The short answer is that ThunderBolt, formerly called Light Peak, allows you to transfer data really, really fast and can support multiple connection types such as a hard drive and a monitor. You can even daisy chain these items together — connecting your new MacBook Pro or Thunderbolt enabled computer to an external hard drive and connect that external hard drive to your monitor — allowing you to transfer files and play HD content at the same time.
You can see a demo of ThunderBolt, which is the technology powering Apple’s new Thunderbolt connectivity, in the video below showing off the scenario described above.
The real amazing thing is that even while playing a Blu-Ray over the ThunderBolt connector the transfer speed is still above 700MBps. That’s the actual transfer rate, which is many times faster than the transfer rates of USB 2.0 and even faster than many of the USB 3.0 demos we have seen. The theoretical transfer speeds on the current Thunderbolt cables and controllers is 10GBps!
It will take a little time, but expect to see many new accessories and external hard drives coming out that work on ThunderBolt; especially with Apple on board. Intel describes the capability of Thunderbolt,
“PCI Express has the flexibility to connect to almost any type of device, and DisplayPort can drive greater than 1080p resolution displays and up to eight channels of audio simultaneously. Thunderbolt technology is compatible with existing DisplayPort displays and adapters. All Thunderbolt technology devices share a common connector, and let individuals simply daisy-chain their devices one after another, connected by electrical or optical cables.”
Here’s another look at how ThunderBolt could be used in a professional setting.
ThunderBolt carries the common DisplayPort and PCI Express protocols on the same cable which can lead to fewer cables in your current setup and faster data transfer for storage and display applications.
One of the big implications of this new technology is that thin and light laptops can get smaller and still allow users to use and connect an array of accessories. Say your new MacBook Air with Thunderbolt only has a single Thunderbolt connection.
You can connect your external hard drive to it, and then run a Thunderbolt cable from the hard drive to your monitor. You might not need a docking station anymore, assuming you can connect all of your accessories to the Thunderbolt connection.