May 13, 2011, 2:32 PM — Last week Macworld Senior Editor Roman Loyola and I arrived at Apple bright and early for a briefing about the latest generation of iMacs--the same four 2011 iMac models we reviewed earlier this week. That iMac unveiling gave us the chance to see the new Thunderbolt connection technology in action.
I was out of the country back in February when the new MacBook Pro models introduced Thunderbolt to Mac users for the first time. And though we've had those models in our lab since we reviewed them two months ago, we still don't have any Thunderbolt devices in our offices to test with Apple's revamped hardware.
At Apple's headquarters, however, I was treated to an impressive demo: A four-SSD RAID array streaming six channels of uncompressed 1080i video in real time. For those of you who don't know about video bit rates, let me explain. No, there is too much--let me sum up. That's a gigantic amount of data passing across the Thunderbolt port. So much data that it makes me wonder about the future of the Mac Pro, now that fancy expansion cards won't be needed to enable massively fast data rates.
Not to be outdone, Apple also introduced (though didn't demo) another feature of these new iMacs: All models support video-in, so they can be turned into fancy 21.5- or 27-inch HD monitors. All you do is connect one end of a Thunderbolt cable to the iMac and the other end to a device that's outputting video. That could be an HDMI to Thunderbolt video adapter, presumably... but, Apple executives told me, it could also just be a MacBook Pro.
That's right--if you've got a new iMac on your desk at home and you come home with your MacBook Pro, you can plug the laptop in to the iMac's Thunderbolt port and use it as an external monitor. Pretty cool.
Armed with this knowledge, Roman and I drove the iMac back to our offices for quick lab testing. I thought it would be cool to do a hands-on test of the video-input feature. But we ran into a little catch--we didn't have a Thunderbolt cable. (And no, a Mini DisplayPort cable won't work, because Mini DisplayPort is a subset of Thunderbolt and this feature requires full-on Thunderbolt.)