Intel to Integrate Thunderbolt 3 into Future CPUs

Posted on May 25, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 42 Comments

How important is Thunderbolt 3 to the future of the PC? Intel announced this week that it will integrate this versatile and powerful technology into its future CPUs.

“Intel continues its I/O innovation leadership with Thunderbolt 3, one of the most significant cable I/O updates since the advent of USB,” Intel vice president Chris Walker reveals. “We envision a future where high-performance single-cable docks, stunning photos and 4K video, lifelike VR, and faster-than-ever storage are commonplace.”

So do I. And so does every PC maker on earth, except Microsoft. Fortunately, Intel is doing something about it.

The microprocessor has announced that it will “drive large-scale mainstream adoption of Thunderbolt by integrating Thunderbolt 3 into future Intel CPUs and by releasing the Thunderbolt protocol specification to the industry next year … under a non-exclusive, royalty-free license.”

Thunderbolt 3, which is delivered via a USB-C style port, is a milestone moment for the PC industry. It can be used to drive displays, external storage, and peripherals of all kinds. And it provides a level of performance that is unavailable elsewhere, especially the paltry USB 3-based expansion that is so common today. (As in Microsoft’s Surface devices, which are all based on USB C, limiting their expandability.)

Put in raw numbers, Thunderbolt 3 can be used to transfer data at 40 Gb/s, compared to 5 Gb/s for USB 3 and 10 Gb/s for USB 3.1. A single USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port can drive two 4K displays at 60 fps. In fact, this port is so powerful it can be used to add an external graphics card to a PC.

USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 is interchangeable, and you can also use these ports for device power. So you could attach a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 docking station to your PC and it would drive power, video-out to multiple displays, and let you access external peripherals from that one cable.

It’s also compatible. Aside from its near-universal use on PC (except Microsoft’s) and phones (except Apple’s), USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 is backward compatible with all previous USB peripherals: Just add a dock or dongle and off you go. Dongles are inexplicably cited as some kind of a problem by the idiots who hate USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, but this availability is, in fact, a benefit, not a problem. Regardless, you can drive tons of slower and older USB-based peripherals via a single USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port.

Finally, it’s more efficient. Just by adding USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 to a PC, the device maker can achieve reduced power consumption for such things as external video and data transfer. And it’s smaller, too, enabling for thinner and lighter portable PCs.

All that. From one plug.

Microsoft may be averse to leading us to the future, or even jumping on the bandwagon. But because it cannot escape this technology once Intel adds it to their core PC-based chipsets, the software giant will finally be dragged, kicking and screaming, into reality.

I can’t wait to see what a thinner and lighter Surface device really looks like. In the meantime, we have the rest of the PC industry from which to choose.


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