The Future: USB 3.1 or Intel Thunderbolt?

The Future: USB 3.1 or Intel Thunderbolt?

By Derek Alan Smith

The 2014 CES Introduced USB 3.1 as a future new standard for USB data transfers. Competition has been the driving force of the computer industry since the beginning, and the consumers have been the greatest benefactor to this constant technological race. Just when you thought you had the latest and greatest USB 3.0 on your new computer system, along comes USB 3.1. Was there something wrong with USB 3.0, and did it really need an update? Yes and No.

USB 3.0 was trumped by Intel’s own version of USB, called “Thunderbolt”. Intel is promising version-one speeds of up to 10 Gb/s to start with, but 20 Gb/s in a parallel configuration for version 2.0 models. So far the USB standard is keeping up with “Thunderbolt” neck and neck with the introduction of USB 3.1 speeds, matching the 10 Gb/s pace – double the rate of what your little blue USB 3.0 port can do now.


Currently the USB Group, a collection of seven companies that includes Intel’s competition. Intel has had the Industry standard since 1991, so why the spin-off? Does Intel want their product to become the new industry standard, or do they have something else in mind? One thing is certain, If Thunderbolt takes over as a new standard then you can throw away all your old USB plugs and buy all new Thunderbolt equipment.

It is this writer’s own personal position that the HDMI plug will be the one to become obsolete, due to Intel’s newest Thunderbolt Technology with computer video streaming and 4K technology breaking loose. But as to who will be the winner in this new bout of Compu-competition? Well us, the consumer – but as always, it comes at a price. There is a cost for the enthusiast to have the best, fastest and newest. But some of us love that stuff, and will welcome the new “War of the Plug”. For the rest of the world, they will get the faster stuff in the end, as well after the new technology trickles down to the masses. For now, the new Thunderbolt plugs will be limited to Macintosh computing only.

Maybe Mac buyers are more open to new technology, or have more money to spend, or the spirit of Steve Jobs is still behind this; but the race is still nose to nose. USB 3.1 is now twice as fast as USB 3.0, and Intel’s Thunderbolt is currently at the same limit. The possible applications of this new speed increase actually could fill a whole other article, so I won’t go there. But if you know anything about computing you can see the implications of this new technology.

In the past it has not always been the best product that goes on to become the industry standard. Sony’s BataMAX had more resolution than VHS, but VHS won because more movies were on VHS and it was less expensive. Microsoft beat Apple’s Mac OS because more programs and games were available on the Windows computer platform,. It certainly wasn’t because the Windows OS was better, because the Mac OS was not as resource hungry as the Microsoft competition. So the possibility that Intel Thunderbolt could totally replace USB standard is possible, but not highly probable. Chances are there will just be a new Thunderbolt plug where that pesky old “1394 Firewire” port used to be.

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