October 11, 2011, 12:48 PM — Intel will tell you its new high-speed interconnect technology, Thunderbolt, is not in competition with Universal Serial Bus (USB), the ubiquitous standard for connecting computers with other devices.
Apple has gone all in with Thunderbolt-enabled products, and there are a dozen or so manufacturers ready to ship Thunderbolt-enabled systems next year, according to an Intel spokesman. At the Intel Developer Forum in September, a dozen new products were displayed with Thunderbolt ports.
"You can look forward to seeing Windows-based systems with Thunderbolt in market in the first half of 2012," said Intel spokesman Dave Salvator. Microsoft has also already demonstrated Windows 8 support for Thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt, announced earlier this year, offers twice the performance of the latest SuperSpeed USB (3.0) interconnect. So there is reason to believe it could someday overtake USB, the most ubiquitous external I/O technology ever created.
Salvator said Intel sees Thunderbolt as "complementary" to the USB protocol, which Intel also co-developed, but it is serving the needs of devices with higher performance requirements.
"When Intel comes out with Thunderbolt, a whole ecosystem begins building Thunderbolt stuff," said Steve Duplessie, founder and senior analyst of market research firm ESG.
According to Salvator, Acer and ASUS have publicly stated that their 2012 platforms will have Thunderbolt, but system manufacturers such as Dell, Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard have yet to do the same. All three told Computerworld that they're still "evaluating" the technology.
USB is among the most successful interfaces in the history of personal computers. Among PC and peripheral device manufacturers, USB adoption is virtually 100%. The USB installed base is more than 10 billion units, and those devices are growing at more than 3 billion a year. So it's hard to imagine any external device interconnect technology that could challenge USB.
SuperSpeed USB is optimized for power efficiency. It uses only 1.5 amps of power for charging devices, or about one-third of the power of its predecessor Hi-Speed USB (v2.0).