Video: This is the USB connector of the future
With Apple and Google both warmly embracing the new USB-C connector in their new computers this year, the fate of the fast, but rarely used, Thunderbolt standard was coming into question. What would the future hold for Thunderbolt if most of its utility was to be replaced by a more convenient and popular USB standard? Well, Intel's solution has been to pursue the old maxim of joining the adversaries you can't defeat: the next version of Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt 3, will come with a USB Type-C connector.Intel's decision to use USB-C as the connector for its next implementation of Thunderbolt is laudable in terms of unifying the ports required on a computer, but may cause confusion in the near term. A Thunderbolt 3 cable will look like the current USB-C cables and will support the same power and data transfers, but it will also be capable of much higher throughput (40Gbps) in Thunderbolt mode. The only distinguishing mark? That small lightning logo on the connector itself. This is important because Thunderbolt works by integrating electronics directly into the cable itself — regular USB-C cables obviously won't be able to carry out transfers at Thunderbolt 3 speeds.
Current Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 peripherals and cables will be made compatible with Thunderbolt 3 through the use of an adapter. Intel expects the first Thunderbolt 3 products to start shipping by the end of the year and to hit their stride in 2016. With Intel now actively supporting rather than competing with USB Type-C, the nascent connector standard looks set for a bright future. Today's news is a big vote of confidence for the promise of USB-C being the one port to unite them all, even if it does add a measure of fragmentation and confusion for the end user.