A few months ago, we published a full article here explaining the differences between the protocols USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt – and we suggest, at the end of the text, that the arrival of USB4 it would serve to bring together the best of both worlds and eliminate the differences between the two patterns. Well, apparently the Intel – owner of the Thunderbolt brand – has something to say about it.
After the preliminary announcement at the last Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the microchip giant today launched the Thunderbolt 4, the new generation of the protocol that equips all recent MacBooks Air and Pro (and several other computers and devices in the world). The launch, which uses the same USB-C connector, has several practical benefits for advanced and professional users, but as remarkable as it is. no brings: its transfer speeds are the same as the Thunderbolt 3.
More precisely, Thunderbolt 4 is capable of transferring data up to 40GB / s, same rate as its predecessor. Intel believes that the speed is already sufficient to satisfy the needs of basically all users, and instead of increasing it, it preferred to work on other fronts of technology – such as the fact that now universal cables can even have 2 m without loss of speed (previously, the limit was 0.5m).
Other specifications for the Thunderbolt 4 include support for a monitor 8K (or two 4K) and PCI Express technology, which will allow storage devices of the type to transfer data at up to 3,000MB / s. In addition, the Thunderbolt 4 docks can bring up to four ports of the type (one with up to 100W of power, to recharge all types of laptops) and will communicate with the external keyboard and mouse, allowing the user to wake the computer by moving one of the peripherals.
The protocol is compatible with USB4, Thunderbolt 3 and other USB standards; therefore, Intel is selling the release as “the standard for bringing all the standards together” – in the manufacturer’s words, all you need to do is identify a Thunderbolt 4 port on your device and you are guaranteed that any accessory or peripheral you connect there will work perfectly.
Obviously, that’s not the whole story: Thunderbolt is still a licensed technology, which means that manufacturers (like Apple) will need to pay to put it on their products – unlike USB, which is an open and free standard for be used by any company.
Therefore, the trend is that Thunderbolt 4 devices remain a minority on the market, while those with USB4 are expected to dominate the shelves in the near future. At least, the two technologies “talk” – it is not yet the total convergence that we dream of, but it is already something.
The first devices with Thunderbolt 4 will start to appear at the end of the year, on laptops equipped with the new processors of the family “Tiger Lake”. As for Apple, of course, we’ll have to wait a little longer, even to learn how the transition to Apple Silicon will handle this type of integration – it’s worth remembering that the Mac mini from the company’s transition kit, equipped with A12Z Bionic chip, has USB-C ports on the rear, instead of the usual Thunderbolt 3.
That is, it is very likely that Apple will follow the USB4 standard in its future computers. We’ll see.
Update 07/08/2020 at 19:35
Contrary to our expectations, Apple confirmed that Macs with their own chips will indeed support the Thunderbolt protocol. We publish a new article with all the details.