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New MacBook Air Using Scaled-Down Thunderbolt Chip

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Apr 12, 2001
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Portion of MacBook Air motherboard with Eagle Ridge chip outlined in teal (Source: iFixit)
AnandTech takes a look at the Thunderbolt controller used by Apple in the new MacBook Air, finding that the company has opted to use a scaled-down "Eagle Ridge" controller chip from Intel instead of the "Light Ridge" chip found in larger Thunderbolt-enabled machines.
[Light Ridge] features four Thunderbolt channels (4 x 10Gbps bidirectional = 80Gbps aggregate bandwidth) and up to two DisplayPort outputs. It's used in the 2011 iMac, MacBook Pro and Mac mini. ...

Eagle Ridge is available in two form factors (normal and SFF [small form factor]) and is effectively half of a Light Ridge chip. That means you only get two Thunderbolt channels and one DP output. Apple used the small form factor version of Eagle Ridge in its new MacBook Air to cut cost and save on motherboard real estate.
With Eagle Ridge only supporting a single DisplayPort output, MacBook Air users are only able to drive a single external display via the Thunderbolt port, although the machine's integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 would also preclude the use of two external monitors on the MacBook Air as it does on the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Thunderbolt adoption has thus far been limited to high-end devices in part due to high costs associated with inclusion of the technology. Use of the scaled-down Eagle Ridge controller could help push Thunderbolt into lower-end products, presuming that the smaller chip carries some cost savings for manufacturers.

Article Link: New MacBook Air Using Scaled-Down Thunderbolt Chip
 

slrandall

macrumors 6502
Jun 15, 2011
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Lower-cost TB external drives would be great for MBAs, and are especially welcome with the news of the Air-like MBPs.
 
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DrJohnnyN

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Boom.

"Anandtech’s report also notes that the MacBook Air’s cheaper chip is likely to be the one used by PC makers who are making machines traditionally less expensive than those from Apple."
 
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wjlafrance

macrumors 6502
Dec 23, 2009
359
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Madison, WI
I'm not sure where they're getting their information that the 13" MBP can't drive dual displays, but I was driving dual monitors on my Dimension 2400 with an MX4000 too long ago to remember. For perspective, that's the card that was in the original iMac G5.. 7 years ago.

To boot, I drive an external display at work five days a week, and can drive the internal display at the same time. If I close the lid, I have to drive just as many pixels with dual external displays - totally feasible.
 
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Akzel

macrumors regular
Mar 18, 2008
167
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I was more enthusiastic about this Air refresh (I have the previous generation with the 320M GPU), but every day there's a piece of news about how it's not sooo amazing as expected: Different SSD models ("did you get the fast one?"), integrated GPU "almost as good" as nVidia offer, and now a thunderbolt port that's, let's face it, crippled down compared to other Macs.
 
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DrJohnnyN

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Does this mean that the speed is possibly lower as well?

According to CultofMac.com: "The scaled down Thunderbolt chip used in the new MacBook Airs, however, is named Eagle Ridge, and features only two Thunderbolt channels — meaning it’s half as fast — with support for just one external display."
 
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Duke15

macrumors 6502
May 18, 2011
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They should make that information available to someone buying a mba, not that its a deal breaker but comon that's kinda cheap
 
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Vol7ron

macrumors 6502
Jun 11, 2009
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Woah there.....

First off, this is about the Macbook Air, not the Macbook Pro. The Air has considerably less room inside of it then the Pro model does.

Second, this really doesn't mean that it is crippled. It just means that can only have one extra display hooked up to it. Kinda like how the previous Air models were and the previous iMac and MacBook Pro models were before Thunderbolt came a long.

This is first generation technology. It will get refined and i bet that we will see the quad channels eventually.

My question to you is, how are you going to use 4GB of bandwidth per second? Only my VMware ESXi servers use dual 10G fiber cards. I mean, that is a lot of data moving back and forth. Most people would never come even close to utilizing that much bandwidth. So to say that the device is crippled is ridiculous....
 
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Chupa Chupa

macrumors G5
Jul 16, 2002
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They should make that information available to someone buying a mba, not that its a deal breaker but comon that's kinda cheap

Is Apple withholding this information? The MBA tech specs page states it can support "an external display" (note singular). So I'm under what your qualm is here.
 
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hstewart

macrumors regular
Jun 1, 2011
128
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Thunderbolt is so overrated. Apple should adopt USB3.0 asap.

A simple solution - somebody make a Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 adapter, my guess it possible a single Thunderbolt channel could possibly drive 2 USB 3.0 ports - not sure if can combine 2 USB 2.0 ports on one channel.
 
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basesloaded190

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igazza said:
Thunderbolt is so overrated. Apple should adopt USB3.0 asap.

Thunderbolt is not supposed to replace USB 3.0, it's meant to supplement it. Thunderbolt has so many more capabilities compared to USB.
 
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justinfreid

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Nov 24, 2009
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This seems like reasonable product differentiation to me.
Besides, only a small minority of users will ever drive 2 external displays from their laptop.
 
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hstewart

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Jun 1, 2011
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My guess the new Mac Mini's also have the Eagle version. But specs state it supports dual display - most likely one on Thunderbolt and one on HDMI port.
 
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solgae

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Apr 2, 2011
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According to CultofMac.com: "The scaled down Thunderbolt chip used in the new MacBook Airs, however, is named Eagle Ridge, and features only two Thunderbolt channels — meaning it’s half as fast — with support for just one external display."

This doesn't mean you have half the bandwidth available for Eagle Ridge - you still have bidirectional 10Gbps interface for both Eagle Ridge (MBA version of thunderbolt) and Light Ridge (MBP/iMac version of thunderbolt). It only means Eagle Ridge has one displayport interface for external display as opposed to two on Light Ridge. If you look at the anandtech's test result with the Pegasus array, you'll see that both MBA and MBP perform practically the same.
 
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hstewart

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Jun 1, 2011
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This seems like reasonable product differentiation to me.
Besides, only a small minority of users will ever drive 2 external displays from their laptop.

I am part of the minority, for work I have Lenova that drives 2 24in monitors for development - one off DVI and other other one off VGA - laptop display is not being use in this configuration.
 
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activ8

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Jul 20, 2011
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I can only connect 1 monitor to my MBA? That's okay. I'll just buy a big ass monitor! Problem solved.
 
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RogerWilco

macrumors 6502a
Jul 29, 2011
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Is that really a DIP switch on the lower left side of the board? Talk about wasting space...
 
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DrJohnnyN

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This doesn't mean you have half the bandwidth available for Eagle Ridge - you still have bidirectional 10Gbps interface for both Eagle Ridge (MBA version of thunderbolt) and Light Ridge (MBP/iMac version of thunderbolt). It only means Eagle Ridge has one displayport interface for external display as opposed to two on Light Ridge. If you look at the anandtech's test result with the Pegasus array, you'll see that both MBA and MBP perform practically the same.

Ah, I see. Sorry, I only dabble in tech, and don't know all the ins and outs.
 
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Riemann Zeta

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Feb 12, 2008
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These 'thunderbolt' ports and controllers are only somewhat pricey because they are a new introduction. Now that Intel has ditched the "light" part of its original "Light Peak" specification (at one point, 'light peak' ports were going to be optical in nature), they should be just as cheap as any other port eventually.
 
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Hattig

macrumors 65816
Jan 3, 2003
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London, UK
If the full size chip can have 4 channels, why are we limited to 6 devices per port?

It's an addressing issue rather than a bandwidth issue. That seems to be the addressing limit per port, for some reason.

In reality the bigger controller allows two display outputs to go over a single ThunderBolt connection, whereas the smaller one allows only one display output. The bigger controller can drive two physical ThunderBolt output ports, but Apple chooses to only implement one. They use the bigger controller to allow two monitors to be chained off that single ThunderBolt port.

HD3000 can't do it (naff Intel graphics) and there's no discrete option, so why use the big controller on the Air? The port has the same bandwidth however as the smaller controller has everything needed to drive a single port.
 
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paradox00

macrumors 65816
Sep 29, 2009
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Two bi directional 10 Gbps lanes per port is whats indicated in the Thunderbolt spec. I think it's more appropriate to say that the "Light Ridge" chips are scaled up (or capable of supporting two ports) rather than the "Eagle Ridge" chips are scaled down (capable of supporting one port). Funny how a change in wording could completely change how something like this is perceived.
 
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