Optical Thunderbolt cables are coming

Intel's 10gb/s high-speed interconnect will reach beyond three meters.
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Intel has said that optical cables for the chipmaker's high-speed Thunderbolt ports will arrive later this year, allowing for cables of longer distances.

Intel and Apple launched Thunderbolt last year with the USB 3.0 rival standard appearing in MacBook Pro and iMac computers. Originally intended as an optical technology, Thunderbolt combines PCI Express and DisplayPort into a single 10Gb cable but cable lengths with copper are limited to three meters.

One of the reasons for switching to copper is so that Thunderbolt cables can supply power to connected devices, something not possible with optical cables unless they also bundle copper wires for just such a purpose.

Accordingly the upcoming optical Thunderbolt cables, while they may be of considerably longer length, will require any connected device to have a dedicated power supply. As such optical cables are likely to be used for different types of applications rather than a replacement for existing copper Thunderbolt cables.

Intel is already looking toward the next-generation of Thunderbolt which will offer PCI-Express 3 connectivity through a new faster optical-on-silicon technology that could ultimately offer speeds of up to 50 gigabits per second.

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