Since Intel announced the upcoming Thunderbolt 4 as a new standard, there have been many questions about how this new generation of ports can be compared to its predecessor and other upcoming standards such as USB 4. It should be fast, but how fast? And what else can it bring to the table?
Here you will find everything we know about how Thunderbolt 4 works, what to expect and how it can be compared the competition.
Intel officially announced Thunderbolt 4 at CES 2020. Thunderbolt 4 will be supported for the first time by its upcoming mobile Tiger Lake processors, which are expected to be launched in 2020. Additional technological improvements such as native Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5 will be added.
Although no exact release dates have yet been announced, Intel has released developer kits and certification tests for manufacturers and announced the Thunderbolt 4 8000 series controller that works with all current Thunderbolt 3 PCs and similar devices. The series begins with JHL8540 and JHL8340 host controllers for computers and the JHL8440 device controller for accessories.
The first Thunderbolt 4 connections will be available on select laptops towards the end of 2020, including laptops from the Intel Athena project, a program designed to promote more innovative laptop designs that fit the modern lifestyle. In 2021, there will be a much wider choice for potential buyers interested in the features of Thunderbolt 4.
In terms of speed, Thunderbolt 4 is no faster than Thunderbolt 3.
This is somewhat surprising since speed with a maximum throughput of 40 Gbit / s was one of the main advantages of Thunderbolt 3. In contrast, USB 3.2 is 2 × 2, the fastest specification of USB ports at the time of writing, 20 Gbit / s. Thunderbolt 4 should initially improve this. Intel claimed that it was four times faster than USB, which led many to expect a bandwidth of 80 Gbit / s for Thunderbolt 4.
Intel later clarified that it would be four times faster than USB 3.2 Gen 2 with a maximum speed of 10 Gbit / s. Thunderbolt 4 works with a maximum throughput of 40 Gbit / s.
However, you may still see an increase in performance on your devices. This is because one of the updates made by Intel requires Thunderbolt 4 to support PCIe bandwidth speeds of 32 Gbps, twice as much as Thunderbolt 3. PCIe connections are used on the latest SSDs, which means that general computing tasks, which involve the retrieval and storage of data may appear to be significantly faster.
Thunderbolt is a standard full of functions, from the activation of external graphics cards to Ethernet network access. Many of them were developed to further distinguish Thunderbolt from the USB standard. We already mentioned the new SSD connection speed of 32 Gbit / s, but for a device to be certified for Thunderbolt 4, it must also contain important functions such as:
- Twice the minimum requirements for video data compared to Thunderbolt 3. This enables the support of two 4k displays or one 8k display if required.
- Support for docks with up to four Thunderbolt 4 ports, more than Thunderbolt 3 requires.
- Wake features that let you wake up the computer instantly by touching the keyboard or mouse when connected to a Thunderbolt dock (if that didn't work with the Thunderbolt 3 computer, it quickly became very annoying to frequent users and was long expected fix).
- Protection against DMA or direct memory attacks, a type of hack that uses high-speed data connections on computers and steals data that has recently been transferred. This was recently highlighted by the enormous Thunderspy vulnerability – a collection of errors in Thunderbolt / USC connections that go back almost a decade. For Thunderbolt 4, Intel requires virtualization for directional I / O (VT-d), which creates a small, separate storage pocket when data is transferred to protect it from hacking. While Thunderbolt 4 itself is a free specification, it's an interesting step to incorporate this Intel technology.