Apple has announced its plans to move away from Intel chips on the Mac to using its own custom ARM based chips. While the move sounds exciting for a lot of reasons, it will take years before we see its benefits come to fruition.
Macs have long supported Intel’s Thunderbolt technology to enable faster data transfer, power delivery, display output, and external GPU support. The thunderbolt 3.0 which works on the same USB-C port is by far the most interesting port as it enables the use of docking stations which are powerhouses.
However, by moving to ARM based chips on the Mac, the future of Thunderbolt 3.0 on the Mac is unclear. Apple has released a developer transition kit (DTK) for developers to create apps for the new architecture Macs. The DTK runs on Apple’s A12Z chip – the same chip that powers the current generation iPad Pro.
The interesting point to note is that the DTK does not support Thunderbolt 3.0 ports as it lacks Intel’s hardware. Thunderbolt has been Intel’s proprietary technology which companies have to pay royalties to use. However, Intel has been relaxing its conditions, as it recently approved a AMD Thunderbolt motherboard.
Will Apple figure out a way to include Thunderbolt 3.0 support on the ARM based Macs? We do not know but it’s totally possible if Apple can include a smaller chip like the T2 security chip just for adding Thunderbolt 3 support. We do not know if that’s actually possible but it would be nice to have Thunderbolt 3 on the upcoming Macs.
On the other hand, the USB Implementers forum has been hard at work to create USB 4 which will include all the features of Thunderbolt 3. If USB 4 is successfully released, companies can switch to USB 4 from Thunderbolt and skip paying royalties to Intel.