USB Type-C is shaping up to be the holy grail of ports. It can charge your laptop, deliver 4K video, and transfer loads of USB data all over a single cable — all at the same time. What could be better? You're looking at the answer.
What you see in these pictures is a hub that uses Intel's Thunderbolt 3, a supercharged version of USB-C with double the bandwidth. What does that actually mean in practice? It's fast enough that you can actually augment the power of a relatively weak laptop with an external graphics card... yes, while still charging the laptop... driving two 4K monitors... and powering your USB devices all at the same time. Here's what that looks like:
That's right: with just a single cable plugged into the side of this super thin, super light laptop we spotted at IDF 2015, you get three USB 3.0 ports, two HDMI ports, two DisplayPorts, external audio, and ethernet all at the same time. Plus an extra USB Type-C port for — in this case — attaching a ridiculously-fast external solid state drive.
The best part isn't the plethora of ports, though: it's the fact that this sleek box has an external graphics chip inside. In this case, an AMD Radeon R9 M385. Hello, games!
What if you need even more graphical muscle? Say, if you want to plug your thin and light laptop in at night and play some Grand Theft Auto V? Thunderbolt 3 can handle a way bigger external graphics card dock, too. Here's what it looks like with a full-size AMD R9 200 series graphics card, delivering a respectable framerate in the Unigine Heaven benchmark.
Sadly, all of these Thunderbolt 3 boxes — and the laptop — are just Inventec reference designs, not commercial products yet. Plus, Intel won't say what they might cost or when they might arrive, though the first real Thunderbolt 3 products will allegedly start hitting the market by the end of the year.
Will manufacturers actually build external graphics solutions with Thunderbolt 3? "Watch this space," says Navin Shenoy, an Intel executive.