Acer and Asus to Provide Momentum to Thunderbolt Adoption
IDG News reports that Acer and Asus have announced that they will begin adopting the new Thunderbolt connectivity standard next year, shifting momentum toward the platform developed in a collaboration between Intel and Apple and first released to the public in new MacBook Pro models back in February. Apple has since brought Thunderbolt to its entire Mac lineup with the exception of the Mac Pro, which has yet to be updated since the platform debuted.
A Windows PC with Thunderbolt technology was demonstrated onstage during a keynote address by Mooly Eden, Intel's general manager of the PC client group, at the Intel Developer Forum being held in San Francisco. Solid-state drives from Intel were connected to the PC and transferred four uncompressed videos at 700 megabytes per second.
Thunderbolt has been viewed as an alternative to USB 3.0, but as the technology was exclusively on Macs, only a few peripherals such as storage drives supported the interconnect. The adoption of Thunderbolt by device makers could grow when Acer and Asus adopt the technology in PCs.
Concerns about whether Thunderbolt would become a widely-adopted standard gained strength back in May when HP announced that it would be sticking with USB 3.0 and not adopting Thunderbolt. HP has of course since announced that it will be exiting the PC business.
While Apple had a headstart on Thunderbolt adoption, Intel has been pushing forward to speed adoption of the standard by providing partners with developer kits to help them build products using the platform. Intel has also committed to supporting Thunderbolt alongside USB 3.0 in its next-generation Ivy Bridge processor platform, making it easier for manufacturers to embrace the technology.
Top Rated Comments
Think of it this way: thunderbolt will launch next year. Apple got it early becas use they helped develop it. And apple products have longer refresh cycles.
Doubt it. Thunderbolt hasn't been around for even a year yet. Two PC manufacturers and Apple is probably enough at this point to get a decent amount of device manufacturers to come on board, at which point thunderbolt will look more enticing to the laggards. Only time will tell.
Thunderbolt is by far more flexible. You can connect anything to thunderbolt that you could connect to a PCIe port internally. There really are no disadvantages to thunderbolt besides lack of physical backwards compatibility with USB.
In a sense, USB has become a subset of thunderbolt. Thunderbolt encompasses display port, USB and PCI.
Some fun facts:
PCs and motherboards with USB 3.0 host controllers only began shipping in January of 2010. In the first 12 months, 12 million PCs were shipped with USB 3.0, a 3.5% attach rate overall. Estimated shipments of USB 3.0 enabled PCs in 2011 are at 68 million, or an 18% attach rate.
The first PCs with Thunderbolt controllers were shipped in March 2011. In the first 12 months Apple alone will ship more than 12 million Macs with Thunderbolt. With Acer and Asus on board, and if Sony fully embraces the Thunderbolt standard (and Intel can crank out enough silicon), second year shipments of Thunderbolt enabled PCs could rival the 68 million figure expected of USB 3.0.
What were witnessing here is the initial adoption rate of a brand new I/O interface rivaling that of the third major iteration of the most widely deployed I/O interface in history. Granted, Thunderbolt will not be able to maintain the same cadence as USB 3.0 once USB 3.0 is included in every major CPU and chipset by both Intel and AMD. Thunderbolt will be featured on some 2012 Intel platforms, but not integrated into Ivy Bridge chipsets. However, PCIe and DisplayPort, the two interfaces that Thunderbolt is based on, will be present on every major CPU and chipset.
So where are the devices? Although there are more than 10 billion USB devices in the wild, and sales of USB devices in 2011 alone are pegged at well over 3 billion, estimated sales of USB 3.0 devices are only at about 84 million, or a little more than 2% of the total. This has a lot to do with the fact that most USB devices cant really benefit much from SuperSpeed mode, so most companies arent rushing to redesign their products around a controller that currently sells at a premium. Due to this, and the fact that there isnt a heck of a lot of device controller silicon around yet, the only USB 3.0 devices currently on the market at all are HDDs/SSDs/drive enclosures, flash memory thumb drives, hubs, and memory card readers. None of these are terribly innovative or exciting, and even if USB 3.0 were to dominate these device categories entirely, they would still only account for about 15% of USB devices shipped annually.
Thunderbolt is a means of providing access to the PCIe and DisplayPort interfaces of a PC through a compact external connector which can be used with either copper or fiber interconnects. It is designed to sit right alongside existing USB ports. USB works great for more than 10 billion devices, its not going anywhere. Aside from the fact that both interfaces offer gobs of bandwidth (a single Thunderbolt channel currently provides 1000 MB/s of real world throughput, and a USB 3.0 host controller can muster 325-370 MB/s on a good day), the protocols used are radically different and have hugely different applications. This is evident in the Thunderbolt products that have shipped or been announced in the 6 months since Thunderbolt made its debut. Some of which can be seen here: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4779/tons-of-thunderbolt-peripherals-at-idf
So wait, whats that? Its been six months and we havent seen 82 million Thunderbolt mass storage devices shipped to equal the sum total of boring USB 3.0 devices to hit the market thus far in 20 months? Thunderbolt is clearly DOA... Either that or device manufacturers are having a little trouble getting their mitts on sufficient quantities of Thunderbolt controller chips. But even if that werent an issue, just as SuperSpeed mode is only useful for a small percentage of all USB devices, Thunderbolt is also best suited for only certain types of applications. Im sure we will see some drive enclosures for SSDs or disk arrays as well as pro audio and video gear eschewing USB 3.0 for Thunderbolt, but in general there wont be a ton of overlap with what is typically USB territory. This means that the device shipment volume numbers between the two interfaces will never be comparable (sort of like the situation with FireWire). Im sure if everyone tries hard enough they can conjure in their mind an analogy that illustrates that a lower volume shipment figure does not equate to a total fail. Anyway, Thunderbolt devices are actually shipping. People have actually purchased and are using Promise Pegasus RAID products. Most products are not shipping yet because all the host controllers are belong to Apple right now.
What of the relative costs? Chips, like any commodity, have an associated production cost which when combined with supply and demand factors results in a certain market price. With most new technologies, initial supply is often lower than demand, and production costs are significantly higher than later on in the production cycle. Both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt host controllers are still in the early stages of production. As die sizes are reduced, yields increase, further production capacity is brought online, and supply pressure is eased, chips become much cheaper. Renesas (NEC) just released their 3rd gen USB 3.0 host controller which reduced die size by 51% over the previous generation. They also more than doubled monthly production volume, and consequently prices have dropped by about 70% from 2010 levels to about $1 per controller. Similar economies of scale will apply to Thunderbolt, although the die sizes might necessarily remain a bit larger, and unfortunately it would appear that Thunderbolt devices will always carry an additional price premium. First of all, its Intels baby, and for the most part they can keep their margins where they like. Secondly, Thunderbolt devices require the same host controllers that PCs do. The architecture being essentially peer to peer doesnt lend itself to cheap and dumb device controller silicon the way USB does. This was something FireWire also suffered from. In the future, though, this price premium for devices should be in the neighborhood of $15 at the retail level, give or take. Right now you also have the $49 cable issue, but once again, its only because Apple is the only game in town (and the cheapest cable they sell lists for $19). There is no reason why we cant expect lesser priced Thunderbolt cables to hit the market in the next 12 months.
The semantics over what constitutes a Thunderbolt device are ridiculous. If it contains a Thunderbolt controller and is connected to a PC using a Thunderbolt cable, its a Thunderbolt device, pure and simple.
Nobody has announced a Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 host adapter yet, despite the number of people who believe such a thing would be worth overpaying for at this stage in the game. Im guessing that not many developers feel like investing the time and effort into coding their own USB 3.0 drivers for Mac OS X when Apples drivers will be freely available in less than six months. The other factor here is that the current crop of Sandy Bridge Macs will likely be the only machines to ever ship with Thunderbolt and not USB 3.0... So the total audience for such a product isnt exactly a massive one. In the end though, Im sure such a creature will come into existence, as the construction of it should be relatively simple.