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Intel Networking Upgrades Hardware Technology Apple

Can Thunderbolt Survive USB SuperSpeed+? 355

Lucas123 writes: "The USB SuperSpeed+ spec (a.k.a. v3.1) offers up to 10Gbps throughput. Combine that with USB's new C-Type Connector, the specification for which is expected out in July, and users will have a symmetrical cable and plug just like Thunderbolt but that will enable up to 100 watts of power depending on the cable version. So where does that leave Thunderbolt, Intel's other hardware interconnect? According to some analysts, Thunderbolt withers or remains a niche technology supported almost exclusively by Apple. Even as Thunderbolt 2 offers twice the throughput (on paper) as USB 3.1, or up to 20Gbps, USB SuperSpeed+ is expected to scale past 40Gbps in coming years. 'USB's installed base is in the billions. Thunderbolt's biggest problem is a relatively small installed base, in the tens of millions. Adding a higher data throughput, and a more expensive option, is unlikely to change that,' said Brian O'Rourke, a principal analyst covering wired interfaces at IHS."
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Can Thunderbolt Survive USB SuperSpeed+?

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  • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @12:19AM (#46996319)

    A niche technology, used mainly by Apple fans. Part of it is just lack of need, and increased cost. Most devices work just fine on USB and Thunderbolt, being a PCIe bus more or less, has more hardware requirements on the device side than USB.

    However it is also because of Apple's meddling. Apple got involved with it back when it was an Intel project called Lightpeak and paid Intel to influence the development. They wanted an exclusive on it, since Apple loves being "first", for a year and convinced Intel to integrate it with DisplayPort video. The problem with the DP integration is that it means you could no longer just drop in a PCIe card that would add it to a system, it has to be integrated in to a device to work with the GPU. So there's been little interest in it overall.

    That'll probably continue for the foreseeable future. It isn't totally worthless, but there are few cases where it would matter much instead of USB, so its adoption is likely to be lackluster not so much because USB keeps getting better (though that helps) but because most of the things people want to do with an external connector, USB3 does "good enough" and everything has USB of some sort or another.

  • by maccodemonkey ( 1438585 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @12:54AM (#46996445)

    Is there a real use case for connecting a PCI-E card to a system via an external port? The link you showed was basically an enthusiast/hobbyist novelty. If I actually need that sort of graphics power (gamers or CAD), I'm probably using a gaming rig or a workstation, which both have PCI-E slots in the case. I can't imagine what other sort of PCI-E cards I'd be carrying around with my laptop.

    The point isn't to make PCI-E cards portable. It's to make it so you only need one machine. Why buy a desktop when you can simply plug the PCI-E cards straight into your laptop? You COULD buy a desktop with a bunch of PCI-E slots, but you don't need to now. Why buy a redundant CPU with a redundant motherboard just to drive a few PCI-E cards?

    And if you're a pro with a desktop, and you run out of PCI-E slots, do you simply buy a whole new machine? Thunderbolt can drive six PCI-E devices per bus (http://www.macworld.com/article/2146360/lab-tested-the-mac-pro-daisy-chain-challenge.html). Most desktops don't have six PCI-E slots total.

    A lot of pros are adopting Thunderbolt because it allows them to use the devices that used to require a desktop quickly and easily with a laptop, and they can reduce their machine count by one. Thunderbolt doesn't need to displace USB because it has a niche that USB effectively can't replace.

  • by AcidPenguin9873 ( 911493 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @01:05AM (#46996491)

    Why buy a desktop when you can simply plug the PCI-E cards straight into your laptop?

    What PCIe cards are you plugging in again? Graphics cards? You still have yet to demonstrate that it is not a novelty. I have never seen a CAD setup like that. Nor have I heard of a gaming rig that uses a laptop CPU but has an external graphics box. Maybe you're right and it will be all the rage in CAD houses.

    And if you're a pro with a desktop, and you run out of PCI-E slots

    You're kidding, right?

    A lot of pros are adopting Thunderbolt because it allows them to use the devices that used to require a desktop quickly and easily with a laptop, and they can reduce their machine count by one.

    What devices are these? Still graphics cards?

  • by Dr. Spork ( 142693 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @01:25AM (#46996559)
    I've been thinking hard about a cable that will bring data to my CPU with the lowest latency. At the other end of the cable would be a guitar with several A/D converters, one for each pickup. Including piezos, that might add up to about 10 192Hz/32bit signals. That's still not a tremendous amount of bandwidth, but latency is much more important in this application. I don't think there is any dispute that the lowest latency lane to the CPU in current PCs is over PCIE. If thunderbolt is PCIE over a wire, it would be a natural technology to finally modernize the electric guitar for the digital age. Well, a guy can dream!
  • by Ion Berkley ( 35404 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @01:27AM (#46996563)

    Amen to the "Ball of hurt".

    I design USB3 H/W....what. a. piece. of. shit. I have truly given up hope of engineering anything that will ever work universally, even Intels interfaces which you would like to believe would be a model reference design look like crap when you plug them into a gizillion dollar Agilent USB3 analyzer. Should I be be surprised? Probably not, USB has never exactly been the premium interface has it? Firewire didn't go away because USB was technically superior thats for sure. Thunderbolt just friggin' works, day in, day out, incredible and reliable performance. Sure cables are expensive, they have all sorts of clever active electronics...because...thats what it takes to make 10G in a consumer application work...not a $1.99 piece of injection molded crap from god knows what Asian hell chemical works. In fact Thunderbolts worst problem is ....Intel.....who seem to have a bizarre attitude towards people who want to buy components from them to make peripherals...I honestly don't get it.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @04:14AM (#46997129)

    This whole mess started in USB2.0, it's only saving grace was that it is low enough bandwidth not to get trashed by poor hardware design.

    Just looking at the specs for differential impedance of traces gets you a trace over 40mil wide and only a 5mil gap between them on a standard 2 layer circuit board. Effectively none of the cheap USB hubs conform properly to the differential signalling requirements as it's effectively impossible to achieve on an economic 2 layer PCB used by all cheap hubs. Then there's some who just don't seem to care about keeping signal lengths similar or any of that other unimportant stuff and you end up with absolute garbage when you hook an analyser to it.

    I'm not surprised USB3.0 is hard to design for. Technically most people failed with USB2.0

  • by drsmithy ( 35869 ) <drsmithy@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @07:32AM (#46997691)

    You're confusing usefulness with relevance. Thunderbolt is, and will reman, irrelevant to PCs, largely because PCs have plenty of internal expansion capability and sufficient USB ports, Display Ports, HDMI ports, etc.

    Not often I wish for mod points and don't have them, but this pretty much nails it.

    Thunderbolt is solid technology - basically PCIe on a cable - but its relevance to machines that don't need PCIe on a cable (or provide an equivalent - ie: a docking station) is close to nil.

    The use case for Thunderbolt on Macs, due to their typical design focusing on form factor over other factors, is reasonable.

    The use case outside of Macs, is niche (to say the least).

  • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Wednesday May 14, 2014 @07:33AM (#46997695) Homepage Journal

    Why would anyone buy a high end graphics card and then cripple it with a 4x PCI-E interface over Thunerbolt, paired with a low performance mobile Core i7 CPU and low performance RAM?

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