The Difference Between Thunderbolt and USB 3.0

By · Monday, July 9th, 2012

Difference Between Thunderbolt & USB 3.0

Thunderbolt was originally developed by Intel and was brought to the market by a technical collaboration with Apple. The Apple MacBook Pro lineup introduced on the 24th of February, 2011 was the first laptop to feature the Thunderbolt technology. USB 3.0 is the third major revision of the Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard which came into adoption since 2011.

While the USB 3.0 is considered a major update to the USB standard, Intel was developing an entirely new interface for connecting peripheral devices for computers. USB 3.0 could handle transfer speeds of up to 5 Gbps compared to the 480 Mbps speed the previous generation USB devices offered, which made the USB 3.0 devices 10 times faster than the USB 2.0 devices. Thunderbolt on the other hand, offers up to 10 Gbps transfer speed making it 20 times faster than the USB 2.0 and twice as fast as the USB 3.0 devices. In practical use, it would take around 70 seconds to transfer a full length high definition movie from your computer to your external Hard Disk via USB 3.0 whereas it would take less than 30 seconds for transferring the same movie via Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt is built with Copper electrical connections and therefore could supply up to 10W of power to the peripheral devices. Thunderbolt combines PCI Express (PCIe) and DisplayPort protocols into a serial data interface. The Thunderbolt chip switches between the two protocols to support varying devices. DisplayPort offers HD display support as well as eight channels of HD audio. A Thunderbolt connector has two full-duplex channels; each is bi-directional and capable of 10Gbps of throughput.

Even though Thunderbolt offers superior speed, performance and efficiency, the technology is yet to gain mass adoption. So far, the only company that has adopt this technology is Apple whose laptop market share is tiny compared to the more popular Windows machines. Intel, who had officially announced that there would be a number of Windows machines that support Thunderbolt by the first half of 2012, in the Intel Developer Forum, has been proved wrong mainly due to the popularity of the USB interface. Laptops from all the leading manufacturers now come with USB 3.0. In fact, the latest line of MacBook Pros introduced by Apple earlier this month features two USB 3.0 ports apart from a Thunderbolt port whose technology they officially endorse.

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