ThunderBolt Adapters : Expand - Adapt - Convert
ThunderBolt Port Direct PCI-Express Bus Access
As an extension of a computer's internal PCI-e bus -- A ThunderBolt adapter can provide direct 'on-ramp' access to the CPU, graphics card and memory - hence the high-speed. In a sense, it will allow you to add an 'expansion card' to your Mac or PC without having to open up the computer or plug anything into a slot. It's anticipated a wide variety of ThunderBolt adapters will become available, a few have shipped in the past year.
Recently the Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire Adapter shipped helping users with legacy Combo or FireWire interface external hard drives preserve their investment and access their data - especially helpful for MacBook Air owners.
"Bridge" Adapters for ThunderBolt ports convert one type of connection to another: Just as a bridge can connect a tarred road on one side to a gravel road at the other. Many computer peripherals like drive cases and docks are an example of, say, a SATA drive bridge to USB 2.0 or FireWire. So it's anticiplated as Intel and Apple ThunderBolt ports proliferate in the marketplace that a plethora of ThunderBolt peripheral adapters will ship to add other types of ports and additional interfaces to existing machines.
Currently Shipping Computers With ThunderBolt Port
As Intel's develpment partner, Apple wisely chose their best-selling MacBooks (and highest volume computer line) to introduce ThunderBolt/LightPeak on. Currently two out of every three Macs sold - over 3 million laptops per quarter - are MacBook notebooks. It's been the fastest way for Apple to get as many new TBolt port enabled systems out there quickly. With successive revisions, iMacs, MacBook Airs and Mac mini desktop computers are now shipping as well. Oddly, the professional Macintosh Pro desktop line was the last to receive a ThunderBolt upgrade.
At 2012 WWD Developer Conference, Apple's rolled the 2nd generation of ThunderBolt laptops out across it's entire MacBook Retina, Pro and Air line:
In addition, Apple also ships a $29 Thunderbolt Ethernet Adapter and a ThunderBolt FireWire 800 Adapter as well.
The Mid-2012 MacBook line also provides dual SuperSpeed Mac compatible USB 3.0 ports on all models, providing even more interface connectivity options.
ThunderBolt PC MarketIntel is a huge OEM of logic boards. Expect ThunderBolt motherboards to show up in mid 2012 and rapidly be incorporated into new Windows systems by a wide variety of Top-Tier PC manufacturers. Apple may have been the partner and test-bed for the initial launch of ThunderBolt, but the Windows PC platform will deliver even higher high-volume production to insure a huge market for TBolt accessories in the years to come.
PCI Slot ThunderBolt Cards? Not Possible?
None have been announced - And there may NEVER be an upgrade market for legacy Windows PC and Apple Macintosh Pro tower owners who want to add a ThunderBolt port adapter card into one of their open PCI-X slots. WHY? Because it technically may not be possible to 'add' additional T-Bolt ports via a PCI card. Intel's website implies that for such direct access to the PCI bus AND graphics chipset - the ThunderBolt chipset needs to be integrated into the logic board and not just hanging off an open PCI-Express slot. However, Sonnet Technologies has announced a 2-Slot external PCI-e expansion chassis with chainable ThunderBolt ports at the rear that will allow EXTERNAL PCI cards to hang off the external BhunderBolt bus.
DisplayPort Functions In ThunderBolt
ThunderBolt also supports external DisplayPort computer displays - with all the bandwidth needed to drive high-resolution monitors at fast speeds. It's no coincidence that ThunderBolt connectors, sockets and plugs use the same form factor that Apple's been using with it's mini DisplayPort.
The POLITICS Of ThunderBolt
It's important to understand that the collaboration of Intel and Apple, the Intellectual Property behind ThunderBolt and DisplayPort, Licensing and Patent Royalties involving implementing ThunderBolt ports, and CONTROL OVER THE COMPUTING LANDSCAPE may be the real back-story here.
In a direct quote from Intel's ThunderBolt products page:
"Thunderbolt products require a controller chip supplied by Intel and a small connector that would be included in platforms supporting this technology. The Thunderbolt controller chip provides protocol switching capabilities to support the two protocols over a single cable. Intel is making its controller chip available to the industry, and is working with other component manufacturers to deliver the Thunderbolt connectors and cables."
Unlike TBolt, SuperSpeed USB 3.0 operates with the openeness of the USB-IF USB Implementers Forum, Inc. - This consortium broadly oversees and certifies USB3 implementation. At this point LightPeak and ThunderBolt are largely in Intel and Apple's direct control. There aren't multiple ThunderBolt chipset manufacturers shipping ThunderBolt compatible chipsets - so expect a slow (and perhaps painful) road to a truly thriving market of ThunderBolt peripherals and accessories from a wide variety of vendors.