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Acer Dumping Thunderbolt, Sticking with USB 3.0

By - Source: CNET | B 31 comments

USB 3.0 is less expensive, and caters to more peripherals, says Acer.

Back in 2012, Acer became the first PC maker to embrace Intel's lightning-fast Thunderbolt technology. Now in July 2013, Acer has dropped the tech from its machines as of last week, citing performance improvements of USB 3.0 over the high cost related to Thunderbolt.

"We're really focusing on USB 3.0 -- it's an excellent alternative to Thunderbolt," Acer spokeswoman Ruth Rosene told CNET. "It's less expensive, offers comparable bandwidth, charging for devices such as mobile phones, and has a large installed base of accessories and peripherals."

The trick with USB 3.0 is that while there's a growing number of peripherals taking advantage of the new faster port, it's compatible with devices built for USB 2.0 and later. That includes hard drives, flash drives, keyboards, mice, and even gamepads as Rosene pointed out.

Jason Ziller, director of Intel's Client Connectivity Division, didn't seem fazed by Acer's move, saying that PC adoption of Thunderbolt is increasing. Even more, there are more than a dozen new 4th-generation Intel Core processor-based platforms already launched with Thunderbolt, including solutions from Lenovo, Dell, Asus, and others, with more coming throughout 2013.

"Thunderbolt is targeted toward premium systems. It is not targeted to be on mid-range or value systems in the next couple of years," he added. Last year Ziller told CNET that Intel was shooting to have Thunderbolt "broadly deployed" across most PCs within three to five years.

Although Acer has jumped off the Thunderbolt bandwagon for now, rival PC makers are pushing forward with the Intel tech. The Dell One 27 AIO PC features a 27 inch touch screen and a starting price of $2099, and HP offers the touch-based Specture XT 15-1401nr laptop for $1,200. Other recent Thunderbolt-equipped releases include the Asus G750 17 inch gaming laptop with a starting price of $1400, and the Gigabyte P35k 15.6 inch gaming laptop.

However Intel's biggest Thunderbolt ally is co-developer Apple. The upcoming Mac Pro will reportedly come with Thunderbolt 2, a version that doubles the data transfer speeds to 20 Gbps while still retaining the ability to daisy chain six devices and a DisplayPort monitor. Meanwhile, USB 3.0's speed is slated to double to 10 Gbps in 2014. The spec is scheduled to be completed around now, allowing products to trickle onto the market in late 2014 and more broadly in 2015.

Unfortunately, current devices with USB 3.0 ports won't be able to take advantage of the increased speed: new USB controller hardware is needed. The actual connectors will remain the same although it's unclear if current USB 3.0 cables will actually work with the newer spec. "Existing SuperSpeed USB cables are not certified to operate at 10 Gbps; it is possible that some existing SuperSpeed USB cables may be capable of operating at 10 Gbps," the USB 3.0 Promoter Group said.

Ultimately Acer may be placing all bets on the newer USB 3.0 spec. As the company mentioned, USB is less expensive than Thunderbolt, and current Thunderbolt-based external drives cost more than USB versions -- the Thunderbolt cables themselves initially cost around $50. That said, whether or not Thunderbolt has staying power after two and a half years – and whether Acer's departure is a sign of things to come -- remains to be seen. However Ziller believes high-end users appreciate Thunderbolt's performance.

"Thunderbolt 2 enables 4K video file transfer and display simultaneously. We believe it will help increase adoption as more users want to have the capability to work with high-resolution video or photos," he said.

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  • 11 Hide
    chimera201 , July 17, 2013 6:38 AM
    Its so logical. There are very few devices that utilize Thunderbolt's bandwidth.
    Only dumb Apple users will buy that feature.
    Whereas other manufacturers know that its customers are not dumb.
Other Comments
  • -4 Hide
    apache_lives , July 17, 2013 6:13 AM
    Premium features = Premium price = NOT an Acer thing

    How is USB3 "less expensive" - its standard in most chipsets these days?
  • 9 Hide
    daekar , July 17, 2013 6:38 AM
    Thunderbolt is definitely a premium thing at the moment. The question is, does the average consumer NEED it? In a time when computing devices are proliferating because of their low price and sacrificed function relative to desktops, a premium connectivity with that kind of bandwidth is superfluous. Who has 4K video now? A minority. For those transferring super large files it will be a godsend, but most people... USB 3.0 will be more than good enough for a while.
  • 11 Hide
    chimera201 , July 17, 2013 6:38 AM
    Its so logical. There are very few devices that utilize Thunderbolt's bandwidth.
    Only dumb Apple users will buy that feature.
    Whereas other manufacturers know that its customers are not dumb.
  • 4 Hide
    ddpruitt , July 17, 2013 6:49 AM
    Acer sees the writing on the wall. This is the same reason Firewire never caught on it started on premium systems and the peripherals all cost more. When it comes down to it the vast majority (99%+) of people care about price and don't really know or care about speed.
  • 5 Hide
    back_by_demand , July 17, 2013 7:11 AM
    They had me at "backwards compatibility" seeing as the world+dog has USB2.0 flash drives, printers, etc - thunderbolt may be fast but it consigns my existing hardware to the bin and that won't fly with a lot of people - here's a radical idea, seeing as it is possible to have a port that is dual USB/eSATA then why don't they make Thunderbolt 2.0 connectors dual USB3.0/TB2.0 - crazy I know, but the world really doesn't need yet another plug
  • -1 Hide
    AndrewMD , July 17, 2013 7:13 AM
    Chimera201 - Last time checked, many studios, graphic design houses, etc use Apple products for the production. Seeing the TB 2.0 will increase speeds to 20gbs will help them even more with transfer rates.

  • 1 Hide
    warezme , July 17, 2013 7:26 AM
    The only way Thunderbolt will grow is if Intel builds it into the chipset and mobo's just come with it.
  • 1 Hide
    stingray71 , July 17, 2013 7:43 AM
    Proprietary port is killing TB. Reminds me of esata. Really like the spec's though. My money is on USB 3.0 and beyond.
  • 3 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , July 17, 2013 7:44 AM
    Quote:
    Premium features = Premium price = NOT an Acer thing

    How is USB3 "less expensive" - its standard in most chipsets these days?


    You just answered your own question. USB3.0 is on most modern chipsets, requiring nothing more than connectors and a bit of power circuitry on the MB. Thunderbolt requires an extra chip, supplied only by Intel.
  • 1 Hide
    DRosencraft , July 17, 2013 7:56 AM
    This was easily foreseeable from the moment Thunderbolt was discussed. When it was first announced SSDs were still a relatively novel device, and were the only things that could take real advantage of the speed in Thunderbolt since the average mechanical drive couldn't even read/write fast enough to keep up. Even for most heavy data users the difference in speeds between USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt right now is minute seconds - not enough to offset the added pain of looking for compatible devices, and the extra cost of it all. It's hard to introduce a new standard, and this one was never rolled out properly to begin with, so after giving it a couple years, it's not surprising some are jumping ship now and cutting their loses.
  • 0 Hide
    spentshells , July 17, 2013 8:36 AM
    Smart move, thunderbolt and it's successor are far overpriced for what they offer (as far as what is needed) at this time.
  • 0 Hide
    James Devenberg , July 17, 2013 8:45 AM
    I wish they would put Thunderbolt, or at least Mini Displayport on more of their premium machines. I love the Aspire S7, but I want to be able to connect to more than one external monitor, or at least one that is over 1920x1080. The fact that HDMI and USB are the only connection options are serious barriers to me getting the S7. If it had Thunderbolt or Mini DisplayPort, I would be 100% sure it was my next laptop. As it is now, I'm waiting for the Retina MBP refresh, and if that takes too long, it will be a hard choice between the S7 or the XPS 12
  • 0 Hide
    teh_chem , July 17, 2013 8:53 AM
    Thunderbolt is truly an interesting technology. However, it doesn't have the benefit of backward-compatibility on existing devices. Though this article says one of the issues with backing USB 3.0 is that most devices are still 2.0 (or older). But this doesn't matter a whole lot; devices that don't benefit from the speed (or power) improvements of 3.0 don't need to be made with 3.0--2.0 suffices. On the other hand, thunderbolt requires an entirely new and different hardware and firmware architecture to be built into devices. Most of those devices already function with USB 2.0. It's a tough argument to make as to which technology to go with.

  • 0 Hide
    pmurraymusic , July 17, 2013 9:47 AM
    Question for the room? I currently am running most of my plug-n-play drives via USB off of my iMac, but do all my audio editing/music tech stuff w/a Saffire Pro14 Interface through a Firewire connection; it's been running awesomely. I'm looking to purchase a couple of 1-2TB external drives, one of which I'd like to use as the main drive for all my audio data with the other as a backup. For the main drive, with my 2.0 USB port, would it make sense - and be faster - to purchase a 2TB unit w/3.0 capabilities? Or should I stick with Firewire? Happy to give more specs via e-mail so someone who could help. Thanks so much :-) !


    P. Murray
    http://twitter.com/pmurraymusic
  • -4 Hide
    Mashuri Lambana , July 17, 2013 10:08 AM
    Sometimes i do not understand the logic with the PC makers , in this case, Acer
    How much more expensive to add Thunderbolt into Mobo? $50 dollar extra?
    Please give number , because if someone pays 900 dollar notebook, will it complaint to have 50 dollar Thunderbolt?
    That thunderbolt cost less than a keyboard and mouse.
    This kind of reasoning why Apple will always successful and Acer, as always, behind everyone else
  • 2 Hide
    back_by_demand , July 17, 2013 10:47 AM
    Mashuri, it matters a lot even if $50 is the figure as 95% of PCs and laptops sold are bought by people who do not and never will need TB, from the remaining people almost none need the interface as they do not have any TB peripherals and buying those also costs more money again. The rest have more money than sense.
  • 2 Hide
    internetlad , July 17, 2013 12:53 PM
    bom bom bom, another apple peripheral standard bites the dust.
  • 0 Hide
    __-_-_-__ , July 17, 2013 2:39 PM
    the problem here is intel licensing that sucks. also chips are overpriced for what they offer. it's a pain to license a thunderbolt product. manufacturers even plan to make things with thunderbolt and end up removing it due to intel licensing problems. acer w700 tablet was going to have thunderbolt but intel didn't allow it.
    so screw it intel.

    anyway this will become irrelevant when usb3.5 arrives in the end of this year with better capabilities then thunderbolt.
  • 1 Hide
    DRosencraft , July 17, 2013 7:33 PM
    Quote:
    Sometimes i do not understand the logic with the PC makers , in this case, Acer
    How much more expensive to add Thunderbolt into Mobo? $50 dollar extra?
    Please give number , because if someone pays 900 dollar notebook, will it complaint to have 50 dollar Thunderbolt?
    That thunderbolt cost less than a keyboard and mouse.
    This kind of reasoning why Apple will always successful and Acer, as always, behind everyone else


    The cable alone costs around $50, and probably around that much extra on a external drive w/ TB compared to one w/ USB 3.0. But that is on the end-user side. For Acer it's the cost of licensing the standard, then in the manufacturing process for incorporating it alongside other existing standards, including USB, all without cluttering the I/O area. From a simple standpoint of simplicity it's better to minimize the costs. Acer is a budget PC retailer.

    By nature they strive for quality at a low price, not quality at any cost. Apple can get away with supporting something like Thunderbolt or FireWire for a long time because their market is baked in; not a lot of Apple users are going to suddenly jump ship to Windows over a single feature or cost, otherwise they wouldn't have gone with Apple in the first place. But Acer has to compete with the likes of Asus, HP, Lenovo, Dell, etc in the Windows market. It's more of a cost and a pain to stick with something like this that is struggling right now. They stand a better chance shaving a little cost and competing on cost instead of touting something the vast majority of their consumers will never use, or likely won't need for some years. Trying to also deal with a floundering PC industry, saving the likely much more than $50 makes the most sense.
  • 0 Hide
    teh_chem , July 17, 2013 8:34 PM
    Quote:
    Question for the room? I currently am running most of my plug-n-play drives via USB off of my iMac, but do all my audio editing/music tech stuff w/a Saffire Pro14 Interface through a Firewire connection; it's been running awesomely. I'm looking to purchase a couple of 1-2TB external drives, one of which I'd like to use as the main drive for all my audio data with the other as a backup. For the main drive, with my 2.0 USB port, would it make sense - and be faster - to purchase a 2TB unit w/3.0 capabilities? Or should I stick with Firewire? Happy to give more specs via e-mail so someone who could help. Thanks so much :-) !


    P. Murray
    http://twitter.com/pmurraymusic

    First question is do you have USB 3.0 ports? You need USB 3.0 ports to get USB 3.0 speed. Otherwise if you have only USB 2.0, you'll only get 2.0 speeds even with a 3.0 device.

    It entirely depends on the performance of the drive(s) you're looking at. Lots of faster HDD's can hit average speeds of around 100-120MB/s; that exceeds USB 2.0 (and firewire 400) speeds, so you're better off going with 3.0. But on the other hand, if you're using "green" (i.e., low power, lower-performance) disks, they might top out around 50-60MB/s (or lower), which is fine for USB 2.0 (give or take some headroom on the bus). USB 3.0 is faster than firewire, but the limiting speed is probably going to be the disk.

    It also depends on whether you've got firewire 400 or 800. Firewire 800 is around about as fast as most mainstream HDDs (give or take), with firewire 400 about as fast as usb 2.0. So if you have a firewire 800 connection, and a firewire 800 external hard drive, you're pretty much good to go in terms of speed.

    For the purpose of ubiquity, if you have USB 3.0 ports on your system, I don't see why you'd want to maintain firewire moving forward. USB is on pretty much every device, whereas firewire isn't as common.
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