Thunderbolt Goes Royalty-Free as Intel Repositions It to Boost Adoption

For the past few years, Thunderbolt has been more of a curiosity than a standard-bearer for device connectivity. While the standard was meant to usher in a new era of high-speed peripherals and device interconnects, this was limited to a few high-end products and mostly marketed towards Mac users. Several years ago, Intel combined Thunderbolt support with the USB-C standard, creating the potential for systems that were compatible with the latest and greatest USB standard with reversible plug support, while simultaneously supporting the increased bandwidth of Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbit/s).
Now, Intel is going one step further : It’s making the Thunderbolt 3 standard royalty-free in a bid to attract attention for the standard and improve uptake from manufacturers. There are two other key components to this development. First, Intel is going to bake Thunderbolt 3 support into its future CPUs, likely as part of the on-die I/O capabilities. Here, the technology could be key to extending capabilities like VR, which can make use of Thunderbolt 3’s bandwidth to hit high transmission speeds. Intel has never talked about a Thunderbolt 4, but if we assume that any such standard could make use of PCIe 4.0, we could see the most capable platforms in the future supporting Intel’s next-generation protocol.
One of the more puzzling aspects to Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 support has been the way the company hasn’t integrated it into modern chip sets or CPUs. Despite debuting years ago, no Intel desktop or laptop CPU has integrated the capability native , and neither do any of its chip sets. Instead, Intel has relied on consumers buying equipment with expensive additional controllers, including Alpine Ridge.

As a result, while it’s been possible to find Thunderbolt 3 on various devices, it hasn’t been easy and it certainly hasn’t been cheap. With the technology being baked into future parts and offered royalty-free, Intel clearly wants to change that. And as a result, it’s going to open up the Thunderbolt 3 specification to other companies that want to build hardware as well. This means third-party firms will now be able to design their own Thunderbolt-compliant standards, including firms like AMD.
Historically, this kind of broad compatibility has fostered greater innovation and performance in the computing industry. It’s true that in some cases, controllers made by one company have been superior to those made by another, but on the whole, the benefits have outweighed the costs. And it’s nice to see Intel finally taking the steps it needed to take to make Thunderbolt 3 competitive with other solutions in-market.
The faster we can move towards USB-C and a single port standard for everything from power delivery to external interconnects, the better off customers will be — provided manufacturers step back from this BS trend of claiming that slapping one or two ports on an entire laptop is some kind of magical achievement that justifies even higher prices.


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