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Tuesday, January 15, 2013, 10:10 am PT (01:10 pm ET)

Thunderbolt still a 'niche' due to Intel licensing requirements

A number of factors have played a part in the small selection of available Thunderbolt accessories, but the most significant may be Intel's lengthy licensing and certification process.

A rundown on the state of Thunderbolt was published on Tuesday by ArsTechnica, which acknowledged that accessories designed for the high-speed port remain a "niche." It noted that more Thunderbolt-compatible devices are coming, but the initial selection has been limited thanks, in part, to Intel's licensing requirements.

Matrox


A number of vendors who spoke with author Chris Foresman claimed that Intel has been "cherry picking which vendors it worked with." The chipmaker has apparently opted to work closely with a select number of vendors to ensure products would meet its stringent certification requirements.

Intel has denied that characterization, but did reportedly admit that it has had limited resources to approve new products. But Jason Ziller, director of Thunderbolt marketing and planning with Intel, also suggested licensing will expand to a greater number of vendors this year.

Another sign of potential improvement in Thunderbolt availability came last week, when Apple quietly released a shorter cable measuring half a meter in length, and also shaved $10 off the price of the original 2-meter cable that debuted in 2011. Corning also showed off new Thunderbolt optical cables at CES that can transfer data over hundreds of feet.

Last month, AppleInsider offered a closer look at the Matrox DS1, an accessory pitched as the world's first Thunderbolt docking station. The $249 accessory allows users to connect a collection of peripherals with just one cable.

Thunderbolt was developed in cooperation between Apple and Intel, and first launched on Apple's MacBook Pro lineup in March of 2011. Since then, Thunderbolt ports have also begun to appear in some Windows-based PCs, though the number of available accessories has not yet taken off.

Thunderbolt pairs the high-speed PCI Express serial interface with the Apple-developed Mini DisplayPort to provide both data and video through a single port with I/O performance of up to 10Gbps. Originally codenamed 'Light Peak,' Intel had planned to use optical cabling but switched to copper wire because of cost constraints.