Thunderbolt-based USB4: backward compatible, speed gains and more

USB 4 Debuts With Twice the Throughput and Thunderbolt 3 Support

USB4, scheduled for release this year, will include the best parts of both Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C. Well, the future of the Universal Serial Bus, USB4, will not only work with USB 2.0 and 3.x devices, but Thunderbolt 3 too.

Intel has made its Thunderbolt 3 protocol royalty-free, which will allow competing chipmakers to offer implement the standard at lower costs.

Over 50 companies are now involved in the standard, especially those behind the USB Promoter Group - Apple, HP, Intel, Microsoft, ST Microelectoronics and Texas Instruments. That said, it's unlikely that we'll see products featuring USB4 anytime soon given that the technical specifications for USB 3.2 2×2 have only just been revealed. This may suggest that Intel may be working on a Thunderbolt 4 protocol that may not be compatible with USB4.

USB4 doubles throughput up to 40 Gbps across a two-lane interface with certified USB Type-C cables.

USB4 promises to bring sense to what has become a nonsensical mess of specs, features, and connection types.

Thunderbolt 3 technology supports data, media, and power connections.

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The USB Promoter Group, which is comprised of joint-company efforts from business such as Apple, HP, Intel, Microsoft, TI, and Renesas Electronics corporation, just announced the release of USB4 specifications that are meant to compliment USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 architectures while also extending performance of slowly adopted USB Type-C connections. It may or may not be compatible with the new ones, such as USB 3.2 Gen 2x2. indeed one might hope they refuse to accept such things into their specifications.

Manufacturers of end devices pay a one-time fee for the certification, which is the only payment required to obtain the Thunderbolt 3 badge, but cable makers are subject to ongoing rigorous inspections that include spot checks and factory audits to ensure that quality remains acceptable on an ongoing basis. The USB firmware on the devices you are connecting will be able to split the data you are transferring into two individual streams on the device sending it and put it all back together into a stream of data that the device receiving it can read correctly.

By supporting more data protocols, USB4 will open up to more types of device data transfer. The 20Gbps USB 3.2, on the other hand, will be called USB 3.2 Gen 2x2.

Ultimately, relinquishing control over Thunderbolt 3 is indeed a "significant milestone for making today's simplest and most versatile port available to everyone", as Intel General Manager for Client Connectivity Jason Ziller said in a statement.

The new specs are to be finalized prior to USB Developer Days 2019 in the second half of the year. "By collaborating with the USB Promoter Group, we're opening the doors for innovation across a wide range of devices and increasing compatibility to deliver better experiences to consumers".

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