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Technology - Thunderbolt 3 Combines With USB-C to Form a Truly Universal Port

Thunderbolt 3 doubles throughput to 40Gbps, and adopts the USB Type-C port to become a truly universal connector.

One of the huge announcements out of this week's Computex show is Intel's introduction of Thunderbolt 3.

While the first two iterations of Thunderbolt used the mini DisplayPort, the new version uses the USB Type-C (aka USB-C) connector instead. This is huge, since the Type-C connector is compact, reversible, and has the potential to become the ubiquitous connector on desktops, hard drives, laptops, phones, tablets, and a number of other electronic devices.

This is a win for Thunderbolt 3, because you won't have to buy a new set of cables and connectors for each standard, as you have to do today. Thunderbolt 3 cables will work with USB Type-C and vice versa.

Thunderbolt has been a moderately successful interconnect technology, particularly in Macs and in Windows workstations. Professional users' large data transfers take advantage of Thunderbolt's 10-20Gbps maximum throughput. Thunderbolt 3 boosts that to 40Gbps, well above the 10Gbps for USB 3.1 and the 5Gbps maximum throughput of USB 3.0.

Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C

In addition to prodigious throughput, however, the Thunderbolt 3 also transmits DisplayPort 1.2, PCI Express Gen 3, power (100W), and USB 3.1 signals natively. This means that you can drive up to two 4K displays or one 5K display, charge your laptop, connect to a PCI Express expansion cage, and connect to USB devices all from the same port.

USB Type-C power adapters will work with Thunderbolt 3 devices as well. You'll have to use an adapter or docking station for simultaneous connections, but this is a great solution for ultra-thin laptops that don't have the same amount of space for multiple connectors that older laptops had.

Because of the unified connector, Thunderbolt 3 has the potential to become as ubiquitous as USB Type-A is now. It may never get to all laptops, particularly at the cheapest price points, but it will be nice to be able to use the same power adapters and USB Type-C interconnect cables instead of ordering yet another incompatible cable overnight because you forgot yours in the office.

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