Thunderbolt, the superfast connection you’ve probably rarely used (if you’ve ever used it all) is ditching Mini DisplayPort and taking up a much more familiar connector — USB.
However, it’s probably not a variant of USB most people have seen. Intel is rolling out ThunderBolt 3 using USB-C, the connector — the only connector, that is — on the new retina MacBook Apple rolled out a few months ago.
That being said, stock USB-C is impressive and its data transfer speed of 10Gbps is nothing to sneeze at, especially for anyone who remembers the original USB spec. It can also double as a power connection for the device or other devices its connected to. A Thunderbolt 3 cable can transfer data at 20Gbps or 40Gbps and offers the same power supply options of USB-C.
It can also support two 4K displays at 60Hz or a single 5K display at 60Hz from a single cable. Thunderbolt 3 is expected to be integrated into Intel’s upcoming Skylake chip, the follow on to the current Broadwell generation.
This is of particular interest to Apple’s MacBook Pro users — the latest versions of the notebooks use the previous Haswell series of chips, which caused some confusion. However, speculation is now mounting that the MacBook Pro line, and possibly the MacBook Air line, will be redesigned around Skylake and the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connector.
The addition of Thunderbolt 3 will make future versions of the retina MacBook a more compelling device. Though reviews of the current model have been mixed, mostly due to the processor, the faster port and the inevitability of faster processors that run cooler and adoption of USB-C and multi-port hubs will make Apple’s single port laptop a much more mass market device.
So if you’re a pro, you’ll use use the $50+ active Thunderbolt cable to connect your bank of monitors and RAID devices at 40Gbps to your MacBook Pro. If you’re a prosumer, maybe you’ll use the less expensive passive Thunderbolt cables to daisy chain your drives at 20Gbps. If you’re just someone looking to sync your smartphone and back up your computer to an external HDD, a regular USB-C connection at 10Gbps will be more than enough.
Truly, one connector and one cable (at least outwardly), to rule them all.