Intel adds USB 3.1 Type-C to Thunderbolt 3

June 3, 2015 // 10:47 a.m.

Tags: #apple #connectivity #intel #interconnect #thunderbolt #thunderbolt-3 #type-c #usb-31

Intel made a surprise announcement during the Computex trade-show in Taipei this week: the adoption of the reversible USB Type-C controller for its next-generation Thunderbolt 3 platform.

Developed in partnership with Apple and other industry giants, Thunderbolt has long traded blows with USB in the bid to become the one-true-standard for high-speed high-functionality peripheral connectivity. While on paper Thunderbolt offers better performance than USB, USB benefits from ubiquity: USB 3.0, 2.0 and 1.0 all use the same port size and shape and typically offer full backwards- and forwards-compatibility. USB 3.1, however, introduced the Type-C connector, a new format which allows for higher-current charging - enough to replace the power socket on a laptop - while also providing reversibility for ease of connection.

During its Computex announcements, Intel confirmed that it thinks USB Type-C is the bee's knees - so much so, in fact, that it is to use the connector for Thunderbolt 3. Replacing the existing connector, the Thunderbolt Type-C port will be near-indistinguishable from USB Type-C aside from a small lightning-bolt symbol. It will also offer a claimed 40Gb/s throughput, support for running dual 4K displays at 60Hz from a single port, 100W charging and 15W per-device power supplies, and include - as the current Thunderbolt standard - Thunderbolt, DisplayPort, and PCI Express connectivity on one cable.

Impressively, the new Thunderbolt 3 Type-C connector will also include USB 3.1 Gen. 2 support, integrated into the Alpine Ridge controller itself - meaning that while the port will offer the best performance when used with Thunderbolt Type-C peripherals, any USB Type-C peripheral will also work perfectly - a marriage of the two competing standards at last. All USB 3.1 Type-C devices are said to work with Thunderbolt 3.0, while Thunderbolt devices themselves will support passive copper cabling of up to two metres in length at 20Gb/s, active copper cabling for 40Gb/s, and the promise of the long-delayed optical connectivity in 2016 for 40Gb/s at lengths of up to 60 metres.

Intel has said its customers will begin shipping the first Thunderbolt 3 Type-C devices by the end of the year.
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