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USB2 vs USB3 vs FireWire vs ThunderBolt

USB2 vs USB3 vs FireWire vs ThunderBolt

Different systems, different connections. Which one to choose? Sometimes it feels like going to Boots and trying to take the proper vitamins.
We will try to shade some light with regards to these standards in this article and hopefully by the end of it you will know what to choose better.

The principle is simple – The faster the connection the bigger the transfer rate will be. All this being said let`s see which standard brings more speed.


USB2 was released in 2000 and it is able to provide transfer speeds of up to 480Mbps (Megabytespersecond) which at the time compared to USB1 made a huge difference. USB1 could only give 1.5Mbps at low speed and a max of 12Mbps at high speed. After a very long time, 10 years on after the release of USB2, finally USB3 had been released.


USB3 is 10 times faster than USB2 and it can provide transfer speeds of up to 5 Gbps provided that the right hardware matches the requirements. Definitely a big increase in speed, 5 Gbps is a lot more than 480Mbps. The biggest advantage of the USB standard is that it is widely used and it is more common than FireWire and this creates a situation where quantity rules over quality. Not saying that USB3 is bad quality just that standards like ThunderBolt from Apple are faster but are not available for Windows systems.


FIrewire comes in 3 flavours 400, 800 and S3200. FireWire 800 has been on the market for a long time and even though it can deliver transfer speeds better than a USB2 connection it is more niche oriented rather than the more common widely used USB standard. In real terms FireWire 800 with a 7200 rpm hard drive can deliver 90 Mbps whereas USB2 can only deliver 40Mbps. But when compared to USB3 it falters because USB3 can deliver 150Mpbs in this specific setup. So generally speaking USB2 is slower than FireWire 800 and FireWire 800 is slower than USB 3. So far it seems that the overall winner is USB3 but lets see what ThunderBolt brings.


ThunderBolt is a port specific to apple computers. It is much faster than USB3, a ThunderBolt connection can deliver transfer speeds of up to 10Gb. The fact that it is available only on Apple Macs makes it niche/product oriented as well. The great thing about ThunderBolt is that in has 4 transfer lanes which means that having 4 devices connected at the same time will technically give transfer rates of up to 40Gbps. USB3 has only one lane which at the moment deliveres 5Gbps and when the new USB3.1 will be available it will only be able to deliver 10Gbps but in only one lane.




USB as a standard is commonly used on a variety of systems. USB3 delivers goodtransfer speeds but it does not get even near to ThunderBolt, heowever USB3.1 will bring some more power in the future.


On the other hand ThunderBolt can only be found on Apple Mac systems so the bottom line is that if you are a Windows user you can go with USB3 rather than FIreWire or USB2 and if you are an Apple Mac user than you are the lucky one as you will have both the ThunderBolt option and the USB3.