updated 10:21 pm EDT, Mon April 7, 2014
Direct Ethernet competitor moves data at 10Gb per second
In a direct challenge to the venerable networking standard Ethernet, Intel on Monday introduced Thunderbolt Networking -- an interconnect standard for Thunderbolt 2-equipped devices that can transfer data at up to 10 gigabits (Gb) per second, 10 times faster than the previous limit. Mac users with Thunderbolt 2 devices running OS X Mavericks already have the new feature built-in, with PC drivers for Windows said to be coming "soon."
The announcement comes a year after the National Association of Broadcasters introduction of Thunderbolt 2 in 2013. At this year's NAB show in Las Vegas, Intel has unveiled the technology with demonstrations connecting two computers together directly using both the latest Mac Pro as well as HP's Z Workstation models. While Thunderbolt has always been able to send data at up to 10Gb per second directly to devices (and Thunderbolt 2 doubled that to 20Gbps), the implementation of a networking standard in the protocol that emulates 10Gb Ethernet will allow computers to handle file sharing and backup using Thunderbolt when connected directly together.
The new networking speeds will be of particular interest to video professionals transferring high-definition and 4K video files from one computer to another (for example, from a MacBook Pro that's been used to store footage from the field to an HP editing station running Adobe Premiere), thus its premiere at the broadcasters' conference. Thunderbolt has been slowly arriving on more PC and Mac models, and is becoming a standard feature on machines aimed at the pro market, such as Apple's MacBook Pros and the latest Mac Pro (both of which offer Thunderbolt 2). All other current Macs (the MacBook Air, iMac and Mac mini) have first-generation Thunderbolt and cannot take advantage of the new Thunderbolt Networking at present.
Apple co-invented the Thunderbolt standard, and the NAB show (like Macworld Expo before it) was dominated this year with Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 accessories, add-on cards and compatible equipment. The new networking feature emulates an Ethernet connection to allow up to 10Gbps, though consumer-level devices and users are likely to be satisfied with USB 3.0 for the next few years, which has a theoretical maximum throughput of 5Gbps.
The USB Consortium has announced a USB 3.1 standard that will raise that to 10Gbps in theory, but implementation of the technology is likely years away. As mentioned, Mac users running Thunderbolt 2 and OS X Mavericks can take advantage of the networking feature immediately, with no changes in cabling or connectors required.