Thunderbolt, What's the Point?

Discussion in 'Mac Basics and Help' started by DisraeliGears, Dec 16, 2015.

  1. DisraeliGears macrumors newbie

    DisraeliGears

    Joined:
    Nov 8, 2015
    #1
    Hey, relative Mac newbie here (just got my first Mac, 2014 rMBP about 6 months ago) and I'm just kind of wondering...What's the use of Thunderbolt?

    Tried doing some light research, but most of what I read was tech jargon rather than real world purpose (interfacing speeds and such).

    From what I did find, most was talking about using it for multi-monitor setups, but why wouldn't you just roll with the much more common, and cheaper, HDMI? If I need it to output 4K resolution, perhaps, but that seems like a super obscure reason for 2 full ports.

    For storage, zip drives and external hard drives work fine via USB. Yeah, I suppose you bottleneck if your external is an SSD, but the files you need fast access to (like OS) should be on your internal drive anyway.

    Are there external GPUs that roll with Tbolt? Tho I'd expect those to be extremely expensive.

    So my question it why? Why do I have the same number of Tbolt ports as the seemingly much more functional USB? Why do I seem recommendations for Tbolt hubs on Mac christmas lists? I do want to be enlightened, but I'm just feeling clueless about it atm. Thanks!
     
  2. Gav2k macrumors G3

    Gav2k

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    Jul 24, 2009
    #2
    When thunderbolt first came out hdmi was limited.(by contrast it's still limited to display plus Ethernet)

    Let's put this really simple. Thunderbolt allows you to for example hook up multi displays that could have USB hubs built in and at the end of the chain you could slap a thunderbolt hdd enclosure.

    With the newest revision you can in theory hook up a soon to be release gpu box with a powerful gfx card in it to game or render on. The possibilities are huge.
     
  3. aristobrat macrumors G4

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2005
    #3
    I like being able to connect my rMBP via a single Thunderbolt cable to a monitor that has built-in speakers, a web cam, gigabit Ethernet, and 3 USB ports.

    To me, that's the real world purpose.
     
  4. DisraeliGears thread starter macrumors newbie

    DisraeliGears

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    Nov 8, 2015
    #4
    So essentially its kind of a desk networking system? That does seem like a real world purpose, but why do rMBPs have 2 Tbolt ports then?
     
  5. aristobrat macrumors G4

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    Oct 14, 2005
    #5
    One is going to be used if you have an external display that isn't HDMI, leaving you with another port for whatever... Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire adapter, a 2nd monitor (?), etc.
     
  6. Gav2k macrumors G3

    Gav2k

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    Jul 24, 2009
    #6
    Flexibility some devices do not have a daisy chain port
     
  7. DisraeliGears thread starter macrumors newbie

    DisraeliGears

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    Nov 8, 2015
    #7
    But you just said you connect a monitor/speakers/cam/usb/ethernet via 1 TB. Plus all these ports require a (fairly expensive) cord and an adapter? And what half decent external display these days does't have an HDMI port?

    EDIT: And what distinguishes TB from the other options here? An ethernet to USB, firewire to usb, or HDMI is going to be far cheaper than using TB.
     
  8. v3nom macrumors member

    Joined:
    Jul 30, 2010
    #8
    Thunderbolt goes much deeper into the system as USB.
    Thunderbolt is a combination of two things:
    - a direct connection to the PCIe bus system
    - a direct monitor signal from the GPU
    By that you can attach peripherals with a minimum of signal latency, high bandwidth and no USB restrictions.
    Because of the monitor signal, you can use the digital monitor signal without limiting the bandwith, using CPU power for compressing the signal, no increased latency and other restrictions.
     
  9. cruisin macrumors 6502a

    cruisin

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2014
    Location:
    Canada
    #9
    I think the original idea was to have a fast universal port that is small and fits on small laptops.
    • HDMI is great, but it only has one function so it isn't space efficient on something like a ultrabook, plus there is no cheap way to get a VGA signal from it if you need it.
    • If you want to run two monitors you need two HDMI ports (try to find that on a laptop) vs one thunderbolt port if you chain or two if you don't.
    • If you want a decent 60Hz framerate when you run a 4K monitor you need HDMI 2.0 (which doesn't exist on most laptops) or thunderbolt.
    • If you want a 5K monitor you need two thunderbolt ports period.
    • If you want a basic screen then HDMI will still work.
    • If your job requires firewire then USB to firewire sucks due to the high latency of USB.
    • If you have two Macs you can connect them over thunderbolt to get a 10gigabit ethernet connection for quickly swapping files.
    USB 3 is fast enough that you don't need thunderbolt for many things you used to need to need it for (gigabit ethernet doesn't work on USB 2) and USB C combines thunderbolt and USB 3 so that you just need the one type of port. But until USB C is everywhere people will still need thunderbolt for various reasons.
     
  10. Pakaku macrumors 68000

    Pakaku

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    Aug 29, 2009
    #10
    A port with a lot of potential, hampered by steep entry-fees. Just check the price of any TB hub.
     
  11. aristobrat, Dec 17, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2015

    aristobrat macrumors G4

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    Oct 14, 2005
    #11
    Right, at my desk. I don't always work from my desk.

    There weren't any USB3 USB Ethernet cables when Thunderbolt came out. That limited the speed of gigabit ethernet to USB2 speeds, which are slower than gigabit. There is no price difference between Apple's USB and Thunderbolt ethernet adapters, and no extra cord is required for either of them.

    How about the millions of perfectly fine DVI/VGA monitors that many people are currently using? Thunderbolt ports allow the use of mini-display port adapters to connect to DVI/VGA monitors. You'll find mini-display ports in Dell, Lenovo, HP, etc laptops.

    A quick Google around shows that most USB3 Ethernet adapters are only a few bucks cheaper than the Thunderbolt one (with Monoprice being the usual exception). There are no USB to FireWire adapters. And having to spend hundreds of dollars to replace a perfectly fine DVI monitor with one that supports HDMI is more expensive than buying a $20 mini-display port to DVI adapter that works when you plug it into a Thunderbolt port.
     
  12. vkd macrumors 6502a

    vkd

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2012
    #12
    Thunderbolt is just an idea, really. It sounds good on paper but in practice is vastly expensive and hugely limited due to severe lack of peripherals that support it. Basically just a selling point to put on the adverts for the new products. A win for Apple but for the consumer, nothing. You can't connect another PC to Thunderbolt, only another Apple computer with Thunderbolt ports on it.

    Bottom line: Forget it.
     
  13. zen macrumors 68000

    zen

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2003
    #13
    I have to agree with the "forget it" comments. I bought a Thunderbolt display, thinking that I would keep the monitor and update my computer when the time came, but the display quickly became obsolete, thanks to Thunderbolt 1 not supporting high resolutions. So I'm kinda stuck.

    Also, while external graphics cards connected via TB have been mooted, and I think there were even a couple of DIY or kitset options available, they don't work as the cards require drivers, and drivers for most cards don't exist for OS X.
     
  14. BernyMac macrumors regular

    BernyMac

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    May 18, 2015
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    USA
    #14
    Still waiting for cheaper TB external HDs that match USB3 in price...I don't think it will ever happen...sigh! :(
     
  15. cruisin macrumors 6502a

    cruisin

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    Apr 1, 2014
    Location:
    Canada
    #15
    USB devices borrow the CPU to run while thunderbolt needs to have its own. Combine it with the fact that thunderbolt is not mass produced like USB means that the price will never be low.
     
  16. DisraeliGears thread starter macrumors newbie

    DisraeliGears

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    Nov 8, 2015
    #16
    Aristo, a lot of what you're claiming Tbolt is for could in my eyes be accomplished with other adapters extremely simply or the use of Tbolt seems redundant. Like first off, you're connecting multiple monitors and a hard port Gigabit internet connection at some place that isn't your desk? On a similar note, what service providers are you using that actually deliver on a gig connection? Google Fiber?

    Technologically, your standing pat with a DVI/VGA monitor, but investing in $50 Tbolt cords when your displays can't handle resolutions that take advantage of the bandwidth? That doesn't seem sensible. Plus DVI or VGA to HDMI connectors are just as cheap as Tbolt versions but are more functional considering how little Tbolt is used overall.

    And v3nom, what you posted was what I found trying to research Tbolt, gobbledygook about latency speeds and PCIe connections. From what I've read, I can understand it's functionality as a 1 plug desk solution, and certainly the data transfer speeds it can attain have specific, technical uses, but as kind of an average user, it seems like I lean toward vkd.
     
  17. campyguy, Dec 17, 2015
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2015

    campyguy macrumors 68030

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    Mar 21, 2014
    Location:
    Portland / Seattle
    #17
    OP, read some of what I've composed below for my take. TB 1/2 and USB SS aren't "the same, but different" and have very different purposes. I use both interfaces/protocols - every day - as a consumer and as a business owner. My main reason for using USB is file storage - I use applications to move data and sync storage. My main reason for using the TB/mDP ports on my Macs and PCs is data synching - on local and remote displays, very fast file storage/transfers, connection of displays, and docking other Macs placed in Target Mode.

    IMHO this "difference" between TB3 and USB 3.1 will become more muddied by consumers as TB3 will add USB 3.1 capabilities. USB 3.1 will be a subset of TB3 - but we'll see "USB-C" cables in stores that are not TB3-capable and only a relatively few TB3 cables that do - by design - include USB 3.1 tech. I see lots of conversations at Best Buys along the lines of "I have a Bluetooth" coming...

    IMHO, in your OP, you're missing the point of TB. TB and USB aren't even the same "thing", and as far as Macs are concerned have little in common (e.g., PCs can drive displays over USB 3, Macs not so much...).

    I'm investing in TB3 tech, but not TB2 tech. For TB2, I prefer that interface over USB mainly for one reason - lack of interference with the 2.4GHz frequency range and lack of failures-to-maintain data connections (for the latter, use a search engine for "prematurely-ejected external USB drive", or words to that effect) - two identical large-size file transfers from my external SSDs will work 100% of the time over TB 1/2 but fail about 50% of the time over USB SS (using the same drive).

    No offense intended, I generally do not agree with most of your post, parts of which I cropped out. The part about USB C combining Thunderbolt and USB 3 is not correct, in that in IMHO you have that point "backwards" - it's more or less the opposite in that TB3 includes and can provide - simultaneously - USB 3.1 (@10Gbps) plus power, plus 40Gbps Thunderbolt, PCI-E, and DisplayPort 1.2. Read up: https://thunderbolttechnology.net/blog/thunderbolt-3-usb-c-does-it-all (one of Intel's web portals for marketing). TB3 and USB-C share only an interface and port design.
     

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