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Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Intel Announces Thunderbolt 4 Protocol; Offers 40Gbps Speed, 8K Display Support

Intel first revealed Thunderbolt 4 during its CES 2020 presentation earlier this year. The company didn’t share any major details for Thunderbolt 4 at the event. But today, it has officially revealed everything there is to know about this next-gen port that will come baked into most laptops in the following years.

First, let’s answer the most important question of all – what’s new in Thunderbolt 4? How is it different from Thunderbolt 3? Are we going to see insane speed boosts?

As has been rumored for the past six months, Thunderbolt 4 is essentially the same as Thunderbolt 3 but with some minor improvements sprinkled on top. First up, there’s no speed boost. Intel already revealed this back at CES 2020, saying that Thunderbolt 4 is four times faster than the current USB standard, i.e USB 3.2 Gen 2.

The USB 3.2 Gen 2 port operates at a maximum speed of 10Gbps. This means the new Thunderbolt 4 ports will offer a maximum throughput of 40 Gbps, which is the same as the previous-gen thunderbolt 3. Intel states that Thunderbolt 4 is built upon the Thunderbolt 3 standard, thus, it’s not a major upgrade.

In addition, Intel has doubled the minimum video and data requirements with this new port. It now supports up to two 4K displays or a single 8K display. The port supports the same protocols, including USB 2.0, USB 3.2, USB 4, DisplayPort, and PCIe (PCI Express), like its predecessor. It also requires a minimum data transfer rate of 32Gbps via PCIe and 3,000Mbps for storage transfer speeds.

The chipmaker is now trying to boost the adoption of Thunderbolt 4 ports by laying down some certification requirements. This includes PC charging on at least one of these ports, wake up the computer simply by touching the mouse/ keyboard when you’re connected to a dock, and Intel VT-d (virtualization technology) based DMA protection is required.

Intel calls Thunderbolt 4 the most complete and future-proof version of USB-C port

As for the accessory side of things, “Thunderbolt 4 will offer docks with up to four Thunderbolt ports and universal cables up to 2 meters in length.” This will include one upstream and three downstream ports and the 40Gbps bandwidth will be split among connected accessories using the new Thunderbolt 4 controller 8000 series.

When will we see Thunderbolt 4 port baked into devices? The press release says that Thunderbolt 4 laptops and accessories will make their debut later this year. Intel will first introduce it with the upcoming 10nm ‘Tiger Lake’ mobile processors. The devkits and certification testing for Thunderbolt 4 are now available.

Daniel Storey
Daniel Storey
Daniel Storey is business editor at British Journal. Previously he was the Independent's chief leader writer and worked in national newspapers for ten years, as a general news reporter and science correspondent, before specialising in economics. Daniel has broken a number of exclusive stories and interviewed senior figures including the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition.

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