If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Intel's next-gen Thunderbolt interface has adopted the reversible Type-C connector familiar from the latest USB spec.
The new hotness is called Thunderbolt 3, and the integration with USB 3.1 is tighter than one might expect. Intel's new "Alpine Ridge" hardware has a USB 3.1 controller built in. USB signals can be passed over the interface alongside PCI Express and DisplayPort.
With 40Gbps on tap, Thunderbolt 3 doubles the bandwidth of its predecessor. It can fuel dual 4K monitors at 60Hz or a single 5K monster. Four Gen3 lanes are available to PCIe devices, which has particularly interesting implications for external graphics modules. Previous versions of Thunderbolt have been limited to PCIe Gen2 speeds.
The new interface delivers up to 15W to bus-powered devices, so external GPUs will probably require dedicated power. Thunderbolt 3 can push up to 100W via the USB power spec, though.
Thunderbolt cables have always been a bit expensive, but the new generation promises a wider range of options. Passive cables provide a cheaper path for devices that can live with 20Gbps speeds, while active ones deliver the full-fat experience. Those copper-based solutions can stretch up to two meters, and Intel is working on 40Gbps optical cables go 30X farther. The optical cables are targeted for 2016.
Intel says the first Thunderbolt 3 devices should ship before the end of this year.
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