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Thunderbolt 4 is coming: Here's everything you need to know

Same speed, more compatibility

Published onJuly 8, 2020

Thunderbolt 4 lead
  • Thunderbolt 4 guarantees 40Gb/s speeds.
  • The next-gen connector will be fully compatible with USB 4.
  • It will ship with upcoming Tigerlake-based laptops.

Intel’s plans to make Thunderbolt a viable alternative to USB-C on its own might not have come to fruition. But following last year’s decision to contribute the protocol specification to the USB promoter group, the company made some decidedly consumer-friendly moves today.

Intel calls Thunderbolt 4, the “most complete version of USB-C,” and a lot of that has to do with the fact that it shares the same base protocol with USB 4. In fact, Intel is guaranteeing interoperability with USB 4 devices with Thunderbolt 4 providing a superset of extra features.

Is Thunderbolt 4 faster than Thunderbolt 3?

Like Thunderbolt 3, the latest protocol promises the same 40Gbps speeds. However, while Thunderbolt 3 promised it as a maximum, Thunderbolt 4 is guaranteeing it as a minimum requirement for certification.

Since Thunderbolt 4 has been designed for dynamically adjusting bandwidth between data and video applications, users can expect 32Gb/s data transfer speeds over PCIe while still running dual 4K monitors or a single 8K monitor. That’s an improvement over Thunderbolt 3 that could initially only support a single 4K monitor.

Thunderbolt 4 vs Thunderbolt 3

Intel is making the transition to Thunderbolt 4 as consumer-friendly as possible. Part of this move is simplifying the mess of point upgrades that the USB 3 spec had. Users will no longer have to worry about identifying color-coded USB ports, all ports and cables marked with the Thunderbolt 4 logo will be fully compatible. This is accompanied by a mandatory certification program for all cables.

Also read: It’s 2020 and USB-C is still a mess

Elsewhere, Intel is ensuring that all laptops shipping with Thunderbolt 4 will have at least a single port capable of charging the machine at up to 100W. Powered output for accessories, however, is still limited to 15W just like Thunderbolt 3.

On the security front, Intel claims the connection will guarantee protection against direct memory attacks by relying on Intel’s VT-d virtualization technology. The tech isolates memory regions on devices to prevent vulnerabilities from gaining access to encrypted data. While available on Thunderbolt 3 as well, this time around Intel is making it mandatory to be spec-compliant.

When can I buy Thunderbolt 4 products?

Thunderbolt 4 roll out

Laptops shipping later this year on the Tigerlake platform will include Thunderbolt 4 support by default. While a single port is guaranteed, Intel strongly recommends manufacturers to include additional. To that end, it will now be possible to buy Thunderbolt docks supporting up to four additional ports.

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