Untangling The Cables

Enough about the government for a while. Time to catch up on the gizmo fun we’ve been missing.

When I heard that the new MacBooks sported a connector called Thunderbolt I admit I was mystified. Sure, it’s said to be twice as fast as USB3 (only just out itself), but twice as fast was not enough. I knew that Intel had a fiber-optic connector called Light Peak in the works. In future, computers were going to be linked by light, not by the same old copper wires that have been with us since the days of the telegraph. It wasn’t like Apple to be going down a technological cul-de-sac.

It turns out of course that Thunderbolt is Light Peak – but in a transitional copper-wire form. If things go according to plan, it will be upgraded in the future to fiber-optic versions. We’ll see. For the moment though, it does 10 Gigabits per second. That may not be light speed, but it is roughly twenty times faster than USB2. Fast enough to, say, transfer a HD feature film in 30 seconds, or enough MP3 files to play non-stop for one year in just ten minutes. So, it’s a start. And though it’s being launched in cooperation with Apple, it should soon be everywhere.

But the really interesting thing about Thunderbolt is that it isn’t just for the usual things you’d connect up by USB – printers, hard drives, scanners and so on. It can also be used for external displays. So in the near future, the same cable could be used for just about every device a computer can connect to.

On top of that, it also carries power – like USB does, only more so. It’s capable of providing 10 Watts. That means many devices that now need external power supplies such as printers or routers, and even some displays, will be able to get it over the connection to the computer instead, cutting down greatly on cable clutter.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? 10 Watts is sufficient to charge some quite potent devices. The iPad requires a 10 Watt charger, funnily enough… Charge your iPad by plugging it into your MacBook.

So you can imagine Apple very soon building a device with just a single socket – used for charging, printers, displays, everything. A single port, a single cable; it can’t really get much more simple than that.

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