Intel Announces 10Gb/s Thunderbolt Networking for Macs and PCs

Posted by Jim Tanous on April 8, 2014
Thunderbolt Networking

Network connections via Thunderbolt were quietly introduced as part of OS X Mavericks, although in an early and rough form. But today at the annual National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas, Intel took the wraps off of official support for “Thunderbolt Networking” for both Macs and PCs, allowing direct connections between computers at up to 10 gigabits per second (1,280 megabytes per second).

Aimed primarily at media professionals who need to frequently move large video and graphics assets between systems, Thunderbolt Networking provides a significantly cheaper alternative to traditional 10Gb Ethernet at speeds far in excess of current consumer-grade Gigabit Ethernet networking. New drivers for Windows will soon join the existing OS X Mavericks implementation, allowing direct connections between Macs and PCs.

Although less expensive that 10Gb Ethernet, the cost of entry is still relatively high. Official support for Thunderbolt Networking requires two devices equipped with Thunderbolt 2, the new specification introduced late last year as part of Apple’s 2013 MacBook Pro line, with later expansion to the 2013 Mac Pro. The rest of Apple’s Mac lineup, including the popular iMac, remain equipped with first-generation Thunderbolt, although that will almost certainly change with any 2014 updates that the company has planned.

On the PC side, Thunderbolt 2 is even rarer, although the technology has finally started to make its way into pre-built systems, such as the HP Z1 G2 Workstation.

For media professionals already using Thunderbolt 2 hardware, however, the introduction of Thunderbolt Networking is valuable and practically “free” upgrade that could drastically enhance the workflows of those not already using 10Gb Ethernet.

Users with only Macs in their network can start using Thunderbolt Networking now (in fact, it’s been available since October). As mentioned above, Intel is releasing new drivers for Windows users to enable the feature, although there’s no word on specific timing other than “soon.”

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