Three new patent applications from Apple were published this morning by the USPTO that detail various aspects of Apple's revolutionary I/O technology called Thunderbolt. Apple filed many Thunderbolt trademarks in 2011 which opened the question as to who really owned the trademark and technology. The general line of thinking in the market today is that Thunderbolt was developed by Intel and brought to market with technical collaboration from Apple Inc. Yet beyond filing several Thunderbolt trademarks, today's multiple detailed patents from Apple would strongly suggest that they're attempting to secure Thunderbolt related patents. This of course would fly in the face of Apple's involvement in the development of Thunderbolt as being limited to "technical collaboration." The good news that emerged from these patents is that Apple is focused on bringing Thunderbolt to iOS devices in the future so as to provide faster data transfers and more importantly, faster recharging.
Apple's Patent Background
Apple begins their overview of this first patent application by stating that the amount of data transferred between and among electronic devices has increased tremendously. Applications such as high-definition video require huge amounts of data to be transferred at very high data rates. Unfortunately, high-speed communications between electronic devices have become so fast that simple cables consisting of two inserts connected by wires are no longer suitable. These simple cables degrade signals and cause skews such that high-speed data communication is not reliable.
Accordingly, new cables are needed. These cables may be active in that they include active electronic components, such as integrated circuits. These circuits consume power and thus create heat. This heat could degrade reliability of the cable and its circuitry, and can also be unpleasant for a user to touch.
These cables may experience forces and mechanical stress during use. Given their complexity, it may be useful to provide cables having increased strength. Also, given their complexity, problems with manufacturability may be a concern.
Thus, what are needed are circuits, methods, and apparatus for high-speed cables that could reliably convey signals in high-speed communications. The cable inserts may be able to transfer heat in a way to improve user experience and cable reliability. The cables may have increased strength. The cables and connector inserts may be arranged in such a way as to provide improved manufacturability.
Apple's Patent Pending Invention
Apple's Thunderbolt-related patent pending invention may provide high speed connector inserts and cables having improved heat conduction, high strength, and may be manufactured in a reliable manner.
An exemplary embodiment of the present invention may provide a connector insert having improved heat conduction. This connector insert may include several paths by which heat may be removed from circuitry in the cable insert. In one example, heat may be removed from one or more circuits by forming a thermal path between the circuit, which may be an integrated circuit or other device, and a shield of the connector insert. This path may include a thermally conductive material to further reduce its thermal resistance. Another example may include one or more pads on a side of an integrated circuit board. These pads may be soldered directly to the shield, or otherwise thermally connected to the shield.
To improve heat conduction in another example, braiding surrounding a cable may be soldered or otherwise thermally connected to the shield. This connection may be covered by a cap to avoid electromagnet interference (EMI) leakage. This cap may be crimped to provide a robust mechanical connection. This crimping may be accomplished by applying force to the cap in multiple directions. In one specific embodiment of the present invention, force may be applied to the cap in four directions during crimping. The cap may be soldered to portions of either or both the connector insert and cable for improved heat conduction and mechanical reliability.
Another exemplary embodiment of the present invention may provide a cable having a high strength. To provide this increased strength, a braiding surrounding the cable or one or more of its conductors may include one or more types of fibers. For example, aramid fibers may be included in the braiding around the cable. To simplify soldering of the braiding, the aramid or other fibers may be bunched or grouped, such that they may be pulled out of the way. In various embodiments of the present invention, these fibers may be pulled out of the way using static electricity, or by other mechanisms. A specific embodiment of the present invention may use a braiding formed of counter-rotating spirals to assist in the separation of the aramid fibers.
According to Wikipedia, Aramid fibers "are a class of heat-resistant and strong synthetic fibers. They are used in aerospace and military applications, for ballistic rated body armor fabric and ballistic composites…"
Another exemplary embodiment of the present invention may provide for a reliable manufacturability. One specific example may align several pairs of twisted pairs of conductors in the cable using a wire comb. Specifically, a wire comb having a plurality of openings may be used to hold twisted pairs in an aligned manner. This may allow soldering of the cables to a printed circuit board or other appropriate substrate. In various embodiments of the present invention, this soldering may be accomplished in a reliable manner using a solder bar.
Apple's Thunderbolt webpage states that Thunderbolt is based on two fundamental technologies: PCI Express and DisplayPort. In Apple's second related patent application, they state that "DisplayPort is the legacy standard, which has been overlaid with pins for a new standard, referred to here as HSIO, and elsewhere in this document as T29.
In various embodiments of the present invention, the two standards may be separate and unrelated. In other embodiments of the present invention, they may be related. For example, HSIO may be a high speed signaling technique that carries DisplayPort information. That is, DisplayPort information may tunnel using HSIO signals. HSIO may also carry other types of signal information at the same time, such as PCIe information. In this way, the connector may carry DisplayPort signals directly, or it may carry DisplayPort information that is conveyed as HSIO signals."
Is Thunderbolt Headed for iOS Devices?
Before going into the details of this main patent in their series of three, it should be noted that Apple states in their secondary patent application that "the present invention, connection may also be a new type of connection." For example, "a connection may be provided between a portable media player and a display, a computer and a portable media player, or between other types of devices." Of course if this is to apply to future iOS devices, as suggested in the quote above, Apple will have to reengineer the connector to be flat enough to fit a USB-type of device slot. Though we've shown that Apple has been at work on that already. The good news is that transferring data to and from an iOS device will be lighting fast as will recharging.
Active Cable for High-Speed Data Communications
Apple's patent FIG. 1 illustrates a side view of a connector plug according to an embodiment of the present invention. This plug may be part of an active cable for high-speed data communications. As such, it may include active circuitry, such as chip 140, which consumes power and generates heat. This heat could reduce the reliability of the active circuitry and make for an unpleasant user experience if it becomes excessively hot. Thus, it is desirable to remove heat from this connector plug. Accordingly, embodiments of the present invention may provide several low thermal resistance paths to dissipate this heat.
This connector plug includes plug connectors 110, which may mate with conductors of a connector receptacle (not shown). Plug connectors 110 may mechanically attach to printed circuit board 120. These plug connectors 110 may electrically connect to chip 140 using traces on printed circuit board 120. Plug connectors and chip 140 may connect to wires and cable 130 via traces on printed circuit board 120. Housing 170 may be used to surround shield 150.
Chip 140 may be an example circuit of many circuits that may generate the majority of heat in this plug. Again, embodiments of the present invention may employ several paths by which heat could be dissipated. In the first, heat could be removed from chip 140 directly to the shield. Accordingly, a thermal conductor layer 160 may be used to provide a thermal path from chip 140 to the shield. In a second path, chip 140 may attach to the printed circuit board, thereby allowing heat to flow into the printed circuit board. A solder area 180, which may be on the side, bottom, or top of the printed circuit board, may be soldered to a portion of the shield thereby creating a low thermal resistance path from the printed circuit board to the shield for heat dissipation. From the shield, heat could dissipate out through the cable. In a specific embodiment of the present invention, a side of the printed circuit board is plated and soldered to the shield. The heat thus travels from the chip to the printed circuit board, then to the shield via the edge plating, then to the cable via cable braiding.
Cable Braiding and Rotating Spirals
Apple's patent FIG. 2 shown below illustrates a side view of a connection between cable 230 and connector insert shield 250. Cable braiding 234 may be pulled away from cable 230 and soldered to shield 250 at solder locations 236.
Apple's patent FIG. 7 noted above, illustrates a side view of a portion of the cable. This figure illustrates a cable surrounded by jacket 710. The jacket has been cut away to reveal a first counter-rotating spiral 720 and a second counter-rotating spiral 730. The first of these spirals may have an angle approximately equal to phi 740. In a specific embodiment of the present invention, phi may be equal to 17 degrees. In other embodiments of the present invention, other angles may be used. The second of these may have approximately the same relative angle, shown here as negative phi 742 to indicate a different absolute direction.
In this way, during manufacturing, the wires in the counter-rotating spirals 720 and 730 may be easily peeled away, straightened, and soldered or otherwise electrically connected to locations in a connector plug.
Utilizing counter-rotating spirals 720 and 730 may also improve flexibility of the cable. For example, when the cable is twisted in a first direction, counter-rotating spiral 720 may tighten while counter-rotating spiral 730 may loosen. The tightening of counter-rotating spiral 720 may protect the internal conductors. Similarly, when the cable is twisted in a second direction, counter-rotating spiral 730 may tighten while counter-rotating spiral 720 may loosen. The tightening of counter-rotating spirals 730 may protect the internal conductors.
An Overview of the Thunderbolt Cable Connector
Apple's patent FIG. 5 is a cross-section of a high-speed cable that may include four twisted pairs 520 and four single wires 530.
The twisted pairs may be used to carry differential signals, multiple single ended signals, power, ground, bias, control, status, or other types of signal, power, status, or control lines. The single wires may be used to convey single ended signals, one side of a differential signal, power, ground, bias control, status, or other types of signal, power, status, or control lines. In other embodiments the present invention, cables consistent with embodiments of the present invention may include other numbers of twisted pairs and single wires.
In the noted example above, the twisted-pairs and single wires surround a nylon core 560, which is used for mechanical support. In other embodiments of the present invention, the nylon core may be substituted by a wire, one or more fiber-optic lines, or other conductor or fiber. These connectors may be bound by shield tape 580.
Apple's patent FIG. 10 illustrates a plurality of conductors, noted as patent points 1010 above, which may be soldered to solder pads 1040 and 1070 on a printed circuit board. Specifically, the connectors are covered by jacket 1020. The jacket may be removed thereby exposing braiding or shield layers 1030. The shield layers may be soldered to the pads. An internal isolation layer 1050 may be stripped away leaving connector terminals 1060, which may be soldered to the pads.
A Pinout of the Thunderbolt Connector
In one of the other patents in this group, we see FIG. 3 noted above illustrate a pinout of the Thunderbolt connector. In this example, DisplayPort is the legacy standard, which has been overlaid with pins for a new standard, referred to here as HSIO, and elsewhere in this document as T29. In other embodiments of the present invention, other standards may be used. Also, one or both of these standards may be legacy standards, or one or both of these standards may be newer standards. Also, while two standards are shown here as sharing a connector, in other embodiments of the present invention, other numbers of standards may share a connector.
Key points of a second Thunderbolt related patent are noted as follows:
The invention covers circuits, methods, and apparatus that allow signals that are compliant with multiple standards to share a common connector on an electronic device. An exemplary embodiment of the present invention may provide a connector that provides signals compatible with a legacy standard in one mode and a newer standard in another mode. Typically, the legacy standard is slower, while the newer standard is faster, though this may not always be true.
In an exemplary embodiment of the invention, the pins for the newer standard may be arranged to achieve at least two goals. First, they may be arranged to reduce crosstalk and interference among themselves. This may be accomplished by placing several ground pins between high-speed differential signal paths. Second, circuitry may be added such that interference from circuits for the legacy standard is minimized. This may be done by reducing reflection and impedance mismatches.
Another exemplary embodiment of the present invention is able to provide multiple data standards by incorporating various features. In one exemplary embodiment of the present invention, devices that are compatible with the newer standard may be capable of determining whether they are communicating with a device that is compatible with a legacy standard, or a newer standard. This may be done by a first device sensing voltages or impedances provided by a second device.
In various embodiments of the present invention, when two devices in communication are capable of communicating with the newer standard, that standard may be used by both devices. Where one device is only capable of operating with the legacy standard, that standard may be used by both devices.
Key points of a third Thunderbolt related patent are noted as follows:
Devices may have unequal power delivery capabilities. For example, a first device may be powered by a wall outlet, while a second device may derive its power from the first device. Also, various devices may provide various voltage levels. Thus, what are needed are circuits, methods, and apparatus that power active circuits in a cable in an intelligent and configurable manner. It may also be desirable to reduce power by providing various states such as sleep and other lower power states.
Accordingly, embodiments of the present invention provide circuits, methods, and apparatus that power active circuits in a cable in an intelligent and configurable manner.
In various embodiments of the present invention, the active components in connector inserts at each end of a cable may be powered in various ways. For example, where a host is coupled to a device that is not self-powered, the host may provide power for circuitry at each end of the cable. In various embodiments of the present invention, the device may request higher voltage from the host, such that more power could be delivered. In these cases, the device may regulate the voltage received from the host to a lower voltage, and then provide the lower voltage to circuitry at one or both ends of the cable. Where the host is connected to a device that is self-powered, the host and the self-powered device may power their respective connector insert circuits.
More specifically, in one embodiment of the present invention, a host may be coupled to communicate with a device that is not powered by a wall-outlet or other external power source, though in various embodiments of the present invention, the device may be powered by an internal or external battery. The host may provide a low-voltage supply to the device via the cable. Circuitry in the cable may be powered from this same low-voltage supply. The cable circuitry may include circuitry in a first cable plug connected to the host, and circuitry in a second cable plug connected to the device.
In another embodiment of the present invention, a host may provide a higher voltage to a device. This higher voltage may provide an increased amount of power to the device, and it may allow for faster charging of a battery in, or associated with, the device. But this higher voltage may not be needed to power cable circuits, and using the higher voltage may cause excess power dissipation in the cable. This higher power dissipation may, in turn, cause heating and an unpleasant user experience. Accordingly, the device may receive this higher voltage, and reduce the higher voltage to a lower voltage. This lower voltage may then be used to power the cable circuits. In this way, the circuitry needed to reduce the high voltage to a lower voltage is only included on devices that will use it, and it does not need to be included on every host device.
In another embodiment of the present invention, a host may be in communication with a device that is self-powered or powered by a wall outlet or other power source. In this case, the host and the device may each power circuitry in the plug that they are connected to.
In other embodiments of the present invention, signals compliant with one of multiple protocols may be provided on a cable. These embodiments of the present invention may provide circuitry to detect which protocol is being used. Also, embodiments of the present invention may provide circuitry to save power by turning off unused circuitry, and providing for sleep states during periods of inactivity.
Apple's patent FIG. 8 of the third patent illustrates another electronic system where a host provides a high voltage to a device via a cable.
All three patent applications from Apple will published today at the US Patent and Trademark Office. The main patent presented in our report was only filed on February 23, 2011 or one day before Thunderbolt first debuted on Apple's updated MacBook Pro lineup. The other two patents were originally filed in June 30, 2011 or about three week prior to Apple Introduction of the World's First Thunderbolt Display.
Notice: Patently Apple presents a detailed summary of patent applications with associated graphics for journalistic news purposes as each such patent application is revealed by the U.S. Patent & Trade Office. Readers are cautioned that the full text of any patent application should be read in its entirety for full and accurate details. Revelations found in patent applications shouldn't be interpreted as rumor or fast-tracked according to rumor timetables. Apple's patent applications have provided the Mac community with a clear heads-up on some of Apple's greatest product trends including the iPod, iPhone, iPad, iOS cameras, LED displays, iCloud services for iTunes and more. About Comments: Patently Apple reserves the right to post, dismiss or edit comments.
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