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USB 3.0 vs. Thunderbolt

USB 3.0 is a major revision of the Universal Serial Bus standard for connectivity, adding things like a 5 Gbit/s transfer rate. Thunderbolt is a connecting interface that was developed by Intel in collaboration with Apple and was brought to the commercial market with their MacBook Pros in 2011. It’s a battle of the standards: USB 3.0 vs. Thunderbolt. Since Apple produce the computers on which their operating system runs, they can choose to run the Thunderbolt interface – and some Windows computers are now implementing it too. But which is better?
Thunderbolt boasts a 10 Gbp per second transfer rate and it can send and receive data at this speed simultaneously. USB 3.0 now offers the same feature, but it only has a rate of 5 Gb a second. Thunderbolt, then, is obviously better (Intel boasts that it can “transfer a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds), but to take full advantage of the speeds you will need high end components that will be able to make the most of what is on offer. That means there is an added cost. There are only a few applications that will need to make use of those speeds, so whether or not that double speed is worth it right now is up for debate. USB 3.0, on the other hand, is the pretty much the same price as the former 2.0 standard, making it an obvious choice.
In terms of backwards compatibility, USB 3.0 is fully functional with USB 2.0 devices. You can hook up USB 2.0 devices to a 3.0 port too, although you won’t get the benefits that the latter offers. This compatibility is great news for consumers as it ensures a smooth transition between the two standards. Thunderbolt uses both the PCI Express and DisplayPort protocols. You will need a cable adapter to connect to a DisplayPort display though. Obviously, though, since Thunderbolt is a brand new technology the backwards compatibility is small.
At the moment Thunderbolt is becoming more and more popular with manufacturers. Even AMD, Intel’s chipset rivals, have stated that they will be adopting the technology. And since Intel is a big force in the computing world, it is only natural that they are going to be pushing Thunderbolt over USB 3.0 as much as possible. It is also relatively easy for manufacturers to engineer Thunderbolt devices. However, USB 2.0 is already so popular – adoption rate of the standard is virtually 100% - and so it is not likely that the technology will be going anywhere any time soon. Besides, there are already lots of devices that are using USB 3.0 on the market.
It isn’t necessary one over the other. USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt could work together in the market and for a while that is very likely to be the case. Apple will of course promote Thunderbolt and that is more likely to appeal to the professionals due to the larger price tag and thanks to the superior speeds that it brings. But for now it is still early days to call which standard will triumph.


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