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Computerworld - Though still a small part of the overall interconnect market, Thunderbolt-equipped hardware shipments surged 300% over the past year, according to IDC.
There were roughly 20,600 Thunderbolt units shipped in the second quarter of 2012, representing a little over 0.1% of all personal and entry-level storage (PELS) devices shipped. In the second quarter of 2013, Thunderbolt-enabled storage device shipments grew to about 0.6% of the market, according to IDC analyst Liz Conner, a 411% increase.
IDC predicted in its first quarter report that Thunderbolt, which offers 10Gbps interface speeds, could skyrocket to 5.7% of the PELS market by 2017. But the dominant interface will remain USB.
USB in the PELS market grew by 11.5% year over year in Q2. Ethernet also saw strong shipment growth, posting a 10.2% growth rate in the same time frame.
The SuperSpeed USB 3.1 specification was recently published and jumps I/O throughput (on paper) from 4.8Gbps (in USB 3.0) to 10Gbps, bringing it on par with today's Thunderbolt specification. The next USB spec will also eliminate the need for power cords as the first USB Power Delivery specification is expected to boost from 10 watts to 100 watts the power across Power Delivery-certified USB cables. That spec is currently being tested by equipment developers.
The new SuperSpeed specification will increase power to 100 watts and offer bidirectional data and audio/visual transfer, meaning a laptop or monitor with a USB hub could power many other devices, including an HDTV.
Earlier this year, however, Intel also announced that its Thunderbolt specification would double data transfer speeds, opening up peripheral pipes to greater throughput.
"Thunderbolt is definitely growing, but it's hit a few speed bumps along the way," Conner wrote in an email to Computerworld.
Thunderbolt sales have suffered in part because of higher prices compared to USB devices, and "people initially assumed it was an Apple only interface (and it took a while for a PC version of Thunderbolt to be introduced)," Conner said.
Hard disk drive prices were also affected by the 2011 Thailand floods, which shut down manufacturing and resulted in drive shortages. That bumped drive prices higher, pushing consumers toward cheaper options, "which really squeezed out Thunderbolt unless the higher speed was a necessity," Conner said.
Thunderbolt will definitely continue to grow, Conner continued, but more as a replacement for Firewire/1394 and eSATA, not as a replacement to USB.
The speed of Thunderbolt is definitely sought by media professionals and other niche users who really need top-level performance, Connor said. But USB 3.0's speed continues to be "good enough" for most users. That, plus the fact that USB 3.0 is backwards compatible, makes it significantly cheaper than Thunderbolt.
At the same time, the worldwide market for personal and entry-level storage hardware saw double-digit growth in the second quarter of 2013. The market includes storage products that range from a single disk through twelve-drive bay storage arrays marketed for individuals, small offices/home offices, and small businesses.
Originally published on www.computerworld.com. Click here to read the original story.