Intel's Thunderbolt will start speed war with USB 3.0

Intel wants to make its Thunderbolt data transfer technology faster as it declares war on USB 3.0.

Thunderbolt, which sprung from an Intel and Apple alliance, is a high speed interconnect which can manage 10Gbps per channel, or at 20Gbps over the two existing data and display channels. At the moment Thunderbolt is faster than USB 3.0, which transfers data at 5Gbps.

But the USB Implementers Forum said that it would double the speed of USB 3.0 to match Thunderbolt’s data transfer rate per channel by the middle of this year. This is bad news for Aptel which has not really bothered to do much work upgrading the technology. The best it could manage was that Corning and Sumitomo had released cables that are lighter and thinner – yawn.

Aptel has a reason for the lack of enthusiasm. So far the technology is only found on Apple’s Macs and some Windows PCs. For a long time it was effectively throttled on its flagship Apple machines. Without a wider take-up there is no point really investing in it.

USB 3.0, particularly if it is the same speed, will clean Thunderbolt’s clock.

Jason Ziller, Thunderbolt marketing director for Intel told IT World that his technology would get a bit faster.

He said that the company is researching the use of silicon nanophotonics in Thunderbolt by 2015 to improve data transfer speeds to 50Gbps. He added that Intel will also adopt the faster PCI-Express 3.0 protocol for Thunderbolt to improve data transfer speeds.

He could not point to a specific time when improvements would be made.

Ziller added that Thunderbolt was still better than USB 3.0 because it could be daisy chained. We did a bit of a double-take at this as it appeared to be a reference to cottaging, which would be a real Intel novelty. However, sadly, it just turned out to be the ability to link lots of devices at once.

He also pointed out that Thunderbolt connections can be made over longer distances with the help of new products announced at CES.

Corning announced Thunderbolt Optical Cables that can stretch up to 100 meters. But this will not be in the shops until the end of the first quarter and there is no word on price.