Windows Thunderbolt previewed: A mighty potent port

Intel's Thunderbolt connection is nearing its end as almost an Apple exclusive, with the high-speed connection set to proliferate on 3rd Gen Core Ivy Bridge PCs through 2012. Bundling DisplayPort and PCIe channels into a single connection, Apple has already used Thunderbolt to its advantage in its Thunderbolt Display, and now Anandtech has had some playtime with one of the first PC motherboards to natively support the tech.

The first 'board to offer the port, MSI's Z77A-GD80, there are a few compromises to be made in order to accommodate Thunderbolt. For instance, since it uses half of the available PCIe channels, some of the other connections – such as FireWire and SATA ports 7/8 – can't be used in parallel, though that's unlikely to be a deal-breaker since Thunderbolt can essentially replicate their functionality.

Some of the other compromises should be short-lived. AnandTech discovered that there was no hot-plugging support under Windows 7 – meaning only those Thunderbolt peripherals connected at boot would be recognized – but Intel says new drivers should address that. Some existing devices also lack Windows drivers, but again that should be fixed sooner rather than later.

Speeds of around 7Gbps were achieved, once each device had been coaxed into action. Under OS X, a similar setup managed 8Gbps, though the Windows system's performance is certain to change once final software is ready.

Thunderbolt won't be present on all Windows PCs, because of the extra cost of the chips involved in adding the technology. However, it's likely to show up on ultrabooks by virtue of its potential to increase connectivity while cutting down on physical ports, and Acer has already revealed its Aspire S5 which supports it.