Apple’s Thunderbolt cable costs $49 because it’s smart

“The first Thunderbolt compatible peripherals—Promise’s Pegasus RAIDs—starting shipping on Tuesday. Using the RAIDs with a Thunderbolt equipped Mac,” Chris Foresman reports for Ars Technica. “Promise’s RAIDs do not come supplied with a Thunderbolt cable. Instead, users are directed to buy a Thunderbolt cable directly from Apple, which costs $49 for two-meter length. We contacted Promise to find out why a Mini DisplayPort cable could not be used in its stead, since the Thunderbolt port is based on Mini DisplayPort. A support technician told Ars that Apple’s Thunderbolt cable is a ‘smart’ cable that ‘has firmware in it.'”

“A source within the telecom industry explained to Ars that active cables are commonly used at data rates above 5Gbps,” Foresman reports. “These cables contain tiny chips at either end that are calibrated to the attenuation and dispersion properties of the wire between them. Compensating for these properties ‘greatly improves the signal-to-noise ratio’ for high-bandwidth data transmission.”

Foresman reports, “Our friends at iFixit made a trip to a local Apple Store to find out what hardware powers Apple’s Thunderbolt cable. CEO Kyle Wiens told Ars that Apple’s cable contains two Gennum GN2033 Thunderbolt Transceiver chips to facilitate Thunderbolt’s blazing speed.”

Read more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]

Related article:
Apple releases $49 Apple Thunderbolt cable – June 28, 2011


  1. When, if ever, are we going to be able to get a 1 or 2 TB external thunderbolt drive for a price that is competitive with what’s on the shelf today with usb 2, 3 and firewire? Until then, thunderbolt is just something for everyone to talk about but unable to use. Another Steve Jobs order transformation without followers?

  2. Some call this cable expensive at $50.00. I call it relatively cheap for new technology. Of course, I remember $1200.00 ZFP external 20 MB drives and $95.00 AAUI transceivers for ethernet connections, let alone the 1MB sticks of RAM that we sold for $475.00 each. So yeah. $50.00 is cheap.

  3. “FireWire cost more to implement on a device because it required a separate controller chip in each device”

    So … in the case of ThunderBolt they have simply moved the controller circuitry into the ends of the cable to obfuscate the expense to the end buyer (by splitting it upkinda like Windows + AV software + burning software, etc, on PCs). In reality the wiring that runs between the ThunderBolt cable ends is *passive* and the technology in the cable ends could very well have been included in the devices instead.

    I stick by my previous comments. Anyone who pays $50 for a 2′ cable is a fool.

  4. Looked at the prices for HDMI cables lately? Shops regularly charge £20-80 for a cable I can buy for £1, that does the same thing, and thats a ‘dumb’ cable. Early adopters of new tech always pay a higher price, so expect Chinese made cables with the same chips in to start retailing for $25 or less in a few months or so. I’m quite happy to wait without whining about it.

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