From a technical perspective, Thunderbolt is obviously the superior standard to USB 3.0, offering faster transfer speeds up to 10Gbps where as USB 3.0 offers only 5Gbps.
Not only that, Thunderbolt offers a lot of promise in terms of compatibility with graphical and other peripheral devices, such as external GPU’s, for sake of argument, as well as an undoubtedly more popular potential use – the displays themselves. However, HP has already become the first in what looks worryingly like a long line of manufacturers to turn their back on the theoretically superior standard in favour of USB 3.0 exclusively. Sounding familiar yet?
Yes. Firewire, remember that? Vastly superior to USB 2.0 in terms of raw transfer speeds, and also boasted other uses such as networking, but today is used only by professionals and geeks on a very small scale, after USB 2.0 won out due to popular demand by the manufacturers.
So, are we heading the same way all over again? Are we honestly going to reject an astonishingly powerful standard in Thunderbolt in favour of the inferior, but readily available, standard in USB 3.0? The main reason behind the doubt over Thunderbolt is the availability of peripherals at the moment. Intel has only just developed and launched the standard originally dubbed ‘Light Peak‘, and it can only be found on the current range of MacBook Pro’s and iMac’s released this year.
Therefore, it is inevitable that the number of peripherals out there will be relatively few at this point, and so they are with the likes of the LaCie Little Big Disk being one of the few on the horizon. However, from a personal perspective I would be far more content waiting out another year with USB 2.0 before the devices to make full and proper use of Thunderbolt start to appear, than sell it out at such an early stage for a readily available standard.
The big question to the manufacturers…is patience worth more or less than immediacy? Consumers buying a new machine will inevitably want the best available options in their machine, and at the moment the most viable standard that falls into that category is USB 3.0. It could also be a simple matter of knowledge. Throw Thunderbolt in there and you have to spend a heap of money marketing it and explaining to the masses that this really is a viable alternative to USB 2.0, which we have become so accustomed to in recent years.
USB 3.0 seems the more natural progression, and with the backwards compatibility it currently offers, there’s certain to be fewer disgruntled customers who might have just splashed out on USB 2.0 peripherals only to find the standard is no longer accepted. Of course, this will be catered for in Thunderbolt-sporting machines by simply including additional USB 2.0 ports that are necessary for now.
There’s also a lack of clarity around who actually owns Thunderbolt. I’m sure manufacturers don’t want to be bowing to the wishes of their rivals in Apple, after Intel, the apparent developers of the system, seem to be becoming aligned with Apple in the development of both Thunderbolt and Apple machines.
If things are getting cosy over there, it may be difficult for another party to really push Thunderbolt with sincerity on their own machines in the eyes of the public, although in reality it’s a more open platform than that, it just might not be interpreted that way by people buying machines, in the same way that USB appears a standard thats everywhere these days. Even the likes of micro-USB, mini-USB and USB type B cause ambiguity, so something entirely new might just be a problem marketing-wise.
We’ll see how it pans out anyway, I would love Thunderbolt to go more mainstream, with incredible theoretical speeds that would simply make my life, as well as many other lives of course, that much less stressful.