Intel Expects 100 Thunderbolt Devices By Year’s End

Intel expects to have 100 Thunderbolt devices on the market by the end of 2012, with “hundreds” more by the middle or end of 2013, a company executive said during a conference in San Francisco Monday (via Macworld). If Intel’s plans for the high speed I/O technology are realized, it would represent a huge leap in the number of devices over the relatively slim options that are available today.

Kirk Skaugen on ThunderboltIntel’s Kirk Skaugen speaking Monday on Intel’s plans for Thunderbolt.

Kirk Skaugen, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s PC Client Group, made the Thunderbolt device predictions during an Intel event focused on Ivy Bridge processors. He said that the growing number of Apple computers with Thunderbolt — all current Apple computers, except for the Mac Pro, now have Thunderbolt — combined with the technology’s introduction on Windows-based PCs, will spur the market and drive new devices.

“We have 21 Thunderbolt devices in things like storage and displays in the marketplace. We have a hundred targeted by the end of the year, and hundreds of Thunderbolt devices targeted by the middle or end of next year,” Mr. Skaugen told the audience.

Thunderbolt, first introduced to the market by Apple’s 2011 MacBook Pro update in February of last year, is a high-speed I/O technology for connecting computers and peripherals at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second per channel, with most implementations supporting two or four channels.

While dramatically faster than competing USB and Firewire technologies, the significantly higher cost of Thunderbolt chips and devices has limited its growth thus far to professionals with demanding performance requirements. As the technology matures and more devices hit the market, however, Intel is expecting prices to go down and for mainstream consumers to realize the value in the technology.

“You don’t want to wait to download your [] video or your high-definition movies. What traditionally had taken over five minutes to take a high-definition movie and put it into your PC, you can now do it in 30 seconds,” Mr. Skaugen explained.

Going forward, Thunderbolt is expected to get even faster with the introduction of optical cables that will replace the copper-based cables used today. As mentioned above, while today’s implementation of Thunderbolt can achieve up to 10 Gbps, optical-based implementations can reach speeds up to five times faster, making the technology the absolute speed leader in the field. Whether consumers will be willing to pay the premium for that speed remains to be seen.