Is Thunderbolt a True USB Challenger?

By · Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Is Intel's Thunderbolt a True USB Challenger?Just when you thought the world of technology couldn’t get any more exciting, Intel finally releases information about their Light Peak technology now codenamed “Thunderbolt”. Now it’s actually been a couple of weeks since Intel’s big announcement but many are still left wondering if Thunderbolt will be a true competitor for the already existing and well established Universal Serial Bus, or USB.

On one hand you have USB which was established well over a decade ago that has undergone multiple upgrades since its inception leading to mass adoption worldwide; to the new thunderbolt technology that promises much faster performance and greater throughput for PCI Express and DisplayPort protocols. So does Thunderbolt have what it takes to be crowned champion?

Well it’s still early to tell as Thunderbolt is still in its infancy but from what has been released concerning Thunderbolt’s technology, its got some catching up to do if It wants to be crowned king. Intel’s Thunderbolt has so far only been backed by Apple, who originally backed Firewire before the technology failed to catch on, but with their backing and the recent popularity of Apple products, Thunderbolt has a serious chance to catch on. So far it promises up to 10GB/s transfer speeds per port and supports both data and display on a single cable.

However USB won’t give up its top spot without t a fight. Already USB has over a decade of wide spread adoption under its belt and shows no sign of slowing down. With the recent release of USB 3.0, even more people are turning to USB for their data and personal storage needs. Currently, USB 3.0 supports up to 5GB/s, allows for multi-directional data transfer, as well as has power saving protocols built in to eliminate vampire power.

Even now there are billions of USB devices worldwide and everyone has realized the true power of everything that USB has to offer; but perhaps the technologies can co-exist. Jason Ziller, director of planning and marketing at Intel, said “We expect [use of both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt] will enable various price/performance models and choices for consumers.” If the technologies can truly co-exist then perhaps we may see a new era of technology forming one where certain applications are best suited for different technologies, but both equally great in its own unique way.

Only time will tell how Thunderbolt will affect the popularity and the status of USB, but whatever the outcome, the next few years in technology should prove to be surprising!


Two-way communication is also possible. In USB 3.0, full-duplex communications are done when using SuperSpeed (USB 3.0) transfer. In previous USB versions (i.e., 1.x or 2.0), all communication is half-duplex and directionally controlled by the host.