Videoguys Guide to Thunderbolt, 2013

Videoguys' 2013 Update on Thunderbolt

We bring you up to date on all the latest Thunderbolt news, products and developments. This guide also includes our recommended configuration for a new iMac as well as our Thunderbolt Wish List for 2013.

Thunderbolt was the new, high-speed, dual-protocol I/O technology designed by Intel and introduced by Apple a couple of years ago that was supposed to set the world on fire. So far it hasn't. Thunderbolt adoption has been slower then anticipated and while we finally have a wide range of Thunderbolt devices available, they still carry a big premium.

Thunderbolt delivers amazing performance, with ease & simplicity. It makes attaching Thunderbolt enabled storage and I/O cards a breeze. All of the current Apple iMacs, MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs and Mac Minis have Thunderbolt. Thanks to Thunderbolt and USB3, today’s iMacs no longer have the drawback of limited upgradeability. They are easily expandable and support video capture and output as well as professional RAID storage solutions. For many editors, they have all the power and performance you need!

New Apple iMacs & Mac Book Pro with Retina display are an excellent choice for HD video editing.

The new iMac comes with two Thunderbolt super-high speed ports, 2 USB3 ports and best of all they now include NVIDIA graphics. This means the Mercury Playback Engine in Adobe Premiere Pro will no longer be limited by your GPU. Avid Media Composer and Symphony will run better as well. With each new update to FCPX, it is becoming clear that Apple is also optimizing it to take more and more advantage of NVIDIA graphics processing.

We also recommend the 15" Mac Book Pro with Retina display for video editing. Make sure you get it with 16GB of RAM, today's NLEs really need it.

While you can use a Thunderbolt equipped Mac Mini for video editing, we don't recommend it because of the limited GPU performance. If you plan on working with DV, HDV or ProRes files it will get the job done just fine. If you plan on working with the latest HD Tapeless workflows this will become a bottleneck for you.

Thunderbolt vs USB3 vs FireWire vs HDMI

While we expect big things from Thunderbolt this coming year, we do not expect it to replace USB3. According to Intel, they expect to see both Thunderbolt and USB3 side-by-side in all new computers down the road. This makes both technical and economic sense.

USB3 is far less expensive to implement and it has backwards compatibility with all the existing USB devices. The Thunderbolt interface requires additional hardware and chips to achieve its high data rate, which is great for devices that demand that data rate, but overkill for so many low cost peripherals like mice, keyboards, webcams, card readers, etc.

It is clear that the days of FireWire are numbered. As I mentioned earlier, fewer and fewer computers come with a Firewire port, and with the move to tapeless acquisition, today's new camcorders and DSLRs use USB and HDMI as their connections.

We do not see Thunderbolt replacing or even impacting HDMI in the short term. HDMI has become the standard for connecting HD televisions and home theater gear. Thunderbolt is not intended for the living room..... however .... if and when Apple decides to ship an IOS equipped Apple iTV television it would most likely have a Thunderbolt port on it. So depending on how fast this new Apple iTV gains marketshare, you could see Thunderbolt become integrated into other consumer electronics devices, but that is several years away.

FCPX, Avid Media Composer and Adobe Production Premium run great on iMacs!

The latest 27" iMac does a fantastic job of running the latest Apple, Adobe and Avid software. You'll get outstanding performance and be able to easily handle AVCHD and DSLR footage with some pretty multiple layers of video and fairly complex timelines. We even have customers editing RED footage on their iMacs and MBP w Retina - WOW!

What iMac configuration does the Videoguys' recommend?

We get asked all the time what kind of computer you need to run the latest NLE software. On the Windows side this is a complicated answer with many options. With a Mac it's easier to answer. If you go with the higher end model iMacs or Mac Book Pros with i7 quad-core processors you will get excellent results.

If you want the best configuration for a new iMac for video editing, Videoguys recommends the 27 inch iMac with:

  • Intel Core i7 processor
  • 32GB RAM
  • 1TB Fusion Drive
  • NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX GPU

This is a fully loaded machine, and it's going to cost you about $3K, but it will run any Mac based NLE great and has all the power you need for all HD tapeless workflows.

If are on a tight budget the first place to look to save is by dropping down to the GTX 675MX GPU which will save you $150, the next place to cut is your RAM, down to 16G, but we can't recommend going down to just 8GB. That brings the cost down below $2500. If you are serious about editing video on a new iMac, that's the bottom. While you can configure the 21.5" model with an i7 processor, you are limited to the GTX 650M GPU, which only has 512MB of RAM, which just isn't going to cut it.
Note: Videoguys does not sell iMacs or computers.We do sell video editing software, storage and I/O devices.

Thunderbolt Video Storage

You'll want to add a G-Tech Thunderbolt G-RAID or a Promise Pegasus RAID for your video storage.

One of the biggest and best advantages of Thunderbolt is how easy it is to add super high speed storage. While you will pay a premium for Thunderbolt, the ease of use, performance and expandability makes it a top choice for video editing. Thunderbolt is dramatically faster than FireWire800, eSata or even USB3! You can learn more about that later in this guide. We have many Thunderbolt storage options available for you to choose from:

  • G-RAIDs offer you the best price performance/value for your buck. They are configured in a RAID0 for maximum throughput. The downside of RAID0 is that you do not get any redundancy or data protection.

  • Promise Pegasus R4 & R6 RAID towers offer you the fastest possible I/O speeds and data protection. They can be configured for RAID5 or RAID6. We recommend RAID5 as the most cost effective RAID configuration for data protection and sustained throughput for video editors.

  • If you already have attached storage with a PCIe host adapter, such as a G-Speed eS Pro with ATTO R680 RAID controller you can install the R680 into the mLogic mLink Thunderbolt to PCIe Expansion Chassis and use your existing storage with outstanding results. You can also use the mLink to run a 10GbE adapter to attach your iMac via Thunderbolt to your shared storage environment. 2m Thunderbolt Cable

IN STOCK! 2 meter Thunderbolt cable available now for $29.95. These cables work great with any Thunderbolt device including Promise, G-Tech, Aja, Matrox, mLink and any of the other Thunderbolt products available from!

G-Technology G-RAID 4TB with Thunderbolt

G-RAID with Thunderbolt Storage Solution for Mac
starting at

mLogic mLink
Thunderbolt to PCIe Expansion Chassis


Pegasus J2 256GB - The World's Fastest and Smallest Thunderbolt Enabled Storage

Pegasus J2 SSD RAID
256GB - $484.00
512GB - $872.00

Pegasus J4 4-bay Thunderbolt Chassis Configured with 4x500GB 2.5" SATA HDD (2TB)

Pegasus J4 Thunderbolt Chassis for HDD/SSD
Chassis - $387.00

2TB with 4x500GB HDD

Pegasus R4
4-Bay RAID with more 500MB/s transfer rates
starting at

Pegasus R6
6-Bay RAID with Enterprise class SATA HDDs with 800MB/s transfer rates
starting at $1,699.00

Thunderbolt I/O Adapters

Today you have a wide range of very affordable options for adding analog, SDI and/or HDMI connectivity to your iMac, Mac Mini or Mac Book Pro.

  • The AJA T-TAP adds low cost SDI/HDMI monitoring and output via Thunderbolt. You get the world famous Kona quality in a super small, portable and affordable I/O box.

  • The AJA IoXT gives you full SDI, HMDI and analog IO via Thunderbolt. For just $1,495 you get all of the features and performance of the Kona 3G card in a portable Thunderbolt device. SWEET!

  • The Matrox MXO2 Mini Max w/ Thunderbolt is a low cost I/O solution that gives you analog & HDMI I/O via Thunderbolt. The MAX technology adds faster than real-time H.264 encoding, great for making videos for iTunes, Apple TV, YouTube or Vimeo.

  • If you require SDI workflows, the MXO2 LE MAX w/ Thunderbolt adds SDI I/O.

  • If you already own a Matrox MXO2 family device you can add a Thunderbolt connector for just $199, or get the new MXO2 Doc $349 for a wide range of connectivity along with support for your existing MXO2 I/O device.

MOTU and BlackMagic also make Thunderbolt I/O devices for video editing.

AJA T-TAP Thunderbolt powered SDI and HDMI output

Thunderbolt Powered SDI/HDMI Output


AJA IoXT Professional Thunderbolt I/O for Mac

AJA IoXT Professional Thunderbolt I/O for Mac

NEW! Matrox MXO2 Dock for Matrox MXO2 Devices

Matrox MXO2 Family of devices starting at

Thunderbolt came to PCs in 2012 - but it wasn't what we hoped for

Intel is now shipping Thunderbolt chipsets for the PC platform, but the choices are limited. We had hoped to see Thunderbolt be a featured part of the Windows 8 launch. It was nowhere to be found. Instead Microsoft is concentrating on tablets.
We are still waiting for Thunderbolt equipped laptops. It looked like we would see it on high end laptops from Asus, Toshiba and Aspire. Lenovo had a laptop with Thunderbolt in Europe, but it got pulled of the market before it ever released in the USA. As of January 2013 we are not aware of any Windows Laptops shipping with Thunderbolt ports that meet the specs we need for HD video editing:

  • i7 Quad Core Processor
  • Expandable to 16GB RAM
  • NVIDIA Graphics with 1GB+ of RAM
  • Thunderbolt & USB3 I/O

Lenovo had a model available in Europe, ThinkPad S430, that had everything we wanted, but it never came to the States and when we last inquired, is no longer available. The Asus G55 Laptops look promising, and they list Thunderbolt as an option, but we were not able to find any models that actually have the optional Thunderbolt port available or shipping. Intel has set up the Thunderbolt Community website, and this page lists all of laptops available with Thunderbolt.

The Z77 Express chipset with Thunderbolt for desktops is nice, and we're very excited about these new motherboards, especially the Asus P8Z77-V Premium, but it doesn't have all of the features we look for in our DIY machines. That is why we are going to wait for an Ivy Bridge Enthusiast chipset with Thunderbolt for DIY 10. Something similar to the X79 Sandy Bridge-E Enthusiast motherboards that we are recommending for DIY9. These Enthusiast level motherboards will have both Thunderbolt and USB3, 8 memory slots and plenty of PCIe bandwidth. While these motherboards are not yet here, I think we will see them later this spring . I can't wait!

In fact, it got us thinking that perhaps our DIY 10 (DIYX) machine could even be a Hackintosh!

Videoguys Thunderbolt wish list - STILL WISHING!

OK, I have a couple of dream products I'd love to see someone make. I think they would fill some huge holes in the market.

  1. Thunderbolt PCIe Expansion Box for GPU Acceleration

    We get asked all the time by Adobe Premiere Pro editors for a way to attach an NVIDIA CUDA card via Thunderbolt to their iMac in order to get the full benefit of the Mercury Playback Engine. We also hear from VFX guys who need to run multiple GPU cards for faster rendering in 3D applications. They like the idea of using an iMac, but can't give up the need for multiple GPU cards.

    This is the Thunderbolt holy grail for video editors, and it remains just a dream. We now have Thunderbolt expansion boxes that allow us to use our old Kona or Declink card and attach it to an iMac via Thunderbolt, but you can't run a graphics card like the GTX570 or 670 in them. I've spoken to the product and engineering teams who make Thunderbolt expansion devices and they all tell me the same thing. It can be done, there is no technical limitation here. It's just that you can't do it without support and help for Apple. As of today, Apple doesn't want this to happen, so we can't have it :-(

  2. Thunderbolt Legacy Converter

    Let's face it, there are millions of older DV and HDV camcorders out there. We also have tons of older analog devices, both SD and HD. Well, we need an affordable way to get this legacy footage into our new tapeless workflows. Firewire ports are getting harder and harder to find as most of today's laptops, desktops, workstations and motherboards do not have FireWire anymore. I've never been a big fan of USB2 based capture devices. We need something better, something more than just I/O.

    Now a $500 Thunderbolt box that allows you to capture these older legacy formats via Firewire and/or analog I/O, and include the ability to up/down/ & cross-convert would be just what I need. If you need to tap into the CPU it's not a problem, since this device is for people with new computers that lack FireWire.

    Ideally, this device would support all of the popular tapeless CODECs including ProRes, Avid DNxHD, XD CAM, AVCHD, H.264 and more. That would allow me to bring in my legacy footage at the same settings as my preferred tapeless format, streamlining it into my overall workflow. If we could get some basic proc amp type of controls on ingest that would allow me to improve the image quality during capture, that would be even better. Give the pros some scopes and waveforms and it's over the top.

    I could also see a $249 Thunderbolt I/O box that only had I/O without any of the up/down/cross conversion for the FCPX crowd.

  3. Thunderbolt Multi for Streaming

    I can't tell you how many times I get asked for a multiple Input device that would allow you to feed 3 or 4 HD cameras into a laptop or iMac for use with programs like Wirecast or Boinx TV. Basically it would allow anyone to have a completely portable production studio. Since this device is input only, I don't see any issue with bandwidth, although the device might need hardware encoders inside to get the job done.

    I see several flavors of this box as well - an all HDMI version, an all SDI version and a deluxe unit that allowed for both HDMI & SDI.

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