As if on cue, the first teardowns of Apple’s Thunderbolt cable have hit the Internet, and prepare to be surprised: that $49 retail price isn’t just the usual Apple tax, but a fair asking price for the advanced circuitry within!
The guys over at iFixIt tore down Apple’s new cable. Amazingly, it’s not just a bunch of copper. Rather, each cable is what is called a “smart” or “Active” cable that contains both circuitry and firmware.
Inside each Thunderbolt cable you’ll find two Gennum GN2033 chips, one in each connector.That’s in addition to 12 other support chips, resistors and electcal components.
What does the Gennum chip do? It’s a transceiver that enables “reliable data transfer at cutting-edge speeds over low cost, thin-gauge copper cables.” Put another way: at data rates above 5Gbps, you need to have chips to adjust for cable attenuation and dispersion properties to maintain a high signal-to-noise ratio.
Here’s the best part of Apple’s Thunderbolt cable: it’s future proof. While the current version uses standard copper, future versions of the Thunderbolt spec call for optical cabling… but when Thunderbolt evolves, your old cables will work just as well as they ever did.
So it seems there’s a lot more going on with Apple’s Thunderbolt cable than it appears at first glance. The only depressing aspect of all of this is that it seems that Thunderbolt cabling will remain extremely dear for awhile, because of the cost of the circuitry within. Don’t expect to pick up a spool of Thunderbolt at Monoprice for pennies on the dollar anytime soon.