A strong ally has given Intel more support for Thunderbolt as Hewlett-Packard announced new workstation PCs that come with the high-speed connection technology.
Thunderbolt is useful for high-end machines with heavy-duty data-transfer demands such as fast external storage systems or video capture. It's built into all new Macs, if you include the next-gen Mac Pro, but it hasn't spread widely across the Windows market. During the Intel Developer Forum this week, though, HP announced its new workstations will have Thunderbolt support.
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That includes the ZBook 15 and 17, machines that use the new Haswell generation of Core processors, though not the ZBook 14 that HP says is the first Ultrabook-size workstation. Also endowed with Thunderbolt are three of the desktop workstation models: the Z420 with a single socket for an eight-core Xeon chip, the Z620 that can accommodate dual Xeon chips for a total of 24 cores, and the top-end Z820 that can handle dual Xeons and up to 512GB of memory.
Workstations -- machines with beefy hardware for heavy-duty computing tasks like scientific simulations, video editing, and 3D design -- are a niche in the PC market. But it's just the sort of market where Thunderbolt could be very useful today. It transfers data at 10 gigabits per second per channel in two directions at the same time, with two channels squeezed into each connector. Unlike USB 3.0, Thunderbolt lets you daisy-chain devices so that a single Thunderbolt port can handle multiple storage devices, displays, and other accessories.
Arriving on workstations could help Thunderbolt gain traction in the Windows market, though HP cautions customers should check to make sure their Thunderbolt devices will work with Windows. But the bigger challenge for Intel is spreading Thunderbolt to the mainstream market where USB 3.0 finally has become common.
The Thunderbolt 2 version will double data-transfer speeds when it arrives later this year, but a new version of USB doubles its speed, too, starting in 2014. Acer, an early ally in the Windows PC market, lost its enthusiasm for Thunderbolt on Windows earlier this year.
Workstations can be very expensive, especially when loaded up with fast processors, liquid cooling, and a lot of memory.
The Thunderbolt-equipped HP Z420, Z620, and Z820 workstations are due to ship worldwide in October with starting prices of $1,399, $1,689, and $2,439, respectively. The ZBook 15 and 17 are shipping now starting at $1,899 and $1,999. The ZBook 14 should arrive in October, HP said, but didn't reveal pricing.