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Intel’s Thunderbolt about to go the way of the Dodo

by on14 May 2014

What happens when you have Apple as a partner

The Thunderbolt hardware interface is about to get kicked to death by the new USB SuperSpeed specification. While Thunderbolt is not bad technology, it was mostly focused on Apple machines and has not seen hardly any adoption anywhere else. Intel has provided USB SuperSpeed and Thunderbolt with upgrades - USB moved to v3.1 (SuperSpeed+) and Thunderbolt to v2. And both upgrades double the maximum throughput speed -- USB 3.1 to 10Gbps and Thunderbolt 2 to 20Gbps.

Why USB SuperSpeed will win is because it is a lot more flexible and will scale well beyond 10Gbps and will top out at 40 Gbps. Thunderbolt 2 has an advantage over USB 3.1 - 10 watts of power compared with USB SuperSpeed's 4.5 watts. But the USB connector specification is also getting long-awaited improvements that will give users a reversible plug orientation and the opportunity for a more robust cable offering up to 100 watts of power. The new USB Type-C Connector means the cable and the connector plug are symmetrical so the technology will eventually offer 10 times the power of Thunderbolt 2.

This new USB Type-C Connector specification will be completed in July and a more robust version of the cables, capable of supporting 100 watts of power, are expected later next year. All this will place the technology in a good position to in the move to Ultra-High Definition (UHD) 4K television displays. 

Apple might have enough customers to keep Thunderbolt alive, but its early adoption by Jobs’ Mob has not been enough to establish it anywhere else. Beginning last year, HP also adopted Thunderbolt alongside USB 3.0 for a half dozen workstations, but it has yet to add it to any consumer devices.

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