1Fri, 06 Jul 2012 13:10:29 PDT
One of the main criticisms of the new Thunderbolt connectivity standard
embraced by Apple has been its cost, which adds a considerable premium to
the prices of compatible peripherals. Even Thunderbolt cables are expensive
, with Apple's 2-meter cable priced at $49, a price on par with
offerings from the few other companies selling Thunderbolt cables so far.
In a report published earlier this week, Ars Technica took a look at why the
cables are so expensive and investigated some of the upcoming advances that
could help bring prices down beginning late this year or early next year.
Inside an Apple Thunderbolt Cable connector (Source: iFixit)
As revealed in iFixit's teardown last year, Apple's Thunderbolt cable is
expensive because it contains a significant number of chips and other
circuitry, starting with the transceiver as noted by Ars Technica:
The chip is built using silicon germanium, "an expensive semiconductor
process typically used for telecom applications," [Intersil marketing
manager John] Mitchell told Ars. [...]
In addition to the transceiver, the current reference design also requires a
separate microcontroller, as well as power management and voltage
regulation chips to deliver the 3V data signals and 15V optional power
supply for bus-powered devices. Essentially, there are four integrated
circuits (IC) at either end of a Thunderbolt cable.
But Intersil appears set to simplify the design for Thunderbolt circuitry
later this year with its own products that will reduce the number of chips
and allow for cheaper cable to be used.
What Intersil calls an "Active Cable IC Solution for Thunderbolt Technology"
appears to be the only complete turnkey solution we could find among
manufacturers selling ICs for Thunderbolt. It combines the microcontroller
and transceiver into a single signal processing chip, and combines power
management and voltage regulators into a single power management chip. This
cuts the number of required ICs from four to two.
With the new chips being manufactured using a 40-nanometer process, yield
and cost efficiency are improved and heat generation is decreased, leading
to further cost savings on the cable design. Combined with other
improvements, Intersil's solution will bring substantial improvements in
component costs, size, and power usage, which together should yield
significant cost savings for consumers.