Thunderbolt: Intel's Betamax?

Posted on by Mike Evans

I've made no secret of the fact that I like Thunderbolt but I have been disappointed by the slow uptake of the standard by manufacturers. Even the current v1 implementation of Thunderbolt offers speeds fast enough for an external drive to be used for both system and data as I proved last year. The new Mac Pro, which will arrive later this year, offers no fewer than six Thunderbolt 2 ports promising blistering performance. The Pro is on my wish list for that killer feature alone.

The slow adoption of Thunderbolt by PC and accessory manufacturers, which is sometimes blamed on Intel, is definitely worrying. Whatever the reason, there is clear evidence that Thunderbolt is being squeezed by USB 3, a cheaper and arguably more universal standard because of its back compatible with earlier versions of USB. It is also cheaper and this is a crucial factor among manufacturers of low-cost PCs.

I am hoping that Thunderbolt will reach its lift-off point soon. One big boost for the interface would be if Intel incorporates it into future chipsets, thus relieving PC manufacturers of some additional costs and encouraging them to add the port. But, in a chicken-and-egg situation, it is hard to see disk drive and other accessory manufacturers giving wholehearted support until they see that Thunderbolt is here to stay.

Thunderbolt is superior to USB in many respects, not just in speed. The ability to double as a display connector and its smaller socket size are other reasons to like it. Unfortunately, if we are not careful, Thunderbolt could be Intel's Betamax, crowded out by the ubiquitous VHS of USB.

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