Hewlett-Packard has decided to stay with USB 3.0 rather than move to the new Thunderbolt interconnect standard. The company said it chose USB because of the installed base of peripherals supporting that standard, while peripherals supporting Thunderbolt haven't yet appeared.
Thunderbolt, which is featured on Apple's newest MacBook Pro models, is a high-speed interconnect standard that can handle speeds up to 10 gigabits per second. The catch is that, while various manufacturers have pledged to support the technology, such devices are not yet in the market.
HP told news media that, for PCs at least, USB 3.0 seems to be the way manufacturers are going. Intel and Apple developed Thunderbolt, which supports PCI Express and DisplayPort.
Sony and some other PC manufacturers have said they will back Thunderbolt. LaCie and Western Digital have shown demonstration storage peripherals, and others, including Canon, Matrox and Sonnet, have announced support.
Intel is hedging its bets, saying its chipsets will support both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. In April, Kirk Skaugen, a vice president in the Intel Architecture Group, told the Intel developer conference in Beijing that USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt will be supported in the upcoming Ivy Bridge platform. Ivy Bridge, scheduled for release next year, is the successor to the Sandy Bridge processors that are now appearing in new PCs.
Skaugen told the conference that Intel believes the two technologies are "complementary." Intel currently provides some support for USB 3.0 in some of its desktop motherboards, but the technology is delivered through a separate, non-Intel part, not integrated into the silicon as it will be in Ivy Bridge.
USB 3.0, also known as SuperSpeed USB, is about 10 times faster than the current version of USB, but only half as fast as Thunderbolt. USB 2.0 began appearing in Intel-based devices in 2002 and offers transfer rates up to 480 megabits per second. USB 3.0 provides up to 4.8 gigabits per second, and Thunderbolt features up to 10 gigabits.
Additionally, USB 3.0 provides at least 80 percent additional power to a peripheral such as a hard drive, compared with 2.0. But Thunderbolt has another advantage: It can also carry HD digital video. This means the port can be used for a display or a high-speed storage device, or can support multiple devices through daisy chaining.
Advanced Micro Devices has recently said it will support USB 3.0 in its A75 and A70M chipsets.
USB 3.0 is backward-compatible with 2.0, while Thunderbolt is not. While Apple has been emphasizing Thunderbolt in its new lineup in addition to USB 2.0, some industry observers have suggested that Apple will need to include USB 3.0 at some point.
Thunderbolt is based on Intel's Light Peak technology. Although copper-based in the new MacBook Pros, an upcoming version of the technology is expected to be fiber-optic and support a blazing 100 gigabits per second.