Thunderbolt 3 has a bold promise: be a single port/cable interface that can do it all — charge up a machine, transfer heavy amounts of data at a super quick rate, and deploy video to an external display. But while the technology is quite sophisticated and becoming increasingly present on high-end devices, it's still not as widespread as Intel wants it.
Intel Opens Up Thunderbolt 3 To Other Developers
Hoping to push its proprietary interface into more widespread adoption, Intel has now announced plans to integrate Thunderbolt 3 into its processors. One could say that it's an obvious and necessary choice for Intel, who co-developed the Thunderbolt interface with Apple.
The initial Thunderbolt 3 chips, codenamed "Alpine Ridge," were released as far back as Q3 2015, so the interface has long been circulating the market. Even so, last year's Kaby Lake chipsets didn't come with native Thunderbolt 3 support. Vendors had to add Alpine Ridge chips to include the interface, and many didn't go that route to ward off potential costs.
With Thunderbolt 3 set to become an integrated part of the processors, expect the port to become more widespread moving forward. Intel has yet to specify which chipsets are included in the integration plans, let alone when they'll start shipping.
Intel Is Making Thunderbolt 3 Royalty-Free
But perhaps the most crucial step Intel is about to make is democratizing the availability of Thunderbolt 3. At present, the only way to integrate Thunderbolt 3 is through Alpine Ridge chips. This means that only Intel can make Thunderbolt 3 controllers.
In 2018, however, the company is making the Thunderbolt 3 specification available on a non-exclusive, royalty-free basis. The move will allow third-party manufacturers to integrate Thunderbolt 3 into their own products, which could open the doors to other chipmakers supporting the interface more easily. It could also result in cheaper chips for the device end of the cable.
Intel's goal for the Thunderbolt 3 has always been to make it widespread; push the technology outward so that it becomes the norm. Its just-announced plans to bring down development barriers mirror those.
"Intel's vision for Thunderbolt was not just to make a faster computer port, but a simpler and more versatile port available to everyone," wrote Intel in a blog post. "We envision a future where high-performance single-cable docks, stunning photos and 4K video, lifelike VR, and faster-than-ever storage are commonplace."
Of course, it could still take quite some time before one sees how this move affects the overall market, because it might also take a while before third-parties adapt Thunderbolt 3 interface into their products. That said, Intel is definitely taking a step in the right direction, and it's up to other manufacturers if or when they'll follow Intel in its path. Best case scenario is for third-parties to adapt the interface quickly and in turn speed up the development and spread of high-speed interfaces.
Thunderbolt 3 has a bold promise indeed. But Intel's willingness to make it available as much as possible could help that promise actually become a reality.
Thoughts about Thunderbolt 3? Do you think the interface stands to become more widespread given Intel's plans to make it so? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!