Computing Now Exclusive Content — May 2011

News Archive

July 2012

Gig.U Project Aims for an Ultrafast US Internet

June 2012

Bringing Location and Navigation Technology Indoors

May 2012

Plans Under Way for Roaming between Cellular and Wi-Fi Networks

Encryption System Flaw Threatens Internet Security

April 2012

For Business Intelligence, the Trend Is Location, Location, Location

Corpus Linguistics Keep Up-to-Date with Language

March 2012

Are Tomorrow's Firewalls Finally Here Today?

February 2012

Spatial Humanities Brings History to Life

December 2011

Could Hackers Take Your Car for a Ride?

November 2011

What to Do about Supercookies?

October 2011

Lights, Camera, Virtual Moviemaking

September 2011

Revolutionizing Wall Street with News Analytics

August 2011

Growing Network-Encryption Use Puts Systems at Risk

New Project Could Promote Semantic Web

July 2011

FBI Employs New Botnet Eradication Tactics

Google and Twitter "Like" Social Indexing

June 2011

Computing Commodities Market in the Cloud

May 2011

Intel Chips Step up to 3D

Apple Programming Error Raises Privacy Concerns

Thunderbolt Promises Lightning Speed

April 2011

Industrial Control Systems Face More Security Challenges

Microsoft Effort Takes Down Massive Botnet

March 2011

IP Addresses Getting Security Upgrade

February 2011

Studios Agree on DRM Infrastructure

January 2011

New Web Protocol Promises to Reduce Browser Latency

To Be or NAT to Be?

December 2010

Intel Gets inside the Helmet

Tuning Body-to-Body Networks with RF Modeling

November 2010

New Wi-Fi Spec Simplifies Connectivity

Expanded Top-Level Domains Could Spur Internet Real Estate Boom

October 2010

New Weapon in War on Botnets

September 2010

Content-Centered Internet Architecture Gets a Boost

Gesturing Going Mainstream

August 2010

Is Context-Aware Computing Ready for the Limelight?

Flexible Routing in the Cloud

Signal Congestion Rejuvenates Interest in Cell Paging-Channel Protocol

July 2010

New Protocol Improves Interaction among Networked Devices and Applications

Security for Domain Name System Takes a Big Step Forward

The ROADM to Smarter Optical Networking

Distributed Cache Goes Mainstream

June 2010

New Application Protects Mobile-Phone Passwords

WiGig Alliance Reveals Ultrafast Wireless Specification

Cognitive Radio Adds Intelligence to Wireless Technology

May 2010

New Product Uses Light Connections in Blade Server

April 2010

Browser Fingerprints Threaten Privacy

New Animation Technique Uses Motion Frequencies to Shake Trees

March 2010

Researchers Take Promising Approach to Chemical Computing

Screen-Capture Programming: What You See is What You Script

Research Project Sends Data Wirelessly at High Speeds via Light

February 2010

Faster Testing for Complex Software Systems

IEEE 802.1Qbg/h to Simplify Data Center Virtual LAN Management

Distributed Data-Analysis Approach Gains Popularity

Twitter Tweak Helps Haiti Relief Effort

January 2010

2010 Rings in Some Y2K-like Problems

Infrastructure Sensors Improve Home Monitoring

Internet Search Takes a Semantic Turn

December 2009

Phase-Change Memory Technology Moves toward Mass Production

IBM Crowdsources Translation Software

Digital Ants Promise New Security Paradigm

November 2009

Program Uses Mobile Technology to Help with Crises

More Cores Keep Power Down

White-Space Networking Goes Live

Mobile Web 2.0 Experiences Growing Pains

October 2009

More Spectrum Sought for Body Sensor Networks

Optics for Universal I/O and Speed

High-Performance Computing Adds Virtualization to the Mix

ICANN Accountability Goes Multinational

RFID Tags Chat Their Way to Energy Efficiency

September 2009

Delay-Tolerant Networks in Your Pocket

Flash Cookies Stir Privacy Concerns

Addressing the Challenge of Cloud-Computing Interoperability

Ephemeralizing the Web

August 2009

Bluetooth Speeds Up

Grids Get Closer

DCN Gets Ready for Production

The Sims Meet Science

Sexy Space Threat Comes to Mobile Phones

July 2009

WiGig Alliance Makes Push for HD Specification

New Dilemnas, Same Principles:
Changing Landscape Requires IT Ethics to Go Mainstream

Synthetic DNS Stirs Controversy:
Why Breaking Is a Good Thing

New Approach Fights Microchip Piracy

Technique Makes Strong Encryption Easier to Use

New Adobe Flash Streams Internet Directly to TVs

June 2009

Aging Satellites Spark GPS Concerns

The Changing World of Outsourcing

North American CS Enrollment Rises for First Time in Seven Years

Materials Breakthrough Could Eliminate Bootups

April 2009

Trusted Computing Shapes Self-Encrypting Drives

March 2009

Google, Publishers to Try New Advertising Methods

Siftables Offer New Interaction Model for Serious Games

Hulu Boxed In by Media Conglomerates

February 2009

Chips on Verge of Reaching 32 nm Nodes

Hathaway to Lead Cybersecurity Review

A Match Made in Heaven: Gaming Enters the Cloud

January 2009

Government Support Could Spell Big Year for Open Source

25 Reasons For Better Programming

Web Guide Turns Playstation 3 Consoles into Supercomputing Cluster

Flagbearers for Technology: Contemporary Techniques Showcase US Artifact and European Treasures

December 2008

.Tel TLD Debuts As New Way to Network

Science Exchange

November 2008

The Future is Reconfigurable

Thunderbolt Promises Lightning Speed

by George Lawton

Intel's Light Peak optical interconnect technology has been integrated into Thunderbolt, a new electrical port that uses a mini-DisplayPort (mDP)-compatible plug to support 40 gigabits per second of aggregate bandwidth over 3 meters. A future active optical version will extend the range past 100 meters.

This should help bridge the gap between native bus technologies with low processor overhead, such as PCI, and external communications techniques with higher overhead, such as USB and 10 Gbps Ethernet, said Richard Doherty, a communication design analyst with the Envisioneering Group.

Doherty expects to see Thunderbolt used initially in very high end applications that can directly benefit from the performance improvements. For example, a video transcoding job might be completed eight times faster over Thunderbolt than PCI or SCSI. It will also enable higher performance video systems that support 4,000 and 8,000 lines of resolution compared with the 1,080 lines on existing high-definition video.

Introducing Thunderbolt

Prior to Thunderbolt, Intel demoed Light Peak, a technology with similar performance but over optical cables, which are more fragile. In contrast, Thunderbolt uses an electrical connection like USB or FireWire. Although Thunderbolt ports are backward-compatible with mDP, it will require special cables and peripherals to reach the faster speeds.

The technology combines the ability to carry video and data on a single cable and to daisy-chain up to seven devices together. It also carries up to 10 watts of power, eliminating the need for external power sources for some peripherals.

Speeds in Perspective

In contrast with Thunderbolt's 40 Gbps, PCI buses top out at 8 Gbps and can be bonded together to support up to 16 Gbps using two cables. Other theoretical interconnect speeds include SATA (6 Gbps), DisplayPort 1.2 (17.28 Gbps), USB 3.0 (4.8 Gbps), FireWire 800 (0.8 Gbps), PCI Express v3.0 (16 Gbps), ATI XGP (40 Gbps), Shuttle GXT (5 Gbps), and Express Card (2.5 Gbps).

Not only is the theoretical rate faster than most other interconnects, but Thunderbolt also applies more efficient signaling mechanisms than protocols such as USB do. Actual throughput of USB technologies can suffer a performance hit of 50 percent or more, depending on the number of devices. USB 3.0 improves on this somewhat with special signaling modes. Intel has demonstrated Thunderbolt throughput of 62.5 percent, and higher performance might be possible as the peripherals improve.

USB is cheap in part because it relies on the CPU to do most of the heavy lifting. Doherty expects Thunderbolt to add only about 2–3 percent overhead to the CPU, whereas a high-speed USB connection can generate 10–20 percent overhead on a CPU and 10 Gbps Ethernet adds about 7–10 percent. The additional CPU load not only burdens other processes but also makes the communications function dependent on the CPU: the greater the dependency on the CPU, the greater the effect CPU processing bottlenecks have on throughput.

Preparing for the Future

To promote the use of Thunderbolt, Intel has set up a free interoperability verification program.

The technology is now available on Apple’s new line of MacBook Pro laptop computers, and it's expected in a variety of peripherals later this year. PC-based versions are expected in 2012.

A variety of vendors have announced plans to support Thunderbolt in new products, including disk drives from La Cie and Western Digital and video production equipment from Aja, Apogee, Avid, and Black Magic.

Doherty expects USB to remain the dominant external interconnect in the near future because of its low cost and wide adoption. But he expects Thunderbolt to usurp USB and native PCI Express in high-end applications owing to its performance improvements and Intel’s backing.

For background on Light Peak, see

George Lawton is a freelance writer from Guerneville, California. Contact him at