What you should know about Thunderbolt™

Jumping onto the PC connectivity scene recently, Thunderbolt™ technology has emerged as the fastest way to transfer data between a PC and peripheral and display devices.  Developed by Intel with collaboration from Apple, Thunderbolt technology has emerged as an I/O standard with flexibility, performance and simplicity.

At 10 Gbps full-duplex bandwidth per channel, Thunderbolt technology merges high-speed data (PCI Express) and display (DisplayPort) onto a single protocol. Each Thunderbolt cable has two separate 10Gbps channels, allowing easy daisy chaining of multiple peripheral devices, up to seven deep. Dual channels allow more than a single device in the daisy chain to achieve the high bandwidth enabled by the Thunderbolt protocol. With the recent announcement of Thunderbolt 2, the dual 10 Gbps channels can be combined into a single data channel to get 20 Gbps full-duplex bandwidth.  To achieve such high-speed data transfers, the host (PC), cable and peripheral device must each maintain high levels of signal quality.  To this end, even the cables contain active circuitry supporting clean data transfer.

At 10 Gbps per channel, Thunderbolt technology enables[1]

  • Transferring a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds
  • Streaming an HD movie directly from external storage
  • Backing-up one year of continuous MP3 playback in just over 10 minutes

Not only does Thunderbolt provide high-speed data transfer, but it also supplies 10W of power to a peripheral device.  This power capability enables many new peripheral devices to be powered directly from the cable without the need for external power sources…true single-cable solutions for a wider range of applications.

To enable Thunderbolt, there are many considerations to keep in mind:

  • High-speed muxing of PCIe and DisplayPort data
  • Thunderbolt system control via microcontrollers
  • Data retiming in the cable for maintaining signal integrity
  • Power sequencing to the Thunderbolt controllers and support circuitry
  • Power delivery from host to the cable and peripheral device
  • Auto power delivery and high-voltage blocking to the sensitive cable circuitry
  • Receiving and managing power in the peripheral device
  • Safety certifications

Some of these may not pertain to the specific system you are designing, but many will.  The Thunderbolt specification details the proper hand shaking, power sequencing, and data transfers necessary to establish the Thunderbolt link and handle the necessary data transfers and power delivery.

You can easily navigate these system considerations by relying on TI’s broad product portfolio of Thunderbolt specific devices, each a perfect fit for Thunderbolt 1 and Thunderbolt 2 systems.  Check out TI’s complete Thunderbolt ecosystem solution and visit the TI E2E Community to get expert input from TI’s many Thunderbolt experts.

Visit us at TI’s exhibit in the Thunderbolt™ Community at IDF13 in the Moscone West Convention Center, San Francisco, California taking place September 10-12.



[1] thunderbolttechnology.net