USB Speeds and Competition with Intel’s Thunderbolt Heat Up

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Five Key Technology Trends at CE Week 2014

Most of the headlines are dominated by exciting cutting edge developments such machine-to-machine (M2M), the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable computing. But important news is being made on more mundane topics. The newest member of the USB data transfer family of standards, USB 3.1, is a good example.

Digital Trends’ William Harrel last month posted a rundown of what the new USB standard looks like and where it is. USB 3.1 offers to match Thunderbolt while offering all the advantages of USB 3.0. Though both USB 3.0 and 3.1 have both been dubbed “SuperSpeed USB,” USB 3.1 is backward compatible to earlier versions of USB and double the speed of USB 3.0. It now matches Intel’s Thunderbolt at 10 Gigabits per second. Harrel points out that Thunderbolt has no speed limitations compared with the USB family and Intel has just released Thunderbolt 2, which doubles Thunderbolt’s speed to 20Gbps.

The battle between Thunderbolt and USB apparently will be ongoing. Digitimes Research found that the new version of the standard “will still struggle to replace HDMI and Thunderbolt for Ultra HD image transmissions.” The problem is that transmission of Ultra HD requires 12Gbps capacity, which means that only half the vertical refresh rates can be supported. Both HDMI 2.0 (which is upgrading to 18Gbps) and Thunderbolt (20Gbps) can handle full refresh rates, the story said.


The first step is for a new standard to be included in the building blocks. DigitalVersus offers pictures of motherboard from ASUS that it theorizes will end up in the ASM1142 controller from ASMedia.

The USB Implementers Forum this spring released a wireless standard that seems intended to unite USB with a variety of air interfaces:

The MA-USB specification is designed to enable devices to achieve wireless gigabit transfer rates while leveraging existing USB infrastructure. The specification allows wireless devices and docking stations to communicate over the USB protocol, without the need for a physical USB connection. MA-USB supports multiple media types, including Wi-Fi® operating in 2.4 and 5 GHz; WiGig operating in 60Ghz; WiMedia UWB radios operating between 3.1-10.6GHz, and other existing or new wired or wireless media types that want to use the USB protocol as the transport. MA-USB is compliant with SuperSpeed USB (USB 3.1 and USB 3.0) and Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0).

Separately, the USB IF offers a handy “cheat sheet” with the highlights of USB 3.0 and 3.1.



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jun 27, 2014 2:22 AM ernesto ernesto  says:
Just a note, thunderbolt 2 was not "just released", it has been incorporated into some computer hardware since August last year and apple has incorporated it into its -Pro range of computers. Reply

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