May 27, 2014

The Latest on the USB vs. Thunderbolt Arms Race

usb 3.1 3.0 super speed plus 10 gb ps interface computer io port connection 2Thunderbolt 2 may be theoretically capable of 20Gb/s, but USB isn't going to be left in the dust. The ubiquity of USB continues with version 3.0, while Thunderbolt isn't nearly as common. USB is not done improving, however. The upgraded USB 3.1 may arrive by the end of the year, featuring new port & connection designs and theoretical speeds up to 10Gb/s -- double that of 3.0. As if that weren't enough for professional consideration, at least one USB architect at Intel says the protocol may one day be able to scale beyond 40Gb/s. Check below for more details, plus some allegedly leaked info claiming that speed for a future Thunderbolt 3 interface.

USB 3.1 -- New Ports & Connectors, 10Gb/s, & Beyond

We learned of Thunderbolt 2's doubled speeds over its predecessor not long before learning that USB 3.1 would eventually do the same over USB 3. As expected, the standard will maintain compatibility backwards through USB 2.0, so you should be able to jack your older 2.0 external harddrives into a 3.1 port no problem, just as with USB 3. Perhaps less expectedly -- considering the familiar, long unchanged full-sized USB style -- USB 3.1 will bring a new port/connection type with it as well. This plug will be both 'symmetrical' (impossible to plug in wrong, basically) and unify cable types across all devices, says Digital Trends:

In addition, USB 3.1 introduces a new cable and connector—the Type-C 3.1, which is designed to replace both full-sized USB, as well as micro-USB cables, thereby standardizing the port and cable types across devices. USB Type-C cables will also be reversible, allowing you to plug them in without fail, regardless of how you’re holding and inserting the cable. Plus, based on the image here, they’ll be significantly slimmer, which may allow OEMs to manufacture smaller devices.

Here's the rendering linked-to above, courtesy Digital Trends once again and The Verge. Considering the appearance of a traditional-style USB cable, it appears the new Type-C will accompany rather than replace it:

usb 3.1 3.0 super speed plus 10 gb ps interface computer io port connection type c

According to ComputerWorld, USB 3.1 may be available as early as Christmas -- as well as "relegate Thunderbolt to a niche" product. ComputerWorld also relayed the following, stating that USB 3.1 can only reach 10Gb/s...

But, the USB SuperSpeed specification has a lot of elasticity built into it. "This tech will scale well beyond 10Gbps," said Rahman Ismail, a USB 3.0 senior architect at Intel. "We believe we already have a protocol that will scale well past 40Gbps." ...Thunderbolt 2 has another advantage over USB 3.1 -- 10 watts of power compared with USB SuperSpeed's 4.5 watts. But, the USB connector specification is also getting long-awaited improvements that will give users... a more robust cable offering up to 100 watts of power... and the technology will eventually offer 10 times the power of Thunderbolt 2.

It's hard to say when exactly all of these improvements will be widely available, but this info, especially regarding throughput, comes as a bit of surprise regardless. Especially since 40Gb/s USB would seem to beat the professional-bound 'niche' Thunderbolt 2 at its own speedy game. But what about, say... Thunderbolt 3?

'Leaked' Thunderbolt 3 Specs Allege 40Gb/s Speeds

The following also comes as a bit of surprise, albeit one that still seems unconfirmed. The following information was 'leaked' on a Chinese website, reported by MacRumors and ZDNet. Allegedly, Intel's new Thunderbolt 3 controller code-named 'Alpine Ridge' will allow for interface rates up to 40Gb/s, offer a new smaller connection type but maintain backwards compatibility through adapters, and simultaneously reduce power consumed 50% while sending up to 100W of power. The translation also reads that a "dual mode connection is expected" in one variant of the controller, allowing ThB 3 by way of plugging in with two of the original connections. Thunderbolt 3 will also (again, supposedly) add support for PCIe 3.0, whereas previous generations support up to PCIe 2.0.

Here's the image from the Chinese site:

intel thunderbolt 3 40 gb ps port interface transfer protocol high speed bandwidth

This information seems as likely to be true as unlikely -- your guess is as good as mine. Whether or not you believe it, however, it's quite possible that a new generation of Thunderbolt is actually in the works, perhaps even sporting similar specs. This would certainly even the playing field between future versions of both USB and Thunderbolt. 'Playing field' seems more fitting than 'battlefield' in this interface arms race, considering that Intel develops or helps to develop both protocols. After all, according to ComputerWorld "the company continues to maintain that they're "complementary" not competitive technologies."

In any case, the ability to work with higher fidelity and higher resolution material will only improve in cost, efficiency, and of course, speed, in the coming years.

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39 Comments

USB 3.1 Micro-B......Worst Fucking connector EVER! Someone should get kicked in the balls over that horrible design, for which I'm fairly confident was designed by a committee. If a usability designer signed off on that, he/she should resign immediately and apply at McDonalds.

Can you feel my HATE for this connector? Seriously.

As for USB vs Thunderbolt...you won't be relegating Thunderbolt to anything since they own so much of that high speed market right now. By the time this spec becomes a reality, I think most people will have already invested $$$ in TB2 enclosures. It's the whole reason I went MacPro instead of PC 4 months ago. Well, one of the main points at least. I had two choices - invest in an SAS raid enclosure, RAId card, etc...a technology getting to the end of it's life cycle, still quite expensive and not portable at all...OR...a MacPro connected to a Pegasus or other TB2 RAID. Quite portable, very fast, and PnP with any Mac or iMac from the last 2-3 years.

I still don't understand why we don't see more PCs with TB2? There have been some motherboard's announced but really....where are the PCs with TB?

May 27, 2014 at 4:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sean

Thunderbolt is also more than just a way to connect hard drives, it's a much more robust communication port that allows for a variety of uses that USB hasn't been capable of.

May 27, 2014 at 5:24PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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julian

Good thinking there...
Anything thunderbolt is EXTREMELY overpriced! (and you don't need SAS btw)
Raid at end-of-life LOL.
Whilst thunderbolt was a great idea, it's just not viable compared to the other options price wise.
The cheapest TB drive I saw was 3x the price of a comparable USB 3.0 drive. Enclosures same story. Screens same story. Computers same story. The few mobo's that had TB flopped because overpriced.
If TB2.0 had the same pricetag and devices as USB 3.0 (all mice, keyboards, external harddrives, displays, GPU's, ... have TB) then I would love TB. But just even look at TB cable prices... If I buy 10m of TB, I can buy 50m of USB3.0. (including repeaters)

May 27, 2014 at 7:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Henri108

I didn't say RAID was at end of life, I said SAS was.

And end of life doesn't mean imminent death either...but the technology is over 5 years old, there is no more advancement in that specific tech.

So if you want sustained 1GB/sec...you have SAS or TB2. That's it. Faced with that choice, the TB2 solution is cheaper.

TB vs USB3 for single drive enclosures is ridiculous because the drive is the bottleneck on either. I have several USB3 drives.

May 27, 2014 at 8:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sean

I've had no problem getting clients to buy thunderbolt raids over usb3 single drives on shoots that require it. It's totally worth it. As someone else mentioned, often the limitation is the drive speed most times. I prefer TB drives as my mag readers run off of usb3 bus for epic, c300 and black magic 4k

May 28, 2014 at 8:36AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Loo

You do know that Thunderbolt is not an Apple technology. It's an Intel Technology and is also found on Windows computers ("PC" as you call it). It was only licensed to Apple in the begining, but Apple paid Intel a very high price for this. But that's a long time ago now.

May 28, 2014 at 3:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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yep, know that quite well. Show me all the Windows machines with TB...

I looked and looked and looked for a serious Windows workstation that had TB. Couldn't find a single one.

May 28, 2014 at 1:41PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sean

ASRock, ASUS, and Gigabyte all make affordable PC motherboards with Thunderbolt 2 capability. I've built more than 30 custom PCs for myself and for work, so I will definitely add Thunderbolt 2 to the mix with the next batch I put together.

May 28, 2014 at 3:42PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Guy McLoughlin

running dual GFX cards on those builds? 16x for both?

tell me more

May 28, 2014 at 5:28PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sean

May 28, 2014 at 3:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marc B

That wasn't available 6 months ago when we were looking for a machine....but still, I will point out:

"Thunderbolt™ 2 port via optional add-in PCIe card3,4"

This means I could never run two GFX cards at 16x and have TB. In fact, I don't think you can run dual 16x GFX cards at all, unless you have a second CPU in that workstation.

May 28, 2014 at 5:27PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sean

totally agree. who design those flimsy connections that you always have to plug five times up and down to make it work. Just put a circular or triangular connection dammit !

May 28, 2014 at 11:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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jobby

I have a PC with thunderbolt....why did you get a macpro?

July 3, 2014 at 7:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Noah

Has anyone actually come out with a hard drive array that is capable of saturating USB 3.0, let alone Thunderbolt 1.0.

Not being antagonistic. Would really be keen to know if there are RAID arrays out there that are that fast.

May 27, 2014 at 6:47PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Richard

If they exist, they're damn expensive!

May 27, 2014 at 6:58PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ty

Single drive? I don't think so. The best in class SSDs are 500MB/sec peaking and down to 300+ MB/sec sustained.

I have a Pegasus R6 RAID 5 TBs enclosure. I get a sustained transfer of 1GB/sec. (when it was new and empty) I can edit directly off of the Pegasus, with multiple video streams, in real time. I have yet to bottleneck on anything. I'm pushing mostly BMCC DNGs and Sony FS700/Odyssey7Q raw DNGs. Everything runs great and I get renders out of Davinci at 65 fps (4K) and 140 fps (2K)

That is...until Apple released 10.9.3 update and it broke OpenCL :\ reaaaaally hope they fix that ASAP.

May 27, 2014 at 8:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sean

What specs your machine has? Thanks!

May 28, 2014 at 6:05AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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k

Late 2013 MacPro, 1TB SSD OS drive, 32GB ram, Dual D700 graphics and a Pegasus R6 TB2 raid enclosure.

May 28, 2014 at 1:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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sean

Sean....That's what I have. I got the 12 core. Went nuts. Very fast on everything. I just wish Adobe would allow AE to use those freakin' video cards.....

May 29, 2014 at 12:46AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Scot

That may explain why when I updated to 10.9.3 to 10.9.2 my dual screen Mac became a single screen Mac.

May 30, 2014 at 9:37PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Brandon

Yes there are. ThunderBay IV from OWC hits over 700MB/s on Thunderbolt 1 with four Toshiba 3TB drives when empty, which is beyond even USB3's theoretical speed. It's $500 (diskless) and the Promise R4 and LaCie 5big are other options.

May 29, 2014 at 11:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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100W on those 26/24 ga wires ? I don't think so. Not unless they turn what is the ground shield into the positive line... but it still might get toasty warm. besides how many external devices draw that much power ? even 2-5W into an efficient speaker will have plenty of volume for most folks at "normal" listening levels.... drive a display ? maybe. back to the days of the ADC connector :(

May 27, 2014 at 8:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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USB 3.0 is not even common place for a lot of people yet so a new protocol/connection I think is not really necessary right now. Thunderbolt 1 and usb 3 is plenty fast for mostly everyone right now even editors. Companies seem to always have to convince you to buy into the next newest thing when in reality the current thing is not even being fully utilized. :-/

May 27, 2014 at 9:18PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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USB is a burst protocol i.e it carries data in short bursts and thus its not good for editing, no matter how fast the speed is, its still gonna lag after an hour or two.

Thunderbolt is a continuous stream of data and thus is super ideal. Prices will go down eventually.

But really its all about PCI-E bruh

May 28, 2014 at 12:21AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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john jeffries

John Jeffries,
Yup, you nailed it.

May 29, 2014 at 12:47AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Scot

I added a 4-port USB 3.0 card to my Mac Pro for $40 and it gave my Mac a new life.
Plus I can keep using all my old harddisks with a cheap SATA to USB 3.0 cable.
Thunderbolt would've cost me plenty more.

May 28, 2014 at 4:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Thunderbolt would have meant a new computer, as it requires a compatible motherboard. So yes, costs more... And agreed, those easy, cheap USB3 cards are a new lease on life for the old aluminium towers.

May 28, 2014 at 8:45AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Davíð

Peer-to-peer connections over Thunderbolt 2 provide a lot of potential for fast storage connections without expensive RAID adapters. I see USB and Thunderbolt as complimentary connections, not either or.

May 28, 2014 at 11:48AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Marc B

Thunderbolt was originally designed as an optical standard, and so far we have only been using copper wired implementations of it, so the real speed of Optical Thunderbolt has yet to arrive.

May 28, 2014 at 3:51PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Guy McLoughlin

Thunderbolt now has a pci card for pc go to B and H Photo

May 28, 2014 at 8:13PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JustCalMeDBoss

Thunderbold is like all the other Apple interfaces, it's not going to last very long. I'm getting really annoyed with all those new interfaces that are not backwards compatible.
I just had to dump an old hard drive recently because it was Firewire400 that they don't even support on Apple laptops from 2010, that's just dumb. also dumb is the fact that companies release Hard drives with only ONE interface type. sure it's an easy way of making money every couple of years...

May 28, 2014 at 11:48PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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jobby

Jobby, Thunderbolt is not an Apple interface. It is an Intel Technology. Intel. And I am quite certain it will last a long time. TB1 allowed 10 Gbps in two directions. TB2 uses the same two channels but now allows data on each to flow the same direction. That means TB2 can deliver 20 Gbps in one direction. Even if USB 3 were to quadruple in speed it would not beat TB2 because USB transfers data in bursts, which is not suitable for editing. Copying data is fine. But TB like Firewire before it, is a steady stream of data which makes for trouble free editing. I can copy 50 gigs of data between my two Pegasus R6 drives set to RAID5 (10TB each) in just a couple of minutes. In addition, TB is a display port and can daisy chain up to six devices, again which USB can't do. And if it isn't fast enough for you, wait till they move off the copper wire and on to the optical. Light moves at 186 thousand miles per second, or 3 x 10^8 m/s which is a lot faster than the Starship Enterprise.

May 29, 2014 at 1:00AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Scot

I was waiting for someone to bitch about fw400 Hahahahaha

May 29, 2014 at 9:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Loo

Firewire 400? Wow haha thats ancient dude Thats slower than USB 2.0.....

May 30, 2014 at 1:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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john jeffries

Didn't need to chuck out your FW 400 drive, Jobby...just needed FW 400 to 800 Adapter...and even if you only have TB, you can transfer too and from FW 400 devices (albeit, you will need a TB to FW 800 adapter, as well). Certainly not going to maintain the higher speeds of pure TB, but still better than USB...even for transferring data, I find...

May 30, 2014 at 3:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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JUdell

I'm puzzled by the lack of TB options for external storage... It seems reasonable to expect caddies that would accept SATA or SSD drives, but the options are thin on the ground.

May 30, 2014 at 2:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ben Johnston

May 30, 2014 at 6:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Rob Manning

Thunderbolt was originally designed to go to 100Gb/s, it has a lot more spare pins for data than USB, it could go to terabits one day in a fibre world, get over it. It is the same nonsense as USB and FireWire complementing each other. USB's supposed advantages to the better FireWire where nonsense in just about every way (disconnecting live connections being an exception). USB, like a virus went around stalling FireWire for years, under specced and under supported, by the time USB 2 was something FireWire circuits extra complexity was getting to be a small part of the picture, except it made it work a lot lot better than USB 1 and faster than USB2. The USB consortium should have allowed thunderbolt to use the USB 3 plug and combine with them, instead of pushing USB 3 on us in competition to tb. TB offers us a way to replace virtually every interface if the specification is managed right (dumb product/program definable, basic and secure and encoded point to point, streaming and network modes, to allow anything credible.

May 31, 2014 at 6:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Wayne Morellini

They should just make it all work magically together. I want to plug any cable into any connector and have it work properly even if it is upside down. USB, Firewire, Lightning, Thunderbolt and 1394 Printer cables should interconnect without the need for adapters.
Am I asking too much?

August 15, 2014 at 12:08AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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