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Ask – Is Thunderbolt Ready for Prime Time?

February 13, 2013
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IT’S TIME FOR A NEW COMPUTER, AND I KEEP HEARING THAT THUNDERBOLT IS THE “WAVE OF THE FUTURE.” BUT IT SEEMS THAT THE SELECTION OF COMPUTERS WITH THUNDERBOLT IS LIMITED. SHOULD I WAIT, OR JUMP ON IT NOW SO I’LL HAVE A FUTURE-PROOF SETUP?

Universal Audio’s Apollo audio interface was the first pro audio product to support Thunderbolt.

Jerry Strickland Omaha, NE via email

Hi Jerry, you didn’t specify Windows/Mac or desktop/laptop, which may affect your decision. So, here’s an overview.

Thunderbolt is in its infancy regarding support, but the advantages are compelling—ultra-fast transfer speeds, and backward compatibility with FireWire, HDMI, DVI, Gigabit Ethernet, and even PCI cards. It’s likely to become the pro video/audio interface of the future, but it’s not there yet; also, it’s more expensive than existing solutions. Even the cables are expensive, because they’re active.

Several Apple laptops include Thunderbolt, and now Windows laptops are also appearing with Thunderbolt. Laptops are a great fit for Thunderbolt, as they can work with powerful peripherals to compensate for lesser power in the laptops themselves. For mobile audio/video work, Thunderbolt has incredible potential, but even now, many solutions are available and Thunderbolt can also take full advantage of solid-state drive speeds for transferring large amounts of data.

Windows desktops with Thunderbolt ports are becoming available, but in most cases, you won’t be able to retrofit older machines with Thunderbolt—only motherboards with Thunderbolt-friendly chip sets are eligible. Mac Pro towers currently don’t include Thunderbolt (or for that matter, USB 3.0).

Getting a good computer with Thunderbolt means you’ll have a good computer regardless of what the future brings, and you can put it to use now with Thunderbolt peripherals. But if widespread adoption or lowering of prices is important, you may want to wait.

THE EDITORS

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