Wednesday, 3 August 2011

USB 3.0 At 5Gbit/Second Versus Intel’s Thunderbolt at Dual 10Gbit/Second Full Duplex Channels

USB 3.0 has been a much anticipated update to the USB spec since we have all felt the I/O bandwidth pinch that the USB 2.0 bus provided (~30-35MB/Second).

USB 3.0

So far, our experiences with the USB 3.0 implementation both on Intel’s motherboards via the Renesas USB 3.0 chipset and on add-in cards using the same or other USB 3.0 chip has been spotty at best. The new spec is definitely showing its immaturity at this time.

However, that 90MB/Second backup speed for ShadowProtect or the 110MB/Second copy speeds to a USB 3.0 connected hard drive (that copy speed is the sustained data throughput limit a 7200 RPM SATA drive has on average) is a real benefit to us here.


Enter in Intel’s “new” specification called Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt is a dual channel fully duplexed 10Gbit/Second I/O specification with a connection that is shared with DisplayPort.

From the Apple page linked above:


We came across Thunderbolt not because of our Mac involvement, which is currently minimal due to client server based needs, but because we had signed into the Promise Partner site and saw this:


So, we highlighted Thunderbolt Technology and ran a Bing Search out of IE:

Among the results was the following article:

Thunderbolt was originally “Light Peak” which is tagged in the above Engadget article:

A good portion of the above tagged articles have come in the last six months!

Some Thoughts on Thunderbolt

With USB 3.0 being relatively new to the I/O technology scene and now with Thunderbolt going live on Apple products we have what looks to be an I/O technology competition/war brewing . . . maybe.

The following snip is from Apple’s site showing the back of their current line of iMacs (as of this writing):


Note the distinct lack of a USB 3.0 port on the back of the iMac. :(

Back when we did start to see FireWire showing up on most PC motherboards after the technology was introduced on Apple platforms. However it was not adopted too widely by peripheral manufacturers beyond video camera manufacturers and a few external storage manufacturers.

One of the benefits to Thunderbolt is its use of an existing DisplayPort connector. Many Intel motherboards are already shipping with at least one of these ports on board so hopefully enabling Thunderbolt Technology on those ports would not be too much trouble.

However, the lack of a USB 3.0 port on an Apple forces manufacturers to configure their connectivity type devices with at least two ports to accommodate the two specifications . . . or run with one or the other as in the case of the Promise Pegasus that is Thunderbolt only.

Having to configure two separate connectivity technologies on any direct attached device can be quite expensive both in R&D and manufacturing.


Hopefully we are not on the brink of another form of technology competition much like VHS versus Beta or Blu-Ray versus HD-DVD.

FireWire had its place back when we had very limited I/O connectivity solutions.

But today, with USB 3.0 providing more than enough bandwidth to run a 7200 RPM SATA drive at its full sustained transfer rate we would be hard pressed to look to Thunderbolt as a “better” option.

We see a niche for direct attached storage devices like the Pegasus and others.

However, for most folks that are keen on streaming video, storing video, streaming music, and storing music there are a plethora of Open Source and Windows Home Server based solutions that provide ample storage _and_ are Mac compatible.

Philip Elder
Microsoft Small Business Specialists
Co-Author: SBS 2008 Blueprint Book

*Our original iMac was stolen (previous blog post). We now have a new MacBook Pro courtesy of Vlad Mazek, owner of OWN.

Windows Live Writer

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