Since we talked about the new USB 3 spec at CES 2013, things have been chugging along inside of the USB IF (implementers’ forum) which includes the USB 3.0 Promoter’s group. Since the announcement of the standard back in January, the group has finally reached the point that they are now ready for deployment of the new 3.1 spec.
This update will double the speed of USB 3.0 from 5 Gbps to 10 Gbps, while still maintaining the same pin compatibility with USB 3.0 and subsequent standards. And as we stated before, USB 3.1 will require new hardware, which includes new USB 3.1 compatible controllers to enable the 10 Gbps speeds.
Currently, USB 3.1’s only competitor is Intel and Apple’s joint proprietary standard which is Thunderbolt, which has actually been ahead of USB in terms of bandwidth since it has offered 10 Gbps for quite some time. However, Thunderbolt requires a very specific type of cable with an embedded chip from Intel which results in a significantly higher cable cost and overall shorter distances. I have seen some incredibly long thunderbolt cables in Taiwan, however, it is questionable whether those will ever work properly.
Thunderbolt 2, USB 3.1’s only true competitor is actually nothing more than the ability for Thunderbolt to aggregate multiple channels (cables) into one device. Meaning that the speed of a single Thunderbolt cable does not change, and remains at 10 Gbps, but the ability to connect two cables simultaneously is what allows for a theoretical maximum transfer rate of 10 Gbps across two cables. To me, this is not really a competitive move, but rather one that aims to address the needs of Thunderbolt users to have more bandwidth for potentially larger future 4K Apple displays and SSD arrays.