Thunderbolt and USB-C

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Thunderbolt and USB-C

Postby Manning » Mon Feb 22, 2016 2:04 pm

OK, I've been obsessing over this topic lately, because I am trying to run both an audio and video business.

Here are my findings:

1 - Thunderbolt (in its present form) is dead. It joins Firewire as a technology that Apple couldn't get off the ground.
2 - USB-C is a new universal connector that can run data, power, video and audio.
3 - Multiple protocols are available over USB-C. These include regular USB (1,2 & 3) and HDMI. More importantly it can supply the new USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 1/2/3 standards.
4 - To use Thunderbolt 1/2/3 over USB-C, the operating system and motherboard have to be cooperating. And you have to have a special powered cable.
5 - Apple is already supporting Thunderbolt 1/2 over USB-C on its new MacBook. No word when Thunderbolt 3 will become available or when an updated Mac Pro will arrive.
6 - Microsoft have recently announced full support for Thunderbolt 1/2/3 over USB-C in Windows 10. However it has specifically said it is NOT supporting "Legacy" Thunderbolt devices that use the old connector (eg. UAD Apollos, etc).
7 - USB 3.1 is as fast as Thunderbolt 1. This means 10Gbit/sec. This is double the speed of USB 3, 12x faster than Firewire 800 and 21x faster than USB 2.
8 - PC makers are now aggressively implementing Thunderbolt 3 (40 Gbit/sec). Over 40 PC motherboards are on the market already.
9 - Everyone - Mac or PC - is also implementing USB 3.1.

I know many of you are Mac devotees, but Microsoft decisions do directly impact your wallet. Microsoft coming on board with Thunderbolt means that every component manufacturer will get on board as well. Thunderbolt drives are currently very expensive ($200-$300 per TB) as compared to a USB 3.0 drive ($50-$70 per TB). That should change very quickly.

My personal prediction is that audio manufacturers will embrace USB 3.1 and completely abandon Thunderbolt. The reason is that the 10 Gbit pipe of USB 3.1 is enough to move over 1200 192KHz/24 bit tracks in both directions. (Thunderbolt 3 could in theory do over 5000 tracks.) I can't see anyone building a 1200 input device any time soon. Also remember that "pure data throughput" will never be the limiting factor for audio - ADC/DAC and DSP has to keep up with all that data as well.

Thunderbolt 3 will however be very important on the video side of things. I'm now shooting in 4K (ProRes 444HQ if anyone cares) and my files are 8GB/minute. I think it will be popular with data storage people as well.
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Re: Thunderbolt and USB-C

Postby Manning » Mon Feb 22, 2016 4:45 pm

A separate and significant question someone asked me is - "Will new Macs with USB-C be able to connect with Thunderbolt devices that have the old connector?"

And after researching this for close to an hour, the answer is "I have no idea".

From a technical perspective, it is perfectly possible.

However I do know that it is a bit more complicated than a simple "adapter". While the Thunderbolt protocol itself is unchanged, the actual method by which it connects to the motherboard is different between the old and new, and it will require a separate driver. (This is why Microsoft aren't supporting the old Thunderbolt).

But Apple are a lot more invested in Thunderbolt than Microsoft ever was. So you'd think they'd be keen to provide backwards compatibility. However, in my digging around I did see a lot of forum posts from people complaining they can't connect their Thunderbolt monitors to the new USB-C Macbook. So far Apple have only released a USB-C to HDMI adapter (which is a straight conversion, no power-carrying issues involved).

Take whatever conclusions you want from the above.
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Re: Thunderbolt and USB-C

Postby Sammas » Mon Feb 22, 2016 5:33 pm

Manning wrote:1 - Thunderbolt (in its present form) is dead. It joins Firewire as a technology that Apple couldn't get off the ground.


That doesn't sound remotely correct though. USB-C is a multiple protocol connection which includes an improvement in thunderbolt performance (TB3 - 40Gbps). With the introduction of USB-C, thunderbolt hasn't disappeared. It has actually gotten better.

USB-C is killing everything in its current form. USB A, USB B, HDMI, DVI, VGA, Ethernet, Display port... they are all going in the name of progress and minaturisation. One connector to rule them all. It anything, I would have thought the move to one connector may see a drastic increase in devices thanks to economy of scale.
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Re: Thunderbolt and USB-C

Postby Manning » Mon Feb 22, 2016 7:36 pm

As I said, dead - "in its present form". The current Thunderbolt connectors are going away and a simple "Thunderbolt to USB-C" converter doesn't seem possible because of all the motherboard implications.

It's not like HDMI or USB where only data is flowing. There are already a plethora of USB-C to HDMI and USB-C to USB-A adapters on the market.

Thunderbolt requires a powered cable and that power has to be drawn from the motherboard in a very specific way. Apple has not (yet) provided any method of running an old Thunderbolt cable on the (solitary) Macbook it has released with USB-C. Meanwhile Microsoft has said it will not support the "old" Thunderbolt.

So essentially we have a "New Thunderbolt" (USB-C) which has been strongly embraced by the PC world and also by Apple. Meanwhile "Old Thunderbolt" looks to be dead - explicitly unsupported by PCs and seemingly abandoned by Apple.

But hopefully Apple will prove my doom-saying wrong and release a device that allows old Thunderbolt to keep working under USB-C.
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Re: Thunderbolt and USB-C

Postby Sammas » Mon Feb 22, 2016 8:58 pm

Intel have already stated that TB3 is backwards compatible with TB1 & TB2 via an adapter provided the devices are built to thunderbolt spec. I am sure as Mac roles out more USB-C equipped computers an adapter will follow.

I don't think Microsoft has ever officially supported TB1 & TB2 thanks to some inherent permissions issues in windows when providing the protocol with direct memory access. From what I have learnt, Microsoft did some pretty heavy re-engineering to incorporate TB3.
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Re: Thunderbolt and USB-C

Postby Lee » Mon Feb 22, 2016 9:00 pm

Thanks for taking the time to share manning. :D
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Re: Thunderbolt and USB-C

Postby Drumstruck » Thu Feb 25, 2016 9:36 am

I wish I could say something other than "they're doing it again".

So how long before they resurrect the parallel port and get some real streaming happening?
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