updated 08:07 pm EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Dubbed 'Alpine Ridge,' technology could appear as early as next year
Continuing to keep one step ahead of reported improvements in next-generation USB technology, Intel is said to be working on a third-generation Thunderbolt system that would double throughput to 40 gigabits (Gb) per second and yet reduce power requirements by as much as 50 percent, though the new connector would support up to 100 watts of charging power. The revised plug, which is backward-compatible with an adapter, will be about three millimeters (0.12 inches) in width, down from the current 4.5mm height.
The new specification will allow users to move data with native support for DisplayPort 1.2, a third-generation PCIe bus, HDMI 2 and USB 3.0. As is currently the case, the new standard will support dual port configurations for daisy-chaining peripherals as well as a single-connector option. The information comes from a leaked slide said to be from an Intel presentation for its next-generation Thunderbolt controller, known as "Alpine Ridge."
According to the slide, the technology -- which will likely be called "Thunderbolt 3" -- is expected to debut sometime next year, alongside a new Intel CPU called "Skylake." If correct, the 40Gb bandwidth would put "Thunderbolt 3" significantly ahead of the recently-announced USB 3.1 specification, which calls for theoretical maximums of 10Gb per second. The first generation of Thunderbolt carries up to 10Gb per second on each of two channels; Thunderbolt 2 doubled that to 20Gbps, and is included on most recent Mac models.
Apple, as a co-inventor of the technology, has tended to feature Thunderbolt advances ahead of the Windows arena, but the Thunderbolt connector is nonetheless considered standard equipment for most major manufacturers, particularly as prices for Thunderbolt peripherals have started to come down. Depending on when "Thunderbolt 3" makes its commercial debut, Apple is likely to incorporate into products like an updated Mac Pro and MacBook Pro as early as possible following the formal launch sometime in 2015.