Intel details next-gen Thunderbolt controllers


— 6:00 AM on April 9, 2013

Intel unveiled two new generations of Thunderbolt controllers at the National Association of Broadcasters show yesterday. Rumors of the Redwood Ridge and Falcon Ridge chips circulated this past summer, and it looks like they were correct. Redwood Ridge will be available in dual-port DSL4510 and single-port DSL4410 flavors, each with two channels per port. Like current implementations, the chips boast 10Gbps of bandwidth per channel. The interconnect's DisplayPort support has been upgraded from version 1.1a to 1.2, and power management has purportedly been improved. 

Source: Intel

According to the presentation given at NAB (PDF), the new controllers also promise a reduction in "platform BOM cost and area." Motherboard makers have told us that existing Cactus Ridge chips cost $30-35 to implement, which is incredibly expensive compared to peripheral interfaces like USB 3.0. Thunderbolt cables are also pricey, although Intel says "lower-priced cables are available now." The cheapest one I see at Amazon is a 20" Apple unit for $29, with longer models running $39 and up. Cables used to cost about $50, so there's admittedly been some improvement on that front.

Expect to see the Redwood Ridge chips in Haswell-based systems. According to Engadget, the new Thunderbolt tech will be built into some Haswell processors, as well. It's unclear whether the controller will be incorporated into the die or will simply ride shotgun on the same package as the processor. Either way, I suspect the treatment will be reserved for highly integrated mobile parts rather than desktop chips. An ultra-thin convertible tablet with Thunderbolt would be pretty sweet.  

Source: Intel

Later this year, Intel expects to begin the initial production of another new Thunderbolt controller. Dubbed Falcon Ridge, this one promises to double the per-channel bandwidth to 20Gbps in each direction—enough to transfer and display 4K video simultaneously. It looks like there's only one channel per port, so the aggregate bandwidth of the interface hasn't changed. That's likely why Falcon Ridge will be "fully backward compatible" with existing cables and connectors.

Intel demoed early Falcon Ridge silicon daisy chained to dual 2560x1440 displays and a pair of SSDs pushing 1200MB/s in IOMeter. That's pretty impressive for a single cable, regardless of the cost.

Update — Intel has confirmed that Falcon Ridge combines the dual 10Gbps channels of current Thunderbolt implementations into a single, 20Gbps channel. The signal wiring for the cables and connectors is unchanged.

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