say the technology was only used in servers is to ignore a decade and a half of SCSI in a huge number of homes.
rollo 20th November 2013, 12:58 Quote
Id expect a further Thunderbolt push by Intel with the next gen of cpus that will likely force a Thunderbolt port on every board.

Every Apple laptop has a thunderbolt port on it these days so theres enough of them out there thats for sure. For device makers to consider making more Thunderbolt enabled devices.

Fact is though Thunderbolt like USB 3.0 in a way offers way more bandwidth than your average consumer requires. A printer will never require a thunderbolt port for example. Niether will a mouse or keyboard all regular usb devices.

Smartphones and tablets could make use of the bandwidth when your initially installing new files and transfering data but how many times a year do you wipe the phone or tablet and start a fresh.
GuilleAcoustic 20th November 2013, 13:41 Quote
my scanner was connected using a parallel port ... and I used my Amiga CD32 as a CDROM drive using a serial cable to connect it to my Amiga2000 :D. Was not as fast as SCSI, but I was a poor teenager at this time.
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