Intel’s sixth generation Skylake processors will ship with the new Thunderbolt 3 ports, a new standard that will support a future with ultra high definition video; among other new features like ethernet cable emulation and switching to a USB Type-C reversible connector.
Originally known as Alpine Ridge, Thunderbolt 3 will have transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps. This will allow it the necessary data bandwidth to output 4K video to two monitors simultaneously; or the capability to output 5K video from a single data cable. The idea is that Thunderbolt 3 will provide four times the data and twice the data bandwidth available to Thunderbolt 2.
The data transfer rate also allows for other video applications of Thunderbolt 3. Intel believes that this will enable more external GPU peripherals for laptops, particularly for gaming applictions. This will allow laptops to offload graphics processing to an external source, which could potentially mean laptops running games on full sized PC graphics cards. The idea isn’t new, and Alienware is already marketing its Alienware 13 with an optional Graphics Amplifier housing. However, that setup uses a proprietary connector and a rather unwieldy housing for the GPU.
Intel is already working with AMD to allow for the hot plugging of external GPUs, which will allow plug and play capabilities. The company expects the drivers to be ready for Windows 10 soon, and it may usher in a new age of external GPUs for gaming.
Thunderbolt 3 also introduces support for multiple protocols, allowing for it to attach to dongles that connect ports like USB 3.1, DisplayPort 1.2, and PCIe. Intel intends for the protocol to connect to just about any display, dock or device, and it looks to be going out of its way to do so.
In addition to this, the Thunderbolt 3 connection will be able to emulate ethernet cables. Intel calls it gigabit ethernet for free, allowing users to form ad hoc networks. The cable connection will allow for quick file transfers between computers, getting around the need for portable storage media to move files between computers. The Thunderbolt 3 drivers will be made available on Windows, Linux, and Mac, allowing for the ethernet emulation to work cross platform as well.
The switch to the reversible USB Type-C connector also allows the port to provide power to the system, and can be used as a charging port. Not only that, Intel is also implementing reverse charging on devices equipped with Thunderbolt 3, allowing laptops to share power among themselves. The chip maker admits that the technology is not exactly new, and is simply based on the USB power transfer specifications.
Thunderbolt 3 will be made available, after Intel’s sixth generation Skylake processor appears in the market.