Intel outlines Thunderbolt networking

ThunderboltIconXIntel has announced Thunderbolt Networking as part of its push for Thunderbolt 2 expansion in the PC market.

Thunderbolt is one of the latest expansion technologies for PCs, developed by Intel under the code name “Light Peak” as a fiber-based connection technology, Thunderbolt debuted in Apple’s 2011 MacBook Pro and was soon implemented through Apple’s Mac lineup.

Combining DisplayPort and PCI-express protocols, Thunderbolt replaced Apple’s mini-displayport connection, offering not only display capabilities, but high-throughput expansion for peripheral devices at 10Gb/s transfer rates. This rate has doubled to 20Gb/s with the release of Thunderbolt 2 in 2013.

Besides peripheral connectivity, Thunerbolt also supports networking through bridged Ethernet emulation, allowing a system to connect to another and share files at high speed using a single Thunderbolt cable.

This ability has been available on systems running OS X Mavericks, but Intel today announced it is now implementing Thunderbolt Networking in PC system.

What this means is that if a device has a Thunderbolt connection, then you should be able to attach a cable between them and, using standard TCP/IP and file sharing protocols like SMB or AFP, establish a connection and transfer files.

Prioritizing Thunderbolt connections in OS X

Drag the Thunderbolt service to the top of the list to ensure it is prioritized over other connection options (click for larger view).

To set this up on a Mac that has a Thunderbolt port, perform the following steps:

  1. Go to the Network system preferences and ensure Thunderbolt Bridge is one of the available ports. If it does not exist, then click the Plus button and choose Thunderbolt Bridge from the Interface menu, give it a name, and click “Create.” If your Mac has more than one Thunderbolt port, then you can choose “Thunderbolt 1,” “Thunderbolt 2,” etc., to specify which port to use.
  2. Select “Set Service Order” in the gear menu, and drag “Thunderbolt Bridge” above Ethernet or Wi-Fi, to give it priority for communication when connected. This will prevent the system from inadvertently using these alternative connections if they connect to the same network as the second PC you are sharing files with.
  3. Connect your systems with your Thunderbolt cable.

With this done, since Apple uses Bonjour networking to automatically configure IP networks for ad-hoc networking, in OS X you can simply plugging in a Thunderbolt cable between two Macs. This will establish local IP addresses in the same subnet that will allow the systems to then use SMB or AFP to discover each other and share files. If you are connecting to a Windows PC then you might need to manually ensure a compatible TCP connection, such as using sequential IP addresses in the range of, with a subnet mask of, before the connection will work.