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Introducing Thunderbolt™ 4: Breaking Down the Next Generation of Thunderbolt

The next generation of Intel’s ground-breaking Thunderbolt technology is here. Thunderbolt™ 4 brings together the fastest speeds, most advanced protocols, and dependable standardization. Described as the “most complete version of USB-C”, it offers a top tier user experience and “unrivaled simplicity.”

As your Technology Advisor, StarTech.com is here to help answer all of your Thunderbolt™ 4 questions and understand the true performance capabilities of this new technology.

Intel introduced Thunderbolt™ 4 in their latest 11th Gen Intel® Core™ processor family (codename Tiger Lake). Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the features Intel says users can expect:

  • An increase in the minimum video and data requirements provided by host devices through Thunderbolt™ 4
    • Required minimum host device support for dual 4K displays or one 8K display
    • Required minimum host device support for PCIe at 32 Gbps
  • Access to the same speeds (40Gbps), power delivery (100W), and protocols (DisplayPort, PCIe, USB) as Thunderbolt™ 3
  • USB4 compliant
  • Intel VT-d based DMA protection to protect your device from unauthorized access while connected
  • Support for connectivity accessories with up to four fully functional and highly flexible downstream Thunderbolt ports
  • Backwards compatibility with Thunderbolt™ 3

But what does all of this mean for you? For IT Professionals and Thunderbolt users, Thunderbolt™ 4 means they can introduce a new technology with full confidence and clarity surrounding its capabilities. Through an increase in minimum required performance standards, mandatory certifications, USB4 compatibility, and new productivity enhancing accessories, Thunderbolt™ 4 reduces compatibility confusion and inconsistencies. It provides buyers with confidence that their Thunderbolt devices and accessories will deliver to full performance.

There are several advantages to Thunderbolt™ 4, one of which being the simplicity it offers in terms of compatibility and connectivity. Thunderbolt™ 4 offers backwards compatibility with Thunderbolt™ 3 and USB3, while also being USB4 compliant. The simplest way to understand the differences between the technologies is through the chart below. It gives a full breakdown of the power and capabilities of Thunderbolt™ 4, Thunderbolt™ 3, and USB4.

While many of the upgrades outlined in this chart are relatively clear, some users may be confused by the display support update for Thunderbolt 4. Many Thunderbolt 3 host devices enable dual 4K display support but it is not stated as a requirement in the Thunderbolt 3 specifications. As a result, you will find some Thunderbolt 3 computers, including the Apple M1 laptop, only support a single 4K display. Thunderbolt 4’s minimum performance requirement upgrades now guarantee users that their device will support dual 4K displays. 

Thunderbolt™ 4 maintains Thunderbolts trademark 40Gbps speeds and unique capabilities, while bringing with it an enhanced ability to simplify connectivity and compatibility for its users. With updates like mandatory certifications and an increase in minimum performance requirements for Thunderbolt™ 4 host devices, IT professionals can be assured that when they purchase Thunderbolt computers for their organization, they will fully deliver the performance promised.

Thunderbolt equipped laptops provide businesses with a one-size-fits-all solution they can roll out across their organization. Laptops equipped with Thunderbolt™ 4 provide access to several protocols including DisplayPort 1.4, PCIe 4.0, and USB4, all while remaining thin, lightweight, and perfect for traveling between home and the office. This allows your IT team to design custom workstations that meet the changing demands of employees and your organization, including:

  • Content creators, Photographers, or Videographers who need 32Gbps PCIe for the fastest transfer speeds to and from the high-capacity storage that is now common on 8K video cameras, 360° drone cameras, and SLR cameras that exceed 100 megapixels.
  • Developers who require dual 4K DisplayPort displays to create 3D CAD models, schematics, or code 
  • Productivity users who need access to high performance docking stations and legacy USB peripherals

Thunderbolt™ 4 introduces the possibility for IT professionals to streamline their infrastructure and standardize their entire office on the same laptop, simplifying device rollouts, upgrades, and troubleshooting.

Thunderbolt™ 4 laptops are already hitting the shelves, with many built and designed on the new Intel® Evo™ platform.

Promising users an “exceptional mobile experience”, Intel has been working with popular PC manufacturers, including Dell and Lenovo, to co-engineer advanced laptops based on the Intel® Evo™ platform. These laptops will feature 11th Gen Intel® Core™ i5 or i7 mobile processors, Intel® Iris® Xe graphics, and Thunderbolt™ 4 to improve responsiveness, provide a longer battery life, and enhance performance and productivity on your mobile device.

While few Intel® Evo™ laptops are available on the market today, we can expect to see many more released in the coming months.

Connectivity accessories, including docking stations and adapters, have seen a surge in demand in recent years as laptops and their I/O profiles and port options have continued to shrink in size.

The introduction of Thunderbolt™ 4 will allow new connectivity accessories supporting this technology to offer enhanced simplicity, performance and reliability. While previous versions of Thunderbolt only allowed for one downstream Thunderbolt port in tech accessories, the introduction of the Goshen Ridge JHL8440 chip has provided accessory manufacturers with the opportunity to launch Thunderbolt™ 4 docking stations with up to four downstream Thunderbolt ports. This introduces a new realm of possibilities for simplifying connectivity to your Thunderbolt host device as all four downstream ports can support the many functions offered by the Thunderbolt and USB4 protocols. Whether it’s a high speed PCIe SSD, 4K 60Hz display, or even just a device charging cable, all of these accessories can be plugged interchangeably into any of these ports.

With docking stations that can offer up to four Thunderbolt™ 4 ports, designing your workstation solution has far more flexibility. While Thunderbolt™ 4 (like Thunderbolt™ 3) still allows users the ability to daisy chain up to six devices from a single downstream port, these peripherals all need to be Thunderbolt to allow the cascaded connection. Now users will have multiple ports to connect any USB-C device to their dock and access the USB or Thunderbolt™ 4 performance capabilities they need.

Intel is also working with accessory manufacturers to introduce cables that will offer universal support for Thunderbolt™ 4 and USB4. These cables will also be designed to support 40Gbps at longer lengths.

StarTech.com has already begun developing Thunderbolt™ 4 compatible connectivity accessories, including docking stations, cables, and adapters. Stay tuned as we launch new products that will help your business take advantage of Thunderbolt™ 4 and enhance the productivity and workstation flexibility of your team.

Thunderbolt continues to be a game changer in how we think about connectivity and performance. As it continues to pave the way for device technology standards, the latest generation, Thunderbolt™ 4, is a must-have for users looking for top speeds, versatility, and guaranteed performance.

While you’re waiting for Thunderbolt™ 4 technology to arrive, you can learn more about our full range of Thunderbolt™ 3 connectivity accessories at www.startech.com/thunderbolt.


Thunderbolt and the Thunderbolt logo are trademarks of Intel Corporation in the U.S. and/or other countries.

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