You may not remember how Firewire became the standard for file transfer between hard drives and video cameras many years ago. USB, while good for many general uses, lacked the speed to efficiently and reliably transfer files back and forth--especially large files such as those created by digital video cameras. For several years you couldn't even get a camcorder with a USB connection--not until USB2, to be exact.
USB has been problematical pretty much from its beginning but at the same time as long as you stayed within its limits it was easy to use and faster than anything before it. In the beginning USB peripherals worked with smaller file sizes and short bursts of data which never ran into the bottlenecks of being simply a high-speed serial bus. Sure, clock rates have increased so USB's apparent speed has increased with it, but it's still a tiny pipe getting fed more and more pressure; something's gotta blow.
Unless you're into the wiring and protocol level of Thunderbolt technology, neither you nor I know exactly how Thunderbolt is different. One thing I'm aware of is that both Apple and Intel plan a fibre-optic connection on top of the existing hard-wired copper apparently using at least some level of parallel communications to enhance that speed. By offering multiple one-way communications lines more data packets can pass without colliding. But I'm sure there's more to it than just that since we already know there's a live circuit board at each end of the cable.
The basic USB protocol is almost 20 years old--ancient by modern computer standards. Serial barely lasted 15 years, parallel little longer and SCSI, which in its way was even better didn't last that long. Firewire blew USB away for speed and reliability, but it didn't have the ability to daisy chain to the same extent that USB could and USB2 managed to just meet Firewire's speed. But now that we've pushed that limit once again, we're finding that USB simply can't carry the load any more--we're losing data that could be critical to someone down the road.
USB has lived a long and productive life. Let it now retire to usher in a faster, more efficient descendant.
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