Thunderbolt may soon go mainstream and ubiquitous. Intel has announced Thunderbolt 3 with a crucial new feature, USB Type-C connectors. Not only will Thunderbolt 3 use USB Type-C ports, it will also support the USB 3.1 protocol and provide up to 100W though the USB Power Delivery spec. Bandwidth has also doubled to 40Gbps and non-USB PD power delivery increased to 15W. Unfortunately, backwards compatibility with Thunderbolt 1 and 2 is not guan teed and requires an adapter.
Backed by Intel’s new controller, Alpine Ridge, Thunderbolt 3 utilizes either 4 PCIe 3 lanes to drive two ports or 2 PCIe 3 lanes to drive a single port. USB 3.1 support is baked into Alpine Ridge meaning all Thunderbolt 3 ports can connect to USB devices as well. Up to 2 4K displays at 60Hz or a single 5K display, again at 60Hz, can be driven with support for Display Port 1.2. 10Gb Ethernet can also run on Thunderbolt 3 as well.
Building in USB into Thunderbolt is for sure going to increase the chances of adoption. Instead of having to build separate USB and Thunderbolt ports, firms can just use Thunderbolt ports and support both protocols. Cost is reduced as well with only the controller to mainly worry about as normal Type-C cables will run Thunderbolt 3 just fine. It would not be surprising to see eventually see laptops with just 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports and maybe an extra Type-C port for larger models. The move to Type-C also means Thunderbolt can not move into smaller devices like phones and tablets. Thunderbolt may finally be the one port to rule them all, for those that pay for the controller of course.