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back to article Thunderbolt interface strikes YOUR PC: What's the damage?

Thunderbolt has been available on Intel-based motherboards for around six months and although Apple has featured it on its computers since 2011, peripherals with this interface have appeared at a glacial pace. But the ice appears to be melting now. Besides a range of hubs and adapters that take advantage of Thunderbolt's …

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Gimp

Controller

As you noticed, the controller can be a performance killer. I have some ESATA devices and I suspect the controller in my enclosure is limiting the performance of the SSD disc I'm using.

As for Thunderbolt, it's great. Apple now have handy Thunderbolt to DVI and Thunderbolt to Firewire 800 adaptors now out so Mac users will find themselves using it day to day. And when you plug a disk in, it flies!

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Thunderbolt to Firewire Adapter - be careful

There are reports that the latest Macbook Airs can't drive some some Firewire devices via the Thunderbolt adapter because the thunderbolt port doesn't deliver enough DC power.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Thunderbolt to Firewire Adapter - be careful

I've heard that but not experienced it with any of the Firewire devices (bus powered) I have tried.

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Anonymous Coward

Does hotplugging work?

How good is Windows Thunderbolt hotplugging?

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Charts: Mb/s or MB/s ?

I assume Mb/s is Mega bytes per second?

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Re: Charts: Mb/s or MB/s ?

I'd assumed Megabit/s, but you're right by the looks of it as I just did the maths. Otherwise ~50MB/s would be quite tame.

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Boffin

Re: Charts: Mb/s or MB/s ?

Normal usage, in comms at least, is little b for bits, capital B for Bytes.

GJC

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USB 2.0

Interesting how in the tests USB 2.0 is faster than firewire 400 and most of the time quicker than 800.

All in all this test just shows why thunderbolt will remain a niche product for the foreseeable future. USB 3 is backwards compatible with USB 2 so it's not a new thing to learn you can use your old drives in new systems and new drives in old systems and for most people it's as fast as the new thunderbolt.

Where thunderbolt shines is as in the Apple system where a single cable into your laptop from your monitor acts as a docking station. Even this is still a niche solution as most people are happy to hook up an HDMI or VGA cable and access any other peripherals wirelessly. Problem is Apple's monitors are stupidly expensive so we need to wait for other manufacturers to start producing similar products (assuming Apple don't have a patent on a peripheral dock built into a monitor). Also I don't remember seeing a laptop other than a mac that has a thunderbolt port.

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Re: USB 2.0

What's more interesting to me is that USB 3 is "only" 2.5x faster than USB 2 in realworld tests.

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Unhappy

Re: USB 2.0

I my personal and highly unscientific experience, Firewire (400 or 800) is always faster than USB 2.0. 800 much more so. USB 3.0 is another story. I naively thought Thunderbolt to USB 3.0 would be 10 a penny by now and have been waiting like a schmuck for them to come out, or for at least the Thunderbolt display to be USB 3 equipped (see prev comment).

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Anonymous Coward

Re: USB 2.0

The Apple Thunderbolt display is not really that expensive when you factor in what it does. Sure there are similar displays from other manufacturers (Dell comes to mind) for perhaps £600 but they don't have speakers, USB hub, firewire, thunderbolt ports or a webcam. The Thunderbolt display also charges my Macbook so that saves buying an extra £50-60 AC adapter.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: USB 2.0

in comparison with the "UP TO 40 TIMES FASTER THAN USB 2.0!!!!!!!!!" scam claim. But hey, there's a milion suckers born every day, and they have a very short-span memory (remember similar claims when usb 2 came out).

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Re: USB 2.0

@Fuzz:

USB 2.0 doesn't fare well compared to either variation of FW for sizeable file transfers (especially not when individual files are large as well) unless there are FW-specific bottlenecks, because USB 2.0 is based on bursting whereas FW is based on sustainable transfer rates.

As far as Apple's Thunderbolt displays go, they are very nice - when they work. We've had two go become unusable due to regular (but intermittent) issues where they go to sleep and fail to wake up until you physically disconnect and reconnect them, which is tedious - and in both cases I've had Apple claim that it might be related to power management kexts in Mountain Lion while the approved 3rd party warranty repair service who eventually looked at the hardware (after being made to jump through over 2 months worth of "Have you tried this?" type nonsense with Apple support) and said pretty much "yeah, this is a known issue with the OS, we'll replace the hardware but there's no guarantee it'll fix the problem". Which is just what you want to hear when you're dealing with displays which, while shiny, cost at least 2.5x as much as similarly-sized displays from other vendors on our approved supplier list. (Though, of course, one of the reasons people want the TB displays is that there haven't been any TB hubs available elsewhere so far...)

I suspect TB is at risk of going the same route as Firewire - great for those people who might specifically benefit from it, but not sufficiently better than USB 3.0 for most people's real-world use cases to make it worth the upgrade cost. Which is a shame, because TB is the best option so far to allow adding an external GPU to portable device when needed.

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Re: USB 2.0

Also I don't remember seeing a laptop other than a mac that has a thunderbolt port.

No, nor me other than that very expensive Vaio Z ultraportable that has a docking station with a discrete GPU. Curiously, Sony use a physical USB port for the Thunderbolt.

>http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Thunderbolt-compatible_devices#Laptop_Computers

I do hope it catches on, since anything your laptop is missing can be provided for back at the desk; A standard docking solution for all machines. That said, most of us don't need to shunt files around that quickly, and those of us who need discrete GPUs in our laptops, well, have them in our laptops.

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Re: USB 2.0

>I suspect TB is at risk of going the same route as Firewire - great for those people who might specifically benefit from it, but not sufficiently better than USB 3.0 for most people's real-world use cases to make it worth the upgrade cost. Which is a shame, because TB is the best option so far to allow adding an external GPU to portable device when needed.

I strongly agree on the first one, given that USB 3.0 is rarely a bottleneck on the transfer speed of the large capacity 5400rpm drives that most people are using for backup/mass storage. Someone doing field video or sound work will of course prefer Thunderbolt, just like they preferred Firewire. But most users won't pay even a cent extra, and Thunderbolt has both price and availability working against it wrt USB 3.0.

About the second point, not so sure. PCI-Express has had an external connector and cable since day 1, so surely that would be the best option? Not even a need for new drivers or firmware for existing video cards in that case, just a housing and a new plug. I think the reason there aren't many devices like that on the market is just because there's not much demand in reality.

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Short term thinking

It's not about is it fast enough for what we have now, but will it cope with what we have in the future. If you RTFA then a pair of spinning disks can already outpace USB3 and there is plenty of talk about up-and-comming solid state replacements for NAND flash.

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Holmes

Re: USB 2.0

Firewire 400 is always faster than USB2. And I used both every day for 4 years on dual interface drives (I had one PC with firewire and a laptop that only had USB2 and the drives were used to transfer large amounts of video footage).

I'd say Firewire 400 was probably around 20% faster in the real world. Certainly in my experience. I know what the specs say but USB2 has a huge overhead that Firewire doesn't have.

Firewire 800 is way faster than USB2. Again I've been using 800 since it became available to me and transfer speeds are at least twice as fast.

USB3? It's faster than 800 but I've only been using it for a few months so haven't done any real head to head tests yet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: USB 2.0

>USB 3.0 is rarely a bottleneck on the transfer speed of the large capacity 5400rpm drives that most people are using for backup/mass storage.

Not for one 5400 drive, but even more casual users are moving towards RAID or RAID-like external storage which can improve on the performance as the data comes off more than drive... though to be fair they often do this over the network.

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I thought the Thunderbolt Display only had USB 2.0, not USB 3.0. If I'm wrong that alone would make me consider proving that I had more money than sense.....

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Anonymous Coward

Currently, Apple's only offerings with USB 3.0 are the Macbook Pros and Airs... not even the desktop Mac Pro has it, bizarrely.

I'm sure that someone can make a little box that sits in the chain and breaks out the Displayport signal for a monitor that lacks TB. There is that IPS monitor that uses the same panel as the 27" Apple Cinema display but is half the price... can't remember the manufacturer though... Hannspree?

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I am waiting to see what point-to-point networking is like with Thunderbolt, the ability to connect to the server under my desk at bus speeds would be great. Does anyone have any idea how this would be achieved given that Thunderbolt is an extension of PCI-e? Would it need an intermediate device in the middle to pretend to be a 10GbE network card?

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Thumb Up

networking

See this post about what you need to direct connect PCIe

http://forums.anandtech.com/showthread.php?t=2177515

So you need a small amount of device to deal with clocking and master/slave issues but not a lot...

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FW800 slower than USB2?

I'm not disputing your other results but that one looks pretty odd to me - certainly when I move mixed files to/from my Macbook via FW800 it's noticably faster than USB2, although I don't have any hard numbers to back that up.

As an aside, thanks for this - it's a very useful comparison to have, although apparently now the connector isn't the slowest link in the chain I'm going to have to pay a lot more attention when specifying external storage...

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Re: FW800 slower than USB2?

I think it might a symptom of the Firewire cards used in the test being PCI, not PCIe

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Anonymous Coward

Re: FW800 slower than USB2?

yeah the PCI bus is petty slow by today's standards... when is everything going to be PCIe?

Not that everything would need the extra speed, but surely it would be cheaper in the long run to just put the same connector on everything?

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Obligatory XKCD

http://xkcd.com/927/

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Re: Obligatory XKCD

Is it bad that I knew which one that was going to be before I even clicked the link? :o)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Obligatory XKCD

Is it bad that I've seen people say the same thing about two different XKCDs in one day?

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Meh

Am I right in thinking this gives direct memory access to remote devices?

If so it ain't going anywhere near my computers.

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> Am I right in thinking this gives direct memory access to remote devices?

I believe so. However, its supposed to be a peripheral interconnect, not a comms interconnect. Do you not trust your screen or disk drives or webcam? Its basically external PCIe. There are plenty of server chassis which do that and its what makes the tb premium on devices so galling.

Having said that, I'd like to see a switch providing virtual NICs for thunderbolt (or rather, optical lightpeak).

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Will, will, will, there you go pointing out the 363 kg gorilla in the room.

That said, a DMA attack is also possible via firewire. I think (but am not certain, it is also possible via USB. As long as you have DMA, this remains an attack vector.

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Linux

Re: > Am I right in thinking this gives direct memory access to remote devices?

Excuses don't negate security issues.

If extra speed comes at a cost you aren't willing to take, then it doesn't matter how fast it is.

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Thumb Down

Re: > Am I right in thinking this gives direct memory access to remote devices?

"If extra speed comes at a cost you aren't willing to take, then it doesn't matter how fast it is."

^^^^^^ Bullshit for this topic. I'm also a little shocked that you have TUX as your icon, but are NOT in favor of DMA access via _proprietary_ interfaces.

If you need a race car, do you want it to have a governor? Sounds like you would, but I prefer to think you wouldn't and would just make sure the right driver is behind the wheel.

Never forget, locks are meant for honest people, and only fools live by them.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: > Am I right in thinking this gives direct memory access to remote devices?

"Never forget, locks are meant for honest people..."

...and for thieves for whom it's not worth the trouble vs. finding a mark who didn't use a lock.

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Re: > Am I right in thinking this gives direct memory access to remote devices?

The point is, even network controllers use DMA. Thunderbolt isn't adding any new risk. Its just a PCIe bus extension. Just don't terminate somewhere you don't trust, such as on an outside security camera.

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Anonymous Coward

never used the firewire port on either........

More Apple filling.

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Anonymous Coward

This is an article about Thunderbolt/Lightpeak on PCs, you wretched twat. It comes as no surprise that you've never encountered Firewire peripherals such as external soundcards, high-resolution scanners or DV camcorders, y'know, tools used to create things like music and art.

Look, it's a fresh new year... why don't you try some creative activity for 2013 instead of trolling The Reg? It'l be good for you. Musical instruments are good, drawing or painting if you're more introverted... you really don't have to excel at it for it to be satisfying. Give it a go.

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Linux

Wounded fanboy

Firewire simply lost. Get over it. It seemed like a better technology once. However, the market moved in another direction. It's time to stop living in the past. It's time to stop pretending that you're some sort of artist.

Thunderbolt certainly has some challenges when compared to Firewire. Firewire failed in the market and it didn't have nearly the cost gap as Thunderbolt has against it's rivals.

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Stop

Not aimed at the same markets, so hard to say it lost

USB was designed as a general purpose interconnect. It handles things like mice, keyboards, scanners, printers etc that have never been hooked up via FireWire.

FireWire was and is targeted at fast bulk transfer (disk and video being the two standard examples). USB could sort of do those things, but badly and with a high CPU load. The result was that for Pro use FireWire ruled the roost while USB became the cheap and cheerful solution for the rest of the world (don't forget that it wasn't either/or, there was nothing stopping you from using both).

Similarly USB3 and Thunderbolt aren't designed for the same tasks, but doubtless someone will try to hack USB3 to do some of the same jobs.

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FAIL

Re: Wounded fanboy

Firewire failed in the market?

Gosh, I must have imagined all those Firewire based video cameras that dominated the market from about 1999 to 2009? Yes, sometimes companies such as Sony didn't call it Firewire, but "iLink" and other daft names, but these cameras connected via firewire if you wanted to use them with a computer.

Been happily using Firewire based hard disks for the past 10 years as well. Never any problem getting hold of them! Only just started to move to USB3 now. Didn't like ESATA due to many interface cards disliking drives being unplugged while the PC was still on.

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Re: Wounded fanboy

USB3 will finish FireWire off, but it still doesn't replicate all of FireWIre's features, just batters it in terms of bandwidth. Apple has learned that for a peripheral interconnect standard to prosper, it must be blessed by Intel. Thunderbolt is good, but rather limited as it currently appears. More channels, please!

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Linux

Re: Wounded fanboy

> Gosh, I must have imagined all those Firewire based video cameras that dominated the market from about 1999 to 2009?

Pretty much.

It's 2013 now. If you have to bring up the past and then EXAGGERATE it, then you are only proving my point.

Firewire was already pretty effectively marginalized by 2009 even in video cameras.

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Thunderbolt display support

Does anyone know whether Thunderbolt can support 4K Ultra HD display resolution at 120Hz in Apple or PC implementations or will we be moving to HDMI 2.0 for monitors etc?

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Re: Thunderbolt display support

You would need to look at the Displayport specs, not Thunderbolt. Displayport has a bandwidth of 17Gbit/s, and 3840 × 2160 × 30 bpp @ 60 Hz is 16Gbit/s.... so 120Hz would be a no no. I'm sure that when you come to buy an 4K Ultra display, the vendor will be only too happy to tell you what you need, as Sharp do for their upcoming display:

" DisplayPort (Multi-Stream Transport) supports up to 3,840 × 2,160 resolution at a 60p frame rate; HDMI port can support up to 3,840 × 2,160 resolution at a 30p frame rate (60p is supported with two cables)."

-http://www.sharp-world.com/corporate/news/121128.html

As a workaround the Thunderbolt could happily drive an external GPU for this beastly monitor of which you speak.

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Re: Thunderbolt display support

Thanks, I'll read that as meaning we'll need Thunderbolt 2.0 or HTML 2.0 to handle high definition displays in practical situations.

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Re: Thunderbolt display support

>Thanks, I'll read that as meaning we'll need Thunderbolt 2.0 or HTML 2.0 to handle high definition displays in >practical situations.

I think we might be at crossed purposes here. Thunderbolt is an extension of of your PCIe bus that happens, in its most common incarnation, to use the same physical connector as Displayport- a standard for connecting displays. Thunderbolt isn't a standard for connecting displays in itself, but it allows the Displayport signal to passed along to the display device. It can have an external GPU behave as if it were in your computer.

You didn't mention why your wanted to drive your 4K Cinema Ultra at twice its native refresh rate, either. You have a bootleg copy of The Hobbit (3D, 48fps), perhaps? To achieve the standard, either one Displayport cable or two HDMI cables will do the job, according to the manufacturers of such displays.

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FW800 vs USB 2.0

Ok, so in my "real world" tests I have previously observed that USB 2.0 seems faster than FW800 on Windows but on Mac OS X FW800 is faster than USB 2.0.

Don't discount the drivers.

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surprised about the poor speeds coming from USB 3

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FAIL

Another Apple-backed standard that likely (hopefully) won't get traction...

...as DisplayPort (currently at v1.2 if I remember correctly) can do everything TB supposed to "solve" except it is faster (latest version doubled-up to ~17.xGb/s), it does more yet in a simpler way and already widely accepted by the market, thanks to DP's royalty-free licensing (something this unholy Apple-Intel alliance, in line with their best/most-disgusting traditions, took advantage of when they essentially built TB as a PCIe-enabled DisplayPort, AHEM.)

Heck, the upcoming HDMI v2.0 will be also faster than TB while being compatible with billions of HDMI devices out there, why would anyone (sans Mac users with no clue) bother with another piece of expensive crapshoot standard, however aggressively pushed by Apple, I cannot fathom... if I were a monitor maker perhaps I'd put it on few very expensive models and have the stupid Mac-base pay for their ignorance but other than that it's a waste of time and effort, it's going to die like FW800 - and the faster this Intel-sourced crap dies the better for everybody.

DisplayPort FTW, period.

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Re: Another Apple-backed standard that likely (hopefully) won't get traction...

I think you're missing the point. I haven't seen a graphics adapter, audio interface, video capture device, hard drive, etc that used DisplayPort as their input.

Thunderbolt allows for having a graphics card external to the computer. My guess is you have a desktop the size of a computer from 20 years ago that has a bunch of PCI ports. Good for you. Most of us real computer users have adopted laptops. But for people like me who game (or in a previous life did a lot of CAD and 3D design work) an external video card is very important for when our laptops are sitting on our desk. In fact, we could even see a line of displays that included a PCI slot to install a 3D card directly into the monitor. Since laptops either don't have a discrete 3D card or the mobile discrete cards in general aren't very powerful this is a huge plus for anyone that doesn't have a giant old style box with tons of expansion slots.

Regarding licensing, I cannot argue. I've been waiting for the ViDock to come out to add a 3D card to my wafer thin laptop. Problem is (according to Village Instruments) Intel won't let small developers develop for the standard. And another barrier to entry I understand is at least currently Mac OS X doesn't support 3D graphics cards over Thunderbolt (all though there is no reason they couldn't fix their software issues in their OS to support this.)

So the point is Thunderbolt can do a lot more than DisplayPort. But it would be much better if the licensing were more open. And its uses are going to be for new products going forward (like embedded graphics cards in monitors, A/V capture products, docking stations, etc.) not just external hard drives. Hell, I have Thunderbolt and USB 3 on my Mac and guess what 3TB external hard drive I just bought? USB 3.0.

You can bet when LightPeak finally matures (i.e. to the point of being all fiber optic like Intel originally demonstrated) Apple already has a design of the MagSafe power connector that combines the power and data into a single plug so finally laptop users only have to connect a single cable when they put their laptop on their desk. Currently even if you have a Thunderbolt display you still have to connect two cables to give you wired gigabit ethernet, USB, FireWire, Audio in and out, Thunderbolt chaining ports plus power.

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