Intel's vision for Thunderbolt is not just to make a faster computer port, but a simpler and more versatile port available to everyone, so the company plans to integrate Thunderbolt 3 into future Intel CPUs and release the Thunderbolt protocol specification next year.
With Thunderbolt 3 integrated into the CPU, computer makers can build thinner and lighter systems with only Thunderbolt 3 ports. For the first time, all the ports on a computer can be the same - any port can charge the system and connect to Thunderbolt devices, every display and billions of USB devices.
Intel's Thunderbolt 3 controllers provide USB 3.1 Gen2 support along with Thunderbolt's swift 40 Gb/s transfer rate, ensuring that a USB Type-C connector hooked up to such a controller will work with any USB Type-C device. Thunderbolt 3 also lets PC makers implement the USB Power Delivery standard so that a USB Type-C port can charge a notebook PC's battery.
However, not all Intel's CPUs will be Thunderbolt-equipped. Less-expensive PCs might get only the USB 3.1 side of the bargain, while Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs might be the only ones with every feature of the Thunderbolt controller flipped on.
In addition to Intel's Thunderbolt silicon, next year Intel plans to make the Thunderbolt protocol specification available to the industry under a nonexclusive, royalty-free license, in order to increase Thunderbolt adoption by third-party chip makers.
Microsoft has enhanced Thunderbolt 3 device plug-and-play support in the now available Windows 10 Creators Update.
Thunderbolt 3 has already gained significant adoption with more than 120 PC designs on systems with 7th Generation Intel Core processors, the latest MacBook Pros and dozens of peripherals - expected to ramp to nearly 150 by the end of 2017.
Potentially, the technology could do away with the need for proprietary docking connectors on devices like Microsoft's Surfaces. It could also allow for the development of blistering external storage and single-cable VR headsets.