The next-generation of Thunderbolt is coming, but chances are you still can’t tell the difference between Thunderbolt and USB. Intel introduced its next-gen Thunderbolt connection by showing off a demo with an early prototype. The next version is supposed to be twice as fast as the existing Thunderbolt 4 standard that we have today.
If you’re still unsure if your laptop is using USB4 or Thunderbolt 4, you’re not alone. The two connections look pretty much the same and only differ internally in how fast they transfer data. Despite the confusion, Intel is forging ahead with the next generation of Thunderbolt to give us even faster speeds.
HOW IS NEXT-GEN THUNDERBOLT BETTER?
Intel’s next-gen Thunderbolt is meant to be an upgrade of the existing Thunderbolt 4. The upcoming standard can send and receive up to 80GB/s, which is double the bandwidth of the current Thunderbolt 4 standard.
Like the new USB4 Version 2.0 that it’s based off, the next-gen Thunderbolt can adjust its bandwidth according to your needs. For those of us with high-end 4K monitors, the new connection can transmit up to 120GB/s of video data so there’s less lag.
Most users probably won’t need to push it to overdrive, but for content creators, streamers, and gamers, the new Thunderbolt should be able to keep up with the ultra-high resolution and fast refresh rates of the latest 8K monitors. Beyond content, the next-gen Thunderbolt will be a huge improvement for users who transfer or render large amounts of data regularly.
WHAT ARE THE OTHER THUNDERBOLT IMPROVEMENTS?
The main upgrade with next-gen Thunderbolt is the increase in bandwidth, but it’ll also support the recently-announced DisplayPort 2.1 that was also geared for 4K and 8K graphics. Intel says the new Thunderbolt will also transmit two times the amount of data from PCI Express for faster storage and external graphics.
DOES THE NEW THUNDERBOLT HAVE BACKWARDS COMPATIBILITY?
Luckily, the upcoming Thunderbolt will be compatible with older versions of Thunderbolt, USB, and DisplayPort. That means you don’t have to worry about your older device or cable not working — it most definitely will, but don’t expect to hit those max speeds that Intel promised.
Since it has backwards compatibility, it’s likely that most of us won’t even notice since you can just connect your devices as usual. So for those of you who can’t be bothered about knowing which Thunderbolt you’re using, just be grateful that Intel is keeping everything open.
WHEN DOES THE NEW THUNDERBOLT COME OUT?
So far, Intel has only demoed an early prototype of the next-gen Thunderbolt, which means there’s likely still work to be done. Intel did note that there will be more details on the upcoming Thunderbolt upgrade, including what it will be named and all of its features and capabilities. We can only hope that Intel goes for something simple like Thunderbolt 5, instead of something confusing like “4 v.2.”