Intel makes Thunderbolt 3 royalty-free, will be the foundation for upcoming USB4 standard

By Swapnil Mathur | Updated 5 Mar 2019
Intel makes Thunderbolt 3 royalty-free, will be the foundation for upcoming USB4 standard
  • Thunderbolt 3 has been a huge source of royalty income for Intel, but in a bid to push the standard far and wide, Intel has announced today that the use and development of Thunderbolt 3 protocol-based devices will be royalty-free

Highlights

  • Intel makes the use of Thunderbolt 3 protocols royalty-free
  • USB4 standard to be based on Thunderbolt 3 protocol
  • USB4 to offer twice the speed of USB 3.2 over Type-C connector at 40Gbps

Intel this morning announced that it has contributed the Thunderbolt 3 protocols to the USB-IF group which has announced the USB4 specifications, which in turn use the Thunderbolt 3 protocols as a base. Intel also announced that it will be releasing the Thunderbolt 3 protocols for anyone to use royalty-free. This is big news with maximum benefit for the end consumer.

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The Thunderbolt 3 protocol allows for data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps. The protocol, in conjunction with the USB Type-C port, also enabled high-speed two-way transfer of not just data, but also video signal, power delivery and even audio signal transmission. The only problem was, that in order to offer a Thunderbolt 3 port on their machines, manufacturers had to pay a hefty royalty to Intel. This will no longer be the case.

With Intel contributing the Thunderbolt 3 Protocol to USB-IF, there are two distinct benefits. First, the USB Type-C port will now be able to operate at Thunderbolt 3 speeds and offer all its features. Second, with Intel making the protocol’s use royalty-free, manufacturers of motherboards, desktop and laptops will be able to offer the high-speed Thunderbolt 3 or even the new USB-C port on their hardware. While having Thunderbolt 3 on more machines is definitely a boon, the 40Gbps capability will not come to existing USB Type-C ports, but instead be a part of USB4, whose protocols and architecture are expected to be finalised by mid-2019. This would mean that any USB Type-C port that is USB4 compliant, will essentially be the same as having a Thunderbolt 3 port.

The decision to make Thunderbolt 3 protocol royalty-free is expected to provide a massive boost to the adoption of not just the Type-C port, but also bring many peripheral devices to a faster transfer standard. This adoption and change won't come overnight though. While we may see more displays and even laptops use the Thunderbolt 3 port for respective purposes, and we may even find the next generation of motherboards coming with Thunderbolt 3 ports, there are some peripherals that may not make the switch. For example, external hard drives are better off using the USB-A port as long as there is a spinning hard drive on the inside. Only when SSDs become cheaper, would it make sense for them to come with a Thunderbolt 3 interface, or even the newer USB4 compliant Type-C connector. The best part is, the new USB4 compliant ports will all be backwards compatible with USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and even USB 1.1. Intel has already announced at CES 2019 that the new Icy Lake line of processors will come with a Thunderbolt controller integrated into the chip.

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While we wait for the Thunderbolt 3-based USB4 architecture to be finalised and implemented, it should be exciting to see Thunderbolt 3 ports on more devices in the coming months.

Related Reads: CES 2019: Intel Optane memory H10 with Solid State Storage unveiled

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Swapnil Mathur
Digit's resident camera nerd, (un)official product photographer and the Reviews Editor
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