Acer Dumping Thunderbolt, Sticking with USB 3.0

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.

  • apache_lives
    Premium features = Premium price = NOT an Acer thing

    How is USB3 "less expensive" - its standard in most chipsets these days?
  • daekar
    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.
  • chimera201
    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.
  • ddpruitt
    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.
  • back_by_demand
    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
  • AndrewMD
    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.

  • warezme
    The only way Thunderbolt will grow is if Intel builds it into the chipset and mobo's just come with it.
  • stingray71
    Proprietary port is killing TB. Reminds me of esata. Really like the spec's though. My money is on USB 3.0 and beyond.
  • Someone Somewhere
    11174111 said:
    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.
  • DRosencraft
    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.