Earlier this week, Intel released specifications for its latest universal cable connectivity solution, Thunderbolt 4. The hardware interface allows external peripherals to connect to a computer. The new standard increases minimum performance requirements while also expanding capabilities and USB4 specification compliance. Despite this, its maximum bandwidth remains the same compared to Thunderbolt 3.
Here's a look at what the new standard will (probably) mean for Apple and Mac moving forward.
What is Thunderbolt 4
Like Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4 uses a USB-C connector to deliver data, video, and power over a single connection. Thunderbolt 4 supports 40Gb/s data transfer and can be used with three downstream ports to share bandwidth. It will continue to use the same USB-C design port and will be compatible with both USB-C and USB 4.
To comply with the Thunderbolt 4 standard, manufacturers must meet the following requirements:
- Must support two 4K displays or one 8K display.
- PCIe at 32 Gbps for storage speeds up to 3,000 MBps.
- Provide support for docks with up to four Thunderbolt 4 ports.
- PC charging on at least one computer port.
- The ability to wake the computer from sleep by touching the keyboard or mouse when connected to a Thunderbolt dock.
- Required Intel VT-d-based direct memory access (DMA) protection that helps prevent physical DMA attacks.
Out of the gate, Intel's upcoming mobile PC processors, code-named "Tiger Lake," will be the first to integrate with Thunderbolt 4. The company also announced the first Thunderbolt 4 controller 8000 series, which is compatible with the hundreds of millions of Thunderbolt 3 PCs and accessories already available.
The difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt
As we previously noted, USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 both use the same reversible port. And yet, while a USB-C port and Thunderbolt 3 port look the same, Thunderbolt 3 (now 4) has some extra hardware compared to the more widely-adopted USB-C.
What about Apple?
In June, Apple announced it was moving away from Intel for chipsets in future Macs. Instead, it plans on releasing computers with custom-designed ARM chips. Despite this, the company says it's committed to the Thunderbolt 4 protocol, which doesn't need Intel chips to work.
In a statement, Apple said:
It should be noted that Thunderbolt support has never extended beyond Apple's Mac lineup. To date, the USB-C connectors on iPads, for example, aren't compatible with Thunderbolt 3. Whether this omission continues on future iPads with Thunderbolt 4 is unknown.
Which Macs will have Thunderbolt 4 support?
Apple plans on releasing a few more Intel-based Macs in the coming months before switching over entirely to Apple silicone. If any of these new products (perhaps a 2020 16-inch MacBook Pro) come with Intel's Tiger Lake, the odds are high they will support Thunderbolt 4. Otherwise, I'd suggest we won't see Thunderbolt 4 on any new Macs until 2021 at the earliest.
Are you concerned about Thunderbolt 4 Have any additional questions? Let us know below!
Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.
USB-C is a connector standard and Thunderbolt is a communication standard. USB 4 & USB 3 are communication standards. Please stop confusing people.
They are not confusing people. It was perfectly clear what they were saying. But if Apple meets their own promise of Apple silicon Macs coming out before the end of the year, you can bet your bottom dollar some are going to have Thunderbolt 4. There are going to be PCs with USB 4 out long before the end of the year, and even some with Thunderbolt 4. But I doubt another Mac will see with Thunderbolt 3 once they are updated after the first one is released with Thunderbolt 4. Any chipsets being designed right now are no doubt Thunderbolt 4. On Macs only I should add. No need for it on iPads. Only full-blown computers need Thunderbolt to begin with. I would like to not also that they are not the same speed in real numbers. Intel has said that the throughput is going to be more consistently closer to the maximum specification than the actual IRL speeds we get with Thunderbolt 3 currently. The fact that you can use longer cables and meet the specification pretty much proves it for current standard-length T3 cables.
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