Thunderbolt or USB 3.0--Which is the Better Option?

Videomaker by Mike Wilhelm

This year at CES, we heard quite a bit about products coming out using USB 3.0 and/or Thunderbolt. Hard drives, card readers, monitors, even laptop docking stations. Thunderbolt is becoming more and more common in PCs, while the USB Promoter Group plans to update USB 3 in order for it to reach 10Gb/s, virtually eliminating the speed gap. Many devices come in one flavor or the other, but for some, you have a choice.

What's the Difference?

As of now, the primary difference between USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt

  • Thunderbolt transfer speed is 10Gbps, while USB 3.0 is 4.8Gbps. As mentioned, USB 3.0 may be upgraded to 10Gbps, but Intel (the patent holder for Thunderbolt) is planning changes of their own. Soon we will see optical cables for Thunderbolt devices, which will increase the transfer speed to a maximum of 20Gbps.

  • Thunderbolt can transfer up to 10 watts of power to devices, while USB 3.0 can transfer 4.5 watts.

  • Thunderbolt cables tend to be more expensive. A three foot USB cable can be purchased for just over two dollars, while a comparably sized Thunderbolt cable will set you back close to $50.

  • Thunderbolt doubles as a display connection. Out of the box, USB 3.0 doesn't support this. While DisplayLink has technology that will allow user to output a display signal to a monitor via USB 3.0, doing so requires additional hardware. read more...

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