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Intel Arrow Lake leak shows Thunderbolt 5 coming to desktop – and it could revolutionize gaming laptops as well

 Gigabyte Aorus RTX 3080 Ti Gaming Box External GPU Connected To A Laptop.
Gigabyte Aorus RTX 3080 Ti Gaming Box External GPU Connected To A Laptop.

Intel’s Arrow Lake-S (desktop) processors are bringing in Thunderbolt 5 support, the next-gen wired connectivity standard, according to a new leak – and that’s great news for those who run (or would like to run) an external GPU.

VideoCardz spotted some presentation slides showing the Barlow Bridge controller for Arrow Lake desktop which mentions that Thunderbolt 5 support is included.

These slides were aired on X (formerly Twitter) by leaker YuuKi_AnS, and although the tweet has subsequently been deleted, the tech site grabbed and posted screenshots before that happened.

Intel revealed Thunderbolt 5 late last year and it ushers in all manner of benefits, touting 120Gbps of bandwidth (way faster than Thunderbolt 4) and PCIe Gen4 x4 support, making the standard an ideal partner for hooking up an external GPU. That’s a graphics card in an external enclosure, and it’s a solution sometimes used with gaming laptops (to beef up the graphics power of the notebook when you’re at your desk with it and can use that external GPU).

Of course, this leak is about desktop silicon, but if you have a small form-factor PC (or otherwise space-constrained case, especially considering the size of high-end graphics cards these days), an external GPU can supply something far meatier for graphics duties if needed.

Thunderbolt 5 didn’t make the cut for Intel’s Meteor Lake CPUs, but it is in some of Team Blue’s high-end Raptor Lake Refresh (HX) chips for laptops (revealed at CES 2024, earlier this month).

Arrow Lake represents Thunderbolt 5’s full arrival on desktop, though, and Arrow Lake will have mobile CPUs too. Rumor has it that the 15th-gen chips will sport not just top-end HX processors, but more mainstream H series mobile silicon (and also low-power U variants, too).


Analysis: A game-changer – but patience is required

External GPU enclosures have been around for a long time, but they’ve not been very popular or generated much interest at all. That’s because up until now, external GPUs have been rather hobbled by the wired connectivity available – basically, the pipe hooking them up to the laptop (or PC) just isn’t capable of getting full performance from the external graphics card.

All that changes with Thunderbolt 5, which has tons of bandwidth as mentioned, and crucially PCIe Gen4 x4 support – so it’s now pretty much the same as having a graphics card plugged directly into your motherboard in the traditional manner.

Does that mean we’re about to see an explosion of popularity in external GPUs? Far more interest will surely be generated for these solutions going forward, although external GPU enclosures do heap some expense on top of the already weighty cost of many of the best graphics cards.

The other catch is that Thunderbolt 5 isn’t anything like widespread yet – quite the opposite. It’s only in the mentioned HX series 14th-gen laptops, but they’re very much a niche proposition, and of course, Arrow Lake won’t arrive until late in 2024, possibly very late in the year.

In short, we’re looking at 2025 before the Thunderbolt 5 show properly gets underway, and indeed the leaker who spilled the slides, YuuKi_AnS, doesn’t anticipate the new standard becoming fully popular until 2026.

There is still some way to go, clearly, but seeing Arrow Lake-S coming with support for Thunderbolt 5 is nonetheless an enticing sign that the future of wired connectivity is rushing – well, okay, maybe ambling – toward us.

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