Thunderbolt 3: Beating a dead horse?

Thunderbolt 3: Beating a dead horse?

Summary: Intel appears to be prepping a new Thunderbolt controller that's twice as fast as the current one. Should you care?

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, Intel
Thunderbolt 3: Beating a dead horse? Jason O'Grady

A graphic posted to a Chinese website (via MacRumors) claims to contain information about Intel's forthcoming third-generation Thunderbolt controller, code-named "Alpine Ridge." The slide claims that Thunderbolt 3 will double the bandwidth of the current Thunderbolt 2 –  announced in April 2013 – from 20 to 40Gbps. 

Thunderbolt 2 is supported in the Late-2013 MacBook Pro Retina and the 2014 Mac Pro, and PCs like HP's Z Workstation line.

The real question: are Intel and Apple beating a dead horse?

Why do Intel and Apple keep advancing a technology that few people seem to use? Mostly because it's backwards compatible with DisplayPort, so it's not really hurting anything or "stealing a port" and because pros that need it, really appreciate it. If you're transferring high resolution video files (like 1080p and 4K) and your business is deadline-based, Thunderbolt is a huge deal and there's no such thing as "fast enough." 

I've only ever plugged a garden variety (Thunderbolt 1) display into my Retina MacBook Pro. Even though my Mac supports Thunderbolt 2 there's a dearth of Thunderbolt 2-capable hardware on the market save a few SANscard cages and expansion boxes. Luckily Thunderbolt 2 is backwards compatible with the first Thunderbolt 1 and DisplayPort and doesn't require an adapter. 

According to the leaked graphic, Thunderbolt 3 will support PCIe generation-3, charging up to 100 watts, and have its power consumption reduced by 50 percent. Thunderbolt 3 will be also backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 2 and 1 (and presumably DisplayPort, too) but it'll require an adapter as the new TB3 port will be physically smaller than the current one. 

Although USB 3.1 just hit 10Gbps it only just caught up with Thunderbolt 1 (and is half the speed of the current Thunderbolt 2). 

Thunderbolt 2 bandwidth compared to USB 3.0 - Jason O'Grady

As I noted in my piece about Thunderbolt Networking, USB 3.0 is currently capable of pushing 5Gbps while Thunderbolt 2 is capable of 20Gbps and Thunderbolt 3 will double that to an impressive 40Gbps. Pros that need to push a lot of pixels across the pipe will love the increase in bandwidth, everyone else will continue to use USB. 

What do you use Thunderbolt for?

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Intel

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  • For some years, a big overkill.

    This technology doesn't make sense for consumers yet, since most of the devices that are usable for them are either hard drives or some sort of display, and while chaining displays and doing lots of stuff with large resolutions might actually benefit from this sort of bandwidth, hard drives are barely restricted by SATA I, SATA II and SATA III do NOT bottleneck most hard drives and most SSD's are just fine with SATA III too. This interface is better suited on datacenters or servers of some sort where you need an USB replacement that is freakin' fast, but you will still be bottlenecked by the rest of the components that cannot take advantace of that large amount of bandwidth.
    • Almost all...

      ...good SSD's are bottlenecked by current SATA limitations (and have been for a while).
      SATA has not kept up with the pace of technology. It was only 2-3 months after SATA III dropped that high end SSD's we're hitting it's speed limit (yet it took them years to ratify it)

      Thunderbolt is keeping ahead of the demand and it's also great for the ever growing small form factor computers that don't have PCI slots (ie. Mac Mini, Mac Pro, iMac and all the other all in one form factors)
    • why do we need to chew up PCI bandwidth for display ports?

      It's like running trains on our roads instead of their own tracks.
      Part of the problem is this notion that we should use this BUS for everything. Using it for displays is a waste of bandwidth.
    • A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

      INTERNAL hard drives may be restricted by SATA I/II/III but EXTERNAL hard drives are generally restricted by USB / eSATA, not by the disk's own SATA interface.

      MacBook users love Thundebolt precisely because chaining a display with storage and Ether gives the equivalent of a dock connector in a much more flexible and robust form.
      Henry 3 Dogg
    • I'll take a wait and see approach

      I 'm waiting for the Audio interfaces that have Thunderbolt capability to come down in price.
  • Some uses here...

    I have two Thunderbolt Display monitors hooked up to my iMac (in addition to itself being a 27" display), and I also have a WD Thunderbolt storage unit (6Tb) that I use mostly for Time Machine backups (a HUGE improvement over the USB 2.0 disk I was using at first!) The daisy-chaining is pretty cool - kind of takes care of the "short cable" problem when it arises.
  • If you're transferring high resolution video files

    Transferring to where? Its not a system interconnect so just to an external disk? Then what sneaker net? Your business processes suck if that's the case.
    • Transfer

      Ummm, perhaps transferring to a coworker to finish, edit, etc. There are a number of reasons to move it to another person.
    • ...its not a system interconnect ??

      err... you can run a perfectly good 20 GB point to point IP across it

      ideal for clustering 2014 MacPros
      Henry 3 Dogg
      • it's not 20gb of data bandwidth

        Thunderbolt is PCIe 2.0 so 2bits out of every 10 is error checking bits and not data.
        It's only 80% efficient so it's really 16gb not 20gb.
        PCIe 3.0 is 128/130 encoding so its over 98% efficient.
  • Why?

    Because that's how technology progresses.
  • Seconded on Thunderbolt for Data Centers

    While we are talking 10 GBps FCoE on enterprise SANs, being able to back up a few hundred Terabytes over Thunderbolt would be phenomenally cheaper and faster for the low end. I am surprised we haven't seen this in entry level server hardware or tape devices yet.

    Apparently we have been so busy moving things to the cloud that we forgot that we could manage to privatize some of the cloud with storage at reasonable speeds.
    • Thunderbolt for data centres??!

      Sorry but thunderbolt is not scalable for data centre use.
      It's a PCIe bus. Actually, not even, it's just a couple of lanes, more like a long distance highway rathan than a wide freeway.
      • ?

        Ever consider the Mac Pro as a 6 way IPoTB switch?

        Now what are you trying to scale?
        Henry 3 Dogg
        • what?

          Ever consider a PCIe x16 slot as 2 Mac Pros worth of bandwidth?
          Most motherboards have more than 1 of those and you can even, gasp....put thunderbolt port cards in them without paying for the GPU and excess non-modular bagage that you don't need.
          • Actually

            A PCIe 3.0 x16 slot has about 250% the data bandwidth of all 6 TB ports on a Mac Pro due to the 8/10 encoding of pcie 2.0 vs 128/130 of pcie 3.0
  • Who needs this?

    Everything other than daisychaining a bunch of 4k monitors would bottleneck Thunderbolt 2. This would be like if Apple put 8 Gb of ram into their ipad and then decided to put 16Gb. No one needs this bandwidth.
    Brock Jones
    • ? No one needs this bandwidth. ?

      And we can all get by with 640K RAM and an RS232 port.
      Henry 3 Dogg
  • Making a case for USB 2.0....

    Surprisingly USB 2.0 given the right Hardware configuration can perform well in a demanding environment.

    I have two 21.5" iMacs. One mid 2011 and the other late 2012. The mid 2011 model has USB 2.0 ports.

    The mid 2011 iMac 2.7GHZ Intel i5 has 16GB RAM with OS X Mavericks installed on the native 1TB internal HDD which as can be imagined is fast.

    I have also deployed a SanDisk SSD placed in a USB 2.0 enclosure with a further installation OS X Mavericks Dual Booting with OS X Snow Leopard.

    Now you would have thought that the SSD performance would be severely throttled due to running through USB 2.0 however this is surprisingly not the case.

    I can only assume with the combination of the 16GB RAM and SSD goes some way to making up for the slower speed of USB 2.0 nevertheless performance is good. Not only with the native OS X partitions but also with a Parallels Desktop 9 Windows 8.1 virtual machine.

    Incidentally the reason I have kept hold of the mid 2011 iMac is I have the ability to continue running OS X Snow Leopard.
    • Seriously...

      It makes no sense to have the SSD externally on USB2

      If you put the SSD in the machine instead of the 1T hd then you'll have a much faster machine. And an understanding of how fast the 1 TD hd wasn't.

      Or, if you rarely use the DVD, put the SSD in the case as well in the DVD slot and put the DVD in a USB2 case.

      If you want the machine to really sing, you can then build a Fusion drive from the SSD and the 1T hd.

      Incidentally, depending on how often you need to use Snow Leopard, if you can find a server copy then you can run it in a virtual machine.
      Henry 3 Dogg