Intel wants Thunderbolt 3 everywhere, release royalty-free spec

JC Torres - May 25, 2017
Intel wants Thunderbolt 3 everywhere, release royalty-free spec

Just when you thought the industry has settled down on adopting USB-C as the one connector to rule them all, Intel comes along using its industry clout to push another thing forward. Unlike its predecessors, however, Thunderbolt 3 is fortunately based on USB-C, making it possible to use the same type of connection for both, just like in the latest MacBook Pros. And if Intel has its way, Thunderbolt 3 will be in every desktop, laptop, or computing device, thanks to its generous but also aggressive campaign.

While most consumers will understand USB Type C or USB-C as a type of port and plug connection, it is actually a specification that layout not just the form of the connection but also the capabilities of that connection, from transferring data, power, or even video output. In Thunderbolt 3, Intel and Apple decided to do away with the proprietary connectors used in the first two versions of the Thunderbolt specification and, instead, adopt the USB-C spec. On top of USB-C’s standard capabilities, Thunderbolt 3 adds faster data transfers, two-way communication between connected devices.

As such, every Thunderbolt 3 connection is also a USB-C connection but not vice-versa. Manufacturers have avoided adding support for Thunderbolt 3 for mainly two reasons. First is the additional micro-controller hardware required to support it. The other is that Intel is the only one making such a controller and everyone else has to license those from Intel first. To help make Thunderbolt 3 a de facto standard, Intel is doing away with both obstacles.

Intel’s future CPUs will have Thunderbolt 3 baked in. This means that no additional space on the motherboard or logic board has to be sacrificed to a separate controller. Intel is also turning the Thunderbolt 3 into a royalty-free, but not open, spec. This means that chip makers will be able to make Thunderbolt 3 controllers of their own, without having to pony up licensing fees.

Thunderbolt 3 does have some rather convincing benefits, like exponentially increasing the bandwidth for data transfers. Gamers might also feel me empowered, as Thunderbolt 3 allows them to have skinny laptops that attach to graphics boosters when gaming. Whether or not the rest of the industry subscribes to Intel’s vision, however, is something to be seen, but that still depends on when Intel actually puts its plans into motion, which will start sometime next year.


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