Thunderbolt 2 vs USB 3.0 vs eSATA: Availability
Thunderbolt 2 is largely confined to recent Apple computers (Retina MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, 5K iMac and late 2014 Mac Mini) and PC port adapters, although there are a few exceptions such as Dell's Precision M3800 workstation, which packs Thunderbolt 2 for its pro users.
USB 3.0 is widespread in PCs and PC peripherals, and is largely replacing eSATA for external devices such as hard disks. However, eSATA is still popular in corporate environments, not least because IT managers can use it to provide external storage on devices which have USB ports locked down for security reasons.
While Thunderbolt remains a fairly niche standard, that may change: the Thunderbolt 3 standard will embrace USB Type-C connections and the USB 3.1 standard later this year, supporting not just DisplayPort, HDMI and USB but also 40Gbps data transfer and two-way power delivery.
Intel says that more than 30 different PC designs will support Thunderbolt 3 from the off. It's possible that Thunderbolt 3 could become the one connector to rule them all – assuming, of course, that manufacturers decide to use it. Intel told us that Thunderbolt 2 would transform PC connections, and before that it was pretty excited about Thunderbolt 1. Maybe it's a case of third time lucky.
Thunderbolt 2 vs USB 3.0 vs eSATA: Which is best for you?
eSATA is perfectly fine if all you want to do is connect a PC to an external storage device, and it's a useful tool for corporate IT too. However, for end users USB 3.0 is taking over the world and driving down prices. For example at the time of writing a decent 5TB USB 3.0 external hard disk is less than £150 (around $235, or AU$310) compared to £250 (around $390, or AU$520) for a similarly specified eSATA drive with the same capacity.
Thunderbolt prices aren't that low yet, and if the ridiculous cost of Thunderbolt cables is any indication they probably won't get there any time soon – it's designed for a different market, a world of 4K video editing and high-speed highspeed data transfer and of pros who don't blink when someone tells them a 2m cable costs fifty quid. Its speeds leave USB and eSATA in the dust, and if you need to drive 4K displays, shove enormous quantities of data around or do both things simultaneously then Thunderbolt 2 is even more useful than its predecessor.