Thunderbolt sales increase, but USB still king

Thunderbolt sales increase, but USB still king

According to a recent report by the IDC, Thunderbolt equipped hardware shipments climbed over 300% over the past year, despite its overall small portion of the overall interconnect market. There were roughly 20,600 Thunderbolt units sent in the second quarter of 2012, only making up a little past 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 total market, according to IDC according to IDC analyst Liz Conner, a 411% overall increase.

IDC predicted that in its first quarter report that the Thunderbolt connection system (which offers 10Gbps interface speeds) could jump up 5.7% of the PELS market by the end of 2017. But the dominant interface will remain USB. In a similar token, the PELS market for USB grew by 11.5% year over year in the second quarter. Ethernet also saw a stronger shipment and overall growth in the industry, acquiring a 10.2% growth rate increase within the same time frame.

The new SuperSpeed specification will grow 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. The recent specification of SuperSpeed 3.1 was published not too long ago and would grow I/O throughput from 4.8Gbps (in USB 3.0) to 10Gbps, bringing to speed with today’s Thunderbolt specification. The next generation USB specification would 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 specification is currently being tested by equipment developers today.

Earlier in the year Intel also announced that the Thunderbolt specification would double its data transfer speeds, (to compete with the USB 3.1 announcement no doubt), and would open up peripheral pipes to greater throughput.

In the beginning, Thunderbolt sales suffered quite a bit because of its higher price point compared to USB devices, and most people just seemed to associate it as an “Apple exclusive” device. Neither of which is true now, although it did take a while for a PC version of Thunderbolt to be introduced. 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 overall, pushing consumers toward cheaper options other than Thunderbolt.

““Thunderbolt is definitely growing, but it’s hit a few speed bumps along the way,” said IDC analyst Liz Conner. “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 performance (mostly speed) of the Thunderbolt system is most definitely sought after by media professionals and other heavy data transfer users who need that top level gear. But the speed from USB 3.0 continues to be cheap and good enough for the average user who only transfers a few music files here and there along with their documents. Stuff that given the speed of USB 3.0 today, is already pretty darn fast. 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. The worldwide market grew 10.7 percent year over year with 16.8 million units (worth $1.5 billion) shipped in the second quarter, according to IDC’s PELS tracker.

It was the third consecutive quarter of year-over-year growth, according to IDC.“The second quarter of 2013 brought … a return to normal for the personal and entry-level storage market,” Conner said. “For the last four quarters, the PELS market has seen a distinct focus on recovery after Thailand floods.”

By the beginning of 2012, disk drive production began to recover, but prices remained inflated because of shortages. According to ecommerce tracking site Dynamite Data, the top 50 hard drives on sites such as and saw prices jump by 50% to 150%. The price hikes kicked off in October 2011, when inventory levels plummeted 90 percent in less than a week.

Users continue to migrate to higher capacities to meet growing storage needs. In the 3.5-in personal storage market, 2TB drives represented 51.9 percent of shipments in the quarter. For the 2.5-inch personal storage market, 1TB drives had 51.7 percent of the market, with 4TB devices comprising 28.6 percent of units shipped.

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Vincent Clarke

Vincent Clarke is the Universal Serial Bus (USB) Guru for When he's not writing tutorials and catching up on the latest USB news, Vincent is busy preparing his next blog post and answering USB questions from his readers and subscribers.

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