I saw something the other day that made my head spin. It could change the way computers are made and how we think about them. I’ve talked about the new Thunderbolt port before, it’s the super high sped connection that is currently on the new Apple computers. It uses the same protocol, and the same speed, as the devices inside the computer. This means that we could potentially add things to our computer on the outside and have the same effect as changing the inside.
Some of you are probably saying, “Who cares?” but with just a little imagination things can get crazy. First off, we’ve been able to add things to tower computers for a long time. Just open it up, add or replace a card and voila! new performance. Laptops are far and away more popular than desktops at this point, and they are not nearly as easy to upgrade, till now… Check out the Sonnet Echo Express , it’s a little ways down the page. What is it? It is an external enclosure for PCIe cards. Those are the same ones you put into a tower, but now you can attach one to a laptop using a Thunderbolt port. Imagine having a mild mannered, energy sipping laptop on the go, and a graphic powerhouse laptop when you were at home… Just attach a new video card at home and BOOM! Going forward, there will be little reason to stick to the same form factor. As long as the box you have it in has a thunderbolt port, it will work…
But it can get so much more weird/cool… Why do we need a laptop? Why not a tablet, or a phone? Do we just need a small box to put our CPUs in? Remember, Thunderbolt is capable of carrying all current protocols that are now used over varying cables. It could replace ethernet (for networking), USB, Firewire, ESATA, and the various video cables like DVI and HDMI. Because Thunderbolt devices can be daisy chained, you could potentially hook your tablet to a single cable and have it hooked to massive storage, input devices like trackpads and keyboards, a huge display, a camera, whatever. Right now, Thunderbolt is using a copper cable that is good for 10GBs in two directions, but it has a shortish maximum length. There are already plans for optical versions that could stretch for many hundreds of feet and vastly increased bandwidth/speed.
That adds a whole other dimension to the possibilities. All of the things that make up what we call a computer could be distributed around a house or business. Want to network a video processor? No problem. Want to change CPUs? No biggie, just unhook it from the cable and pop a new one on. The possibilities are endless. Modular, easily networkable computer systems with crazy fast performance are within our grasp. Add fiber optic internet and we are talking serious stuff.
Future tech? I don’t think so. The computer I’m supposed to get tomorrow has two Thunderbolt ports on it, that means I could use up to 12 Thunderbolt devices. The device from Sonnet is supposed to be here this summer, Intel already has fiber versions working in the lab, and I have fiber optic internet going right up to the house. Of course, that fiber is converted to copper to bet into the hose, but I can’t imagine it would be too difficult to eliminate that step. Like I said, things are moving quickly, let’s see what the next couple of years hold.