Intel may have to come up with a name that sounds faster than a Thunderbolt for its next generation controller. The new technology, which currently has a working code name of Falcon Ridge, will be able to handle as much as 20 Gbps transfer rates, or double the current Thunderbolt speed.
The announcements were made Monday at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show, currently taking place in Las Vegas. In addition to the new speed, the company noted that its DSL4519/4410 Thunderbolt controllers support DisplayPort 1.2 displays, improve power management, and reduce the costs of PC platform materials.
Intel showed previews of early prototype silicon of Falcon Ridge, whose speed allows transfers of high-end 4K video files at the same time as the video is displayed. Production of the new controllers is expected by the end of 2013, and ramp up in volume manufacturing is planned for next year. The new Falcon Ridge will be backwards-compatible with existing cables and connectors.
Intel initially developed Thunderbolt in a joint effort with Apple, under the original name of Light Peak. The technology merges PCI Express (PCIe) and DisplayPort signal on a bi-directional line that also includes DC power. Up to seven peripherals can be supported through daisy chaining, and initial speeds had a ceiling of 10 Gpbs.
Thunderbolt made its first appearance in Apple's MacBook Pro laptops in 2011. Last summer, Intel pushed the idea that Thunderbolt could extend the capability of its lightweight, powerful Ultrabook computer models. In fact, Intel described it as an "ultrabook amplifier."
By comparison, the upcoming, revised USB 3.0 spec will provide transfer speeds up to 10 Gbps, which is twice the current rate for USB 3.0. The new USB standard will require new chipsets, but will work with existing ports and cables. Fireware 800 handles 800 Mbps, and USB 2.0 does 480 Mbps.
Most computer users would not need 20 Gbps transfer rates, even for their media content. This headroom is designed to accommodate media professionals who are engaged in what Intel describes as "a 4K workflow." This involves transfers of 4K, very high-resolution video files, and display of those files, all through a single cable.
4K imaging is used in professional digital TV and digital cinematography, and the term refers to 4000 pixels across. The display resolution is 3840 x 2160 pixels, has twice the horizontal and vertical resolution of what consumers know as high-definition TV, and has four times the total pixels as HD. 4K, which needs about 11 Gbps transfer speeds, is also used in digital film projection found in some movie theaters.
There is some speculation that the newest Thunderbolt technology could lead to new Mac screens with 4K display. 4K TVs have been shown recently in trade shows, usually wowing the viewers. Other applications include faster storage devices, such as RAID drives.