To USB or Not to USB


TI supports Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt Pricing

This means TI developed 6 devices or chips that support Thunderbolt.  In other words, TI chips sit next to the actual Thunderbolt chips. 

Interestingly, if you look at the prices of the TI devices in the announcement you will see the following table:



The Thunderbolt chips are made by only one company, the Innovator that created Thunderbolt and USB 3.0.

You can look at list prices for Thunderbolt at the Innovator website here.

You will see 2 prices, one at about $23 and the other at $10.50.

Combined, the prices will be about $24 for what I think is a Host PC, and about $11 for a Peripheral.


If you are building a PC, the cost adder will be about $24.  This is a lot of cost adder to a $599 PC where the PC maker probably makes less than $150 on each PC.  Of course, if you are Apple you sell your PCs for $1000-$2500 or more so you can absorb the cost better.  Apple sells a $50 Thunderbolt Cable too.

image   QUIZ: How long is a Thunderbolt Cable?  Answer in the Comments below (even if someone has already answered).


If you are building a Hard Drive or SSD, or maybe a monitor, and you want to add Thunderbolt, the cost adder to your BOM will be about $11.This is a lot to add to a 1 TB hard drive that sells for less than $150, so you’ll see below that Thunderbolt drives sell for much more.


Just to point out my guess for Thunderbolt pricing:  $25 (published last September 2011).***  So I was on target on the host side, but far too high on the peripheral side.

Thunderbolt End Product Pricing – Peripherals

For the moment, it turns out if you buy a Thunderbolt Drive it doesn’t come with a cable.

You buy a cable for $50.


I could feed a family of four at a good Chinese restaurant in Mountain View for the price of one Thunderbolt cable. I’ve done it.  With really good vegetables and everything

Or each lunch in the Synopsys Café for 11 days (I like the pizza).

So you bought your $50 cable, now if you want to buy a Drive.  In one case you can choose between a USB 3.0 6TB WD drive ($491 at Amazon) to a Thunderbolt WD Drive ($699 at Amazon).  Personally, I think that is a pretty big price delta.

You can read a reviews at CNET on all existing Thunderbolt drives as of today where I got all this good information.


USB 3.0 costs less

Reminder: USB 3.0 Host chips were down to $1.50-2.20 per chip in volume by late summer 2011 (My awesome graph of USB 3.0 Host Chip Pricing can be seen here)

Unsubstantiated rumor:Digitimes reported in August 2011 that Renesas could drop Host Controller Chip prices to $1.20 a unit in early 2012 (links in the same blog entry (Yes click on the entry twice just so I get the extra page hit.))  I don’t know if the price drop happened. I have no data to point to.  If you have hard data you can point me to, send it.

My point is that a USB 3.0 Host is a much smaller cost adder for a PC compared to Thunderbolt. It is safe to say, for peripherals it’s also a fraction of the Thunderbolt cost.


To be clear, Thunderbolt is a great technology for high speed transfers for people who want to pay for the performance.

USB 3.0 is for the rest of us.  Thunderbolt won’t replace USB.  They will peacefully coexist in high end applications.

(Also, USB 3.0 also supplies power,  Thunderbolt doesn’t.)

3/30/12 Correction : The Thunderbolt spec allows up to 10W of power to be supplied over the cable.  This may be necessary because the Thunderbolt cable is an “active” cable with silicon inside which increases the cost of the cable.  For the drives reviewed by CNET, apparently only the Elgato Thunderbolt SSD drive is bus powered, and does not require a second power cable.

So now when your collegues ask you about Thunderbolt, you have all the info you’ll need so say, “Hey it’s good tech, but USB 3.0 is now.”


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*I would like to thank the spam bots for filling my inbox with spam comments like “Continue Please to good information…”

**I still have 9 donuts left.  

***It’s possible the Innovator pricing was published much earlier, I just didn’t have the info. 


stupid spam bots

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