Intel Announces Thunderbolt 4

Posted on July 8, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 43 Comments

Intel announced today that it will succeed the Thunderbolt 3 universal connector with Thunderbolt 4, separately from USB4.

“Thunderbolt provides consumers with a leading connectivity standard across a range of devices, helping to advance computing experiences and delivering on the promise of USB-C with simplicity, performance and reliability,” Intel general manager Jason Ziller said in a prepared statement. “The arrival of Thunderbolt 4 underscores how Intel is advancing the PC ecosystem toward truly universal connectivity solutions.”

For some reason, I had thought that USB4 was the successor to Thunderbolt 3, but Intel’s announcement explains the differences, and that the firm will be pushing forward with both. And maybe the best way to describe it is that USB4 is a subset of Thunderbolt 4 that will offer a data transfer speed of 20 Gbps and 7.5-watts of power for accessories.

By comparison, Thunderbolt 4 will support 40 Gbps of performance, like Thunderbolt 3, but it will also support a minimum of two 4K displays, compared to just one for Thunderbolt 3. It will deliver at least 15-watts of power for accessories and, unlike USB4, will come with a variety of minimum requirements for device makers related to charging, wake from sleep, networking, and more.

Intel expects to ship the first Thunderbolt 4 chipsets later this year and says we can expect to see the standard implemented in PCs, accessories, and other devices by the end of 2020.

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Comments (47)

47 responses to “Intel Announces Thunderbolt 4”

  1. jwpear

    The grass sure us green over there. Surface owners can only stand on the sideline and dream.

  2. dmitryko

    There are no changes between TB4 and TB3, it's only Intel certification for minimal performance requirements. Also USB4 uses the same physical protocol as TB3, but a slightly different clock frequency; most USB4 devices are expected to support TB3 mode.

  3. dougkinzinger

    Frankly just yet another reason Intel is setting itself up to fail. Tbolt is fine (good even) but using the same connector as USB but not all being the same is ripe for customer confusion. It's like all albacore is tuna but not all tuna is albacore. Lame.

    • dmitryko

      In reply to dougkinzinger:

      I'm not sure how it's 'not the same' and where is the confusion - it's exactly the same as USB4 and USB 3.x Gen2x2 with Power Delivery and DisplayPort Alt Mode.

      • bluvg

        In reply to dmitryko:

        I don't see how it's exactly the same. The chart above shows some pretty clear differences, though some may not be important for some folks.

        • dmitryko

          In reply to bluvg:

          What this chart has to do with what I've said above?

          • dmitryko

            In reply to bluvg:

            TB4 and USB4 specs are exactly the same. This marketing chart lists some additional system design and signal quality requirements for TB4 certification. Comparing random 'minimum' numbers makes little sense when USB4 and ThunderBolt explicitly incorporate USB 3.x Gen2 x1/x2, USB Power Delivery, and DisplaPort Alt Mode.

            • Paul Thurrott

              This sounds like the correct way to describe this.
            • bluvg

              In reply to dmitryko:

              I guess I'm just getting hung up on "exactly the same," i.e. TB4 ≡ USB4. Essentially the same (with caveats) seems closer. From a consumer standpoint, TB4 is a guarantee of certain things, whereas USB4 continues to offer manufacturers an as-you-like-it approach to implementation. If someone asks what they need to hook up dual displays at 4k, it looks like they'd need to be steered away from machines that offer USB4 only.

              • dmitryko

                In reply to bluvg:

                No. Dual 4K displays simply need two Type-C ports capable of video output, no matter if ThunderBolt 3/4, USB4, or USB 3.x with DisplayPort Alt Mode ([email protected] requires 13 Gbps - that's two-lane DP 1.3 from 2014, or four-lane DP 1.2 from 2010).

                USB4 comes with a new certification and branding program from USB-IF, with "Cerified USB 40/20Gbps" labels on the packaging, and updated trident/tri-fork logos on the ports/devices, featuring circled numbers "40" and "20" in place of the letters "SS".

                (See USB Branding Session pp. 17-18, 22-23 from USB DevDay 2019 presentations)

                The new system should have immediate effect on cable branding; USB 3.x devices and ports will continue using "Certifled USB 5/10/20 Gbps" packaging labels and "SS" trident logos, now with mandatory numbers 5/10/20 for bandwdith, and DP logo to the right when applicable.

                As it was noted by the press, it's much clearer than their previous attempts like SuperSpeed/+ which were mostly ignored by anyone, or convoluted "USB 3.X Gen Y x Z" mode names from the technical specification.

                So I just fail to see any source of confusion here.

  4. sandy

    Was there any mention of closing the gaping security holes with Thunderbolt (particularly around direct memory access)?

    While TB3 is nice from a capability point of view, it's been awful for security, except for Macs where Apple implemented security. Unfortunately Microsoft limited their security to Enterprise editions of Windows, so right now, I think I'd rather not have TB3/TB4 in my next (personal) laptop.

    PS: I see on the slide "Intel VT-d DMA protection", but even the existing protections (such as in Windows 10 Enterprise) are weak, allowing older versions to connect without requiring them to be specifically authorised.

    They - Intel in-particular but also operating system vendors & device OEMs such as Microsoft - need to secure connections with legacy Thunderbolt devices, and TB3 PCs, not just new TB4 PCs when connecting to TB4 peripherals.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Sandy:

      penultimate bullet point: Requires Intel VT-d DMA protection.

      There is probably no way to "fix" TB3 on existing devices. The problem is in the way the hardware works, not the OS or driver level. You might be able to provide some mitigations in the OS, but actually fix the problem completely? Probably not.

  5. davidl

    @Paul: Can you make your images so that when you click on them you see the full res version? It is impossible to read that chart on my phone (Galaxy S10+) and I can't zoom on it.

  6. Chris_Kez

    I think Intel is being disingenuous with how they're presenting this information. The section of the table that they label "Maximum Performance" actually lists the minimum requirements for speed, video, display and data. USB 4 will offer higher performance than those minimums but will not require them. The biggest issue with USB 4 is not capability, but clarity; if you get a TB4 port and cable, you know exactly what you are getting.

    • brisonharvey

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      That really seems to be the only difference here. USB C/3.1/3.2/4 have always had issues clarifying what is capable and what is not. Thunderbolt 3 is a known quantity, as will be Thunderbolt 4. However, the ubiquity of USB 4, especially on ARM platforms + AMD's rise in PCs might make Thunderbolt less relevant.

    • BigM72

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      Yes and it’s unfortunate this wasn’t understood in the article which just read the numbers straight off the table.

      USB4 can absolutely do 40Gb/s (the question is just over bi-direction vs max one way)

  7. red.radar

    I don't understand why anyone would implement TB4. Its practically the same as TB3 but with more arduous compliance requirements. Do they think Consumers really understand the technology well enough to demand TB4 over USB4?

    I think Intel is dreaming. And with Apple going to Arm I suspect thunderbolt will be dead within 2 years in favor of USB4.

    My suspicion is that Intel thinks thunderbolt is a market differentiator and they want a 4 revision number rather a 3 because it will appear equivalent to usb4. This feels like a petty marketing play

    • wright_is

      In reply to red.radar:

      Its PCIe transfer is twice as fast as TB3. It should also have built in DMA protection (probably the biggest weakness of TB3 at the moment). There are some benefits to going to 4, but as you say, only on Intel.

      Given that USB 4 is "good enough" for most people and AMD already has PCIe 4.0 and Intel still hasn't got there yet, it seems a bit "me-too".

      Given that ARM and AMD are now coming to the party, I think you are right, Thunderbolt 4 is going to be niche going forward.

  8. txag

    Will USB 4 and Thunderbolt 4 have the same plug/socket?

  9. mattbg

    "Required Intel VT-d based DMA protection" is interesting.

    What about AMD and Apple A-series? Hopefully they will allow for DMA protection equivalent to whatever they are doing with VT-d.

  10. ntgay17

    So the question here is has intel addressed the security concerns MS brought up with thunderbolt?

  11. solomonrex

    This feels unnecessary. Like, trying to push a disc post bluray. Just like 3d went nowhere and VR hasn't caught on, Thunderbolt 3 hasn't achieved anything like the distribution of usb, and usb-c itself is years from ubiquity, even if they get the issues ironed out (THIS cable transfers data, but THIS cable doesn't? THIS port can charge, but not THESE?). What problem are they solving at this point? Multiple 4k monitors? For who ... ? The dozens of television studios on the planet, that are probably getting replaced with iphones? Local computing and local storage?

    I'm not saying no one can use this, but we can see the end in sight.

    • bluvg

      In reply to solomonrex:

      TB has quite a number of advantages over USB. If you want a laptop with a single cable to rule them al (power, data, video, etc.), TB is really the only game in town.

    • dmitryko

      In reply to solomonrex:

      TB/USB4 offers native external PCIe for NVMe storage and/or expansion docks, while having full backward compatibility with USB 3.x, DisplayPort Alt Mode, and USB Power Delivery on the same USB Type-C connector.

      That's exactly solving the issues with existing USB Type-C ports, which have too many optional features and alternate modes, convoluted marketing guidelines with confusing naming and versioning schemes, and logos which are not really used in a consistent way by anyone.

  12. gmanny

    It's not faster in terms of PCIe speed, so not a big deal really, just a rebrand of TB3. The saddest part is that the 32 Gbit/s of PCIe is not even the right speed, because of overhead, it can only do 2.4 Gbyte/s of bandwidth between the PC and the attached device, which is like a PCIe 3rd gen 2x slot.

  13. Scsekaran

    For majority of users USB 4 (?USB4) will be adequate. Thunderbolt 4 is proprietary intel tech requires specific processors and / or chipsets so is Surface Connect port and dock is a proprietary standard. For surface line of products, surface connect will be compatible with both AMD and intel processors and probably more secure that Thunderbolt 3. With the addition of USB4 all bases are covered for Surface devices. Hopefully Thunderbolt 4 fixed the security issue with the mandatory requirement of Vt-D in the specs.

    I was hopeful that USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 will be amalgamated as a single standard but that's not the case. If Thunderbolt 4 is not support by Apples hardware, it will probably go in the same way as Firewire

    • bluvg

      "For majority of users USB 4 (?USB4) will be adequate"

      If they have a laptop and want everything running over a single cable, TB > USB.

      Good point about the Surface Connect port being compatible beyond Intel. So that was the reason they stuck with it for so long, despite the criticisms?

      • Scsekaran

        In reply to bluvg:

        Thunderbolt- single cable run everything is in ideal situation and if implemented appropriately. Apple implemented but not all other PC manufacturers. It is based on Processor/chipsets, available PCI-e lanes, licensing cost and restrictions and type of cables used plays a part as well. It is a very confusing and fragmented situation definitely for majority of users. It is useful for special purposes like Storage array, external GPU and Multiple displays. Labelling of ports is poor as well.

        With USB4, you get the benefits of Thunderbolt 3 - 1 display without any resolution restriction, speed 20GB/s but up to 40GB/s, 7.5W port power delivery and better security than TB3. With thunderbolt 4 you get 2x4K-60Hz Display, same 40GB/s, 15W Power delivery

        Surface Connect /dock delivers 2x4k-60Hz display, better security and compatible with Intel, AMD and ARM architecture

        Microsoft will cover Thunderbolt 3/4 with the combination USB4 + Surface connect. I think that may be the reason they stuck with it although they should have replaced the mini-DP port with USB-C much earlier

  14. suavegav

    Will it be available on Macs with Apple silicon? :P LOL

  15. bluvg

    "truly universal connectivity solutions."

    Except for AMD, ARM, etc? Maybe they mean universal as opposed to multiversal?

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