Ever since we posted our series of videos with ASUS on the new Z77 chipset and the features ASUS was introducing on their P8Z77 lineup, we have had countless questions about the Thunderbolt header, the implementation and finally the required add-on card to enable it. Well thankfully at Computex this week ASUS is revealing the product that users of the P8Z77 motherboards will need to enable the Thunderbolt connection, the ASUS ThunderboltEX.
Even though we have already had some hands-on time with the new ASUS P8Z77-V Premium motherboard that integrates a Thunderbolt header on the board directly, the rest of the P8Z77-V line has a 9-pin header labeled "TB_header" that will allow users to purchase the ThunderboltEX card and enable the technology in their system. ASUS was the only company to really plan ahead for Thunderbolt technology across the entire series of Z77 motherboards and as such should enjoy the feature benefits of TB for some time.
The ThunderboltEX will plug into the bottom PCIe slot using up the x4 connection and will be required to use a header cable to connect to the TB_header shown above. This header serves a dual purpose – it allows the integrated graphics of the Ivy Bridge (and even discrete graphics) to pass through to the ThunderboltEX card and then out to either a Thunderbolt enabled display or a DisplayPort monitor in a daisy chain of devices. It also allows ASUS to make sure this card is ONLY used on their own lineup of motherboards – sorry, you won’t be able to buy the ASUS ThunderboltEX and use it on your Gigabyte or MSI or even your non "TB_header" ASUS motherboard.
You will also have to install an included full-size DisplayPort cable from the output on the Z77 motherboard back panel to the full-size DP input on the ThunderboltEX itself. This allows the pass through of all the video data.
Once everything is configured, users will have a full speed 10 Gbps ready Thunderbolt connection to use with external storage, break out boxes and other accessories coming down the pipeline rapidly. ASUS claims this implementation will still support 6 daisy-chained devices with a seventh device as either a Thunderbolt or mini-DisplayPort monitor. Even better, hot plug support will still be enabled!
ASUS stands committed to the belief that motherboard design is not just about pure spec but ensuring a quality design and overall implementation. This is achieved through many means such as sensible layout, flexible I/O connectivity and robust control over parameters of operation. In addition foresight in design can play an important role. ASUS recently launched the world’s first certified native Thunderbolt motherboard with the P8Z77-V Premium. While the Premium leads the industry in respect to connectivity and overall functionality it carries a flagship price for its premium feature set. ASUS had kept this in mind along with thinking about how to best support the advanced new interconnect that is Thunderbolt. With this in mind ASUS is proud to unveil its exclusive Thunderbolt upgrade solution for its line of Z77 and H77 motherboards. The ThunderboltEX card is the first add-on card on the market enabling an easy way to upgrade ASUS motherboards with the latest I/O. This is proof in having foresight in design as compatible boards had to have a special TB header in place to support this upgrade.
Currently, the ThunderboltEX is awaiting Thunderbolt device certification and ASUS will obviously announce when that occurs.
Obviously this implementation of Thunderbolt is not as elegant as the one you will find on the ASUS Premium Z77 motherboard or the MSI Z77A-GD80, but it does enable other ASUS Z77 motherboard users to add the feature to their systems without REQUIRING to the cost up front to everyone. It does remind me a little bit of the first days of ATI CrossFire but I think most of you would agree that this solution is better than forcing users to buy a $450 motherboard.
I don’t have any information on pricing or availability but you can be sure as soon as our questions are answered by ASUS we will update this post!
If you are looking for more information on Thunderbolt devices and performance, check out our stream of posts on the subject and take a look at the Thunderbolt / ASUS video below!