Soon, the incredible speeds of Thunderbolt 3 ports in laptops and computers will be available to all future USB Type-C (USB-C) ports, thanks to the brand-new USB4 standard.
Hot on the heels of releasing the USB 3.2 specification – and the abject confusion it’s likely to cause consumers – the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) announced that the 40 Gigabits per second (Gbps) data transfer rates and multiple 4K display support that are exclusive to Intel’s latest proprietary Thunderbolt 3 port will be made available to generic USB-C ports.
Currently, more than 50 companies are reviewing the final draft of the USB-IF’s new specification, which is on track to be published by the middle of 2019, according to the organization.
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The fastest generally available USB port until then will be USB 3.2 Gen 2x2 at 20Gbps, which isn’t even available yet. Unfortunately, it’s unclear how long after publishing the specification will we see laptops and other computers sporting USB4 Type-C ports with 40Gbps transfer rates.
A faster future for all – with a catch
This move is a long time coming, as Intel has intended on making its technology available free of license since 2017. Until now, Thunderbolt 3 was only available on the most premium laptops and computers, as device makers had to work with Intel directly to source the technology.
However, this expansion of Thunderbolt 3 into USB4 won’t be as hugely democratizing as it first sounds – at least at first. While the specification will be backward compatible with devices as far back as USB 2.0 (using adapters, of course), those faster transfer rates will require “40Gbps certified cables.”
This will likely cause some growing pains at the onset not unlike the forthcoming USB 3.2 debacle, but eventually all USB ports will use the Type-C form factor and USB4 standard. That broadening of access to the technology could see a proliferation of today’s more fringe technologies, like high-resolution displays and higher-fidelity virtual reality – not to mention even faster power delivery.
Our expectations of common screen resolution and the fidelity of connected experiences ratchet up every day, but USB4 could very well accelerate those to the point where 4K or even sharper displays are the norm and file sizes in the gigabytes just aren't that big anymore.
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