In this day and age, speed and mobility are the best words to describe any kind of technology. Our need for higher speed and smaller devices has driven manufacturers to find newer technologies that work faster and are more powerful by each passing day.
And this brings us to our topic, which is Thunderbolt vs. USB 3.0. Many of you out there have heard of them and most likely have used them in the past or at this very moment.
Thunderbolt vs USB 3.0
What is Thunderbolt?
USB 3.0 needs no introduction. Even if you haven’t yet used it, you are very familiar with its predecessors: USB 1.1 and USB 2.0. These connection standards have been around for quite some time now and they connect just about any device to your computer. But what about Thunderbolt?
Well, Thunderbolt, just like USB, is a technology that allows users to connect devices to computers. Unlike USB, Thunderbolt offers much higher speeds for data transfer (up to 2 times faster than USB 3.0 and theoretically, 10 times faster) and it offers a better solution for charging devices such as smartphones or tablets, due to its 10 watts of power pumped. The battle between which of these standards is best is fought on more than one front.
The first one is speed. And here is where Thunderbolt shows what it can do. With a maximum speed of 10 Gbps, it’s more than double that of the USB 3.0 which can go up to 5 Gbps. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Thunderbolt offers better results for charging devices, because it can pump more power into them in the same time, compared to USB 3.0 who can give only 7 watts of power.
At this point, Thunderbolt looks like the winner, but when it comes to cost, the tides change in favor of the USB 3.0. Thunderbolt cables have circuits integrated in the connector and it uses dual multiplex copper wires to achieve 10 Gbps speeds both towards and from devices at the same time. And all of these are expensive, but by how much? Well, about 10 times more expensive. If the average USB 3.0 cable is about $4 – $5 for a 2 meter cable, the same 2 meter Thunderbolt cable costs about $49.
Also, devices that work on USB are cheaper. Think of the fact that an external storage solution working on USB 3.0 is about $100 (depending on the manufacturer and amount of space), while on the other hand, an external storage solution that works on Thunderbolt, like the Promise Pegasus R6, costs up to $1500 and it’s limited only to Mac users.
You can see that it’s quite a difference between these prices, and for now, USB 3.0 looks like it is the winner. We’ll have to see if Intel will implement alongside USB 3.0 SATA 3, in their new line of processors. The Ivy Bridge can accommodate the two other technologies, maybe the next one will have Thunderbolt installed natively.
Backwards Connectivity, Consumer Base
USB 3.0 is widely spread around the world, and it’s being used by thousands of devices. Although Mac users do not have access to USB 3.0 (only 2.0 is available for Mac users), USB is backwards compatible and so, any USB 2.0 device can work on USB 3.0 ports and vice versa. Thunderbolt, on the other hand, is available only for Mac users and it’s based on the Mini DisplayPort and it is backwards compatible only with that standard.
It can also be used in video and audio playback and in some external storage devices. But there are not nearly as many devices working on Thunderbolt than USB 3.0, and so, users might prefer USB 3.0 because of the number of devices that use this connection standard. This battle is far from over. We have to wait until Intel will provide support for Windows users and when the costs of Thunderbolt will be comparable to that of the USB 3.0.
Although this innovative technology promises much, at the moment it needs more support from device manufacturers to extend its reach from Apple displays to many others. And also, because of the high speeds that it supports, some might argue that its performance will be bottlenecked by other devices, such as SATA 3 devices. Or who knows, maybe Intel will give the Thunderbolt technology to AMD, so they can extend their client list.
USB 3.0 vs Thunderbolt: Comparison Table
Analysts say that these connection protocols will coexist for a period, and when Intel will provide support for Windows users and will cut back on the costs of the Thunderbolt Chipset and connectors, it might convince device manufacturers to produce Thunderbolt enabled devices. This will make Thunderbolt available for the public, and only then it might pose a danger to USB 3.0, but for now, we can even assume that it could fold into darkness like FireWire and other protocols before it. Take a look at the table below if you’re still not sure what to choose.
[small comparison table credit]: Computer World