Acer ditches Thunderbolt, prefers USB 3.0


— 6:00 AM on July 16, 2013

Thunderbolt has lost an important backer. According to CNet, Acer's newest systems won't feature the Intel interconnect. Instead, the PC maker appears to be throwing its weight behind USB 3.0. Acer representative Ruth Rosene called SuperSpeed USB an "excellent alternative" to Thunderbolt, noting that it's less expensive and compatible with a wide range of existing devices. She also mentioned USB 3.0's ability to charge mobile devices like smartphones, a capability Thunderbolt can't match without additional hardware.

To be fair, calling USB 3.0 an alternative to Thunderbolt is a little disingenuous. Thunderbolt combines PCI Express and DisplayPort on a single cable, while USB 3.0 is just the latest, fastest version of the USB spec. Rosene's claim that USB 3.0 "offers comparable bandwidth" to Thunderbolt isn't accurate, either. A single Thunderbolt port boasts 40Gbps of aggregate bandwidth—a big step up from the 5Gbps provided by USB 3.0. Even the 10Gbps "supplement" planned for USB 3.0 would leave that interface well short of Thunderbolt territory.

Although Thunderbolt offers a fatter pipe than USB 3.0, consumers don't necessarily need the extra bandwidth. USB 3.0 is plenty quick for most peripherals, including external storage. Thunderbolt has more appeal for professionals who want to use multiple high-speed devices simultaneously.

Acer may have dropped out of the Thunderbolt club, but Lenovo, Dell, and Asus are all rolling out new PCs featuring the interconnect. Jason Ziller, the director of Intel's Client Connectivity Division, claims there are "more than a dozen" Haswell-based systems with Thunderbolt. Additional machines are reportedly on the way, though Ziller concedes that Thunderbolt "is not targeted to be on mid-range or value systems in the next couple of years." If Thunderbolt remains restricted to high-end rigs, peripheral makers may have little incentive to adopt the technology. Meanwhile, the installed base of USB 3.0 continues to grow.

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