SuperSpeed USB Coming, Whither Thunderbolt? Probably…
We have seen this movie before. More than a decade ago, the battle was between USB and Apple’s FireWire. Now, the fight is on again, this time between SuperSpeed USB and Apple’s Thunderbolt. We know which is technically superior, but there is also likely little question about which is cheaper and “good enough.”
When Apple introduced FireWire back in 1999, it was technically superior to USB 1 in every way — a faster, powered bus that could be daisy-chained and it worked quite well. Shortly thereafter, the orders of magnitude cheaper to implement USB 2 standard, which wasn’t as fast let alone as robust, was published and FireWire lost steam in the consumer space — good enough turned out to be best.
That said, the USB 3.0 Promoter Group has announced development of SuperSpeed USB. Yes, this marketing name was announced years back, but plain old 5Gbps USB 3 was rolled out first and they’re just now getting down to the brass tacks of the real SuperSpeed USB:
• New 10 Gbps USB data rate
• Compatibility with existing cables and connectors
• Improved data encoding for more efficient data transfer leading to higher through-put and improved I/O power efficiency
• Compatible with existing USB 3.0 software stacks and device class protocols
• Compatible with both existing 5 Gbps and new 10 Gbps USB 3.0 hubs and devices, as well as USB 2.0 products
Although 10Gbps is a good thing, that’s just a burst or short-term maximum throughput as opposed to Thunderbolt’s sustainable dual-channel 10Gbps throughput over a powered, daisy-chainable and, coming soon, fiber optic bus. However, there are two really big deals regarding SuperUSB with the first being all of that backward compatibility — hundreds of millions of things will, or at least potentially so, work with this new standard.
The second big deal is who is lining up squarely behind SuperUSB.
“We recognize that more mainstream client computing applications are going to need higher through-put to user-connected peripherals and devices,” said Alex Peleg, vice president, Intel Architecture Group. “Intel is fully committed to delivering 10 Gbps USB performance to these platforms while retaining compatibility with the existing USB ecosystem to help to satisfy user demand for low-cost, higher-performance solutions.”
That sounds enthusiastic and the USB 3 Promotion Group also has quotes from an HP, Microsoft, Texas Instruments and second Intel talking head.
The Empire Strikes Back, Again
Though the spec isn’t due to be finished until sometime after mid-year and product likely won’t arrive en masse for a year after that, SuperSpeed USB seems overwhelming likely to happen and cheaply.
Like with USB 2 adoption back in 2001, there might be a stutter step or two before things get rolling, but good enough SuperUSB momentum will build.
That said, the Fairer Platform recently noted reports that Intel Thunderbolt penetration has stalled due to high costs. Fundamentally, aside Apple’s Mac computer lines, Thunderbolt integration is restricted to high-end PCs used by video, image and data professionals.
Yup, we have seen this movie before and it will probably end when Apple introduces its next technically superior serial bus solution some years from now…
What’s your take?