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Apple's new Thunderbolt: A primer

Thunderbolt technology is included on the new line of Apple MacBook Pro computers. But what is Thunderbolt?

By Matthew Shaer / February 24, 2011

Thunderbolt, a high-speed connection technology formerly codenamed Light Peak, will power the next generation of MacBook Pro computers.

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Thunderbolt – sounds like the weather phenomenon, or the kind of thing that might shoot out of Thor's hammer, but it's actually a new technology, developed by Intel, that lets you transfer data between your computer and a range of peripherals at, well, lightning speed. Kind of like FireWire or USB. (I know – we were hoping that it had something to do with Thor, too.)

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According to Intel, Thunderbolt transfers data at an incredible 10 gigabits per second – fast enough to transfer an entire CD in less than a second. The tech was first unveiled in 2009. So why is it in the news this week? Simple: Apple has announced that Thunderbolt will help power its new line of MacBook Pro computers, which Apple began selling today on its online store.

Over at GigaOm, Darrell Etherington notes that "the class of Mac owner that stands to gain the most from Thunderbolt in the short term is the media professional. Thunderbolt, like FireWire before it, allows users to transfer lots of media very fast between devices, with very low latency and extremely high data preservation."

"That means that what you put in on one end will come out exactly the same on the other, which is exactly what professional photo, video and graphic design professionals need to best do their jobs," Etherington adds.

Click here to check out the new line of MacBook Pro computers. In the meantime, make sure to sign up for the free weekly Innovation newsletter. The newsletter, which includes all sorts of tech and gadget news – from the latest tablet rumors to reviews and analysis – is emailed out every Wednesday morning.

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