Thunderbolt 3 is a staple addition to many devices outside the Chrome OS world. Macbooks and Windows devices come with it in many of the higher-end models and peripheral manufacturers have created a small ecosystem of fantastic devices that fully leverage the USB-C standard in a wide variety of ways. Up to this point, there’s been no inclusion of Thunderbolt on any Chromebook. But that is getting ready to change.
According to the clear language in a commit from the Chromium Repositories, Thunderbolt 3 support is in the works and on the way:
usb_pd: Adding support for compatible Thunderbolt mode
Thunderbolt is a hardware interface that allows connection of external peripherals to a computer. This code enables thunderbolt 3 over Type-C interface. Thunderbolt provides concurrent support for PCIe transactions and DisplayPort and the thunderbolt controller provides isochronous communication on a single network style interface, allowing a Host computer to communicate at high bandwidth with multiple data/display devices through a single physical connection.
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The big benefits of Thunderbolt 3 for a Chromebook would be the greater support for external monitors (think multi-4K setups, etc.), better support for USB-C docking stations, and much higher data transfer capabilities on external drives. Sure, this ostensibly means external GPUs would work, but I’m unsure that’s a big concern for anyone at this stage in the development of Chrome OS. If we get better video editing tools down the road (*cough* Adobe Premiere Rush *cough*), I could see the addition of some GPU grunt making a difference in certain situations.
For what it is worth, the current lineup of top-shelf Chromebooks with the 8th-gen chips in them won’t be getting this upgrade unless there are separate Thunderbolt controllers hiding on the boards that we are unaware of. 8th-gen Intel chips simply don’t have support for Thunderbolt 3 built in out of the box, so this will all be coming to future Chromebooks based on the newer 10th-gen Canon Lake chipsets (like those built on the ‘Hatch’ board). If big, multi-monitor setups or ultra-fast file transfers are what you are looking for out of your Chromebook, you may need to hold off until the new generation of devices start hitting shelves later this year and into 2020.
With Linux continuing to make strides on Chromebooks, Google continuing to push forward with making Android development easier on Chromebooks, and app support generally getting better and more seamless, perhaps better GPUs could come in handy down the road. For now, however, I think greater multi-monitor support, multi-4K support, and faster file transfer speeds are all the reasons we should be getting excited about this USB-C standard coming to Chromebooks sooner than later.