Intel today released a couple tidbits to cast more light on Thunderbolt I/O and give folks some perspective concerning its road map. This is my next details some of the features which are outlined in greater detail over at the brand new Thunderbolt web site, which mostly covers branding and various technicalities. For example, we now have it in writing that all Thunderbolt-branded products are to interoperate across all vendors. Per official information, the maximum allowed length of electrical Thunderbolt cables is three meters. Plugs are compatible with Mini-DisplayPort, but DisplayPort cables won’t work as a Thunderbolt cable replacement.

The biggest takeaway is that active optical cables are coming “sometime next year.” Optics will extend Thunderbolt cables to “tens of meters”, but they’ll still provide the same 10 Gbps bidirectional data transfer speeds per channel (there are two channels per cable), much as today’s electrical cables that have circuitry in cable ends. In all, about twenty third-parties are backing Intel’s technology, which isn’t that much considering that Thunderbolt, after all, is a future-proof I/O technology from the world’s largest chip maker.

When Apple and Intel teamed up to replace a plethora of incompatible ports such as USB, FireWire, Ethernet, DVI and DisplayPort with a brand new I/O technology, the industry employed a cautious wait-and-see approach. Per usual, Apple had the guts to debut the young, unproven technology on the Mac, just as they did with the USB and FireWire interface in the past. Fast forward today and there still seems to be a shortage of Thunderbolt peripherals, sans Apple’s new Thunderbolt Display and a handful of third-party accessories. More are coming, however, as third-parties have finally laid their hands on the development kit from Intel. Windows PC makers Acer and Asus, for example, pledged to release Thunderbolt notebooks next year.

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