Thunderbolt or USB3? Daddy or Chips?

A lot of hard disks daisy chained via FireWire 800

Thunderbolt (nee LightPeak) is being hailed as a ‘Paragim Shift’ and if it does what FireWIre did fifteen years ago, the moniker is well deserved.

FireWire was a technology that was at the centre of the low cost Digital Video revolution: it enabled simple connection between cameras, disk drives and computers. Suddenly an Apple PowerBook could suck in ‘broadcast quality’ DV and edit it on easily attachable external hard disks. Video before FireWire was an exotic curiosity. After FireWire, it was a commodity.

Rather than rant on, check this short video out:

And enjoy this informative article.

700 Mbps on old kit. Duplicating a 4.5 Gb file in seconds. Playing 5 streams of 1080 footage off a hard disk. All from a not-new MacBook Pro.It’s good to know that, whilst we’re still getting to grips with the extra data and throughput of HD, the wonderful world of 3D (or ‘Stereo’) HD – which would effectively double your storage needs and halve your throughput – now has some headroom to grow. This iteration is only the first round, and 10x higher speeds are promised.

More to the point, it’s going to help the little things. Make the chore of backing up work a little easier. Cloning a 1 Terabyte drive, even with eSata, can take a long time. When you’re under pressure to get things done, taking time out to clone work drives, back up and archive projects gets shunted down the priority list.

Thinking back to iterations, USB3 is out there too – but definitely NOT on the MacBook Pro. Sure, if you get the 17” you can fit a PCI-Express card, but us SxS based editors consider this slot ‘taken’. Current real-world tests haven’t been particularly stellar either, with only around 10-15% more performance than FW800.

Maybe that’s the reason Apple decided to pass on USB3 – which would be very lame. Yes, USB3 is backward-compatible, so a USB3 thumb drive from your favourite PC-based client will work at USB2 speeds on your shiny new Mac, but to deny Mac users USB3 ‘when they have Thunderbolt’ misses the point about compatibility, interoperability and the fact your clients aren’t going to have a LightPeak thumbdrive any time soon.

Also, Thunderbolt is a daisy chain solution, and if my experience with SCSI is anything to go by, there will come a time when you need to briefly add a device, and you already have two that demand to be at the end of a chain. Or that awful moment when you realise you need to swap out one of the drives…

So it appears that the choice between Thunderbolt and USB3 is pretty irrelevant. You can have USB3. If you want to. If someone bothers to make a USB3 interface for Thunderbolt (which must happen). Thinking selfishly, I’m hoping for a Thunderbolt SxS adaptor, so ‘we get Chips!’ – the PCI-e slot is a lovely little thing, but it’s only on the 17″.

I’d like to use the slot for SxS, and for something to drive a broadcast monitor – like the AJA IO Express, for example – and of course the inevitable USB3 adaptor, and the eSata – but these are all in Thunderbolt territory and conceivably there’s a solution for all these uses at the same time. I just hope that third party video kit manufacturers adopt Thunderbolt rather than stick to a USB3 strategy.

I’m very excited about Thunderbolt, but just waiting on the niceties: just how hot is the hot swap? When will we see anything like a hub? How much of a premium will this add to storage devices? And where’s my new MacBook Pro – of course.

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