Intel to make Thunderbolt 3 royalty-free in bid to spur adoption

Intel logoWe're big fans of Thunderbolt 3 here at Ars, attracted by its enormous versatility, high performance, and the promise of being a single port and a single cable that can do it all. While the technology is becoming increasingly common on high-end portables, it's still far from ubiquitous. Intel has announced a couple of measures that should go a long way toward boosting Thunderbolt 3's adoption.

The first step is straightforward and, in our view, a long time coming: the company is going to finally integrate Thunderbolt 3 into its processors. Although the first Thunderbolt 3 chips, codenamed "Alpine Ridge," were released in the third quarter of 2015, last year's Kaby Lake chipsets, including the high-end Z270, didn't include any native Thunderbolt 3 support. Instead, vendors had to add Alpine Ridge chips separately, with many of them opting not to do so. They preferred to avoid both the extra expense and extra complexity.

Intel to make Thunderbolt 3 royalty-free in bid to spur adoptionе

Alpine Ridge also includes support for USB 3.1 generation 2, which offers speeds of 10 gigabits per second, doubling generation 1's 5 gigabits per second. But while many desktop motherboards do include generation 2 support, they've almost invariably done so using chipsets other than Alpine Ridge. Again, companies want to avoid that expense and complexity.

With Thunderbolt 3 an integrated part of the processors, those issues largely evaporate. System builders will still have some work to do if they want to actually hook up the processor to the physical interface. But it should be much simpler for them to do and is sure to drive much wider adoption. Intel did not specify which processors would include the controllers or when they will ship.

The second step is perhaps the more important of the two. Currently, those Alpine Ridge chips are the only way to do Thunderbolt 3, with an Intel chip needed at both the PC end and the device end. Nobody else can make Thunderbolt 3 controllers. But next year, Intel says that it is going to make the Thunderbolt 3 specification available on a non-exclusive, royalty-free basis. This will enable third parties to integrate the interface into their own silicon, opening the door to, for example, AMD systems with Thunderbolt 3 support and cheaper chips for the device end of the cable.

We're still some time away from seeing third parties get on board (and we'd love to know why Intel's not just making the specs available today). But the future for the high-speed interface is looking bright. It's already seeing much more adoption than its two predecessors ever did, and a world in which one cable can do it all is getting that bit closer.

Source: Ars Technica

Tags: Intel, Thunderbolt

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