Intel went into detail on the Thunderbolt spec today, laying out features for consumers and requirements for PC and peripheral manufacturers. The spec goes beyond the mere Light Peak technology we've seen on the Vaio Z to include everything from trademark agreements to speed to, yes, the shape of the plug. It's officially a Mini-Displayport compatible plug with an integrated controller on each end, a feature that drives up the cost of the cable. Sorry, Sony, your USB-compatible Light Peak plug was a beautiful experiment, but Intel has other plans.
The maximum cable length right now is three meters, since the current implementation is electrical. What about active optical Thunderbolt cables? Intel says that they will be released "sometime next year" and enable lengths of "tens of meters." Unfortunately, the first round of active optical cables will operate at the exact same speed as current cables, 10Gbps. Intel says that is necessary because it wants those cables to conform to the current spec, but that faster speeds are certainly possible into the further future. All cables have two channels and can work as a Displayport cable (but not, obviously, vice versa).
We've long been wondering if Intel would throw its weight behind the Thunderbolt spec as we see it on MacBooks -- Mini-Displayport plug and all -- and the answer is clearly yes. They've set up a "Thunderbolt community" at thunderbolttechnology.net to try to evangelize the standard. Intel touted a list of more than twenty Thunderbolt peripheral manufacturers, from Belkin to Canon to Seagate, but to be honest the list is feeling a little bit slim at the moment. More to the point: we don't know what's up with PC makers. As we reported earlier, Thunderbolt won't arrive on Windows-based machines until next year and even then, only Asus and Acer were announced as being on board. Dell, Lenovo, HP, Samsung, and more were all notably missing and it's not clear if they intend to join the Thunderbolt party. Intel says it has seen "tremendous response from the industry," but to us, the lack of named partners smells more like "a wait and see response" from the major players.
Still want more Thunderbolt? Check out the slides from Intel's presentation after the break.