MSI shows Z77 mobo with Thunderbolt built in

When we caught up with MSI at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the company showed us its upcoming Z77A-GD80 motherboard. We were told the board would have Thunderbolt connectivity, but the prototype itself didn’t.

Now, at the CeBIT trade show in Germany, MSI is showing off a new version of the same board—and this time, Thunderbolt is in. VR-Zone was on the scene and snapped a few pictures.

It looks like the Thunderbolt controller chip has taken up residence just beside one of the heatsinks covering the CPU power-regulation circuitry. VR-Zone suspects the chip is one of Intel’s unannounced Cactus Ridge offerings, possibly an L3310 model. It’s wired up to a mini-DisplayPort connector just like the ones on Apple’s Thunderbolt-equipped Macs and MacBooks. That connector is neighbors with an old-school VGA output, HDMI, and a pair of USB 3.0 ports. (Believe it or not, there’s a legacy PS/2 keyboard/mouse port in the cluster, as well.)

Check out VR-Zone’s story for the pictures and closeups.

Comments closed
    • shank15217
    • 8 years ago

    Here’s hoping for TB to provide external GPUs or 10GbE for the masses.

    • shank15217
    • 8 years ago

    Niether Linux nor Windows supports thunderbolt, where is msi going with this, the hackintosh market?

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      Windows will likely get native support in Win 8. Linux may or may not, its always difficult to say until it actually makes its way into the kernel. Completely new tech like TB doesnt get universal support overnight. It takes small steps from hardware and software companies before it can start to spread to the mainstream.

        • shank15217
        • 8 years ago

        TB isn’t a new tech anymore, its about a year old now, and just a bit newer on the market than USB 3.0. Linux kernel developers have had access to TB for a while now through x86 Macs but they haven’t done much. I think Intel hasn’t released important information regarding TB to developers because of the exclusivity with Apple. I don’t think this is a technical issue, seems very political to me.

      • ddarko
      • 8 years ago

      When I bought my USB 3.0 PCI-E card, I installed drivers that came on a disc with the card. Same for Thunderbolt. Presumably the drivers will be on the CD MSI includes with the mobo.

        • shank15217
        • 8 years ago

        USB 3.0 has universal support on Linux and Windows Vista+

    • aceuk
    • 8 years ago

    Why do we still have to have old school VGA ports?

    • Krogoth
    • 8 years ago

    Thunderbolt doesn’t really make any sense for a desktop. It makes some sense for a workstation that is trying to use an external GPU for rendering purposes or as a cost-effective alternative to 10Gigabit Ethernet and other ultra-high bandwidth external interfaces.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      I like having the possibility in a desktop. All that [url=http://www.musiciansfriend.com/pro-audio/universal-audio-apollo-interface-18×24-firewire-audio-interface-w-uad-2-duo-dsp-thunderbolt-i-o-option-bay/h80029000000000?src=3WFRWXX&ZYXSEM=0&CAWELAID=1184391632<]this[/url<] is missing is Windows drivers. Since they've decided to use the same connector as Apple (which hopefully the Mini DP port will take off as the TB connector of choice), it's possible. All you need is an SCV and a chair, as they say.

        • cheerful hamster
        • 8 years ago

        The Windows drivers will be released when the Thunderbolt expansion card ships in the Summer. I have three Quads in my machine, so I think the Duo Apollo should do it for me, though I really hope there is a two channel version in the works. UA has a lot of laptop folks pushing for compatible DSP solutions, so something like Thunderbolt makes a lot of sense for them if there is enough adoption in both desktops and laptops.

    • LoneWolf15
    • 8 years ago

    All that, and ClickBIOS II.

    *blech*

    • Grigory
    • 8 years ago

    After reading the comments on this and other sites (mainly other sites) I have come to the conclusion that Thunderbolt is the new FireWire. At least regarding the smugness of the fanboys.

      • floodo1
      • 8 years ago

      Yeah, and the hate that haters spew. Who doesn’t want external PCI-E / video over a tiny cable????

    • Chrispy_
    • 8 years ago

    What is the appeal of Thunderbolt on the desktop again?

    I’m sure there was one but I remember reading about it a while back and thinking “it’ll never catch on, but it might be less-than-useless in a small laptop with no room for a decent port cluster”

    Things it offers desktop users appears to be “a high speed interface” (eSATA and USB3 are enough for almost everything) and “external GPU support”. Well guess what, those three empty PCI-E x16 slots mean I don’t need or want external GPU support.

    I guess for the man who has to have [i<]everything[/i<], Thunderbolt is at least available on the desktop. It's right up there on the list with pubic hair trimmers.

      • LoneWolf15
      • 8 years ago

      So you’re saying women shouldn’t leave home without it? 😉

      • Farting Bob
      • 8 years ago

      It offers higher speeds than USB and offers more power over the line. USB’s only major advantages are cost (controller chips and cables cost pennies to make) and its entrenched market with millions of devices that use it. TB will always cost more, but offer higher performance. So kind of like SSD v HDD’s. There is a market for both and most people will be happy with the cheaper one, a few will want more speed.

        • JustAnEngineer
        • 8 years ago

        More like 8-track vs. cassette, Beta vs. VHS, HDDVD vs. Blu-ray, Firewire vs. USB, memory stick vs. SD, etc.

    • OneArmedScissor
    • 8 years ago

    So how does this work? I thought they were wired Thunderbolt > PCH > CPU, almost like going back to southbridge > northbridge > CPU, but the placement implies otherwise.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 8 years ago

      I thought it might be grabbing ahold of one of the PCIe lanes in the CPU, but I don’t know enough to even say that it’s possible let alone likely.

        • OneArmedScissor
        • 8 years ago

        I assumed that was possible, but then it creates a weird spider web of back and forth between the CPU and southbridge if you plug something with an adapter into the Thunderbolt port.

        …unless, being a desktop with a gajillion ports, the intention is to just avoid using it to supplement anything the southbridge is doing, and do something else with it altogether.

    • Bensam123
    • 8 years ago

    Noooo MSI why!??!?! Why must you buy into this?!

      • ddarko
      • 8 years ago

      Because MSI is interested to selling the board to enthusiasts willing to pay for top-notch performance? Because a Thunderbolt external drive, even with mechanical hard drives, far exceeds eSATA or USB 3.0 based solutions?

      I would have thought this would be obvious to readers of a site called TechReport. I would have thought people would be happy to see new tech being introduced, even if the solution is out of reach on the price/performance curve. This site regularly covers tech that is cutting edge, expensive and out of reach for the vast majority of users out there yet no one objects to the tech’s existence. I’ve yet to read someone wishing that mobos didn’t support triple Crossfire or quad SLI cards or SSD drives, all solutions that are far far pricier than what most people can or want to buy.

      The better question is, why are you against MSI making a Thunderbolt-equipped mobo? MSI isn’t forcing anyone to buy it and they will have plenty of cheaper mobos without Thunderbolt support. Since the main criticisms of Thunderbolt right now is its relatively high cost and near-exclusivity on Apple computers, I would have thought a PC mobo maker introducing it would be greeted with cheers since the wider the tech is implemented, the more affordable it will be. Or is the price and availability argument against Thunderbolt nothing more than a fig leaf for something else?

        • MadManOriginal
        • 8 years ago

        [quote<]Because a Thunderbolt external drive, even with mechanical hard drives, far exceeds SATA or USB 3.0 based solutions?[/quote<] Simply untrue, especially for SATA. If it were true then all drives above a certain performance level would perform the same regardless of connection but we know that isn't true. It is true for some of the newest SSDs that perform better on SATA III htan SATA II. What Thunderbolt is superior at is connecting multiple devices to one port, or for [b<]very[/b<] high performance external devices - far above what one would get from mechanical drives the way most people use them. A large array of drives might saturate SATA II or USB 3.0 though.

          • ddarko
          • 8 years ago

          [quote<]What Thunderbolt is superior at is connecting multiple devices to one port, or for very high performance external devices - far above what one would get from mechanical drives the way most people use them. A large array of drives might saturate SATA II or USB 3.0 though.[/quote<] Which is exactly my point - it's a solution that offers a level of performance that isn't attainable through other external solutions like eSATA or USB. If you want to see what Thunderbolt is capable of that other external solutions can't, wait till OCZ releases its SSD external drive which is says will go up to 750MB/s. No one needs Thunderbolt to run an external Caviar Green 5400rpm hard drive, just like it's a waste of money to get a Radeon 7970 to run Starcraft on a 15" monitor at 1280x1024 resolution. Thunderbolt is useful for a type of setup that most people aren't going use but so what, why is that a knock against the tech or reason to wish it die? I don't get it. Video card reviews routinely run Eyefinity benchmarks with multiple monitor setups that are just as esoteric yet no one is rooting for Eyefinity to fail. Folks who want Thunderbolt to fail are like folks who want AMD or Nvidia to have a bad GPU launch. They're not tech enthusiasts, they're tribalists.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 8 years ago

            If that was exactly your point you did a terrible job of making it by saying this [quote<]even with mechanical hard drives,[/quote<] in your opening paragraph. Also, I wasn't knocking it or wishing it would die, that was the other guy 🙂

            • ddarko
            • 8 years ago

            I know, my ire was directed against the other guy, not you 🙂

            However, even with mechanical drives, Thunderbolt can offer significant boost over eSATA. This article benchmarks a RAID Thunderbolt solution against RAID eSATA solutions:

            [url<]http://www.macworld.com/article/161122/2011/07/thunderboltvsesata.html[/url<] Now granted, it's apples-to-oranges because the Pegasus Thunderbolt product has six drives but Anandtech's review with an external Thunderbolt drive with 2 hard drives in RAID gave numbers that, while it doesn't come close to the Pegasus drive, still handily outstripped the eSATA RAID drive: [url<]http://www.anandtech.com/show/5577/lacie-2big-thunderbolt-series-review[/url<] Of course, the two reviews use different benchmarks so they aren't directly comparable but they both use the Pegasus R6 in their reviews and come up with roughly comparable results. I think the reviews are useful for the broad generalization I'm making. Even with a RAID setup with two mechanical drives - a setup that's not THAT unusual - Thunderbolt can provide a performance advantage that isn't attainable from other solutions like eSATA or USB 3.0. So I stand by even the mechanical hard drive portion of my original post 🙂

            • Bensam123
            • 8 years ago

            How about testing this against a external SAS then?

            If you’re doing raid externally over a single cable, using SATA is stupid. SAS was derived from SATA for exactly this reason.

            A EXTERNAL raid setup is very rare outside of SANs which are a enterprise thing, which is also where SAS exists. I know a lot of people who have a external HD or multiple externals, but none that have a external raid enclosure. You can add this in with the pile of external graphics cards that don’t exist in any great number.

            • ddarko
            • 8 years ago

            And what is the relevance of SAS to a debate about Thunderbolt’s real world speed against USB 3.0 or eSATA? The question wasn’t whether Thunderbolt was the fastest external solution available.

            And if you don’t have a problem with SAS as an optional, higher cost solution, then what’s the objection to Thunderbolt, another optional, higher cost solution?

            • MadManOriginal
            • 8 years ago

            I already covered that in my very first reply # 4, I just didn’t explicitly spell it out [quote<]for very high performance external devices - far above what one would get from mechanical drives the way most people use them. A large array of drives might saturate SATA II or USB 3.0 though.[/quote<] 'Most people' (even most enthusiasts judging by reading forums) don't have 6-drive external drive arrays but rather single drive enclosures, or maybe RAID1 2-drive encolsures if they want some redundancy.

            • ddarko
            • 8 years ago

            Benchmarks seem to demonstrate significant performance boost from even a RAID 2-drive setup with mechanical hard drives. You don’t need a 6-drive setup to see the boost. See the Anandtech review I linked to above.

            • MadManOriginal
            • 8 years ago

            You mean the Anandtech review where they [i<]only tested using Thunderbolt[/i<] and didn't even post comparisons to other interfaces? Where the 2-drive RAID0 mechanical drive enclosure hit about 200MB/s, well within the capabilities of USB 3.0 and even SATA II let alone SATA III?

            • ddarko
            • 8 years ago

            I mean the Anandtech review AND the Macworld review that did test an eSATA RAID solution which came around 125 MB/s. And just for clarification, there are two separate Thunderbolt 2-drive RAID0 used in the Anandtech review; one using 500gb drives that hit 200MB/s and another using 3tb drives that hit 300MB/s read and write, a full 50% faster. I haven’t seen a USB 3.0 or eSATA hard drive solution that’s comparable.

            • OneArmedScissor
            • 8 years ago

            But does any board have eSATA ports that are 6gbps yet?

            That’s kind of a silly comparison, seeing as you’d still have to go buy the new Thunderbolt drive, in which case, you could also buy a USB 3.0 drive. We know that won’t be constrained like an eSATA port might be.

            As for the ability to use high speed external SSDs, OCZ also have drives with a PCIe cable interface. That’s undoubtedly the sort of thing that will become the defacto standard as SATA is dropped and native PCIe becomes a requirement to make SSDs faster.

            • ddarko
            • 8 years ago

            So Thunderbolt’s real world speed advantage over eSATA should be dismissed because it’s unfair to compare it to the real world eSATA interface? It would only be “fair” to compare Thunderbolt against a version of eSATA that doesn’t exist on any mobo and you can’t use or buy? I prefer to benchmark real products, not real versus hypothetical. It doesn’t matter if eSATA can technically be as fast if it isn’t. No one can transfer data over a theoretical interface.

            And USB 3.0 is comparable to eSATA (I have 2 USB 3.0 external drives sitting on my desk right now). It isn’t significantly faster eSATA and it certainly doesn’t match Thunderbolt in real world performance.

            • Bensam123
            • 8 years ago

            Cause it segments the market without presenting any real advantage over current technology. Sata3 and USB3 have already been in place for a couple years.

            It would be very different if this device offered 10x the bandwidth of current implementations, but it doesn’t. That would be more along the lines of PCI-E or soon to be external PCI-E which will completely supplant Tbolt.

            • ddarko
            • 8 years ago

            How does it segment the market? Intel has already ensured that USB 3.0 will be as ubiquitous as USB 1.1/2.0 by making it native on its chipsets going forward (it will even be on Apple’s computers once they shift to Ivy Bridge). Unless Intel decides to do the same with Thunderbolt, the risk of segmentation is a straw man (and if Intel did do that, why would anyone care – it would be free, use or don’t use it). USB 3.0 vs. Thunderbolt is a fiction; that war was already settled in USB 3.0’s favor – by the inventor of Thunderbolt no less – before it started.

            Having Thunderbolt start to appear as an option on premium and premium-priced mobos is no threat to anything. USB won’t be any cheaper or any less ubiquitous because of Thunderbolt’s wider availability. And since I do think Thunderbolt has technical merit, I think its wider availability outside Apple devices is a plus.

            • Bensam123
            • 8 years ago

            Because they didn’t. USB 3 has been out for close to three years. Why hasn’t Intel integrated USB 3 support into any of their newer designs? People wanted it, makers even went out of their way to use bridge chips (and still do).

            Tbolt isn’t free. The chips are ridiculously expensive. It isn’t natively built into any of Intel’s chipsets either. This is what I meant about Intel not doing any of the seeding work. They simply belted out a specification, told everyone they should use it, abstained it from their chipsets, and then got Apple on board because Mac users like going for things that sound cool and are niche.

            It was stillborn from the start and like I said, it’s not backwards compatible with USB. They did nothing to go out of their way to make it work except throw their weight around.

            If you look at past history, Intel had USB 2 on their chipsets as soon as the spec was available.

            • ddarko
            • 8 years ago

            Your prior argument was that Thunderbolt segmented the market. You seem to have dropped that to now complain that Intel hasn’t put Thunderbolt on the chipset so that’s it’s free or that Intel hasn’t made USB 3.0 native as quickly as USB 2.0, another argument that has no bearing on market segmentation since whether or not USB 3.0 should have been put on the chipset faster has no impact on whether USB 3.0 will be cheap and ubiquitous (it will be). My point remains: Thunderbolt does not segment the market as you initially argued. It has NO bearing on the success of USB 3.0.

            Again, I ask what the problem is with a technology that is optional, doesn’t cost anybody anything unless you’re willing to pay for it and won’t impact the availability or cost of other lower cost options like USB 3.0. You say it doesn’t offer any performance advantage. That’s very arguable but it’s no slower and just as importantly, it’s existence is HARMLESS to any other standards. The only harm you could cite is segmentation which is bogus straw man’s argument. Intel isn’t forcing anyone to use it, it’s not penalizing anybody or substituting Thunderbolt in place of USB 3.0. If anything, Thunderbolt is beneficial because a competing, comparable interface adds pricing and innovative pressure on other interfaces. USB is better because of Thunderbolt and vice versa. Plans to improve the next gen of USB has been improved with Thunderbolt in the picture than without.

            You don’t like Thunderbolt – you’ll probably never have to see it or buy a mobo that has it. But for those who are interested in the tech and don’t want to buy a Mac, what skin off your back is it that a PC mobos with it are available? The virtue of the PC platform as opposed to something more tightly controlled like the Mac is the array of options and users who are can evaluate for themselves the pros and cons of a technology and decide if they want to invest in it.

            • A_Pickle
            • 8 years ago

            [quote<]Thunderbolt is useful for a type of setup that most people aren't going use but so what, why is that a knock against the tech or reason to wish it die?[/quote<] Here's my reason for wanting it to die: It's proprietary, it uses (for some incredibly stupid reason) the same connector as miniDisplayPort, and (drumroll please) you need a brand new motherboard to get it. Thanks, but no. Just no. The fact that I can't just drop a PCIe card into my machine to get a super-fast interconnect is bull**** of the greatest extent, and in my mind, completely against the philosophy of the PC in general. I honestly do not see ThunderBolt surviving in the capacity that Apple/Intel want it to. It's a solution in search of a problem. SATA 6 gbps... is exactly fast enough to satisfy your 750 MB/sec OCZ drive. And what's to say that SATA won't be releasing a new spec, SATA 4 with 12 gbps of throughput? Why damn backwards compatibility?

          • Bensam123
          • 8 years ago

          This…

          I’d like to see ddarkos take on a external JBOD built simply to saturate USB3 or SATA3. They already make SAS external enclosures though that use more then one channel (not just a hub).

          About the only thing TBolt is good for is monitors with USB ports on them, so you don’t need to run two cables instead of one.

        • Bensam123
        • 8 years ago

        Silly goose USB 3 and Sata3 haven’t been saturated by any drives yet, even SSDs (point me to a review). They’re approaching the theoretical limit, if they actually reached that theoretical speed, but they don’t and haven’t.

        Now if you’re talking about PCI-E SSD solutions I may agree with you, but those are already designed for the PCI bus and none are built using Sata 3 or USB 3.

        I am very happy to see new technology, meaningful technology. Not just ‘me toos’ designed to further segment a part of the industry built off a wedge designed by a company with a lot of influence. Lucid is a good example of a company being very innovative and I thoroughly enjoy their products.

        This would be very different if it allowed USB devices to be compatible with TBolt interfaces, but it isn’t. That is something Intel didn’t build into it, think about, or perhaps they didn’t want to do. IF they had done this, I’d be all for TBolt and explaining how amazing it is because they’re trying to integrate rather then completely replace without seeds.

        To answer your question, giving Intel the benefit of the doubt will keep the spec in existence quite a bit longer then it should be. If no one adopts it, it will die a fast and painless death without any of us having to suffer because of it. Apple clang to Firewire for god knows how long and it’s still in existence because of it.

          • ddarko
          • 8 years ago

          I have another name for “me too” designs – competition.

          [quote<]If no one adopts it, it will die a fast and painless death without any of us having to suffer because of it. Apple clang to Firewire for god knows how long and it's still in existence because of it.[/quote<] Explain how Firewire's continued existence has made you or most people who don't even have Firewire ports on their computers "suffer" in any way shape or form. Your hyperbole is overwrought and contradictory - the tech is both insignificant yet causes people who don't even use it to "suffer." Walking into Best Buy and seeing hard drives compatible with Firewire isn't a quantifiable harm. [quote<]This would be very different if it allowed USB devices to be compatible with TBolt interfaces, but it isn't. That is something Intel didn't build into it, think about, or perhaps they didn't want to do. IF they had done this, I'd be all for TBolt and explaining how amazing it is because they're trying to integrate rather then completely replace without seeds.[/quote<] No. You have the USB Forum to thank for why Thunderbolt doesn't use a USB connector. Intel initially prototyped it with USB but the USB Forum rejected it. USB Forum's statement: "USB connectors are not general purpose connectors and are not designed to be used in support of other technology applications or standards or as combo connectors." [url<]http://www.engadget.com/2011/05/17/sonys-thunderbolt-implementation-hiding-in-plain-site-uses-usb/[/url<]

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