Jun 22 2011

Is Thunderbolt A New Threat to USB 3.0?



Thunderbolt, formerly called ‘Lightpeak’, is Intel’s new high-speed I/O technology through a single port that is first available on new Apple MacBook Pro notebooks lately. Fast data transfers are Intel’s main claim, such as 10 gigabits per second transfers and dual-protocol support. The dual-channel design allows for two channels on the same connector at up to 10 gigabits per second that can support both PCI Express and DisplayPort technologies. Compared with existing technologies, Thunderbolt is regarded as a combination of HDMI and USB 3.0, the loading quantity is spectacularly huge through its co-invented PCI Express 4x, which can connect external devices directly to Macbook Pro.


* Thunderbolt Structure by Intel

USB 3.0, also called SuperSpeed USB, is the latest specification that can transfer data between devices, which is 10 times faster than USB 2.0. Even if USB 3.0 data transfer rates (up to 5 Gbps) are lower than Thunderbolt (up to 10 Gbps), U3 technology is still unbeatable. To recognize more about Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, we analyze the difference between these two technologies through two categories – price and industry standard.

1. Price

Thunderbolt will hold a price premium because the controller is made only by Intel. The cost of making a 10Gbps Ethernet chip is clearly higher than a 5 Gbps USB 3.0 chip. Additionally, a unique five-wire cable is required which is supplied only by Apple. Many other costs could be hidden since Apple is the only one adopting Thunderbolt.

2. Industry Standard

Nowadays, USB has become the most widely accepted and commonly used standard in the PC industry. USB technology has over a decade of adoption since it was originally released in 1995, strong consumer brand recognition has been made due to widespread adoption of USB. The popularity and the consumer demand are even higher along with the recent release of USB 3.0. Thus, a new technology needs time to hold a stable position in order to expand its market share. Intel cannot ignore the increasing demand for USB 3.0.

Now it’s been a while since Intel’s announcement, but it’s too early to tell if Thunderbolt will be a real threat for the already existing USB across the PC OEMs. Which one will become the industry leader in the future? Only time will tell!