UPDATING: Intel confirmed that the presentation referred to USB 3.1, which means that Thunderbolt 4 is in fact no faster than Thunderbolt 3. We have updated the text accordingly.
The Intel press conference at CES 2020 last night was overwhelming due to the lack of hardware announcements, but the company partially pulled off the covers of its new Tiger Lake processors and added vague slides that included a "new" integrated Thunderbolt 4 connection to praise. Since this is the first mention of the new interface, it has aroused quite a bit of interest.
However, we have followed a well-placed industry resource that claims that Thunderbolt 4 is not new at all: it is largely a re-branding campaign from Intel that means that both the USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3 connections are fully certified by Intel. This means that this connection is no faster than the existing interface.
We succeeded Intel, which initially gave this answer:
"Thunderbolt 4 continues to lead Intel in exceptional performance, ease of use, and quality for USB-C connector-based products. It standardizes PC platform requirements and adds the latest Thunderbolt innovations. Thunderbolt 4 is based on open standards and is backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 3. We will share more details about Thunderbolt 4 later. "
The statement refers to "the latest Thunderbolt enhancements," but does not clarify if the interface is faster than Thunderbolt 3, meaning there may be some new management features that Intel believes are worthy of a new badge. The protocol will now also run on the new PCIe 4.0 interface, and while that does not mean it will be faster, it can serve as an incentive to update the branding. We asked Intel if Thunderbolt 4 is faster than Thunderbolt 3, to which the company responded with "more information to come later".
However, in response to an enlightening question of which USB protocol was referred to in the presentation, the company confirmed that it refers to USB 3.1, which means that Thunderbolt 4 is in fact no faster than Thunderbolt 3.
Ultimately, the implication is very simple: Thunderbolt 4 is no faster than Thunderbolt 3 but comes with a new name and a new badge and maybe some new features.
|Specification||Transit||Technical term||Marketing term|
|USB 4||40 Gbps||USB 4.0||Not announced|
|USB 3.2||20 Gbps||USB 3.2 Gen 2×2||SuperSpeed USB 20 Gbps|
|USB 3.1||10 Gbps||USB 3.2 Gen 2||SuperSpeed USB 10 Gbps|
|USB 3.0||5 Gbps||USB 3.2 Gen 1||SuperSpeed USB|
The USB-IF committee has received much criticism for its confusing naming scheme & # 39; s and decoding Intel & # 39; s reference to the USB3 standard was difficult because it did not specify the specified version. After further clarification, Intel refers to USB 3.1, which you can see up to 10 Gbps, making Thunderbolt 4 throughput the same as Thunderbolt 3. You can view more information about the specification here.
Although Intel donated the Thunderbolt 3 specification to the USB-IF commission, allowing anyone to produce Thunderbolt 3-supporting silicon at no cost, the chips still require certification if they want to earn the Thunderbolt badge, and that's where Intel steps in effort to generate any income.
Terminal equipment manufacturers pay a one-off fee for certification, which is the only payment required to obtain the Thunderbolt 3 badge, but cable makers also have to pay a fee for the badge and are subject to continuous rigorous inspections, including sampling and factory checks to ensure that the quality remains continuously acceptable. Intel also organizes plugfests, in which interoperability with numerous new devices is tested, and workshops.
Now, Intel also reportedly wants to ensure that the USB 4 side of the comparison is also certified, which of course requires compensation for the process, and manufacturers that earn Intel & # 39; s certification for both USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3 would reportedly the new brand layer: Thunderbolt 4.
With no bandwidth improvements and perhaps some new features, it seems that Thunderbolt 4 largely hits Intel on a brand badge and adds certification costs to the industry-standard USB4 interface and the newly donated Thunderbolt 3 specification.
The slide also mentions the "new integrated Thunderbolt 4", which may refer to a new level of Thunderbolt 3 integration in the chip. Intel has already introduced this type of scheme with the Ice Lake chips, but we will have to wait to see if there are any significant changes to the implementation.
Intel certainly didn't give much clarity about the development originally, because the only mention of Thunderbolt 4 came during the last lines of the press conference, in which Gregory Bryant said:
"We are doubling the generation of graphic performance compared to generation, leading AI performance, integrated Wi-Fi 6, integrated Thunderbolt 4 for the first time, that's about it."
Without more details from Intel coming soon, it is difficult to determine which new features Intel considers worthy of a new badge.