Thunderbolt 4: What Is This Technology?

The Thunderbolt 4 connection is giving a lot to talk about. However, since it is not as popular as USB or other connections, not everyone knows what it is. In this article, you will be able to learn more about this connection in version 4 that Intel has brought.

What is Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt
Thunderbolt

The Thunderbolt ports They were created by Intel and Apple for Mac computers, although new versions have gradually arrived that are also compatible with other computers from other brands. Thunderbolt versions 1 and 2 used a DP connector, while versions 3 and 4 look the same as USB-C ports, and in fact, their connectors are physically identical.

For the most part, they can be compatible with USB-C devices, except for going up to Thunderbolt speeds when the device isn’t compatible. Thunderbolt is a superset of USB-C; you can connect a USB-C device to a Thunderbolt 3 or 4 port on a PC and it will work just fine.

Today’s Thunderbolt 4 devices allow data to be transferred at speeds of up to 40GbpsThat’s twice the 20Gbps top speed of today’s fastest USB-C ports, though with the arrival of the new USB4 this will change as it matches Thunderbolt 4 in speed.

In addition to sending and receiving data to and from an external hard drive, Thunderbolt can unlock additional capabilities for connecting displays and other video devices, as new versions of USB will. A Thunderbolt port means that a single wire it’s all you need to charge battery-powered devices, transfer data, or display video (up to 4K at 60 FPS).

Companies have been quick to take advantage of these capabilities. Apple was an early adopter of Thunderbolt 3, and Thunderbolt 4 is available on all late-model Macs, as well as the iPad Pro. Video output capabilities are system dependent, but some iMacs support dual monitors 6K Apple Pro Display XDR connected via Thunderbolt cables. You’ll also find Thunderbolt 4 ports on many laptops and desktops from Intel or AMD, albeit in their higher ranges. In the cheapest models, it is not frequent to have these ports.

To differentiate a USB-C and a Thunderbolt port, since they are physically identical, you just have to look at the logo printed on this port or cable. While Thunderbolt has a lightning bolt symbol, the conventional USB-C version does not.

As noted above, Thunderbolt ports are backward compatible with USB-C devices. So if you have some peripherals that support Thunderbolt and some that only support USB-C, they should both be able to work just fine with a Thunderbolt port. However, USB-C peripherals will be limited to USB-C speeds and capabilities.

Thunderbolt Versions

CharacteristicThunderbolt 1Thunderbolt 2Thunderbolt 3Thunderbolt 4
Release year2011201320152020
connector typeMDP (Mini Display Port)MDP (Mini Display Port)USB-CUSB-C
bit rate20 Gbps (10 Gbps for each channel)20Gbps (full)40 Gbps (bi-directional), 80 Gbps (one-way)40Gbps
number of pinstwentytwenty2424
Protocol4 x PCI express 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.1a4 x PCI express 2.0 and DisplayPort 1.24 x PCI express 3.0, DisplayPort 1.2, HDMI-2, and USB 3.1 Gen-24× PCI Express 3.0, DisplayPort 2.0, USB4
Thunderbolt Versions

As was the case with USB ports, Thunderbolt also has different versions that have evolved throughout history:

Thunderbolt Versions
Thunderbolt Versions

Thunderbolt 1

Thunderbolt 1 was the first version introduced by Intel and Apple for the 2011 MacBook Pro. This port could reach up to 20 Gbps transfers (10 in each direction), which exceeded USB at that time. To do this, it used a port with the technical characteristics of DisplayPort and a transfer protocol based on PCIe 2.0 x4.

Thunderbolt 2

The second version of Thunderbolt would arrive in June 2013. Physically they are the same, both 1 and 2, but the truth is that there were some differences between the two. While the first version used channels for transfer in one direction and the other, version two combined two tracks to reach 20 Gbps in total. This allowed less overhead and better transfer efficiency.

Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 3
Thunderbolt 3

The third version was a physical and electrical change since it used a USB-C as a connector. In this case, the transfer rate was also increased to 40 Gbps. Of course, there were other improvements, such as connecting up to 2 4K displays simultaneously and transferring video and audio simultaneously. On the other hand, the loading speed was also increased.

This was so successful that later in its release (2015), in 2019, the USB4 specification was based on Thunderbolt 3.

Thunderbolt 4

Thunderbolt 4
Thunderbolt 4

Released in 2020, the new 4 specs also used a USB-C. In addition, it offered the same speed as Thunderbolt 3, 40 Gbps, although the new version presented some new features:

  • Support for 8K or dual 4K displays.
  • Secure against DMA attacks.

Thunderbolt 5

Thunderbolt 5
Thunderbolt 5

It has not arrived yet, but what will be the successor to Thunderbolt 4 is already being defined. It is expected that it can reach transfers of up to 80Gbpscontinuing with the same USB-C format and including a peculiar detail, the new PAM-3 modulation technology.

Read more about Apple Reluctantly Confirms To Use The USB-C Connector On Its Next iPhones

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Abram left his e-business studies to devote himself to his entrepreneurial projects. In 2017, he created the company Inbound Media and wrote articles about high-tech products for his Chromebookeur site. In 2019, Chromebookeur was renamed Macbound and became a general purchasing advice site. Today, Abram manages the development and growth of Macbound, surrounded by a young and talented team.

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