USB4 catches up to Thunderbolt 3 with 40Gbps data transfer speeds

Sheri Evans
March 5, 2019

"Today, Intel announced that it contributed the Intel Thunderbolt protocol specification to the USB Promoter Group, enabling other chip makers to build Thunderbolt compatible silicon, royalty-free", said Intel. There is a lot of confusion surrounding the upcoming USB 3.2, and hopefully USB4 will restore sanity to the world of USB.

Existing USB Type-C cables will be able to transfer through two lanes, whereas if you have compatible certified cables, you'll be able to transfer up to 40 Gbps. The event will provide detailed technical training on the new specification along with USB Type-C cable and USB Power Delivery training. Intel started certifying devices with support for Thunderbolt 3 in 2015, and in 2017 it chose to open the standard. This means that the simultaneous transfer of data and display protocols would theoretically be possible with a USB4 port and cable that supports Thunderbolt 3.

Let us not forget that titles like USB 3.2 and USB4 don't necessarily tell you what physical ports (eg, USB Type-A or USB Type-C connectors) are in play, nor other capabilities like Power Delivery.

According to USB Promoter Group, USB 4 is capable of speeds reaching 40 gigabits per second.

USB4 promises to bring sense to what has become a nonsensical mess of specs, features, and connection types. It will maintain backwards compatibility with previous Thunderbolt generations as well as the various flavours of USB 2 and 3.

The good news is that Intel has long promised that it will eventually make Thunderbolt 3 royalty-free, and on Monday we finally got a glimpse of how that will happen: Thunderbolt 3 is merging with USB.

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What's the USB 4 release date? With that said, nobody has seen a USB4 port yet so we don't know if it will differ from the current USB-C standard.

As The Verge points out, the USB-IF expects manufacturers to take around 18 months to start producing USB4 devices once the specification is finalized. Watch this space, as they say.

"Releasing the Thunderbolt 3 protocol specification is a significant milestone for making today's simplest and most versatile port available to everyone", said Jason Ziller, general manager, Client Connectivity Division at Intel. As the USB Type-C™ connector has evolved into the role as the external display port of many host products, the USB4 specification provides the host the ability to optimally scale allocations for display data flow.

Brad Saunders, USB Promoter Group Chairman offers the following statement. It's a welcome development, though it adds yet another spec name to an already-crowded field of USB specs that laptop and desktop shoppers must consider.

Thunderbolt 3 has been one of the (optional) crown jewels of USB Type-C, providing a blistering 40 Gbps theoretical bandwidth compared to USB 3.1 Gen 2's 10 Gbps.

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