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Gear & Apps

Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Will Speed Up & Streamline Your Workflow

By Kishore Sawh on June 4th 2015


Intel has just released/announced what they are calling, ‘the fastest, most versatile connection to any dock, display, or peripheral device” – including billions of USB devices. It’s the Thunderbolt 3 that includes a USB-C connector support. Those of you running multiple monitors, especially 4k monitors will understand the joy of this and those who have always wanted desktop power in a mobile computer will also appreciate it.

[REWIND: Revisiting the WD My Passport Wireless]

The whole idea behind Thunderbolt was to offer as much bandwidth and speed possible through a single cable that would also supply the requisite power. While many seem to be unaware, it was, in fact, a creation of the USB IF that covers companies like Apple, Samsung, Intel, and Microsoft under its umbrella. So, while its adoption, many say, has only been with Apple, it’s fair to say that may change or is changing.

If you’re a business professional, content creator, gamer, or just want to simplify your 4K workspace, your world is about to get faster and simpler.

The USB-C connector is one of the most notable features in Apple’s new MacBook, mostly because it’s the singular port on the computer, and Google released their Chromebook Pixel featuring the same. It’s the smaller reversible sibling to the USB we have come to know, but it too can supply more power than before and allows other I/O in addition to USB to run on it.

thunderbolt-3-USBC-USB-apple-samsung-microsoft-daisychain-4k-photography-slrlounge-4 thunderbolt-3-USBC-USB-apple-samsung-microsoft-daisychain-4k-photography-slrlounge-3

Now the Thunderbolt 3 is going to bring this all in one cable even more power to the tune of 40Gbps. We’re talking about four times the data and twice the video bandwidth of the standard cables while still supplying power. It’s a one-stop solution.

Feature List

  •  Thunderbolt™, USB, DisplayPort, and power on USB-C
  • USB-C connector and cables (small, reversible)
  • 40 Gbps Thunderbolt™ 3 – double the speed of Thunderbolt 2
  • Bi-directional, dual-protocol (PCI Express and DisplayPort)
  • 4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3
  • 8 lanes of DisplayPort 1.2 (HBR2 and MST)
  • Supports two 4K displays (4096 x 2160 30bpp @ 60 Hz)
  • USB 3.1 (10 Gbps) – compatible with existing USB devices and cables
  • DisplayPort 1.2 – compatible with existing DisplayPort displays, devices, and cables
  • Connect DVI, HDMI, and VGA displays via adapters
  • Power (based on USB power delivery)
  • Up to 100W system charging
  • 15W to bus-powered devices
  • Thunderbolt™ Networking
  • 10Gb Ethernet connection between computers
  • Daisy chaining (up to six devices)
  • Lowest latency for PCI Express audio recording

thunderbolt-3-USBC-USB-apple-samsung-microsoft-daisychain-4k-photography-slrloungeI would say for those in a professional environment and those looking for ways to save hours of time and streamline a studio workflow with less clutter, or daisy chaining numerous monitors, this is going to be a big deal, and will likely start to turn up in professional studios all around.

For more info, see here.

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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. Robin Lendrum

    It will be interesting to see which motherboard manufactures will announce boards supporting Thunderbolt -3/USB-C.

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  2. Dave Haynie

    It’s really about time this all came together.

    USB Type C was a brilliant move. It’s easy to see how it came about, between the multi-use USB/MHL port in pretty much every smartphone other than Apple’s (not many people hook their smartphones to TVs, but you can), then Apple’s Lightning port, it makes plenty of sense that USB would take the next step and offer a general mechanism for “alternate modes”.

    Electrically, it makes sense. I have a couple of 100 ohm differential pair for PCI-Express, a couple for Ethernet, a couple for USB (ok, USB 2.0 is speced at 90 ohms, but it’ll work at 100), a couple for SATA, etc. In short, the PCB traces and differential cable for pretty much any modern serial bus are identical. USB Type-C comes with the built-in definitions to allow USB 3.0 lanes to change into DisplayPort or MHL, so it’s great that Intel’s embracing it for Thunderbolt as well.

    That’s also the only thing that’s going to get Thunderbolt into more systems. Laptop, tablet, and phone makers aren’t going to do the whole “new connector” thing. And Intel did realize this, doing the alternate-mode thing they did with Thunderbolt and DisplayPort. The confusion will be that it gets kind of complex to support every protocol on every USB Type-C port that you might have in a new laptop… at least assuming you’re getting a usable number of ports, not the “one port” Apple trick.

    The other nice thing about Type-C is the flexible power… up to 5A at +5V, +12V, or 20V, with devices handshaking to decide who’s providing power and who’s supplying it. That’s enough power to charge a camera or even power/charge most laptops.

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  3. Leslie Troyer

    I’m looking forward to the TB-3 docking stations – which allows 1 cable docking to laptops.

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  4. Thomas Horton

    Wow, that is some increase in speed. I wonder what the upper limit will eventually be?

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  5. Brian McCue

    Another informative post Kishore, great info! I’m checking into Thunderbolt 3.

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  6. Matthew Saville

    This sounds awesome, but it is unfortunate that high-speed storage itself is falling quite far behind these amazing new throughput speeds.

    Spinning disks are stuck at just a few MB/s, and solid state storage is stuck at an impractical price-per-TB.

    When is the next big leap in fast, compact storage going to hit the market in an affordable way?

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    • Trung Hoang

      Solid state storage is coming down in price fairly dramatically. While theres no way it will encroach on the $25-30/TB territory mechanical disks are in any time soon, I think integrating a couple of SSDs into ones workflow along with HDDs for archival purposes is very reasonable.

      My issue with these new interfaces are the prices attached to them. USB 3 has been adopted well and prices are reasonable, but for as much performance Thunderbolt provides, the prices are insane. $300 for a 3TB HDD External Thunderbolt drive? $230 for a thunderbolt hub? If someone would just produce an enclosure for a thunderbolt drive, I could embrace it, but I cant get any use out of mine at these prices. The cables alone are $30 and don’t even come included some of the time!

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    • Dragoș Ardeleanu

      The writing speed on a SSD is also low. One gets faster data transfer on an SSD rather than on a HDD, yet, the speed is still in MB/s area
      When we are talking about FireWire and 40Gb/s, we’re not talking only about writing data on a SDD/HDD, but also about simultaneously transferring data between computer and displays, SDD/HDD, other devices.

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    • Dave Haynie

      High speed storage and interfaces flip-flop all the time. Until a little while ago, SATA was fast enough for any old single SSD. But my new laptop came with one that sits on a four-lane PCI Express link, and runs about twice as fast as anything I had used before.

      And solid state isn’t “stuck” in price, it does change. Like most flash prices, the price changes aren’t all that linear… they’re based on the chip production cycle. There are times when a chip is going to drop fairly sharply, and others when the higher denisity parts are at a premium. I paid around $600 for a SATA 1TB SSD for my desktop in the summer of 2013. I found one for $349 with about a minute’s worth of Googling. That’s not bad for not-even-two years.

      The point of a bus interface like Thunderbolt isn’t to match the speed of a single SSD, but a RAID’s worth. And hopefully, it’s much faster when the standard is introduced than any actual hardware will be for a little while — they work pretty hard for years to build an improved version of any of these standards. You’d hate to see it “obsolete” on Day One.

      So the SSD in my laptop is PCIe-based, it’s on four links. If these are PCIe 2.0 links, that’s a peak rate of about 20Gb/s = 2.5GB/s, if they’re PCIe 3.0 links, that’s 32Gb/s = 4.0GB/s. The drive itself benchmarks at around 1.25GB/s… some of that’s undoubtedly due to Windows overhead, but that suggests there’s a little headroom. But if I put four of these PCIe drives, the one from my laptop that actually does exist today, in a RAID box, that’s an achievable speed of 5GB/s = 40Gb/s… ok, so there’s the Thunderbolt 3.0 interface, already looking like it might just be a limiting factor. Oh, well, back to the drawing board!

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    • Dave Haynie

      Hey Dragos… write speed on SSDs has improved quite a bit in the last few years. Reads will always be faster (I clocked it as 1.25GB/s on my new laptop), but it’s usually something else causing a slow transfer: your network (particularly Wifi), your copying algorithm (Windows shell copy hasn’t really been brought into the 21rst century), etc.

      I/O in a modern PC is pretty crazy efficient. Each of the 40-something PCIe links on my PC’s main board is independent of one another — has to be, that’s how PCIe works. In fact, it’s two-way independent, each PCIe link consists of separate read and write links. Main memory usually has two or four separate channels, and the DDR3 memory is about 10x faster than your PCIe SSD, per channel. So there’s not much blocking in the PC itself. Most of the data being displayed is already on your GPU card, the CPU doesn’t need to keep sending anything, so unless you have shared graphics memory, there’s no practical contention with display activity except when things are changing. But again, software hasn’t really kept up that well. Windows still has weird latencies — things don’t get noticed much faster than they used to.

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