Thunderbolt in iMac, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro

Thunderbolt is the new I/O technology that Apple released in the latest revision of the MacBook Pro. It’s basically PCI Express over a mini display port connector. It will replace FireWire in the future as it’s about 12 times as fast. I also believe it will completely change the type of Mac that many semi-professional/professional users will purchase. Consider a photographer, in the past they might have gone with a Mac Pro for it’s storage options. But a iMac connected to a RAID array via Thunderbolt would make a very competitive machine. First a little more on Thunderbolt.

Here is a video showing a small RAID array hitting 800 MB/sec running on a MacBook Pro. That is extreme speed for a laptop device. Previously there wasn’t a way to exceed about 180 MB/sec on a MacBook Pro, and that required using the ExpressCard/34 adapter (17″ model only) connected to an SSD array.

Inevitably Apple will be incorporating Thunderbolt into all their products in the future (since they’ve already standardized on Mini Display Port). Consider the following possibilities:

  • The Mac Mini is already offered in a server version. It’s fairly likely that Apple will offer a 4-core Sandy Bridge in the next version of the Mac Mini. With Thunderbolt this makes for a very fast, sub-$1000 machine.
  • The quad core i7 iMac has a very powerful CPU today, but it’s external storage options are limited. Thunderbolt changes everything is this regard. Imagine an iMac tethered to a 4 or 5 drive external array.
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