MSI making use of Intel’s Z77 Thunderbolt support
Intel’s Z77 Panther Point chipset has largely the same features as its Z68 chipset, however one startling addition was support for two Thunderbolt channels. Intel told journalists that it didn’t expect many motherboard vendors to make use of this, but MSI has with its Z77A-GD80 motherboard.
MSI’s Z77A-GD80 motherboard is, for the most part, a bog standard Z77 motherboard with support for Intel’s Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge LGA1155 processors, four DIMM sockets, three PCI Express Gen 3 slots supporting three-way Crossfire and two-way SLI, plus four SATA3 ports and four SATA2 ports. However the firm’s standout feature is the 10Gbit/s Thunderbolt controller it has tacked on.
Intel’s Thunderbolt technology has been implemented by Apple and while few other vendors have gone down this route so far, it is likely that the Z77 marks a push by Intel to move the technology away from just being seen as an Apple exclusive. Intel’s 10Gbit/s Thunderbolt interface that uses the PCI-Express bus can be used to drive monitors or storage devices, but there are relatively few of either around at the moment, so MSI also includes mini-Displayport, HDMI and D-Sub video outputs.
MSI’s stab at bundling Thunderbolt in its Z77A-GD80 motherboard is commendable, as the interface is particularly useful for mass storage devices, but without motherboard makers supporting it, devices are likely to remain rare and cost a considerable premium over ones that use USB.