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Why Thunderbolt Is Dead In the Water 568

Posted by Soulskill
from the cables-can't-swim dept.
adeelarshad82 writes "In the same way that Apple championed FireWire for the replacement of parallel SCSI, Thunderbolt is meant as the next big thing in video and audio peripheral interfaces. Plus, it's Apple's move to beat USB 3.0. However, Thunderbolt is off to a slow start, for a number of reasons — from cost to the technology's features in comparison to USB 3.0 — which is why it may be dead in the water."
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Why Thunderbolt Is Dead In the Water

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  • Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Bishop923 (109840) on Friday May 20, 2011 @03:32PM (#36194692)

    New technology is expensive and uncommon a couple months after release. News at 11.

    • Yes and no. I have friends (typically video geeks) who use Firewire for doing mass transfers because it is more efficient than USB 2.0. I'm not sure we can call Thunderbolt dead in the water since as far as I can tell it wasn't really touted as a replacement for USB 3.0. For what it's worth, I believe that it will be used by the Mac crowd for awhile and then become relegated to the same niche market that Firewire currently occupies.
    • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MetalliQaZ (539913) on Friday May 20, 2011 @03:37PM (#36194762)

      That much is obvious, yes. But if you read the article, you will see that the author's primary problem with Thunderbolt is that it offers practically no improvement over USB3, while cutting out the backwards compatibility that was originally intended in the LightPeak demo. Combine that with the high cost of entry, and why would anyone want to switch to the new technology? Without high volume, the price will never come down. THAT is what the author meant.

      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by UnknowingFool (672806) on Friday May 20, 2011 @04:03PM (#36195096)
        My understanding is that USB3 has a max theoretical transfer rate of 4 GB/s while Thunderbolt is at 10 GB/s per channel giving 20 GB/s total. Also overhead limits USB3 having a peak of 3.2 GB/s. Thunderbolt is designed more to replace eSATA and FireWire than USB.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by sunderland56 (621843)

          Thunderbolt is at 10 GB/s per channel giving 20 GB/s total.

          s/channel/direction/

          e.g. if you are capturing video, you have a max of 10 GB/s for the incoming video data, and 10 GB/s to send "stop" and "play" commands to the device.

        • by sjbe (173966) on Friday May 20, 2011 @04:53PM (#36195690)

          Thunderbolt is designed more to replace eSATA and FireWire than USB.

          Neither one of which has taken the world by storm... Frankly we don't really need a replacement for either of those. They're fine but niche. There is more to having a successful interface than transfer rates. Cost to manufacture, legacy hardware compatibility, current equipment needs, licensing terms, customer demand and more all play a role. The opportunity for Thunderbolt is if it can combine the video (usually VGA/DVI/HDMI) and peripheral ports (usually USB) into a single interface. USB replaces several types of cables but it isn't quite capable enough to replace dedicated video cables. It's not clear that USB3 will be fast enough either. If Thunderbolt is cheap enough to manufacture and has a performance advantage that lets people further reduce the number of different cables they need, then it will have a chance.

          What is wanted is something that is fast, cheap, compatible, reliable, easy to configure and minimizes the number of different cables we need. Frankly most PCs should ideally have no more than two cable types - one high power cable to power the device (when needed) and one type of data cable that can also handle low voltage DC power needs. Nothing wrong with using specialized cables for specific performance needs but that doesn't apply to most of us most of the time. I don't really care if the data cable is USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt or something else entirely but there is a lot to be gained by standardizing on a suitable general purpose data cable. USB comes closest to this ideal right now. (Yes Firewire could do the job but it's too expensive and lost that battle with USB long ago) Perhaps Thunderbolt will take it the next step. Only time will tell.

        • by rvw (755107)

          My understanding is that USB3 has a max theoretical transfer rate of 4 GB/s while Thunderbolt is at 10 GB/s per channel giving 20 GB/s total. Also overhead limits USB3 having a peak of 3.2 GB/s. Thunderbolt is designed more to replace eSATA and FireWire than USB.

          If USB is like it always was, it's not only 1/3 of the speed of Thunderbolt, it's probably much less than that. More than ten years ago I had a 8-speed SCSI cd-burner, and a 32-speed IDE burner. The IDE cdrom should have been 4x faster, it was about 2x slower. I've seen the same with USB2.0 and Firewire, although less extreme. If Thunderbolt is said to be 3x faster than USB3, then in real life it will probably be 6x or even 10x faster. Thunderbolt will have its place, but like SCSI and Firewire, it will pro

      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday May 20, 2011 @04:13PM (#36195212)

        The author is an idiot. Comparing USB and thunderbolt just proves it. Thunderbold will expose pci-express lanes to external devices. USB does not even have DMA.

      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by shmlco (594907) on Friday May 20, 2011 @04:22PM (#36195344) Homepage

        You mean no improvement other than basically making the PCI Express bus available to any device that wants to use it?

        No improvement other than running TWO bi-directional 10 Gbps channels through a single connector? (4x USB 3.0)

        No improvement other than allowing manufacturers to build Firewire, eSATA, USB, and even USB 3.0 adaptors and docks connecting to a single port?

        No improvement other than (in the future) allowing you to snap in a MagSafe power cord and get power AND Thunderbolt connectivity?

        No improvement other than letting you run multiple monitors simultaneously? (new iMac)

        Those "no improvements"?

      • Re:Really? (Score:5, Informative)

        by dgatwood (11270) on Friday May 20, 2011 @04:45PM (#36195600) Journal

        Actually, that's not true. Thunderbolt provides a significant win over USB 3 in nearly every way. The author just doesn't get it.

        First, Thunderbolt is based on PCIe for transport. That means that it's a very lightweight protocol, unlike USB, which is very heavyweight. For things like audio interfaces, USB 3 is dead in the water because it offers no advantages over USB 2 (because throughput doesn't matter past a certain point). Thunderbolt, by contrast, should offer a significant advantage in latency over FireWire (and a huge advantage over USB 2), while requiring less CPU overhead than USB or FireWire.

        Second, it's entirely unclear to me why anyone supports USB 3 at all. For hard drives and similar, USB 3 offers no advantages over eSATA. For almost all other devices, USB 3 offers no advantages over USB 2. So ignoring portable devices that only have room for one port, USB 3 is a solution in search of a problem.

        Third, the author doesn't know what he's saying about copper being "crippled". It's not crippled at all. Thunderbolt is intended to eventually be supplemented with new cables that have an optical PHY (transceiver) inside the cable instead of on the logic board. Such a design provides exactly the same advantages as LP (distance), but without all the problems that optical interconnects inherently suffer. To describe thunderbolt as "crippled" because it uses wires is to fail to understand the technology at all. It's exactly as fast as Light Peak was originally intended to be for its initial rollout.

        Fourth, using LP in a USB connector turns out to be a bad idea in general. USB is a great interconnect for low bandwidth devices. It's not so great for talking to displays. With desktops tending to go under the desk, and with more and more people using laptops with external displays at home, there's good reason for wanting all of your external devices to be plugged into your display. Sharing a single data connection for your display cable and your peripherals is a tremendous win—so much so that support for transport of USB data was actually built into the original DisplayPort specification. Thus, Thunderbolt shouldn't be thought of necessarily as a replacement for USB, but rather as a replacement for other display technologies. With Thunderbolt, you could trivially build a monitor that provides full-performance, low-latency FireWire, USB, and eSATA connectors on top of your desk. Try that with USB 3.0.

        Finally, the cost of Thunderbolt hardware is probably greatly exaggerated. Sure, it probably does cost $90 to add TB into a motherboard design right now, but that's because A. it isn't integrated into the motherboard chipsets yet (wait for Ivy Bridge), and B. it likely requires a significant board redesign to free up enough PCIe lanes to support the metric crapton of bandwidth involved.

        Thunderbolt will become a lot more interesting when Intel starts integrating it into their chipsets in Ivy Bridge. Until then, it's really not feasible to most folks to start using it yet. Thus, it's not at all a surprise that adoption has been slow. Right now, it's basically at the developer preview stage, with AFAIK exactly one working motherboard implementation (Apple's).... The author should at least wait until Ivy Bridge before making predictions about the technology....

        • Just a couple of points. USB vs eSATA. USB carries power, and can power most laptop style hard drives, while eSATA does not (meaning you need an extra cable, and possibly an extra power source). So that's an advantage of USB over eSATA.

          I agree that it's too early to dismiss Thunderbolt yet. The problem is that it's yet another connector.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          USB 3 offers no advantages over eSATA

          The power is in the connector.
          Everything has a USB port.

          Therefore it Just Works.

        • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Friday May 20, 2011 @07:07PM (#36197062) Homepage Journal

          USB 3 offers no advantages over eSATA

          Did they deprecate hubs in the USB3 spec?

        • by arkhan_jg (618674)

          Actually, that's not true. Thunderbolt provides a significant win over USB 3 in nearly every way. The author just doesn't get it.

          Well, one thing USB 3.0 has going for it over thunderbolt is that you can plug USB1.1 and USB2.0 devices into it. There's an *awful* lot of those. USB 3.0 is slowly replacing USB 2.0, just as USB 2.0 replaced USB 1.1. I still have a couple of pci USB 2.0 cards I got when USB 2.0 was still a fairly rare beastie on motherboards. Give it another couple of years, and the majority, if

  • by jayveekay (735967) on Friday May 20, 2011 @03:33PM (#36194706)

    The title and the summary seem to be in disagreement. How do i know which to trust?

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Perhaps if Netcraft would have some sort of means of confirmation it might finally be settled.

  • Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Walt Sellers (1741378)

    Let's not turn all the world into a pro wrestling match...

    Apple built Thunderbolt with Intel, not against them. If it was only about fighting USB, they wouldn't team up.

    • Let's not turn all the world into a pro wrestling match...

      Apple built Thunderbolt with Intel, not against them. If it was only about fighting USB, they wouldn't team up.

      Intel "built" thunderbolt, and partnered with Apple to put it into the market on Macbooks first. a non-trivial difference.

    • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday May 20, 2011 @03:48PM (#36194874)

      Intel did. Intel designed and developed the tech, and Apple just came to them and said "Hey, here's some ideas for the final implementation, and we'd like to put it in our devices soon." It is an Intel technology, and one in development for quite awhile.

      It is targeted at something of a different market from USB3. It is more expensive for devices to implement, and less secure, since it is really just an external PCIe port. However that means full DMA, low latency and so on.

      They are complimentary technologies.

      • by Altus (1034)

        Yes, but remember, if it fails in the market its another example of Apples shitty track record with developing standard connectors and it is becomes a huge success and the Mac Book pros cause a a bunch of equipment manufacturers to build devices for it, then its Intel's technology and Apple had nothing to do with bringing it to market or helping to make it successful.

  • It seems these days any new technology which Slashdot takes a dislike to goes on to enjoy huge success. Take for example the iPad, Facebook, Twitter... I am almost tempted to predict that Thunderbolt will be a huge success :)

    • by Jonner (189691)

      It seems these days any new technology which Slashdot takes a dislike to goes on to enjoy huge success. Take for example the iPad, Facebook, Twitter... I am almost tempted to predict that Thunderbolt will be a huge success :)

      There are many excellent reasons to dislike every one of your examples independent of their successes. You might as well predict that Window Phone 7 will be a huge success.

    • by hedwards (940851)

      It's more likely the fact that people here actually understand the implications of Apple's iPad strategy, the privacy problems with Facebook. I'm not sure specifically what is wrong with Twitter, but it's probably the fact that it encourages twats to tweet about twits and give people the idea that we care about those sorts of arrogant gits.

      As far as Thunderbolt goes, I think it's at least a reasonable debate to have. Right now I can't imagine it being of any particular utility for the mainstream. Although,

  • by The Dawn Of Time (2115350) on Friday May 20, 2011 @03:34PM (#36194716)

    The article reads like a big Apple bash, even though Thunderbolt is Intel's tech. The points about cost are probably valid but the whole thing comes off as a big unsourced bitchfest.

  • If you think theres no compelling difference between the CPU-bound USB 3.0 and what is essentially an external PCIe connector, you need to go back and do some more research. LightPeak /Thunderbolt is just plain better than USB3.0; downsides do include lack of backwards compatibility, and that may prove to be its biggest obstacle, but to argue that "USB3.0 is good enough" is just wrong.

    As for price, USB3.0 has been out for about a year now, with Thunderbolt only having rolled off the shelves-- and this, onl

    • I think that thunderbolt will fail, but I have not spent a lot of time looking at it vs USB 3.0. My opinion is based on the way it is being introduced and the way the companies behind it seem to be positioning it from my perspective (We've got this great new interface that our competitors don't).

      That said your final line says the key thing. "Its(sic) way too early to tell, and anyone saying otherwise is full of it."
    • by gad_zuki! (70830)

      >If you think theres no compelling difference between the CPU-bound USB 3.0 and what is essentially an external PCIe connector

      Don't confuse merit with popularity/cheapness.

      Firewire was the superior standard 10 years ago and USB killed it. Non-tech savvy consumers will shake their heads at Thunderbolt (silly name) and demand the "new" USB. They'll say they have lots of USB stuff and it needs to go faster. The tech geek in their family will be talking up USB 3.

      Its impossible to predict the future, but the

      • by 0123456 (636235)

        Firewire was the superior standard 10 years ago and USB killed it

        Firewire was superior in some respects, but inferior in others. For example, wasn't there a dollar per port license fee?

    • by MobyDisk (75490) on Friday May 20, 2011 @03:54PM (#36194964) Homepage

      You just spent 3 sentences telling people why anyone who argues differently from you is wrong, yet you provided not a single reason. The only fact you provided is easily disproven:

      Right now, on newegg, im only seeing USB3.0 on highend multi-hundred-dollar motherboards, so it seems to be a wash in that regard.

      Most certainly not! I see 29 USB 3.0 motherboards less than $100 at newegg. [newegg.com]. The $500 HTPC I bought this year has 2 USB 3.0 ports, as does my 8 month old laptop. By next year even the low-end will have it because manufacturers will have unloaded their USB 2.0 chipset boards.

    • Right now, on newegg, im only seeing USB3.0 on highend multi-hundred-dollar motherboards

      Newegg says you're [newegg.com] wrong [newegg.com].

    • If you think theres no compelling difference between the CPU-bound USB 3.0 and what is essentially an external PCIe connector, you need to go back and do some more research. LightPeak /Thunderbolt is just plain better than USB3.0; downsides do include lack of backwards compatibility, and that may prove to be its biggest obstacle, but to argue that "USB3.0 is good enough" is just wrong.

      As for price, USB3.0 has been out for about a year now, with Thunderbolt only having rolled off the shelves-- and this, only in Apples computers so far-- a few months ago. Right now, on newegg, im only seeing USB3.0 on highend multi-hundred-dollar motherboards, so it seems to be a wash in that regard.

      Its way too early to tell, and anyone saying otherwise is full of it.

      You see, only what you want to see: USB 3.0 Motherboards starting at $69 [newegg.com]
      The expansion cards for USB 3.0 start at $29.
      USB 3.0 consumer devices were released about a year and a half ago.

      Apparently you belong to those who "need to go back and do some more research". You make blanket claims of thunderbolt > USB3.0 but offer no specifics to support this argument. Finishing your post with "anyone saying otherwise is full of it" is just bait for someone like me to come and blow holes in your fail of a tho

  • I doubt Apple really wants to undercut USB. As someone above pointed out, if that was truly the case, Apple and Intel wouldn't be partners for Thunderbolt. You can easily predict, though, that Thunderbolt will become the preferred / default connection for iOS hardware, and probably no shortage of specialty devices for those willing to pay. Can't say for sure, of course, but "dead in the water" is clearly premature if not wholly misguided, given the broader outlook.
    • by Coren22 (1625475)

      I foresee a lightpeak docking station being introduced. You could even put USB3.0 in it :)

  • A standard which I can currently only plugin to an Apple computer but not PCs? DOA.

    Portable HDDs are supposed to be portable. Part of portability is working on multiple platforms. Until Intel gets their PC release in line it's only going to be used by those who know they'll only ever want their data on a Mac.

    • by Ex Machina (10710)

      Only FAT filesystems are truly portable between Windows and Macs & FAT is a terrible file system no big (> 4 or 2 GB) files. Totally useless for many tasks.

    • by itsdapead (734413)

      Portable HDDs are supposed to be portable. Part of portability is working on multiple platforms. Until Intel gets their PC release in line it's only going to be used by those who know they'll only ever want their data on a Mac.

      The target market for the first batch of TB peripherals is going to be Mac-using video pros, who are gagging for something better than FireWire800 and are frustrated by the removal of the Express card slot from all but the 17" MacBook Pro. So far there are kick-ass RAID arrays, Fibre Channel adapters, Pro video digitisers and extra Ethernet/Firewire ports. There is one "portable" HD (TB only) but it looks pretty high end (2 SSDs in a RAID) and its one of those big aluminium bricks from Lacie, not what I'd c

  • In the same way that Apple championed FireWire for the replacement of parallel SCSI

    Hmm... I've been in the datacenter a LONG time... and a photographer even longer. I don't recall many devices in the datacenter replacing their parallel SCSI with firewire, and I don't recall many cameras/camcorders using parallel SCSI and transitioning into firewire.

    • (It's been a while since I checked this out, so I could be wrong.)

      It's mostly camcorders and drives. Not cameras.
      All miniDV camcorders use Firewire. The ones you see now using USB are AVCHD camcorders.
      All HDV (pro-level) camcorders use Firewire as well.

      One of the benefits of firewire is that it's fast and predictable enough to allow for direct streaming in realtime from one piece of video hardware to another, building up your realtime processing pipeline.

      As in, you can take a HDV video source, connect it to

    • by fermion (181285)
      The SCSI port was standard on Apple machines untile the G4 cube around 2000. All Macs had a SCSI port for high speed communication(around 5mb/s) and RS-242 serial port for lows speed communication(.1 mb/s). Scanners, mass storage and the like used SCSI. The advantage was not only speed, but also plug and play. Many devices that used a traditional parallel port were a bear to set up compared to the automatic and reliable setup of the SCSI port. It also allowed for operations without special drivers. F
  • a zillion usb devices already available, work with usb, even if not at full speed
    almost nothing works on thunderbolt

    same thing happened with firewire, although at least cameras are using it

    thunderbolt and usb are both techs of intel so there isnt a lot of real competition anyway. the advantage of thunderbolt being that you can use it like a pci express lane.
    yeah - but. by the time there's enough devices that make sense, usb4 might be around (just like usb "killed" fw)

  • I have neither the time nor the inclination to research this, but I'm sure someone said the same thing in the early days of USB.

    We'll see if "rumors of its death are premature". I am just happy we are moving towards a faster local I/O standard and applaud Apple for having the guts to champion the technology it thinks is best.

  • Thunderbolt looks like a very useful technology. Unfortunately it will add several dollars to the cost of the PC, so probably only Macs will support it, so it'll be hard to find good, cheap monitors etc., and ultimately it will fail. Unless the PC manufacturers decide to grow a pair and do something useful for a change. The PC industry seems committed to the worst possible technologies that people will buy.
  • This is OK by me, if Apple will stick with LightPeak/Thunderbolt for at least as long as they've stuck with FireWire. I don't want to buy a bunch of devices that are obsolete in 2-3 years, but I can still use my FireWire 400 drives from 10 years ago, along with my FireWire 800 drives from this year. Who cares if Thunderbolt doesn't wipe USB3 off the face of the earth? It's cool, it' works well, and as long as it isn't forcefully obsoleted, I will be happy with it for years to come.

    I'd say Apple won't care; the port will be seen as a useful feature that is unique to Macs (or at least most heavily used in Macs). Intel probably doesn't mind if Thunderbolt stays a Mac niche thing either, as they are making money off Thunderbolt and USB3 both. No matter which way the hardware makers go, Intel is making sales and/or collecting royalties.

    So what's the big deal here? Does every new connector type have to become a universal standard to be considered a success? If you want a drive that will work on Mac/Win/Linux, get USB.

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