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Thunderbolt 4 defined: The way forward for connectivity

Intel revealed Thunderbolt 4 at CES 2020, and now the following technology of common cable connectivity is lastly arriving on laptops and different gadgets. Not solely does Thunderbolt 4 unlock ports by delivering quick switch speeds, charging, and video output over a single connection, however it may well improve your total setup (and clear up a desk riddled with cables).

With a brand new technology of connectivity comes extra questions: What’s new with Thunderbolt 4? Is it a lot of an improve over Thunderbolt 3? Do I have to fully change my setup with Thunderbolt 4-compatible gadgets?

The excellent news is that Thunderbolt 4 has particularly been designed to make connecting all gadgets simpler, that means your work setup received’t want a tool overhaul. You’ll discover that Thunderbolt 4 isn’t even that a lot of an improve from Thunderbolt 3, as many PC customers could not even discover a distinction.

That stated, Thunderbolt 4 has rather a lot to convey to the desk. Extra like a number of tables, although, because it’s all about connectivity with velocity and ease. Right here’s what you should find out about Intel’s Thunderbolt 4. 

What’s Thunderbolt 4?

Thunderbolt 4 is an upgraded cable connection interface from Intel able to powering your gadgets, transferring information, and displaying a video supply to an exterior monitor suddenly — all with only one port.

(Picture credit score: Intel)

Thunderbolt 4 is suitable with loads of connections together with DisplayPort, PCle and USB 4. Higher but, it’s backward suitable with earlier variations of Thunderbolt and connects by way of USB Kind-C. It’s the one cable connection to rule all of them.

On the subject of velocity, Thunderbolt 4 ports have a 40Gbps bidirectional bandwidth. You’ll discover that Thunderbolt 3 delivers the identical speeds, which permits information to be moved to and from exterior drives at excessive speeds and as much as 5 Thunderbolt gadgets to be linked. Nonetheless, Thunderbolt 4 stands out by rising Thunderbolt 3’s minimal PCIe information necessities from 16Gbps to 32Gbps. What does this imply? Extra room for increased switch charges and higher efficiency.

For instance, these wanting to connect with exterior screens and get twin 4K decision at a refresh charge of 60Hz, or as much as a single 8K decision enter at a refresh charge of 60Hz, will need to hunt down Thunderbolt 4-compatible laptops. You’ll discover many docking stations and USB-C hubs can ship 4K by way of HDMI, however by no means at 60Hz.

(Picture credit score: Future)

As an extra perk, Thunderbolt 4 permits a laptop computer to be introduced out of hibernation with peripherals, corresponding to a mouse or keyboard, which might be linked by a docking station. It’s hardly a game-changer, nevertheless it’s the little issues that make utilizing a laptop computer all of the extra environment friendly.

Final and positively not least, particularly for laptop computer fanatics, Thunderbolt 4 is able to charging varied gadgets. This consists of smartphones and light-weight laptops that require lower than 100W of energy, that means homeowners received’t want a separate energy provide to juice up their machine. 

Thunderbolt 4 prevents cyberattacks

Intel emphasizes safety with Thunderbolt 4 connectivity, which can appear peculiar to the overall PC person. Nowadays, cyberattacks are normally related to malicious hacks or ransomware threats that function over the web. In 2020, nonetheless, Microsoft refused to make use of Thunderbolt 3 ports in its line of Floor laptops. This was as a result of port connection being a direct reminiscence entry (DMA) port that, if compromised, would give attackers entry to a complete system.

(Picture credit score: Intel)

As beforehand reported, Intel desires to reassure you (and Microsoft) that Thunderbolt 4 is safe by requiring Virtualization Know-how for Directed I/O (VT-d). The corporate claims VT-d can stop bodily DMA assaults by blocking PCIe peripherals (storage, exterior graphics, reminiscence playing cards, and many others) from unauthorized entry to reminiscence.

That is achieved utilizing DMA remapping (DMA-r), which creates an remoted reminiscence area for each machine you hook up with a system to allow them to solely entry assigned reminiscence, not reminiscence from your complete machine. VT-d was advisable on PCs with Thunderbolt 3 ports however is now required on these with Thunderbolt 4.

Thunderbolt 4 and PCIe 

For exterior gadgets that use Peripheral Element Interconnect Categorical (PCIe), Thunderbolt 4 will work like a appeal. These with a suitable Thunderbolt 4 system can run video games from an exterior NVMe SSD, as they use PCIe. This implies video games will be transferred and saved onto an exterior drive and be performed from there, quite than having to switch the recordsdata to the system as an alternative. 

(Picture credit score: Intel)

What’s extra, exterior video seize gadgets will be linked to seize gameplay or video in 4K at 60Hz or in 1080p at a formidable 240Hz. That’s nice information for streamers. You’ll additionally be capable of join eGPUs to connect with highly effective Nvidia RTX 30 collection graphic playing cards. Though, you’ll discover Thunderbolt 3 can already handle this. 

The place is Thunderbolt 4?  

Thunderbolt 4 is out within the wild however in its early levels. What’s extra, there are nonetheless those that could not have screens or peripherals with Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 3, and even USB-C connectivity — with USB-A 3.0 ports nonetheless being important. 

Asus ROG Zephyrus M16 (Picture credit score: Rami Tabari)

That stated, fashionable laptops just like the Dell XPS 13 9310 in addition to the Lenovo Legion 5 Professional, Asus ROG Zephyrus M16, HP ZBook Firefly 14 G8 (and plenty of different laptops with Intel’s eleventh Gen Tiger Lake CPU) show Thunderbolt 4 connectivity is right here to remain. We’ve put collectively a full listing of laptops with Intel’s Tiger Lake-H processors which might be anticipated to return geared up with Thunderbolt 4.

The excellent news is Thunderbolt 4 docking stations have arrived, however the higher information is that you simply don’t want particular gadgets to make use of it, as Thunderbolt 4 ports are suitable with Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C gadgets.

(Picture credit score: Future)

Top-of-the-line examples of Thunderbolt 4 connectivity is in Kensington’s SD5700T Thunderbolt 4 docking station. When testing the connection on twin Asus screens utilizing the offered Thunderbolt 4 connection, it simply turned a laptop computer right into a three-monitor desktop setup. There was no lag, stutters, or hiccups when booting up Halo 4 on Xbox Recreation Go for PC, and this was all achieved whereas the dock rapidly charged a smartphone. 


Thunderbolt 4 is already right here, however it’s going to take time for Intel’s new-and-improved common port to take over the PC market. Laptops from notable manufacturers are already beginning to drip-feed spectacular gadgets fitted with Thunderbolt 4 connectivity, which generally is a perk for customers who will profit from upgraded video output and exterior connectivity.

Within the meantime, a majority of us can keep on with our Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C-compatible PC peripherals till the upgraded interface turns into commonplace. When extra of the greatest laptops begin adopting it, who is aware of, we could not even discover the gradual transition. 

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