Apple is moving away from Intel’s chipsets in favor of its new, custom-designed ARM chips — but the company is promising that it’ll still support Intel’s Thunderbolt USB-C connectivity standard on new Apple silicon computers, despite the lack of Intel processors.
“Over a decade ago, Apple partnered with Intel to design and develop Thunderbolt, and today our customers enjoy the speed and flexibility it brings to every Mac. We remain committed to the future of Thunderbolt and will support it in Macs with Apple silicon,” commented an Apple spokesperson, in a statement to The Verge.
While there was some concern that Apple might be losing support for Thunderbolt on its upcoming Macs, the fact that Apple is sticking with the standard makes a lot of sense, given that it had helped develop the original Thunderbolt standard in collaboration with Intel.
Despite that collaboration, though, Apple has yet to offer Thunderbolt support on any products outside of Intel-powered Macs — Apple’s ARM-based iPad Pro, in particular, stands out as featuring a regular USB-C port, not a Thunderbolt 3 connector. Apple’s ARM-based Developer Transition Kit also only features standard USB-C ports.
The news comes as Intel detailed its upcoming Thunderbolt 4 standard, which will be based on the USB4 spec standard and which uses the same USB-C connector that Thunderbolt 3 already does today. Both Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 offer more guaranteed features (like the ability to power external monitors, or charge laptops) compared to the standard USB 3 and USB4 standards that they’re built off of, and offer a consistency that regular USB-C standards can often be sorely lacking in.
Thunderbolt 4, in particular, offers the same 40 Gbps speeds that Thunderbolt 3 had offered, but adds even stricter hardware requirements for manufacturers: devices will have to be able to support either two 4K displays or one 8K display, and allow for PCIe data transfer speeds of up to 32 Gbps — which should be a boon for external storage and external GPUs.
Apple is expected to launch its first ARM-based Macs before the end of 2020, and expects to completely transition its product lineup over to its own chips within two years.