People like me who bought a 2011 MacBook Pro are eager to explore the new Thunderbolt interface. Although no peripherals are available yet, there was much excitement about the interface at the recent NAB Show in Las Vegas, and many pre-production products were on display. It appears that LaCie will be first to market with a Thunderbolt storage device, but Promise will follow a few months later. And there were many intriguing interfaces on display as well, including Fibre Channel and video links, along with rumors about Apple’s plans for the Thunderbolt iMac.
Technology Demos Abound
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Thunderbolt presence at the NAB Show was the overall level of excitement about the interface. Vendors and consumers alike were thrilled by the possibilities of this new technology, and preproduction Thunderbolt hardware brought a steady stream of visitors to booths as diverse as Adobe, AJA, Blackmagic and Matrox, as well as Promise, LaCie, Sonnet, and G-Technology.
One high-profile Thunderbolt exhibit was Intel’s own pavilion. Located in a different exhibit hall from the rest of the infrastructure technology, Intel placed Thunderbolt on display alongside their new 10 Gb Ethernet adapters. The Ethernet representative joked with me that the only time anyone wanted to talk to him was while they were waiting for the Thunderbolt station to free up. This was my experience too, as there was a steady stream of visitors every time I stopped by. Intel was demonstrating the Promised Pegasus array with Final Cut and a DisplayPort monitor humming along at 800 MB per second.
Adobe was another company demonstrating the possibilities of Thunderbolt rather than a specific product. At their stand was a Promise array connected to a Blackmagic Thunderbolt video converter, all tied together with Adobe software and running on a MacBook Pro.
G-Technology: Diving Into Thunderbolt
They did not have production hardware ready for the show, but G-Technology was pleased to be able to demonstrate their commitment to Thunderbolt using Intel’s reference board and a passive PCI backplane. Although tightlipped, the G-Tech engineer did note that he was impressed with the ease with which they were able to roll out a functioning Thunderbolt prototype. This bodes well for future product development efforts.
This little AV-oriented company recently got a big boost in profile: Having recently been purchased by HGST, they now find themselves owned by Western Digital, the world’s largest hard disk drive manufacturer. It is likely that Western Digital will come out with a variety of RAID devices built on the G-Technology base, including a line of Thunderbolt storage products to compete with LaCie and Promise.
LaCie, Promise, AJA, Blackmagic, and Matrox
I’ve devoted separate articles to the main products on display at NAB Show, so I suggest taking a look at these individually:
- LaCie Little Big Disk Thunderbolt Preview
- Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt Preview
- Promise SANLink Thunderbolt Preview
There were two main categories of products on display at the NAB Show: Storage arrays and I/O interfaces. LaCie looks to be the first out of the gate with a Thunderbolt storage array. Their Little Big Disk is even bus powered, and portable enough to be of interest to MacBook Pro owners. It is likely that LaCie will follow on with a solid-state drive (SSD) boasting better performance, and I would bet that a 4- or 5-disk RAID array will follow before the end of the year.
Promise had both a storage array and an I/O adapter on display at the show. The Promise Pegasus is a 4- or 6-drive RAID storage system boasting up to 800 MB per second in ideal conditions. The SANLink, a Fibre Channel interface for Thunderbolt, is a bit puzzling until one considers its desktop use cases. The Pegasus shows what a desktop Thunderbolt peripheral looks like, and together with the SANLink presage Apple releasing Thunderbolt-equipped desktop computers like the forthcoming iMac.
The I/O interface boards at NAB were skewed toward multimedia, as was the show itself. Blackmagic, AJA, and Matrox all had digital video interfaces for Thunderbolt on display, but it is difficult for an infrastructure guy like me to adequately judge the merits of these products. One thing is certain: AV pros are excited to get their hands on these devices!
That NAB Show is a hotspot of Thunderbolt interest should come as no surprise: The broadcast and media professionals present represent a nexus of Apple customers and storage power users. Because they have been dragging their feet on eSATA and USB 3, Apple ran the risk of alienating this core customer group. But Thunderbolt promises to deliver a new level of performance and a whole world of peripherals. The excitement was palpable!