Intel today unveiled Thunderbolt 4, but don’t expect a speed increase.
Like Thunderbolt 3, the next-generation connection port will offer consumers the same 40Gbps data transfer rates—or four times the speed of USB 3.2 Gen 2. However, Intel did scale up the specs in other areas.
To qualify as a Thunderbolt 4 PC, the machine must be able to drive enough bandwidth to support two 4K displays or a single 8K display. (In contrast, Thunderbolt 3 PCs only need to be able to support a single 4K monitor.)
On the peripheral front, Thunderbolt 4 PCs must offer 32Gbps minimum storage speeds over PCIe lanes, or double what Thunderbolt 3 is required to do. The same machines will also need to feature PC charging over at least one Thunderbolt 4 port.
The company says Thunderbolt 4 will start arriving later this year with Intel’s upcoming “Tiger Lake” processors for notebooks. The next-generation connection ports will also be fully compatible with Thunderbolt 3. To get PC makers on board, the company is releasing developer kits and making certification testing available now.
Aside from the fast data transfer speeds, Thunderbolt’s other perk is how it can support DisplayPort, PCIe, USB connections and power delivery over a single USB-C port, removing the need for a PC vendor to add a variety of different slots on the machine. It’s why Intel has dubbed the technology the “universal connector.”
How to tell if your computer supports Thunderbolt (Credit: Intel)
Thunderbolt 3 was announced in 2015, and since then, Intel says it’s shipped “hundreds of millions” of PCs and peripherals with the technology built-in. Nevertheless, the technology hasn’t been adopted everywhere, especially in cheaper computers. But that may change, thanks to the upcoming USB 4 standard, which is based off the Thunderbolt 3 protocol. (In 2017, Intel made the protocol available under a royalty-free license.)
USB 4 is slated to support up to 40Gbps data transfer speeds, and have backward-compatibility with Thunderbolt 3. The first products to support USB 4 are expected to arrive possibly later this year or in 2021.