Let MindShare Bring "Thunderbolt 3" to Life for You

This course provides an introduction to Thunderbolt 3 technology. Thunderbolt 3 is an Intel hardware interface standard that provides a method for delivering high bandwidth IO data and up to 100W of dc power—all using a single cable between a host computer and an attached device, dock, etc. Thunderbolt 3 employs the Type-C receptacles/plugs already found in USB devices ranging from cell phones and tablets up to large workstations and servers. Depending on the capabilities of attached devices and cables, the actual data protocol used on a particular port may be Thunderbolt 3 at 40 Gb/s or 20 Gb/s, one of the native USB 2.0/3.0/3.1 protocols and speeds, or one of the other Type-C alternate modes such as Display Port 1.2.

The common Type-C receptacles and plugs add complexity to the scenarios a user may encounter when making device connections. This is compounded by the many variants of active and passive USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 cables—all of which are similar in appearance, but have different protocol, speed, and power capabilities.
The goal of this course is to describe the basic elements of Thunderbolt 3 and use demonstrations where appropriate to shed light on the important hardware and software features of this multi-protocol interface.

MindShare Courses On Thunderbolt:

Course Name

Virtual Classroom

Thunderbolt 3 
1 day

1 day
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All of MindShare's classroom and virtual classroom courses can be customized to fit the needs of your group.

Thunderbolt 3 Architecture Course Info

You Will Learn:

  • Thunderbolt features
  • Thunderbolt applications
  • Intel Thunderbolt Controller (Alpine Ridge) architecture
  • Thunderbolt port (USB Type-C) architecture
  • Thunderbolt port initialization
  • Power Delivery messaging
  • Thunderbolt electricals

Course Length: 1 Day

Who Should Attend?

This course is designed with hardware, software and validation engineers in mind. System board and computer designers will benefit too. Major features of Thunderbolt (Type-C) connections and power delivery are described. 

Course Outline:

  • Thunderbolt Background
    • The problem addressed with original Thunderbolt
    • Thunderbolt 2 enhancements
  • Thunderbolt 3 Features
  • Motivations and Goals
    • Multiple protocols and dc power on one interface
    • Simplified docking with a single cable
    • Higher bandwidth data capability
    • Negotiated dc power to 100W
  • Important Applications
    • 4K (and higher resolution) video monitors
    • External graphics
    • Docking (single cable)
    • Networking
    • Mass storage
  • Key Specifications
    • Thunderbolt 3 Specification (Intel proprietary)
    • USB Type-C Cable and Connector Specification (usb.org)
    • USB Power Delivery Specification (usb.org)
    • Display Port 1.2 (vesa.org)
  • Thunderbolt 3 Controller (Alpine Ridge)
    • Supports multiple port protocols, including
      • Native Type-C USB 2.0/3.1
      • Thunderbolt 3 Type-C alternate mode
      • Display Port 1.2 Type-C alternate mode
    • Controller appears as a collection of PCI functions
      • PCIe switch
      • xHCI host controller
      • Host DMA engine
      • Thunderbolt switch
    • Demo: Arbor scan of Thunderbolt 3 controllers and attached devices
  • The Thunderbolt 3 Type-C Port
    • 24 pins, small form factor receptacle
    • Reversible cable and plugs
    • Port and cable signal groups
  • Automatic Thunderbolt 3 Port Initialization
    • Attachment/removal
    • Cable and plug orientation
    • Default port roles and VBUS source/sink
    • Default VBUS current
    • Initial power delivery contract negotiation
  • USB Power Delivery (PD) Sideband Messaging
    • Standard and vendor-defined messages (VDMs)
    • Negotiated VBUS power contract (up to 100 W)
    • Discovery of host, cable, and device capabilities
    • PD message Type-C alternate mode entry/exit (e.g. Thunderbolt 3)
    • Demo: Analyzer capture of host/device power contract negotiation PD messages
  • If Port Operates in Thunderbolt 3 Mode (40 Gb/s or 20 Gb/s)
    • Thunderbolt 3 controller (Alpine Ridge) required on each end of the link
    • Multiplexed PCIe Gen 3 and Display Port 1.2 data
    • Daisy chain up to 6 Thunderbolt 3 devices
    • Thunderbolt 3 protocol converters (TB3 to TB2, etc)
  • Thunderbolt 3 Electronically Marked Cable Assembly (EMCA). Options reported via PD messages:
    • USBIF ID information
    • Far end cable plug type (A/B/C or captive)
    • Passive vs active signal conditioning
    • Cable latency (nS)
    • VBUS current capability
    • VCONN cable power required?
    • Cable high speed signal maximum data rate (5 Gb/s or 10 Gb/s)
    • Demo: Analyzer capture of PD messages between host and cable electronics

Recommended Prerequisites:

Exposure to PCIe and USB architectures

Supplied Materials:

  1. Downloadable PDF version of the presentation slides.
  2. Optional: MindShare Arbor software tool, used for student demos in the class.