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Thunderbolt 3, with its versatile USB-C connector, will go like greased lightning
“For the first time, one port connects to Thunderbolt devices, every display and billions of USB devices”
Chip giant Intel has confirmed that its latest high-speed data transfer standard, Thunderbolt 3, will use the same USB-C connector as used by USB 3.1, but will be much, much faster.
“For the first time, one computer port connects to Thunderbolt devices, every display and billions of USB devices,” Jason Ziller, Intel’s director of Thunderbolt marketing, said.
Thunderbolt 3 can transfer data at a whopping 40Gbps (gigabits per second), twice as fast as Thunderbolt 2, which was introduced in 2014 and eight times faster than the MacBook’s sole first-gen USB 3.1 port. This means you can transfer a 4K movie in just 30 seconds using Thunderbolt 3. The ports also incorporate support for cheaper ‘passive’ Thunderbolt cables that operate at a reduced rate of 20Gbps.
Jointly developed by Apple and Intel, Thunderbolt was first introduced in the 2011 MacBook Pro. Apple’s recent introduction of a MacBook equipped with a single USB-C port generated concern that the company was abandoning the faster standard. “As long as we were going to include a port for charging the new MacBook, we wanted to make sure it was the most advanced and versatile one available,” Apple said at the time.
The true versatility of this was easier to understand following Intel’s announcement of plans to adopt USB-C connections for Thunderbolt 3. You’ll be able to distinguish a Thunderbolt 3 cable from a standard USB-C cable by the little lightning logo on the connector. As the unified Thunderbolt 3 port standard won’t arrive until later this year, the already-released 12-inch MacBook is unlikely to support the new specification – although what an announcement that would be.
Other than significantly faster speed, Thunderbolt 3 allows for two 4K 60 Hz displays and quick notebook charging using a single cable. Intel calls this, “the most advanced and versatile USB-C docking solution available”. Of course, to attain Thunderbolt 3 performance you’ll need to be using compatible devices
plugged into the right Thunderbolt ports using the right Thunderbolt cables. You will be able to plug USB Type-C cables directly into the Thunderbolt 3 port, or a Thunderbolt 3 cable into a USB port, though data will be transferred only at USB speeds in these situations.
For most Mac users USB 3.1 is good enough to support most common peripherals, such as printers, scanners or hard drives. Thunderbolt is an excellent choice for data intensive activity. Cheaper to deploy, USB already has a strong market – June’s Computex show in Taipei saw dozens of USB-C products introduced. In contrast, even four years on only around 250 Thunderboltcompatible peripherals exist. The move to standardise around the new interconnect should help boost adoption, Intel spokesperson Dan Snyder said, telling Wired: “We expect the Thunderbolt 3 solution cost to support broader adoption in the industry”.
Mac users who might have recently invested in Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 peripherals and cables aren’t being left out to dry as Intel is developing cables and adapters so old Thunderbolt peripherals can use Thunderbolt 3.0 ports. Native Thunderbolt 3 devices are expected to start shipping later this year.
It’s only a matter of time before we see USB-C ports appear on more Macs, and Intel’s move to standardise around USB-C interconnects means new Macs will be capable of supporting both USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 using a single cable – and can look forward to fewer cables cluttering their desks.
With up to 100w of power available (the current MacBook Pro draws 85w from its charger) USB-C is poised to supply more energy to more Apple products than just the 29w drawn by the 12-inch MacBook