If you’re a tech enthusiast, you’ll know all about Thunderbolt. It’s a versatile hardware connector that combines high-speed data transfers with audio and video display.
First launched in 2011, with the development name Light Peak, Thunderbolt was invested by a partnership of tech luminaries, including Intel, Apple, LaCie and others. The first iteration of the technology debuted on the 2011 Apple MacBook Pro with other Thunderbolt-equipped models following.
On the PC side, manufacturers were reasonably slow to adopt Thunderbolt (preferring the lower cost USB 3.0) despite heavy championing by Intel. The Thunderbolt 2 (Falcon Ridge) standard arrived in 2013, doubling data transfer speeds to 20 Gbps and the connector began to pop up on motherboards from ASUS, Gigabyte and ASRock, alongside PCs from Dell, HP, Lenovo and others. According to Intel, at the end of 2015, over 100 million computers are equipped with the Thunderbolt interface, with more than 250 peripherals on the market.
Here we are in early 2016, and Thunderbolt 3 (Apline Ridge) is ready to roll! The latest version of the standard brings a big physical change in the switch the USB-C connector (any USB Type-C cable will work in a Thunderbolt 3 port but you’ll need a Thunderbolt cable to connect to a Thunderbolt 3 device). Speeds are doubled to 40 Gbps, and Intel boasts that you’ll be able to drive dual 4K displays at 60 Hz.
With the switch to USB-C (as an Alternate Mode), Thunderbolt 3 ports are power enabled, offering up to 100W charging power for notebooks and 15W to bus-powered devices. Thunderbolt cables are now more versatile than ever, supporting a range of protocols including Thunderbolt itself, DisplayPort, USB and PCI Express.
With a wide range of Thunderbolt 3 enabled products on show at CES 2016 in Las Vegas, here are ten that we’re most excited about checking out this year.
Razer Blade Stealth & Razer Core
If you’re a gamer, you’ll know all about Razer, Inc. Their newly announced Razer Blade Stealth is a beautiful and powerful 12.5″ ultrabook that can hook up to the external Razer Core enclosure over Thunderbolt 3. That brings you desktop class graphics (you can plug in full-length, double-wide PCIe desktop graphics cards) and a host of additional connections including 4 USB 3.0 ports and Gigabit Ethernet.
Work or play, it’s got the lot.The Razor Blade Stealth starts at $999, pricing for the Razer Core is yet to be announced.
AKiTiO Thunder3 Duo Pro
With super-fast data transfer speeds, expect to see a wide range of Thunderbolt 3 storage solutions coming down the line this year. The $389 Thunder3 Duo Pro from AKiTiO is one of the first, boasting transfer speeds up to 770 MB/s while simultaneously providing two 4K video streams to connected displays. That’s 8x faster than USB 3.1 Gen 1 and 4x faster than USB 3.1 Gen 2.
It’s a dual-bay RAID enclosure, offering RAID 0 striping, RAID 1 mirroring, SPAN, and Non-RAID. Connectivity is strong, with two Thunderbolt 3 Ports, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 (Type-B) port, and a DisplayPort video output for 4K 60HZ displays. The second Thunderbolt 3 port on the Thunder3 Duo Pro supports Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1 (10Gb/s), and DisplayPort devices.
It’s coming in the first quarter of the year.
Dell Thunderbolt Dock
PC manufacturers are waking up to the fact that the concept of “mobile” and “fixed” workers is outdated. Nowadays, many of us working in a hybrid style. We may be travelling, but when we touch down to get some work done, many of us need the same capabilities and connectivity as we’d expect at our own desk.
Devices like the Dell Thunderbolt Dock seek to address that need. Plug into your notebook and you get benefit from a single data and power source that can drive can drive up to three 1080p displays or two 4K displays at 60 Hz. Add twin USB 2.0 ports and three USB 3.0, VGA, mini DisplayPort, and HDMI sockets, plus DisplayPort and a Thunderbolt 3 port in addition. Best of all, as it adheres to industry standards, it’s not just for Dell notebooks – everyone’s invited.
The Dell Thunderbolt Dock ships this month for $299.
HP ZBook Dock With Thunderbolt 3
Following a similar theme as the Dell Thunderbolt Dock, in a less chunky (but longer) form factor, the HP ZBook Dock With Thunderbolt 3 also costs $299 and offers a similarly impressive array of connections. Alongside charging capabilities, you can hook up to 10 devices at once through ports that include Thunderbolt 3 (which also supports DisplayPort 1.2 and USB 3.1 Gen 2), four USB 3.0, RJ-45, VGA, combo audio, and two additional DisplayPorts.
ASUS ROG XG Station 2
It’s common for bleeding edge tech to land first on gaming rigs and that’s certainly true for Thunderbolt 3. The ASUS ROG XG Station 2 is an external graphics card docking station and although ASUS says it’s “specifically designed for ASUS laptops and graphics cards”, we’re still waiting to hear whether other brands will be locked out.
Plug in your laptop (using its USB-C port) and the dock will both charge your laptop and supercharge its graphics capabilities. You’ll need to bring your own graphics card to slot into the XG Station 2 and ASUS has yet to reveal compatibility details and pricing.
Acer TravelMate P648 Notebook
If you’re in the hunt for a high-tech travel companion, the 14″ Acer TravelMate P648 Notebook is powered by a 6th generation Intel Core processor with support for super-high speed 802.11ad multi-band wireless connectivity. You’ll need a compatible router though, like the newly announced TP-LINK Talon AD7200, which offers combined speeds up to 7200 Mbps.
4 GB RAM supports the processor, upgradable to a massive 20 GB and there’s ample storage space with up to 1 TB hard drives or 512 GB solid state drives. Graphics are handled by NVIDIA GeForce 840M discrete graphics.
Thunderbolt 3 support offers ultra-fast data transfer and 4K display connectivity while eight hours of battery life should keep you occupied for the day. The Acer TravelMate P648 Notebook starts at $799.99 and ships in April.
Plugable Flagship Thunderbolt 3 Dock
Plugable’s new Flagship Thunderbolt 3 Dock is designed to eliminate the need to continually plug and unplug devices from your notebook or tablet. You can hook up two uncompressed 4K 60Hz (4096 x 2160) displays, three USB 3.0 devices, Gigabit Ethernet, and Stereo audio in/out while keeping your desktop free of clutter. The second Thunderbolt 3 port on the dock operates the same as a Thunderbolt 3 computer port by supporting Thunderbolt 3 (up to 5 daisy chained), USB 3.1 (10Gb/s), and DisplayPort devices. It’ll arrive in Q1 2016.
Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dual-Display Adapter
Meanwhile, the Plugable Thunderbolt 3 Dual-Display Adapter offers a quick and convenient way to hook up multiple displays to your PC. Two versions of the adapters are hitting the market this year. A DisplayPort variant supports the connection of two uncompressed 4K 60Hz (4096 x 2160) monitors. A second, HDMI model offers support for two uncompressed 4K 30Hz (3840 x 2160) monitors. Both are coming in Q1 2016.
Startech.com Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DP Adapter
Peripheral and accessory specialist Startech.com is introducing Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort Adapter, which they’re calling “the highest resolution and simplest dual DisplayPort adapter ever”. Why? Well, it’s bus powered, does not require additional device drivers, and, for the first time, a dual DisplayPort adapter supports two full uncompressed DisplayPort 1.2 video streams from a single Thunderbolt 3 port (that’s nearly 16 million more pixels than an HDTV, from a single Thunderbolt 3 port). It’s shipping later this quarter.
Startech.com Thunderbolt 3 Cables
If you like the look of all these Thundrbolt 3 solutions, you’re going to need some cables to go with them. Startech.com are shipping Thunderbolt 3 cables with USB-C connectors in lengths of 0.5m ($25.99), 1m ($29.99) and 2m ($35.99). Bear in mind, though, that the fastest 40 Gbps connections are only available with the 0.5m cable. Longer lengths result in a speed drop to (a still blistering) 20 Gbps.
The Startech.com Thunderbolt 3 Cables are available to pre-order now, and will ship later this quarter.
While we’ve seen a swathe of new Thunderbolt 3 products unveiled at CES 2016, we can expect to see many more announced through the year. Thunderbolt may have had a slow start, but with compatible notebooks, gaming rigs, storage devices and accessories now streaming into the market, it looks like the versatile Thunderbolt 3 standard will be popping up everywhere this year.