Intel Corporation has announced that is contributing the Thunderbolt protocol specifications to the USB Promoter Group.
The latter organization, in turn, has announced that the Thunderbolt spec will be incorporated in its own upcoming release of the USB4 spec. The merger should help ensure compatibility, and encourage hardware OEMs to expand functionality of the now-standard USB Type-C connection.
"Releasing the Thunderbolt protocol specification is a significant milestone for making today's simplest and most versatile port available to everyone," said Jason Ziller, General Manager, Client Connectivity Division at Intel. "This, in combination with the integration of Thunderbolt 3 into upcoming Intel processors is a win-win for the industry and consumers."
Nuts and Bolts
Intel's move will enable other manufacturers to build their own Thunderbolt-compatible chips, royalty-free. This, says Intel, will help "drive large-scale, mainstream adoption of Thunderbolt." Intel itself has noted that its upcoming 10nm ‘Ice Lake' processors will be its first to integrate Thunderbolt 3 capability.
Currently, notes Intel, Thunderbolt 3 is "fully supported" in Windows 10, Mac OS and Linux. The company expects the volume of PCs sold with Thunderbolt ports to double each year. It adds that over 400 PC designs "have been enabled with Thunderbolt 3," and all the latest Macintosh computers have Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Thunderbolt 3 compatible peripherals are also expected to double annually. Intel reports that over 450 certified devices are available now, including docs, displays, storage devices and external graphics adapters.
Intel's literature explains that Thunderbolt 3 is "a superset solution which includes USB 3.1 (10Gbps)." It allows transfers up to 40Gbps, equivalent to 4 lanes of PCI Express Gen 3 or 2 streams (8 lanes) of DisplayPort 1.2 transfer. That means it can support one 5K or two 4K displays, and 100W charging, delivering 15W to devices. Up to 6 devices can be daisy-chained. A 10Gbps USB host controller is integrated.
Intel notes that one Thunderbolt 3 port can deliver 2 4K video streams, plus USB 3.1 connectivity and Ethernet, at the same time. Thunderbolt 3 should also allow the proliferation of docking devices that can connect to a PC using a single cable, but offer virtually every type of connectivity to client devices, including Ethernet, USB 3, DisplayPort, HDMI, etc.
Sound of Thunder
Leading manufacturers added their own endorsements to Intel's announcement.
"Realizing HP's vision for the office of the future requires seamless connectivity, powerful performance and total simplicity to enable people to unleash their creativity wherever their workday takes them," said Bill Gorden, Vice President, Commercial Notebook Management at HP. "Thunderbolt 3 is a powerful addition to our new notebooks and docks that delivers the flexibility sought by IT departments and the experiences people love."
"Samsung Electronics is responding to increasing consumer demand for Thunderbolt 3 by offering sleek and powerful notebooks and other peripheral devices," said Mincheol Lee, Vice President, PC Strategic Marketing at Samsung Electronics. "We look forward to our ongoing collaboration with Intel to bring more innovative Thunderbolt 3 products to market."
With Thunderbolt 3 capability a standard part of the new USB4 spec, users might begin to hope that some new clarity will emerge. The current mess of USB generations could be subsumed by a single port, that would offer no-compromise connectivity capable of handling all of today's data loads.
But for now, merging the two specs is a very positive step forward.