HP picks USB 3.0 over Intel's Thunderbolt for desktops

HP says Thunderbolt has a limited value proposition

Hewlett-Packard considered using Intel's Thunderbolt interconnect in new desktop PCs announced Monday, but is sticking with USB 3.0 because of wider support, a company official said.

"We did look at [Thunderbolt]. We're still looking into it. Haven't found a value proposition yet," said Xavier Lauwaert, worldwide marketing manager for desktops at HP.

Thunderbolt is a high-speed interconnect that can transfer data between host computers and external devices such as displays and storage devices at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. The technology has been viewed as an alternative to USB 3.0, but devices such as external storage drives and monitors based on the interconnect are not yet available.

HP announced three new series of desktop PCs on Monday, including one that can be configured to include USB 3.0 ports, the Pavilion HPE H8 series.

Lauwaert said HP didn't see value in including Thunderbolt in desktops. "On the PC side, everybody seems to be content with the expansion of USB 3.0. Do we need to go into more fancy solutions? Not convinced yet," Lauwaert said.

Intel developed Thunderbolt with Apple, which is offering the interface in a few Macintosh models. Other PC makers backing the technology include Sony.

Thunderbolt currently supports the PCI Express and DisplayPort protocols, which helps reduce the number of connectors needed to attach peripherals to computers. Intel insists Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 are complementary technologies, and has said it will build chip sets with support for both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt starting next year.

Intel plans to open up Thunderbolt development this quarter, and is also working with partners to develop products as it tries to build out an ecosystem around the interconnect. LaCie and Western Digital have demonstrated portable storage products, but are not yet selling devices. Companies such as Canon, AJA, BlackMagic, Matrox and Sonnet have announced support for Thunderbolt.

The Pavilion HPE H8 series, priced starting at US$599, is available with either Intel's latest Core processors or chips from Advanced Micro Devices. The series is also available with separate graphics cards from Nvidia or Advanced Micro Devices.

HP also announced the Pavilion P7 series of budget desktops starting at $299, and the Slimline S5 series, desktops about half the size of regular tower PCs, priced starting at $329.

The P7 and H8 desktops include a feature called LinkUp, in which virtualization software helps users directly access files on a remote computer over a Wi-Fi network. A user can operate a remote PC through a window on a host PC, and copy files from one PC to another by dragging and dropping.

LinkUp is a peer-to-peer system designed to connect Windows PCs, Lauwaert said. The technology behind LinkUp has been adapted from virtualization technology developed by HP's server group. PCs on both ends require specific software to be installed to establish a direct connection.

LinkUp is also an early manifestation of the company's long-term cloud plans, Lauwaert said. HP CEO Leo Apotheker in March mapped out the company's future cloud computing strategy, under which the WebOS platform would be used to help computing devices such as PCs, tablets and smartphones share files and content easily.

The current LinkUp technology does not connect PCs to devices running WebOS, which HP says will ultimately become available on PCs. HP has already introduced the TouchPad tablet with WebOS 3.0, but a company spokeswoman declined to provide further information on when WebOS would be on PCs.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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