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Gift shopping: USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt?

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#1 Bitbee


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Posted 03 December 2013 - 04:33 AM

I was trying to grab some USB 3.0 related bargains in this holiday season (such as this one: http://www.inateck.com/christmas/) to enhance the speed/ read speed on my Mac Pro but I've actually heard people on the forums say there should be all TB ports and no USB... I mean WHAT!? 

Honestly I was unable to find a thread dedicated to thunderbolt information and 'Ive been seeing a lot of people purchasing thunderbolt devices and wondering why... I think that bandwidth discussions are frequently confusing to people. In there attempts to have the best stuff, they wind up wasting money on the newest tech like thunderbolt. Its cool, but they don't need it.. Let me explain. I'm gonna talk about its practicality for data transfer and hooking up peripherals for the average consumer. That's 99% of us here.

Thunderbolt has a theoretical throughput of 10Gbps each direction. TB2 is even faster. Lets talk about storage and data transfer. Now, if you were going to buy something like an external hard drive or an enclosure, you'd want the fastest connection right? right? Well hold on...

Thunderbolt may have a theoretical throughput of 10Gbps. But where is the information coming from and going? We have to consider where the bottle necks are in the system. So if I wanted to transfer a file from my internal 1TB spinning 5400 rpm hard drive to my external Seagate 3TB barracuda drive connected via USB 3.0, where are the bottle necks?

USB 3.0 has a theoretical throughput of 5Gbps... Half of thunderbolt.
My drives are connected via SATA III 6Gbps
My external drive has read/write speeds of 170/152
My internal drive has read/write speeds of 80/74

That file has to be read from the internal HDD and written to the external HDD. Unfortunately, my super slow internal 1TB drive can only read at about 80 mbps... When I transfer that file, it happens at less than 100 mbps. Theres a USB 3.0 cable there with a throughput of 5000 mbps... But the drives can't access the data that fast. For anyone using a standard hard drive or even a single SSD, you're likely to never max out the current USB3.0 spec while transferring files. Even if you had a super fast platform, you're going to saturate the SATA III equipment before TB as well.

Now, if you have 4 SSDs all running in RAID0 and you're transferring to an external raid enclosure with 4 SSDs all running in RAID0, by all means, use thunderbolt to maximize your transfer speeds. Your hard disks can provide the data and write it fast enough to make use of the TB technology. However, if you have this sort of setup, I doubt you're at all concerned with the price of a thunderbolt cable.

Now, TBs daisy chaining capabilities are pretty cool. But seriously, most consumers are not going to have more than 3 devices and their computers likely provide the connections to manage that. In addition, USB 3.0 can take advantage of USB hubs and maintain connectivity and full transfer speeds to multiple devices. USB3.0 can power docking stations and provide video, audio, internet and a plethora of USB connected devices to the PC through a single USB3.0 cord. My dad is rocking this setup now with a Lenovo USB 3.0 dock powering two 20" monitors at 1080p, speakers, ethernet, mouse, keyboard and HDD... All through a single USB 3.0 cord to his laptop.

I've tried to convey that USB 3.0 can do anything the average consumer needs. In my opinion, it's the only option for the 99% of the consumer market. Even most of the consumer professionals couldn't take advantage of TB. And that's just the thing, its not just that you don't need it, you also probably can't even make full use of it. 

The cost of TB is astounding. There is no reason any consumers should be purchasing this stuff right now. Especially since you're not likely to notice a difference. And USB 3.0 is so much more abundant. 

For those of you who bought a thunderbolt apple display. By all means, connect it with a TB cable. For those of you considering picking up a second monitor and thinking you're limited to TB as your connection, simply use a display port to HDMI adapter and save a bunch of money.

Hopefully this information helps some people make smart financial decisions when they're shopping this holiday season. If you're a regular PC user or even a professional who's works frequently on a PC, think hard about whether or not the cost is worth it. Just because its new doesn't mean you need it, nor can you make use of it.

I'd like to hear your thoughts and please correct me if I'm wrong.


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#2 Kilroy


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Posted 03 December 2013 - 02:57 PM

Thunderbolt is at the early adopter stage.  That means you're going to pay a lot for it and there isn't much out there for it.  Is it really worth a $30 premium?  1TB USB 3 or Thunderbolt  The only real difference is the interface.


Searching New Egg most of the Thunderbolt devices are hard drives.  I wouldn't bother searching USB as there are way too many options.


If you don't have a specific device to use with Thunderbolt go with USB.  Maybe in a few years the Thunderbolt devices will catch up, but right now unless you have a need you're better off saving your money and go with USB.



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