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Thunderbolt 3 to have USB Type-C connector

Barry Collins
2 Jun 2015
Thunderbolt 3
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Intel keeps Thunderbolt alive by using the new USB Type-C connector

The hunt for the right type of computer cable may be drawing to close, after Intel decided to adopt the USB Type-C connector for the latest generation of Thunderbolt. The future of Thunderbolt had been in doubt after the advent of the reversible USB Type-C, which effectively replaced Thunderbolt as the sole port available on Apple's new MacBook. Now, Intel is effectively merging the two different interconnects.

"Thunderbolt was developed to simultaneously support the fastest data and most video bandwidth available on a single cable, while also supplying power," reads a post on the Intel Thunderbolt blog. "Then recently the USB group introduced the USB-C connector, which is small, reversible, fast, supplies power, and allows other I/O in addition to USB to run on it, maximising its potential. So in the biggest advancement since its inception, Thunderbolt 3 brings Thunderbolt to USB-C at 40Gbits/sec, fulfilling its promise, creating one compact port that does it all."

Everything you need to know about USB Type-C

There will still be differences between the two technologies, most notably the speed of data transfer. As Intel stated, Thunderbolt 3 supports speeds of up to 40Gbits/sec, whereas USB Type-C tops out 10Gbits/sec. Thunderbolt ports and cables will be marked with the lightning logo to differentiate them from ordinary USB-C.

In practice, Thunderbolt is only likely to be found on high-end professional machines, with consumer devices unlikely to ever need more than the 10Gbits/sec speed offered by USB-C. "In Thunderbolt mode, a single cable now provides four times the data and twice the video bandwidth of any other cable, while supplying power," Intel claims. "It’s unrivaled for new uses, such as 4K video, single-cable docks with charging, external graphics, and built-in 10 GbE networking. Simply put, Thunderbolt 3 delivers the best USB-C."

Intel says Thunderbolt 3 will offer enough bandwidth to support two 4K 60Hz displays - although you'll need a stonking graphics card to push around that many pixels at an acceptable frame rate. The chip company says the new port will also allow laptop owners to connect external graphics to their machines, allowing them to play the latest 3D games that the internal graphics on their laptops won't support. However, external graphics solutions have been kicking around for many years, but have never really taken off. Whether Thunderbolt 3 provides the necessary impetus waits to be seen. 

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