Mac owners worried their Thunderbolt peripherals are about to become obsolete now that USB C is on the scene can breathe easy because Intel unveiled Thunderbolt 3 on Tuesday, and it promises to be the holy grail of ports: A singe, reversible port that supports both Thunderbolt 3 and USB C. It's going to offer 40Gbps speeds, supports data and power on a single connector, and you can keep using your Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 devices with adapters.
It may look like USB C, but it's really Thunderbolt 3
Intel expects Thunderbolt 3 will start showing up in computers this fall, and its throughput has the potential to be far more enticing to device manufacturers than Thunderbolt or Thunderbolt 2 have been. The cost to build Thunderbolt 3 gear should be lower, too, since it won't be limited to a proprietary connector.
Just how much data can you push through Thunderbolt 3, you ask? How about dual 4K displays or a single 5K display. Intel says you can daisy chain up to six devices on a single Thunderbolt 3 connection, and it provides up to 15W for bus-powered peripherals, or 100W for charging your computer.
Thunderbolt 3 supports USB C, USB 3.1, and DisplayPort 1.2. In other words, everything you're already connecting to your Mac works with the new standard. For the bandwidth-conscious crowd, Thunderbolt 3 will be a welcome improvement because its 40Gbps throughput is double what you get from Thunderbolt 2.
If you've been scratching your head wondering exactly why Apple jumped on USB C for the new ultra-thin MacBook, wonder no more. That was just the first step towards adopting Thunderbolt 3 for the company's product line, although you'll be limited to USB C-specific peripherals on the new MacBook model. Apple wanted a unified connector for peripherals, and that's exactly what it gets with Thunderbolt 3: It doesn't matter if you use USB C or Thunderbolt devices because they'll all connect to your Thunderbolt 3-equipped Mac.
It's likely the next major MacBook Pro refresh will include Thunderbolt 3, which explains why we recently received a minor update to the product line. Not only is Apple waiting on Intel's Broadwell processors to ramp up for its laptop needs, but also for Thunderbolt 3 chipsets to be ready, too.
Where Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 languished in relative obscurity, Thunderbolt 3 has the potential to gain much more popularity because it shares the same connector style as USB C. That could, however, play against the standard if device makers choose to support only USB C since it'll be available on more computers.
Intel vice president of Client Computing Group and general manager of Mobility Client Platforms Navin Shenoy called Thunderbolt 3 "nirvana."
"Users have long wanted desktop-level performance from a mobile computer," he said. "Thunderbolt was developed to simultaneously support the fastest data and most video bandwidth available on a single cable, while also supplying power. 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, maximizing its potential. So in the biggest advancement since its inception, Thunderbolt 3 brings Thunderbolt to USB-C at 40Gbps, fulfilling its promise, creating one compact port that does it all."
That's a pretty big promise to live up to, but Thunderbolt 3 does have an advantage over its predecessors since it supports the USB C connector. Apple isn't the only computer maker supporting the USB C standard, and hopefully Intel will be able to convince a wider range of device makers to support Thunderbolt 3, as well.