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Intel Finally Certified an AMD Thunderbolt Motherboard: Here's Why That Matters (Updated)

(Image credit: Intel)

Update 2/6/2020 7pm PT: Clarified that Intel did not previously charge royalties for Thunderbolt. Instead, vendors weren't allowed to produce Thunderbolt controller silicon, which is now freely allowed.

Original Article:

There are plenty of AMD motherboards out there with Thunderbolt 3, but none of them have been certified by Intel until today. Today will go down as a special day in ASRock history, because now it's able to say that it's the first to have an Intel-certified Thunderbolt AMD board.

The motherboard in question is the X570 Phantom Gaming ITX/TB3, which is a small-form-factor Mini-ITX motherboard based on AMD's latest enthusiast X570 chipset. In our ASRock X570 Phantom Gaming-ITX/TB3 review in August, we gave the mobo our Editor's Choice award, meaning it was already a great motherboard. Now, it just has a new certification to boast about. 

(Image credit: ASRock)

What makes this worth celebrating is that it took three generations of AMD Ryzen for Thunderbolt to finally reach AMD boards, and it took the better part of a year for one of those products to earn Intel certification. 

In the past, Intel didn't allow vendors to produce Thunderbolt-compatible silicon. But in an effort to boost adoption, Intel abolished this practice in 2019 and handed the Thunderbolt 3 specifications over to the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF). However, getting Intel certification still requires a one-time fee, the details of which remain undisclosed. It's unclear whether Thunderbolt certification will continue to be a thing after USB 4 is standardized in the market.

Thunderbolt was a proprietary Intel technology, and though it operates over a USB Type-C port, it is capable of far more than just carrying a USB signal. It can also handle power delivery, DisplayPort and PCIe. Thunderbolt 3, therefore, can carry a bandwidth of up to 40 Gbps, which is twice that of USB 3.2 and four times as fast as USB 3.1 connections. Since USB 4 uses the Thunderbolt 3 protocol, it basically is Thunderbolt 3, so USB 4 will be able to reach that speed too once it's implemented in devices.

(Image credit: Intel)

Thunderbolt's biggest party trick is its ability to daisy-chain, with Thunderbolt 3 specifically able to chain up to six devices together. Paired with this ability comes the benefit of one-cable docking, which is why we've seen more and more monitors (for recommendations, see our Best Gaming Monitors page) embed USB hubs and Ethernet, connecting to a laptop over a single cable and skipping the need for a power cable altogether.

With this much information and power being transferred over a single cable, it's helpful to know that ASRock's motherboard will work up to the standard that Intel expects it to.

Niels Broekhuijsen

Niels Broekhuijsen is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He reviews cases, water cooling and pc builds.