Intel’s Light Peak Technology: Next Big Thing, or Next Big Miss?

  This image described by Apple, Intel, Thunderbolt, Light Peak, Mac Book Pro, Mini DisplayPort, Light Peak

We've been hearing extensive rumors about the new MacBook Pro update that's said to be releasing on Thursday, just in time for Steve Jobs' birthday.

Said to be included on the new MacBook Pro line is Intel's new Light Peak technology, which will be called Thunderbolt on Apple's computers, starting with their professional-grade notebook. Being that it's not in use by the general population yet, it's difficult to know exactly what to expect.

Still, we know that Light Peak has been in the works for some time, and Intel wants it to take off. If the rumors are indeed true, it seems that Apple believes the new format can do well, too. The photos we've seen so far show the new Thunderbolt port where the Mini DisplayPort normally is. It looks identical with the exception of having a lightning bolt picture next to the port. It's hard to say whether or not it's real, because an image like that is extremely easy to doctor with any basic photo editing program. It's also strange that if the port does use Light Peak, that Apple needs to include all those other ports. Then again, Apple probably knows better than to totally get rid of all the ports that people currently use. Man, it's hard to say at this point.


Note: In the time between the writing of this post and the actual publishing, the MacBook Pro has been officially announced, and we've adjusted by adding an additional paragraph explaining Thunderbolt in the new MacBook Pro.

What is Thunderbolt?

This image described by Apple, Intel, Thunderbolt, Light Peak, Mac Book Pro, Mini DisplayPort,

Today, Apple announced their new Thunderbolt port, which made it's debut on the new MacBook Pro. They describe it as "a revolutionary I/O techonology that supports high-resolution displays and high-performance data devices through a single, compact port." It started as a concept by Intel, and they got together with Apple and co-created this new type of port. It's the exact same space as their Mini DisplayPort, but has the power to handle up to 10Gbs of bandwidth. It can be used to connect a high-res Apple Cinema display as well as high-end video storage and capture devices. It can daisy-chain up to six peripherals or five peripherals and a display, according to Apple's website.

Still, Intel is holding a special event tomorrow, which many say is likely to unveil this new Light Peak technology. We are interested in what may come of if, but let's take a look at what some of the pros and cons may be of a new format:


The Good

1) One Port to Rule Them All

The idea behind a technology like Light Peak is that it's going to replace all the formats we currently use such as USB, FireWire and all the other stuff you've ever at one time connected to your computer. This is all in hopes of cutting down the number of ports needed on your computer, and hopefully to create a new standard that external drives and other devices can use to connect.

This image described by Apple, Intel, Thunderbolt, Light Peak, Mac Book Pro, Mini DisplayPort, Screen shot 2011-02-23 at 2.56.44 PM

2) Unbelievably Fast Transfer

USB is pretty much the format used for device connections. Then there is FireWire, USB 2.0, FireWire 800, USB 3.0 … you get the idea. The reason this happened was increased bandwidth needs. More technologies came, and pretty soon there was a mess of this cable and that cable for each particular device we wanted to connect to our computers. Light Peak is offering high bandwidth at 10Gbps, and can possibly be taken up to 100Gbps over the next decade, according to Intel's website. They also say that it can transfer a full-length Blu-Ray movie in under 30 seconds. Three words: That's friggin' fast.

This image described by Apple, Intel, Thunderbolt, Light Peak, Mac Book Pro, Mini DisplayPort, MBA

3) Can Lead to Smaller, Thinner Notebooks, Tablets, Etc.

Laptop fans will like this. If this single port is as small as the rumored Apple port, it will reduce the size of many of the devices we use today. This technology can offer high enough bandwidth to transfer data to various devices without breaking a sweat. Even with two or three of these ports, it would take up less space than two USB ports, FireWire, Ethernet, etc. Of course we would probably need some sort of splitter to connect our various devices, but even that may just be part of the transition phase as manufacturers adopt the technology.


The Bad

1) Adoption Rate May Be Slow

This is always a bit of a concern for those who buy early. What if people are slow to pick up a new format? If consumers don't bite, manufacturers don't use it. If manufacturers don't use it, consumers don't want it. That vicious cycle. USB 1.1 was released in 1998, but even that seemed to take a while to become a household name. Of course having a computer in the 90s didn't almost seem like a requirement.

This image described by Apple, Intel, Thunderbolt, Light Peak, Mac Book Pro, Mini DisplayPort, 6a00e55225079e8834014e5f6a4455970c-500wi

2) New Plugs, New Peripherals, New This, New That

This is also part of that transition phase we mentioned above. While the result over the course of a few years may be a single does-it-all connection, it will take a while before all devices and peripherals start using it regularly. That's going to be the not-so-fun part. Most of us don't like spending money, especially on unproven technology.


3) There's Always the Possibility that It Will Never Hit

This is why people don't like to spend money on unproven technology. If you spend a few hundred dollars on hard drives and other external components for your machine, you want them to work with several computers. If it doesn't, it all feels like a waste of money, and those super-fast hard drives were just equipped with another technology that never took off.


Hit or Miss?

How do you feel about new formats like Light Peak? Do you have a positive outlook on how things may work out for these technologies, or would you rather stick to the formats you know work for you right now? Let us know in the comments.

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