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Thunderbolt 2 vs USB 3.0 vs eSATA – Top Speed, Compatibility and Features Comparison

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Thunderbolt was created by Intel in collaboration with Apple and it’s an interconnect technology that combines PCI Express and DisplayPort, making a single connection which allows adding up to six peripherals. A new version of high-speed standard has been released recently and we compare it with its biggest rivals, USB 3.0 and eSATA, to see which one is better.

The latest Thunderbolt has the same max bandwidth of 40Gbps as its predecessor, but it has two bidirectional channels which deliver 20Gbps each, instead of having four one-way channels with 10Gbps each. This small upgrade offers more power to drive a 4K display or other storage device, and it seems that the data speeds have been doubled.

Speed

While USB 2.0 delivers a speed of 480Mbps, its successor can top out at 5Gbps and the next USB 3.1 should support up to 10Gbps. eSATA delivers 6Gbps and Thunderbolt 3 can do better than all of its rivals, delivering up to 20Gbps.

Compatibility

With Thunderbolt, you can connect monitors, external drives etc., but you will need a cable adaptor to connect a DisplayPort monitor, because the DisplayPort element is backwards compatible. If you want to connect DVI, HDMI and VGA displays, then you will do it using adapters. Luckily, every device that is compatible with Thunderbolt ports, can connect to a Thunderbolt 2 port, but if you connect Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 devices on the same chain, to get Thunderbolt 1 speeds, you will need to plug in the original devices at the end of the chain.

When it comes to USB 3.0, it’s compatible with USB 2.0 devices, but the speed will be lower if you connect a USB 2.0 device or port. You are allowed to run more USB devices, but you need multiple ports.

eSATA can be used to connect high-speed internal hard disks. There are some Toshiba laptops that contain dual-mode ports to connect eSATA or USB devices.

Availability

Thunderbolt 2 is limited to Apple’s latest Retina MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, 5K iMac and 2014 Mac Mini devices, and PC port adapters, but not all devices are packed with this port.

USB 3.0 is found on all computers and laptops, and it seems that more and more hard disks and other external devices are switching from eSATA to USB.

When Thunderbolt 3 will be launched, it will embrace the USB 3.1 standard and USB Type-C connections, and will support up to 40Gbps data transfer, besides the two-way power delivery.

Verdict

eSATA will limit you to connecting PCs to external storage devices, while USB 3.0 is more used worldwide, and if you need an external hard disk of 5TB, you’ll spend around $235, while a eSATA drive is more expensive at $390. The prices for the Thunderbolt devices are still very high, but those who want high speed data transfer, will pay a lot of money to have the best experience.