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Hardware Technology

Thunderbolt vs. SuperSpeed USB 327

Lucas123 writes "When it comes to performance, power and size, external I/O interconnect Thunderbolt handily beats SuperSpeed USB, but in the one critical category — ubiquity — it has an almost impossible uphill battle. Thunderbolt has a maximum 10Gbps signaling rate to SuperSpeed USB's 6Gbps and it offers more than twice the power to devices. To date, however, Apple is the only systems manufacturer to adopt Thunderbolt, and it has done so as an additional device connectivity port, keeping SuperSpeed USB on its computers. No other systems manufacturer has committed to Thunderbolt. In contrast, SuperSpeed USB has been installed on 10 billion pieces of hardware, with numbers continuing to grow."
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Thunderbolt vs. SuperSpeed USB

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  • TFA (-1, wrong) (Score:5, Insightful)

    by plover ( 150551 ) * on Monday October 10, 2011 @01:51PM (#37666570) Homepage Journal

    SuperSpeed USB has been installed on 10 billion pieces of hardware

    No it hasn't. USB may have been installed on 10 billion pieces of hardware, but SuperSpeed USB is nowhere near as ubiquitous yet. SuperSpeed USB may be able to compatibly downgrade to full-speed USB communication, but that doesn't mean that anything you plug a SuperSpeed device into is magically SuperSpeed.

    Anyway, I like the idea of Thunderbolt, especially the thought that it could become the holy grail of single cable interconnects. But just because I like a thing and it's technically better doesn't mean the world will adopt it. Unfortunately, I've learned that politics and money will drive the decision, not technology.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Additionally, Sony also has started releasing laptops with athunderbolt, even though with their own connector based off of the USB plug.

      The article is simply wrong.

    • TFA (-2, wrong) (Score:3, Informative)

      by Quick Reply ( 688867 )

      Also, Apple has not have SuperSpeed USB on any of it's computers.

    • Dear Slashdot,
      How about taking a little more pride in what you choose to show to the 8 bajillion people who hit your front-page every day?

    • SuperSpeed USB may be able to compatibly downgrade to full-speed USB communication, but that doesn't mean that anything you plug a SuperSpeed device into is magically SuperSpeed.

      true, but there is 1 crucial factor. When you plug a SuperSpeed device into an existing port, it still works. I'd rather have a fancy device that works on everything than a fancy device that doesn't.

      • Pick your own analogy:

        So, when the PS3 came out, there were how many hundreds of PS3 titles already available, because you could play PS2 games on the original PS3?

        So, when the XBOX360 came out, there were how many hundreds of XBOX360 titles already available, because you could play XBOX games on it?

        So, when the Wii came out, there were how many hundreds of Wii titles already available, because you could play GameCube games on it?
      • true, but there is 1 crucial factor. When you plug a SuperSpeed device into an existing port, it still works.>

        Lets be clear here - the only super speed devices we'll see really are storage devices.

        In that case the devices do not really "work". Yes you'll be able to get to files on them in a pinch, but they will not be usable for the reason you got the external super-speed storage for in the fast place - either large image or video editing. The thing will be dog slow and basically unusable.

        It's the sam

    • While your points are all valid, I think the single biggest factor standing in the way of Thunderbolt is simply this: backwards compatibility. There's a huge number of USB devices of all speeds out there, and exactly zero of them will plug into a thunderbolt port. The advantages of Thunderbolt over USB3 aren't significant enough to overcome that obstacle. The number of people for whom 6Gbps is insufficient but 10Gbps is enough is a small slice indeed. The same goes for the 10W vs. 4.5W power availabili
      • You're right, however (IF MY UNDERSTANDING IS CORRECT) USB has this little limitation that nobody (that I've seen) notice is that it is only as fast as the slowest device on the bus.

        • by fnj ( 64210 )

          I believe your understanding is incorrect. According to this whitepaper [], the transfer speed is individually negotiated between each connection point, and the hub buffers data and matches speed as required. In other words, as I read it, every device attached to that hub operates at its individual negotiated data rate, and the upstream data rate of the hub is always the maximum it negotiates with the host. A slow device does not handicap a fast device, even on the same hub.

          This whitepaper only covers USB 1.0,

      • Yes, but how long after TB comes out will there be a box that plugs into TB that accepts USB?
    • Not only that, but numerous manufacturers have committed to Thunderbolt and will roll it out early next year. This article is riddled with BS. It's bad and the author should feel bad.
      • Not least of all... Intel have already stated that they'll be shipping a thunderbolt controller as standard as part of their next chipsets.

    • Wasn't the situation with Firewire and the original USB eerily similar to the situation we're currently seeing?

      If history's taught us anything, it should be not to drink the Thunderbolt koolaid...

      • by jythie ( 914043 )
        Rumors of Firewire's death are a bit overstated. Sure, USB devices are far more numerous, but there is a lot of firewire stuff out there esp once you get away from consumer grade 'cheap as possible' devices. Just like dirty cheap IDE never managed to kill off SCSI, I doubt USB is going to completely crush Firewire any time soon. I think people tend to forget that 'most common use/case' != 'all use cases', and just because some standard captures the low end market does not mean it doesn't have a place out
    • Expensive wires are the problem.

      How much are thunderbolt wires going to cost? Are they realistically going to become as inexpensive as USB wires in 5 -10 years?

      • Re:TFA (-1, wrong) (Score:4, Interesting)

        by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Monday October 10, 2011 @03:20PM (#37668538) Homepage

        No, because they are active. That's what will allow people to transparently switch to optical cables in a few years. You won't have to replace any of your equipment, the cables handle that.

        This is somewhat stupid though. USB has moved into hard drives and such, but it aims at the low end of the market. Mice, keyboard, etc. up through hard drives and scanners. On the other hand, Thunderbolt aims at the top of the market. It aims at displays, large RAID arrays down through hard drives and scanners. Thunderbolt is basically PCIe in a cable. This isn't an either-or. No one in their right mind would ever make a Thunderbolt mouse or USB SAN, there is no reason to think both ports won't be on computers in a few years.

        So is the question "What will people use for connecting external storage in 2 years"? Because that's basically the only question people ever argued over with USB vs. FireWire. I'd say the answer is "USB for most, ThunderBolt for those who really care about performance".

        Remember that since ThunderBolt is faster and PCIe, you can make bridge to let you plug USB SuperSpeed stuff into Thunderbolt ports, just like Apple's Thunderbolt monitors have USB2 and FireWire bridge chips.

      • by skids ( 119237 )

        I've long held that we should just put cheap 10mbps PoE ethernet transponders in keyboards and mice, and put multiple ethers on laptops/etc. If paranoid, have the devices demand a certain PoE profile from the servicing "switch" before passing traffic, what would keep the devices off the building LAN unless desired. Sure rj-45 isn't the prettiest connector, but the wires even for 10G are certainly cheap -- plus the ethernet ports are arguably more useful if you don't happen to have any external gadgets to

      • by Forbman ( 794277 )

        I'm holding out for the Monster Thunderbolt wires.

    • by CODiNE ( 27417 )

      Not to mention that the tech industry as a whole now intentionally refuses to use standards that Apple endorses.

      Like AAC a few years ago, with people calling it an Apple tech. FaceTime is not likely to get much support although it's better than a lot of other video chat tech by solving the firewall problems most consumers have with their video calls and auto adapting to bitrate changes. Thunderbolt is now labeled an Apple tech and to fight the 800lb gorilla I'm afraid much of the industry will avoid it in h

      • Yeh, because AAC hasn't become the de-facto standard for audio players... oh wait, yes it has.

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

      You are correct. Also incase people have not noticed Intel is also pushing Thunderbolt. You are going to see Thunderbolt parts as standard on Intel chipsets soon.
      Of course the scary thing is when we see them on mobile devices. How long before I can plug my phone into a monitor that has USB ports for my keyboard and mouse and a network connection?

    • by DrXym ( 126579 )
      I like the idea of thunderbolt too. I just hate the execution. It was supposed to be optical and now it's not. It was supposed to be an interconnect bus that all other protocols and ports could ride on, now it's just for crappy displayport and PCI express. It incurs expensive daisy chaining circuitry and ports in every device that implements it. It's been gimped and the move to copper has resulted in expensive active cables with shorter lengths.

      Maybe when optical Thunderbolt does appear and relieves some

  • When the Compact Disc first came out not many had any chance to play one. It was expensive, part of extravagant home theatre systems, and only the rich could afford it. Years later it was adopted by the masses once it was able to be cheaply reproduced. The same goes for this piece of technology. While truly innovative and new technology almost never starts out as being ubiquitous; it does move us forward. This is my point: it is better, faster, and eventually it will be cheaper too. That and I heard Apple
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It was expensive, part of extravagant home theatre systems, and only the rich could afford it.

      All true. It had one thing going for it, that thunderbolt doesn't. It was orders of magnitude better in features. When the CD first came out, it was MUCH higher quality than a record or tape. It was also random access, which no other music technology had. (Unless you want to count lifting a record player arm and trying to figure out where the track started). Those features made people WANT this technology, an

      • by MBCook ( 132727 )

        Can I daisy chain 2 displays and a little RAID array over USB? Can USB hold an external graphic card (and do a good job of it)? What about a custom accelerator card?

        Thunderbolt does things USB can't. They aren't used for the same thing, their uses just overlap some.

      • That was largely my thought on the matter. Thunderbolt has some cool features, but it doesn't bring a whole lot to the table that isn't already available from other technologies.

        And that's going to be a huge problem, it does have uses, but most of them appear to have alternatives that are already on the market. I'm sure that the interface will live on for a niche audience, but bandwidth is just not compelling enough for enough people to give it much traction. At present even most HDD have a hard time keepi

    • But Thunderbolt is more like Laserdisc in that respect...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Huh? When did Apple start offering USB 3.0? AFAIK they're still shipping USB 2.0 only.

  • Firewire (Score:5, Insightful)

    by suso ( 153703 ) * on Monday October 10, 2011 @02:04PM (#37666852) Homepage Journal

    Hmm, this sounds just like the Firewire vs. USB competition with Apple pushing Firewire. We saw how that turned out. We all know that being better doesn't mean anything in this industry.

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @02:11PM (#37666978)

      It is different, hence why Intel makes both (Thunderbolt is Intel's not Apple's). Thunderbolt is basically just an external PCIe bus. While that has a benefit of great speed and low latency, it has drawbacks. The client device has to be more complex (and thus expensive) since it needs a PCIe controller on it. Also a device can hose your system, being PCIe it has DMA and can write or read any memory.

      USB is much simpler. Slave devices need little logic to handle it. Also it is handled through the CPU which, while slower, is safer meaning an errant device can't as easily trash your system.

      • by am 2k ( 217885 )

        The client device has to be more complex (and thus expensive) since it needs a PCIe controller on it. Also a device can hose your system, being PCIe it has DMA and can write or read any memory.

        Yes, just like FireWire.

    • Apple always had USB _and_ Firewire. Firewire is the industry standard for non-PCI studio audio interfaces (pretty much all of the semi-pro and portable market) and until very recently also for digital video cameras. Firewire is pretty niche, but it's not been a failure, it's been a high-performance esoteric option, and I have no doubt Thunderbolt will be the same.
    • Just because USB was everywhere and Firewire wasn't doesn't mean firewire was a failure. Just because you largely see SATA ship doesn't mean SAS was a failure, or worth it to invest in it.

      Let's get over this mindset, please.

      Thunderbolt = Speedy all-in-one PCI-E on a thin, ubiquitous cable(compared to other external PCI-E solutions).

      USB 3 = Really frickin' fast USB(Also capable of being carried on Thunderbolt)

    • by Nimey ( 114278 )

      Firewire failed because Apple wanted to collect royalties for every device. If they'd dropped that notion we'd be using Firewire instead of USB now.

    • by SLi ( 132609 )

      We all know that being better doesn't mean anything in this industry.

      Well, if a vendor or a coalition of vendors demands 10x the royalties for a possibly slightly superior technology, I'm not sure that being better should mean anything. Otherwise if every vendor started doing that for every piece of technology, we would suddenly have very expensive hardware.

    • Firewire was great, but it was a huge security headache, you did get additional speed, but you were plugging a foreign device essentially straight into your computer's RAM. It was nice for times where you were needing to dump a stuck kernel, but you could run into some quirks. I remember one time connecting a laptop to a desktop via Firewire and then plugging a USB peripheral into the desktop, only for it to show up as attached to the laptop.

  • by voss ( 52565 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @02:08PM (#37666908)

    10 gps vs 4.8 gps isnt enough to make me want to add an extra port.

    • by Mista2 ( 1093071 )

      It is if transferring an hour of 1080p video.

      • by tepples ( 727027 )
        I'm still having a bit of trouble understanding the exact use case you're thinking of. Where are you getting the 1080p video and where are you putting it such that you need to transfer it far faster than real-time (0.05 Gbps or less)?
      • 10 GB/s vs 4.8 GBs? Those are theoretical. What really matters is practical, real life speeds, or failing that, benchmarks.

      • That's like responding to someone saying they don't want a sports car with "You would if you were in a race!"

        As much as a small segment of the population may want the faster transfer speeds of Thunderbolt, the majority will probably opt for the tried and true USB form factor and it's backward compatibility. Currently the few USB 3.0 devices I've seen have all worked with USB 2.0 as well, which is another big factor.

        It's interesting to be sure, and I will probably opt for a thunderbolt compatible motherboar

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        > It is if transferring an hour of 1080p video.

        Even USB2 will do for that. Not a big deal. There are plenty of better options available assuming I tire of the relative slowness of USB2.

        I move files around by the terabyte. In that use case, the slowness of other options becomes annoying. However, there's only so much I am willing to spend on a better solution. Also, if I blow a big wad of cash for it I will have very high expectations and be very easily disappointed.

        My non-cheap machines all have USB3. My

  • As you can find usb 3.0 pci-e cards and having Thunerbolt on the main system board is slowing down roll out.

  • by jmcbain ( 1233044 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @02:09PM (#37666924)
    Acer and Asus have signed up for Thunderbolt [] and are expected to deliver PCs with Thunderbolt next year. Except more motherboards to have Thunderbolt as well, and once that occurs, Dell and other has-beens will do the same.
  • How Will Thurberbolt work with pci-e video cards?

    As you need a way to link the display port bus to the MB based TB data bus and I don't see any plans any where saying how they plan to pull that off.

  • I'm looking to increase my backup times to an external USB3 drive. My PC only supports USB2, but I'm looking to drop in a card to support USB3. Last I checked, all the on-board USB controllers on new motherboards are still somewhat dicey (crap). Does anyone here have a good recommendation as to what USB3 controller based card I should get (2 to 4 port is ok)? The goal is for direct drop-in (no fancy drivers) for Server 2008 and Win7, and the least hardware bug prone. Cost is not an issue.

    • I'm looking to increase my backup times to an external USB3 drive

      Increase time? Sounds like you need a USB 1.0 card. I assume you are paid by the hour, as those of us on salary want to decrease our backup time.

  • Maximum cable length (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thue ( 121682 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @02:12PM (#37667000) Homepage

    Thunderbolt is interesting because of the potential maximum cable length. The current cupper cables are limited to 3 meters, but once optical cables are available, "10s of meters []" will be possible.

    Since you can run both display, keyboard and mouse over one cable natively, this means that you can put your computer with its noisy fans into the basement, use a single thunderbolt cable, and just have an extremely thin client at your workstation.

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      > Since you can run both display, keyboard and mouse over
      > one cable natively, this means that you can put your
      > computer with its noisy fans into the basement, use a single
      > thunderbolt cable, and just have an extremely thin client at
      > your workstation.

      Sounds like an Xterminal from 1988.

      I do that sort of thing with my Linux boxes all the time. I even do that sort of thing with Windows boxes already.

      I don't need a proprietary cable run. I don't need an relatively obscure bit of technology tha

      • How so? How do you run your Linux boxes from a basement up to, say, the first floor with 1 cable? Of course you won't answer, since you can't do what your saying you can.

    • Nice, but I would rather opt for a silent computer. Who is ever going to buy a computer to put in the basement, only to put a long cable all the way up to the desk (current company excluded, of course).

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @02:13PM (#37667020)

    And apple seems to be the only place to get a Thunderbolt cable right now.

    • Give it 6 months and get a TB cable from Monoprice for roughly the same price as USB3.

    • I'm an Apple fanboy and I never buy accessories from them. I'd keep an eye on and see when they start selling them. Currently all I could find was thunderbolt to dvi/hdmi/vga. They also had a cable with mini displayport on both end for $4. I don't know if you could use that as a thunderbolt cable.
  • by SensitiveMale ( 155605 ) on Monday October 10, 2011 @02:19PM (#37667112)

    Thunderbolt was just released a few months ago. USB3 has been out for almost 2 years and it is finally starting to get a little traction in the marketplace. Something else to keep in mind is that Thunderbolt is Intel tech, not Apple. Intel is pushing Thunderbolt so Thunderbolt will be on 95% of mobos in a couple years. Since Thunderbolt is Intel tech, Microsoft will support it as well. Don't discount how much damage was done to FW by shitty MS firewire drivers that barely worked. Intel, Microsoft, and Apple will all be pushing Thunderbolt to succeed.

    One last thing, look for video card manufacturers to be pushing TB as well to get rid of DL DVI,DVI, and VGA cables.

    Thunderbolt will succeed.

  • Thunderbolt and SuperSpeed USB aren't even competing for the same market and don't have the same purpose. You will probably never have Thunderbolt mouse, keyboard, headset, printer, etc. There's no reason to use such expensive cabling and ridiculous bandwidth for devices like that.

    Docking stations, breakout boxes, external PCIe cards, displays and high speed RAID arrays are what Thunderbolt is for. A box with say... 4 ethernet adapters is good for Thunderbolt. Your webcam though? Uhhhhh, no.

  • I imagine much of this will be decided by how difficult it is to program for. One of the things that ended up keeping USB back from some of the higher end uses (like external video cards) was how huge of a pain it was to program for... at my previous company I always heard grumbling from the USB programmers.... if Thunderbolt is layed out better for these types of devices then, even if it *gasp* costs a whole $1 per port then it might have a place.
  • instead of signals transmitted using electricity. That essentially remove surges between your equipment from the equation. I have no longer any count of how many times I have experienced small shocks from connecting an external hard drive with its own power cord to my laptop or desktop. That may not stop, but I will at least know this no longer impact my machine. On the other side - I am not going to run for Thunderbolt until I know the failure rate of fiber cables due to bending etc. vs current USB cables.

  • "....that while Thunderbolt may offer twice the bandwidth of SuperSpeed USB, most people simply won't need it..."
    Then MB drives were enough.
    Then GB drives were enough.
    Now TB drives are enough.

    1 GB RAM was enough.
    Then 2 GB RAM was enough.
    See were I'm going?

  • The thing with USB3 is that nobody needs it. USB2 is plenty fast for just about anything you want to connect over USB (external hard drives, usb sticks and keyboard/mouse). For everything else it plain sucks, you need a hub and the latency is horrible and the toll on the CPU for high data transfers is horrible so you're not guaranteed a certain speed. And it's not future-proof with a single 6Gb line where 10Gb has been in data centers for years now as an interconnect for fast data.

    Thunderbird is what USB3 s

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