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.