Thunderbolt on Windows with Asus, Intel and Promise
Our Summary and Conclusion
Thunderbolt has been available on some Apple systems for over a year now and it’s been met with mostly positive results. There are also a handful of Thunderbolt compatible devices already on the market thanks to Apple’s head-start, from the likes of Promise, Lacie, WD and others. On the Windows front, however, Thunderbolt is still in its infancy and there are still a few bugs to work out of systems and solutions, like the hot plugging issue we mentioned earlier.
With that said, Thunderbolt on Windows has a lot of promise. We’re not confident that mainstream users will be very interested at first for the simple fact that a basic USB 3.0 external drive will likely offer enough performance and capacity for the average usage model. Content creators or video professionals that need massive amounts of fast storage are likely to be much more enamored by Thunderbolt though. For all intents and purposes, an external RAID enclosure like the Promise Pegasus R4 we’ve featured here performs just like an array of internal drives in a system; bandwidth and latency with Thunderbolt attached storage devices is impressive indeed.
The other question is whether or not desktop systems really need Thunderbolt when drives can just be attached internally. Obviously, if you’ve got the necessary SATA ports and bays available, a multi-drive RAID array can easily be configured, but you wouldn’t have the benefit of easy portability. By that, we don’t mean portability from location to location (although that is an option), but portability from system to system. These first couple of Thunderbolt-enabled motherboards are also quite expensive. We don’t have street prices for the Intel mobo just yet, but the Asus P8Z77-V Premium is currently selling for about $399. That’s pretty pricey for a Z77 motherboard, even though it is arguably the most feature laden board you’re likely to come across at this time. We should also point out that Asus does have some more affordable options as well, including the P8Z77-V Pro, which will be available this week at $259, and the company’s upcoming $40-ish Thunderbolt EX card which will work with eleven different Asus motherboards, with prices as low as about $125 for an H77-based model.
For now, Thunderbolt is likely to remain somewhat of niche interface for content creation professionals in need of fast access to big storage volumes. Moving forward, however, as Thunderbolt gets integrated into more and more systems, software and as device support improves, its impact could be much more widespread, especially with mobile devices. Having Thunderbolt on next-gen Ultra thin laptops, tablets or convertibles opens up a world of possibilities for docking stations and similar accessories. The bandwidth and daisy-chaining capabilities enabled by Thunderbolt will make it possible to attach a mobile device to a single, thin cable and access multiple storage volumes, displays and other peripherals that will perform as if they were internal system components. Glorious bandwidth; there is no substitute.