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    Covering the latest trends and topics in USB IP.

    I started working on USB in 1995, starting with the world’s first BIOS that supported USB Keyboards and Mice while at Award Software. After a departure into embedded systems software for real-time operating systems, I returned to USB IP cores and software at inSilicon, one of the leading suppliers of USB IP. In 2002, inSilicon was acquired by Synopsys and I’ve been here since. I also served as Chairman of the USB On-The-Go Working Group for the USB Implementers Forum from 2004-2006.

    I received an M.B.A. from Santa Clara University and an M.S. in Engineering from University of California Irvine, and a B.S. in Engineering from the University of Minnesota. I’m a licensed Professional Engineer in Civil Engineering in the State of California
    - Eric Huang

Thunderbolt 2, USB 3.0, and 10G USB – Who wins?

Posted by Eric Huang on June 17th, 2013

Thunderlbolt 2, USB 3.0 and 10G USB – Who will Win?

 Apple announced MacPro, circular cone shaped Apple PC with 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports.   That’s right, 6 ports. 

What is Thunderbolt 2?

Why would you possibly need 6 ports of anything, on any PC?

Well, this is the PC that will make all other PCs feel insecure, sad, and inadequate.  Apple wants those other PCs to run home crying to their motherboards.

I could repeat the specs here, but basically Apple built the world’s most powerful PC so prosumers and professionals can edit 4k video.  

Thunderbolt 2, code named Falcon Ridge, is a 20 Gigabit per second (Gbps) standard that muxes (combines or carrys 2 different signals, in this case) PCIe and DisplayPort.  PCIe is usually an inside the PC standard.  DisplayPort is a way to move video data from a PC/processor to a display.  20 Gbps is 2x the Thunderbolt 1 speed and 4x the speed of USB 3.0. 

4K video supports 4096 by 2160 pixels per frame or about 8.9 Megapixels per frame, about 4 times the pixels in 1080p TVs today.  This means 4K video requires 4x storage capacity.  A 4K movie will be about 100GB for a 2 hour movie, or 4 times the size of a 1080p BluRay movie at 27GB per disk. 

The additional resolution requires more MIPS and CPU power for editing.

The Thunderbolt 2 (TB2) connection enables both video and data.  At 20 Gigabits per second, each port can support a video monitor running a 4k video connection at 18 Mbps.  Assuming each port as a Thunderbolt 2 chips behind it, each port can support a separate 4K enabled monitor.  In this case, the MacPro can support up to 3 monitors, 1 on each port.

What is the limitation?  Why only 3 monitors?

Most likely because the MacPro has a Graphics chip that only supports 3 monitors, or 3 individual graphics chips supporting 3 displayport monitors.

(Please note: You could use a DisplayLink USB 3.0 Docking station to support a 2K video screen using any 4 or all 4 of the USB 3.0 ports also)

Internal Storage vs External Storage 

More importantly, the interesting thing s that MacPro contains a built in SSD.  The size isn’t specified, but  4K requires lots of storage because 4K Video sizes are big.  To keep the price of the MacPro under a gazillion dollars, Apple will put in an SSD that is designed for fast booting, but not of sufficient capacity or speed (most likely) to edit and store all your video inside the PC.  The SSD included will only support transfer speeds of 1.2 Gbps.  At that slower transfer speed, Apple can put in less expensive, but larger capacity SSD.

As you know (because you read this article every day) you can buy a 256 GB SSD for only $180 that supports 5.4 Gbps.   

Add a USB 3.0 chip to this SSD and drop proof enclosure, and you can have an external USB 3.0 SSD that is already faster than the internal SSD included with your MacPro.

So we can imagine, that while you would use the Thunderbolt 2 for 4K video, you would definitely be buying many USB 3.0 external SSDs to store and edit your video.  Because the external storage is actually faster than internal storage,  you buy lots of SSDs.  My this time next year, when the MacPro is shipping in volume, the same USB 3.0 SSD will be only $200.

Remember, with Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.0 and especially with Next Generation 10G USB, your external SSD will be as fast (or in the MacPro case faster) so it makes sense to add external storage for your most work intensive tasks like video editing.

Oh, and remember, the MacPro has 4 USB 3.0 ports.  So it seems to me that most people will use those USB 3.0 ports in the beginning because those USB 3.0 drives are much cheaper than Thunderbolt 1 (or future Thunderbolt 2 drives).   They will be used with both SSDs and spinning USB 3.0 Hard Drives.  SSDs will be the speedy drives for editing video.  HDDs for massive 3 Terabyte and larger drives for storage of lots of videos.

And the pros, the real pros, will buy the TB2 SSDs to go with the MacPro for fast editing.  And USB 3.0 3 Terabyte drives and larger to store videos on, just like all us commoners.

And 10G USB will come along in a few years and will be cheaper that TB2 drives.  Right now, expect USB 3.0 to continue to be the big winner in peaceful co-existance with TB2.

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More DAC Gets Huang’ed

I interviewed Mr. Rich Goldman, our Corporate Vice President.  See the results below.

I also talked to Graham Bell, formerly of EDACafe, currently with Real Intent.  We end up in a conversation about “Instant On”

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One Response to “Thunderbolt 2, USB 3.0, and 10G USB – Who wins?”

  1. Pete says:

    the new Mac Pro SSD is PCIe based and with 1.2GB/s, much faster than USB 3.

    The already shipping 2013 haswell based MacBook Air has a similar PCIe based SSD that is also much faster than USB3.