Where Is Thunderbolt?

[Updated 12/13 with clarification on Promise and more info on the incremental cost.]

I needed to buy more storage for my editing system – as if needing more storage for video editing is a surprise or something…

Anyway, I decided that since one of my editing systems supports Thunderbolt, I would buy a Thunderbolt RAID. Except the only ones currently available seemed to be from Promise Technology. Promise has been making and selling RAIDS to the video editing market for more than a decade. As Andrew pointed out in the comments: “Promise succeeded Apple’s Xserve RAID with their vTrak RAID.” As you can see from the comments below, lots of people like them a lot.

However, I decided to see what else was on the market.

And, hmmm, there’s not a whole lot else on the market. So, I decided to do some research and had a number of off-the-record conversations with different hard drive vendors to figure out why – when we are almost a year after the launch – there are so few Thunderbolt units available. Here’s what I learned.


Basically, Thunderbolt was released to the market too early. Thunderbolt requires not just one chip from Intel, but a master chip and a variety of supporting chips to be able to handle all the signal processing.

The first problem was that there was a shortage of both the master chip and the supporting chips.

Next, all these chips needed to be integrated onto a new IC board. Anytime hardware engineering is involved – as opposed to making software changes – a minimum of six months of engineering and manufacturing time is involved.


In fact, this hardware board with all these chips takes so much space that it won’t fit inside a standard enclosure – in general, it requires about another 1/2 in height inside the RAID unit.

This is space that, in smaller units, just doesn’t exist. This means that many manufacturers need to retool their enclosures to support the new protocol hardware.


Once the hardware has been figured out, the SDK (software development kit) necessary to support Thunderbolt was several months late coming to market – most drive vendors didn’t get them until early summer. In fact, the specs were published several times – and kept changing with each iteration. This is good, in that it allowed the protocol to improve, but every change caused delays in creating software needed to support the protocol.

In addition, Thunderbolt requires significant support from Apple and Intel engineering to explain how the new system works so that RAID manufacturers can get their systems to interconnect properly with this new protocol.

And, because Apple and Intel do not have unlimited engineering support staff, not all RAID vendors were able to access the engineering help they needed in a timely fashion. So, some vendors are farther along in their development than others are.

There’s also, apparently, a political issue. I was told that some vendors were given market exclusivity for a year after the announcement – an exclusive period that expires just before NAB next year in April.


There are many elements of potential good news here. First, every drive manufacturer that I spoke with is extremely interested in developing for Thunderbolt – so, while the devices may still take a while longer to get here, when they do arrive, they will arrive in quantity.

Second, Intel has already announced – at least to the drive vendors – a second generation bridge chip that includes both the Thunderbolt master chip and all the supporting chips on a single chip. This will vastly reduce both the amount of engineering that is necessary to support the new protocol and the amount of space it requires. From what I have been told, this new chip will support both FireWire and Thunderbolt on the same chip.

However, we probably won’t see these second-generation chips in quantity until late in the first quarter next year.

Intel is also working on a third-generation chip which supports data transfer over fiber-optic cable, but that chip probably won’t show up until 2013.


As one of my contacts told me, all new technologies are more expensive than current technologies. This was true with USB, FireWire, even Blu-ray players; and is true with Thunderbolt. Costs don’t fall until enough people adopt the technology to allow increasing volume to drive down costs.

“The cost of Thunderbolt will remain higher than alternatives until native implementations are made into motherboards and the external devices and if and when this happens we could see the price drop very quickly.”

In this conversation, his feeling was not that the technology was announced too soon, but that the implementation of this new technology takes a while to figure out.


So, what’s the take-away? Thunderbolt is coming – but the majority of units probably won’t arrive in quantity until the second quarter next year. By a year from now, we should have a wide variety of Thunderbolt devices to choose from.

Initially, most Thunderbolt devices will probably support RAID level 0 or 1 – which provide speed or redundancy, but not both. RAID level 5 units – which are both faster and more secure – will take longer to get to the market in quantity.

For now, though, we need to wait.

Let me know what you think.


24 Responses to Where Is Thunderbolt?

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  1. […] nombre d’impressions sur FCPx en avant-première, a publié des infos intéressantes sur son blog, dont je vous traduis ici la substance, avec son […]

  2. Just a small point to correct: Promise succeeded Apple’s Xserve RAID with their vTrak RAID. Xsan is software, is still an Apple product, and it is now included in OS X Lion.

  3. […] Where Is Thunderbolt? – Larry’s Blog. […]

  4. Paul Antico says:

    I have the Promise R6 12TB attached to a 2011 27″ iMac with the 3.4 GHz Sandy Bridge CPU. I’ve had no detach issues; I just cut a 30 min doc on it.

    I -have- seen an issue where sometimes it can take a few seconds to get a directory in Finder on the drive (it still reads/writes fine during this time) but other than that no issues. I’m seeing about 600MB/sec in both directions on sequential reads and writes and I run at RAID 6!

  5. Dick Applebaum says:

    I have Pegasus 12 TB attached to a maxed-out iMac 27 (both bought in July).

    Both are great! The Pegasus could easily be Apple kit — in performance, appearance, quality and UX.

    I have 23 TB of external LaCie drives (3 1TB and 10 2TB) that I’ve purchased over the years. The drives are excellent but it’s a rats nest of cables and external power bricks.

    As to the Pegasus being expensive:

    July 2011 PROMISE PEGASUS R6 12TB-CAF, $1,999.00
    April 2006 2TB Bigger Disk Extreme $1,749.00 $1,749.00

    I can’t say enough good things about the Pegasus and Thunderbolt!

  6. Dick Applebaum says:


    My 16-year-old granddaughter, Marlowe * is learning FCP X and doing some pretty interesting things.

    * Marlowe’s mom is a Bogie Freak

    Marlowe figured out, on her own, that she needs to do storyboarding before shooting…

    Looking for ways to assist her, I suggested that she watch the 2reel guys videos and define the 5 most important she learns…

    She just watched the 1st episode and is quite impressed — especially with that very handsome actor who first appeared on set.

    Long story short!

    There is a whole new generation of “video creators” coming on the scene and a lot of powerful and inexpensive tools to help create them (including tutorials on how to use the tools).

    What appears to be missing is a top-down view of what needs to be done [to create a video[ and how to go about getting it done.

    Will the 2reel guys series be expanded to address this?

    I can see a great need for this… and it could be offered as an online course.



  7. John A. Mozzer says:

    I am confused by the statement, “Ivy Bridge is the second generation chip I mentioned . . .”. I thought Ivy Bridge is a processor for computers, which I can see helping bring Thunderbolt into more computers (i.e., PC’s). But I don’t understand how Ivy Bridge will help us get more external hard drives and RAID’s with Thunderbolt (i.e, for our current Mac’s with Thunderbolt.)

  8. George says:

    Have you checked out Caldigit? Their products and support are solid and they sell a thunderbolt adapter for their RAIDS. I’m not familiar with their whole line but the HDPRO2 (which is based on PCI-E technology) just “adapts” without having to convert anything. I haven’t made the switch to Thunderbolt yet but have been very happy with their products that I do own. http://www.caldigit.com

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