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The New USB Standard Is Small, Reversible, & Will Kick Your Photo Transfer Speeds Into Afterburn

By Kishore Sawh on August 14th 2014

Well, it may be time to re-think those Thunderbolt ports after all. The new USB standard has just been finalized and it looks like a revolution more than a simple evolution of USB as we know it.


As I type this on my iMac that still smells of showroom wrapping, I can tell you I long welcomed the Thunderbolt. It was developed by Intel in conjunction with Apple and joins together audio, video, data, and power in one extremely fast connection. How fast? 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps). It’s also bi-directional, so it can send and receive data at the same time. What I was most interested in as a photographer, was this speed. It would allow for an incredibly fast workflow and connection to all manners of peripherals, including hard drives and RAID solutions. The catch, is that all those devices are significantly more expensive than their USB counterparts. For many, it’s been prohibitively so. Enter USB Type C.

The new breed of USB is very similar in size to what we are used to with micro-USB, but the size is no indication of capability. It’s an adaptation essentially of the USB 3.1 standard, which is actually double the speed of USB 3, but the size suggests that it wants to be able to be incorporated into more devices, and smaller devices. It will also do 10Gbps, and can carry up to 100 watts of power which means it could act as a power cable and data transfer solution in one, and it’s reversible. No more trying 5 times to find the right way to plug in something that should take no more than 2 tries max. The only conceivable downside is that it’s small. It is made in a new form factor that will not work with your current units.


[REWIND: Business Card That Turns Into A USB Drive That Turns Heads & Shares Your Portfolio]

At this point you may be thinking that there may be little point in switching to it if it’s possibly not going to be widespread in implementation. We know all too well from our industry that technological superiority is no guarantee of commercial success and wide adoption. The masses tend to dictate where the device’s future lays, and the masses tend to be swayed by easily digestible numbers, and….price; the cheaper one tends to win out. However, given that it’s USB, and that it’s smaller, means there are likely a wider range of devices this could be used for, from laptops, phones, tablets etcetera, and likely less expensive, so it would seem that this has a better chance of taking hold than Thunderbolt, and fare better than Firewire.

What do you think?

Source: Engadget, USB Promoter Group

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Herm Tjioe

    Perhaps I will start seeing more portable RAID drives with this version coming out. But with SSDs outflanking HDDs in RAID 0 form factor in terms of speed, RAID 1 or 5 might be the value added reason to switch up I’m sure other tech innovations yet to be introduced will find such throughput useful. Those 8K smartphone videos surely could use some of that umbilical cord.

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  2. Kyle Farris

    One of the only reasons USB 3.0 is doing better than TBolt is backwards compatibility. The folks who need blazing speeds like this are probably just going to use TBolt anyways–it’s established itself among the professionals that actually need that kind of I/O. The major pitfall of the USB spec is that it uses up CPU cycles. Specs like FW and TBolt have their own separate controllers and that’s why they’re still faster in real-world performance. The vast majority of people do not come close to utilizing the bandwidth of USB 3.0. They’re using it on thumb drives, portable spinning hard drives, mice, printers, etc… TBolt 2.0 is 20 gb/s, supports true 4K, daisy chaining, etc… I really don’t see the benefit of this new spec.. I mean… come on… a point and shoot camera or smartphone with 12 gb/s throughput? Give me a break.

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    • Ben Perrin

      It’s not just backwards compatibility (which by the way is a major advantage) it’s that thunderbolt devices have been hard to come by and are way overpriced. USB is everywhere. It was a good idea that just didn’t work due to lack of traction.

      Also, what’s wrong with all technology increasing in speed?

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    • Matthew Saville

      Well said, Kyle…

      Ben, think of it this way: The whole REASON USB 3 devices are so cheap is, well, that they simply don’t utilize the theoretical throughput at all. Everything is still a single drive spinning at 5400 of 7200, or crappy USB sticks that, as Kyle mentioned, consume CPU power.

      The reason that Thunderbolt devices are more expensive is because, often, they are designed to actually utilize the true speed of the connection. Raid 0, SSD’s, etc. …and usually in enterprise-class quality, not the consumer-grade junk that 95% of USB 3 is…


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    • Kyle Farris

      Ben, I don’t see a problem with it being faster… it’s not going to hurt anyone or anything… just seems pointless for USB when 3.0 is so incredibly underutilized as is. I would probably be more on board and impressed if they stuck with the same ol’ port as they have had since the 90’s. If you’re going to use a new port, might as well go with the more-established (and more powerful/versatile) Thunderbolt. That’s all I’m saying.

      In other words, one could easily make a USB 3.1 adapter to thunderbolt 2.0 and still have 8 gb/s left over for all sorts of other stuff through the daisy chain. If a manufacturer opts for USB 3.1, you get USB 3.1… that’s it. If they choose thunderbolt 2, you can, in theory (with an adapter dongle), have both. Two for 1 deal.

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  3. Scott Sheppard

    Can’t wait! With 40MB plus file sizes the faster the transfer the better!

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