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Thunderbolt is an I/O technology based on PCI Express that is used to transfer data and connect displays. It was designed by Intel and was first introduced in Apple products in 2011. Thunderbolt 1.0 supports bidirectional data transfers of up to 10 Mbps, which means it can send and receive data up to 10 Mbps at the same time). Thunderbolt 2.0 (released in 2013) can transfer data up to 20 Gbps in both directions simultaneously. That means a Thunderbolt 2.0 connection is 5x as fast as a USB 3.0 connection (at 5 Mbps) and 25x faster than Firewire 800 (at 800 Mbps).

While Thunderbolt provides the fastest connection for high-speed storage devices, it can also be used to connect a monitor. The Thunderbolt port is the same shape as a DisplayPort connector, which means you can connect a display to a Thunderbolt port using a standard DisplayPort cable. Thunderbolt also supports DVI, HDMI, and even VGA monitors using the appropriate adapter. Additionally, Thunderbolt is backwards-compatible with Firewire, USB, and Ethernet ports. This means a single Thunderbolt hub can be used to connect several different types of storage devices and displays to a computer.

First Published: September 20, 2013
Last Updated: September 20, 2013

Definition from the PC Glossary