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Apple later relaxed the licensing fees, but an alternate 4-pin, non-powered version of FireWire—dubbed “IEEE ” and branded as “i.
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Link” by Sony—had already begun to gain wide adoption. Greater third-party support will be the key to the broad market adoption needed to support Thunderbolt in the years to come. HP ultimately decided it wouldn’t be adopting Thunderbolt in its computers any time soon.
Thunderbolt’s high bandwidth and low latency are perfect for these applications. Apple didn’t respond to our requests for further information about the “firmware in the cable,” but an EETimes article from earlier this year noted that in addition to having different electrical characteristics from Mini DisplayPort, Thunderbolt also uses active cabling to achieve full duplex 10Gbps transmission.
These cables contain tiny chips at either end that are calibrated to the attenuation and dispersion properties of the wire between them.
Passive cabling is more common, but active cabling could offer some advantages. Our friends at iFixit made a trip to a local Apple Store to find out what hardware powers Apple’s Thunderbolt cable. You must login or create an account to comment.
Without additional suppliers, that hn2033 lead to trouble in gaining wider adoption for the standard in the industry.
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Despite these benefits, FireWire cost more to implement on a device because it required a separate controller chip in each device. Our telecom source noted that Intel made an unusual choice in also gennum active cabling for future optical-based iterations of Thunderbolt.
A support technician told Ars that Apple’s cable is a “smart” cable that “has firmware in it. Another good reason to use active optical cables, according to our source, “is that your current electrical ports can be forward compatible with future optical cables.
The technology inside Apple’s $50 Thunderbolt cable
Thunderbolt may be capable of some impressive speeds, but Apple and Intel run the risk of the technology quickly becoming a dead end if Apple remains the only vendor for Thunderbolt-equipped computers as well as Thunderbolt cables. This made USB a more attractive, less expensive alternative for device makers.
Furthermore, Intel only mentioned two vendors aside from Apple who were considering adopting Thunderbolt when it announced the technology earlier this year: Designed by Apple and featured on its own computers, the original FireWire standard offered significant speed improvements over USB 1.
So far, though, Apple is the only supplier for Thunderbolt cables. That port can connect to a special discrete GPU-equipped docking station that won’t be compatible with standard Thunderbolt peripherals. For one, active cables could combine fiber optics with electrical cabling for power transmission. The situation is not unlike the one that plagued FireWire in its early days.
Chris Foresman Chris is an Associate Writer at Ars Technica, where he has spent the last five years writing about Apple, smartphones, digital photography, and patent litigation, among other topics. Compensating for these properties “greatly improves the signal-to-noise ratio” for high-bandwidth data transmission.
A source within the telecom industry explained to Ars that active cables are commonly used at data rates above 5Gbps. The combination of non-compatible plugs and added cost meant that FireWire ended up being largely confined to high-speed storage and the burgeoning digital video and digital audio industries.
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And though Apple turned over the FireWire standard to standards body IEEE, the company originally required additional licensing fees to use the FireWire trademark and logo. Though Gennum is already highlighting its Thunderbolt transceiver chips, Intel would not say when official specs would be released to other manufacturers, or when other suppliers might be able to offer compatible cabling.
Intel confirmed that Thunderbolt requires specific Thunderbolt cables. Sony has announced a new Vaio Z laptop that incorporates Thunderbolt controllers from Intel, but uses a proprietary optical connection via a specially modified USB3 port. But Thunderbolt’s high cost in terms of the necessary controllers and relatively expensive active cabling could limit its expansion to the broader market.
A faster FireWire standard emerged, but used an entirely new 9-pin connector that required adapters to use with 6-pin FireWire devices or 4-pin IEEE devices.