Report: Next Thunderbolt chip to double bandwidth, add device charging


— 10:32 AM on April 21, 2014

Intel's Thunderbolt interconnect is apparently scheduled for another upgrade. According to an official-looking slide published by VR-Zone's Chinese alter-ego, a new controller dubbed Alpine Ridge is in the works. This chip promises 40Gbps of bandwidth—double what's available in the current generation of Falcon Ridge hardware.

The faster interface will enable Alpine Ridge to power dual 4K displays over a single cable, the slide says. PCI Express devices should perform faster, as well. The interconnect's PCIe link has reportedly been upgraded from Gen2 to Gen3, which doubles the theoretical bandwidth available to individual peripherals. Impressively, these gains haven't increased the chip's power consumption. The leaked slide claims a 50% reduction in power versus existing Thunderbolt tech.

Speaking of power, the slide mentions "system charging" support for devices up to 100W. That power rating matches the latest USB Power Deliver spec, and I hope there's cross-compatibility between the two schemes.

The bandwidth upgrade and charging support require a new connector, according to the slide. The new plug will reportedly be just 3 mm thick, making it better-suited to slim mobile devices. Adapters will apparently be available to ensure backward compatibility with older gear.

There's no word on when this rumored Thunderbolt upgrade is due to arrive. However, the slide shows Alpine Ridge connected to Skylake, the architectural refresh scheduled after Broadwell. With the first Broadwell CPUs expected late this year and no ETA for Skylake, it could be a while before the next Thunderbolt controller is out in the wild. And that's just fine, because PC users haven't really embraced the current Thunderbolt implementation. Perhaps this next iteration will come with more compelling devices, such as external graphics modules for ultraportable notebooks. Fingers crossed.

   
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