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As noted by Arstechnica and iFixIt, Apple's new $50 Thunderbolt cable is actually a "smart" or "active" cable that contains circuitry and firmware. Arstechnica explains:
A source within the telecom industry explained to Ars that active cables are commonly used at data rates above 5Gbps. These cables contain tiny chips at either end that are calibrated to the attenuation and dispersion properties of the wire between them. Compensating for these properties "greatly improves the signal-to-noise ratio" for high-bandwidth data transmission.
iFixIt tore down the new ThunderBolt cable and found two Gennum GN2033 chips in the connector, one on each side. Additional support chips and resistors were also found for total of 12 chips and "tons" of smaller electronic components.


Gennum's chip is described as a transceiver that enables "reliable data transfer at cutting-edge speeds over low cost, thin-gauge copper cables." Early benchmarks of Thunderbolt drive enclosures show massive improvements over FireWire 800.

One interesting benefit of this "active" cabling is that current Thunderbolt ports found in the iMac and MacBook Pro will be future-compatible with planned optical Thunderbolt cables. Optical cables were part of the original plans for Thunderbolt which promises to offer much higher speeds, but the first version released are based on traditional copper wiring. Intel still plans on upgrading to optical cabling in the future, and existing Thunderbolt devices should be compatible with new cabling. This was mentioned during the original Thunderbolt roll out.
...the port you'll find in new MacBook Pros and storage devices can actually take an optical cable when those are cost-effective enough to roll out, because Intel will eventually bake the optical transceivers into the cables themselves.
Ars, however, suggests that the high cost and complexity of the cabling may be a hurdle to widespread adoption of Thunderbolt.

Article Link: Thunderbolt Cable Teardown Reveals Electronics and Firmware
 

Richdmoore

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Jul 24, 2007
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I hope that the cable's chips become common enough so monoprice can bring down the price to a more reasonable level.

EDIT: Beat me to it....

I guess thunderbolt will be better used for high speed storage, as other uses such as web cameras, iphone transfers, etc. can be done much more cheaply due to using "dumb" cables.
 
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mrfoof82

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May 26, 2010
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Not entirely surprising.

Keep in mind, Thunderbolt is two 10Gbps channels. Let's face it -- 20Gbps aggregate bandwidth is a LOT of bandwidth for an external cable which is getting up there in numbers to rival the amount of memory bandwidth most commodity computer chipsets have (I think two-channel X68 is 21.6Gbps), and those chipsets aren't exactly dirt cheap. This is bandwidth normally the realm of single mode fiber optics for cabling, and even then, the equipment on either side of that single mode cable isn't cheap.

This is not a dumb piece of shielded wire. This is a PCI-E breakout.

This is why the first thunderbolt peripherals are DAS RAID arrays and FCAL HBAs. This is stuff really intended for the professional market at the moment, not consumer devices, as there isn't a consumer device need for this crazy (yes, it's crazy!) amount of bandwidth. Not until production significantly catches up will things start to become cheap enough to make consumer devices.

This is why Apple is pushing Thunderbolt. Even in it's first incarnation it is an insane amount of overkill. It will not be quickly obsolesced.
 
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jpg

macrumors regular
May 15, 2009
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Yeah, I don't think Monoprice is going to sell these things for $8 like everyone expected.

Those chips are going to get cheap really soon. Also one has to remember Apple takes some premium over production cost so that the cost to produce those things is probably closer to $30 as of now.

In a year or so $8 could be a reasonable target (those cables would lack some of the quality though)
 
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Minority_taxi

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Jun 23, 2008
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So, theoretically we could have fibre TB cables working at even higher data rates now but the don't wanna make them? If people in home theatre land are sucked in to buying $200 plus HDMI leads then surely they won't mind a $100 plus fibre lead.

I for one would buy a fibre lead up to $200 if I had 100gb rate of transfer between Mac and drive/card reader.

Cc
 
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iSayuSay

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Feb 6, 2011
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Thunderbolt devices .. and the cables are truly Geek's American dream :D
 
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Lesser Evets

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Jan 7, 2006
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Give it a few years. I bet it'll be half-priced once the stuff is pumped out like french fries.
 
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ladytonya

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Oct 14, 2008
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Like somebody said, the chips will get cheaper. I wonder if Apple thinks that it will eventually get one of the transfer technologies to catch on for other platforms? It seems like Firewire did but mini-DVI kinda bombed. As for the cost, somebody will break down those chips and figure out how to make then cheap. If they're eventually going to be optical, they'll be even more expensive given the current cost of optical cable. I had to pay an arm and a leg for an optical cable to connect my satellite receiver to the home theater system. If Apple or one of their suppliers is working on a less-expensive version of optical cabling, that's very good news not just for the computer world but for the home theater realm as well.

Syncing devices over a thunderbolt connection is never going to be an issue since iOS 5 will include wireless updates and syncing, so whoever mentioned that here, that is pretty much a moot point at this point.
 
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jmmo20

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Jun 15, 2006
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there's something I don't really understand. Does that mean that my thunderbolt port in my MBP supports optical connection (assuming and when they become available??) or NOT?
 
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RoelJuun

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Aug 31, 2010
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And still everybody keeps telling that Apple isn't interested in de Pro market and thinks only of the consumers ;)
 
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!¡ V ¡!

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Jun 21, 2007
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In the end it will come down to cost for the consumer market and that is the market that will matter in the end.

Intel 2012 chip will have USB 3.0 support and Apple will be forced to adopt, once this happens TB will live the FW800 status. The cost alone will be the deciding factor along with availability of product on the market. :)
 
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Richdmoore

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Jul 24, 2007
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In the end it will come down to cost for the consumer market and that is the market that will matter in the end.

Intel 2012 chip will have USB 3.0 support and Apple will be forced to adopt, once this happens TB will live the FW800 status. The cost alone will be the deciding factor along with availability of product on the market. :)

Actually, if I understand correctly, a thunderbolt to usb 3.0 adapter should allow those of us who purchased 2011 Macbook Pros or iMacs to use that standard as well.

Since USB3.0 is slower than thunderbolt, we should have no speed loss with an adapter, in the even thunderbolt becomes a mostly dead technology.
 
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iMikeT

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Jul 8, 2006
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So does this mean that the $110 FireWire 800 external enclosure that I was holding off on buying will be a better deal in the short-term?
 
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DisMyMac

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Sep 30, 2009
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This is why the first thunderbolt peripherals are DAS RAID arrays and FCAL HBAs. This is stuff really intended for the professional market at the moment, not consumer devices, as there isn't a consumer device need for this crazy (yes, it's crazy!) amount of bandwidth. Not until production significantly catches up will things start to become cheap enough to make consumer devices.

Well that's a very different story than the sales pitch we heard... 'One cable to rule them all!'

Let me guess- "That was Light Peak. Nobody said anything about Thunderbolt...."
 
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SilianRail

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Feb 24, 2011
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32 Gbps PCI Express external cable will be cheaper and better for data. DisplayPort 1.2 is already better for display. The current implementation where the monitor has to be at the end of the daisy chain sucks. This is going nowhere.
 
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kustardking

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Jul 22, 2008
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In the end it will come down to cost for the consumer market and that is the market that will matter in the end.

Intel 2012 chip will have USB 3.0 support and Apple will be forced to adopt, once this happens TB will live the FW800 status. The cost alone will be the deciding factor along with availability of product on the market. :)

People - this is NOT a USB replacement. It is a PCIE wire tap, not unlike the Expresscard, which means you can externalize video cards, network cards (e.g., 10GbE), and whatever else is made for the PCIE bus. It is basically a PCIE "slot" with an external port. Future macs should have either

1) 1+ Thunderbolt ports and available 3rd party TB switches (hubs) with more TB ports and "legacy" ports such as USB

or

2) 1+ TB ports and 1+ USB ports

Personally, I lament the loss of the Ethernet port on the Airs, but I hope to recover it with a TB switch.

Separately, the whole idea of TB daisy chaining is BAD. It's seriously a compounded failure risk, especially when each device on this chain is expected to be high-value on all counts. A TB switch is the right way to go, and I hope we'll see them soon.
 
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