Jan 31 2022

Thunderbolt 4: What Businesses Need to Know

The latest version of the popular port is loaded with useful features, says StarTech.com’s Nirav Gandhi.

The world of computer connectivity can be a confusing one, but many business users regard Thunderbolt as the state-of-the-art protocol. Its latest version, Thunderbolt 4, is currently on the market, but what exactly is Thunderbolt 4, and what can business users expect from it?

BizTech recently sat down with StarTech.com Vice President of Product Development Nirav Gandhi for a conversation about Thunderbolt 4 and all it has to offer.

BIZTECH: What is Thunderbolt 4?

GANDHI: Thunderbolt 4 is a truly universal port that connects your PC to any dock, display and data device while charging your laptop, all through one flippable, reversible cable. With a consistent high-bandwidth connection of 40 gigabits per second, it supports multiple monitors with premium resolution, refresh rate and color while still having sufficient bandwidth for a business’s data needs.

Intel introduced Thunderbolt 4 with its 11th-generation Core processor, and it is also integrated in Intel’s 12th-generation processor.

Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the features users can expect:

DISCOVER: Learn more about how the Thunderbolt 4 can connect your workforce.

  • An increase in the minimum video and data requirements provided by host devices through Thunderbolt 4: required minimum host device support for dual-4K 60-hertz displays or one 8K display; required minimum host device support for PCIe at 32Gbps
  • Access to the same 40Gbps bidirectional bandwidth, power delivery (100W) and protocols (DisplayPort, PCIe, USB) as Thunderbolt 3
  • USB4 compliant
  • Intel VT-d–based direct memory access protection to safeguard devices from unauthorized access while connected
  • Support for connectivity accessories with up to four fully functional and highly flexible downstream Thunderbolt ports
  • Backward compatibility with Thunderbolt 3

Thunderbolt 4 enables high-performance accessories such as a docking station maximizing the full video capability of the host laptop graphics processing unit and the ability to connect fast PCIe or USB-based accessories, including solid-state drives and 10GbE network adapters.

BIZTECH: How does Thunderbolt compare with USB-C?

GANDHI: Compared with other USB Type-C ports, Thunderbolt ports offer top-of-the-line simplicity, reliability and performance for immersive content creation and workplace productivity. The main difference between Thunderbolt 4 and USB4 is that Thunderbolt 4 will always be implemented the same way across all devices with full Thunderbolt 4 performance and will require certification.

As part of Thunderbolt certification, mandatory testing ensures compatibility and interoperability of computers, cables and accessories across different brands, so you can be confident that your devices work well together regardless of the manufacturers. Thunderbolt 4 technology is compatible with prior generations and with billions of USB 3 and USB4 products.

Certification is optional for USB4 and can be implemented in USB4 20Gpbs and USB4 40Gbps by manufacturers. This will create confusion and limit the full capabilities of the docking station or peripherals connected.

BIZTECH: What are the main differences between Thunderbolt 4 and Thunderbolt 3 and USB4?

GANDHI: While all three solutions use the same shaped USB-C connector, Thunderbolt 4 provides the simplest, most reliable, highest-performance solution. Always with a 40Gbps connection, Thunderbolt 4 is the most complete solution, delivering dual 4K/60-hertz or single 8K video, the most bandwidth for data and up to 100W of power for PC charging and 15W of power for bus-powered accessories. Thunderbolt 4 is also compatible with Thunderbolt 3 and USB4-based solutions to provide the most compatible solution.

The main difference with Thunderbolt 4 is that minimum PCIe data requirements have increased from 16Gbps to 32Gbps. This results in a significant performance increase in external storage, PCIe expansion chassis and external graphics. Thunderbolt 4 also offers additional security to prevent threats and checking for proper permissions from external devices (using Intel VT-d–based DMA protection). In addition, “wake from sleep” is an added feature that allows peripherals connected through a dock to a wake a computer from hibernation.

Thunderbolt 4

BIZTECH: Why should businesses upgrade to Thunderbolt 4?

GANDHI: As businesses migrate to their newest computer solutions based on 11th- or 12th-generation Intel Core processors, those platforms are likely to include Thunderbolt 4 because the solution is integrated in the latest Intel platforms. These new Thunderbolt 4-based PCs will work great with both Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 accessories, and businesses can choose the accessory that best fits their needs.

For IT professionals, Thunderbolt 4 means they can introduce a new technology with full confidence and clarity on its capabilities. Through an increase in minimum required performance standards, mandatory certifications, USB4 compatibility and new productivity-enhancing accessories, Thunderbolt 4 reduces compatibility confusion and inconsistencies. It provides buyers with confidence that their Thunderbolt devices and accessories will deliver to full performance.

Thunderbolt-equipped laptops provide businesses with a one-size-fits-all solution they can roll out across their organizations. Laptops equipped with Thunderbolt 4 provide access to several protocols, including DisplayPort 1.4, PCIe 4.0 and USB4 — all while remaining thin, lightweight and perfect for traveling between home and the office. This allows your IT team to design custom workstations that meet the changing demands of employees and your organization, including for:

  • Content creators who need high-resolution displays and 32Gbps PCIe for the fastest data transfer speeds to and from the high-capacity storage that is now common on 4K and 8K video cameras, 360-degree drone cameras and SLR cameras that exceed 100MP
  • Engineers who require high-resolution dual-4K displays to create 3D CAD models, PCB schematics, software code, etc.
  • Productivity users who need access to high-performance docking stations and legacy USB peripherals

Thunderbolt 4 makes it possible for IT professionals to streamline their infrastructure and standardize their entire office on the same laptop, simplifying device rollouts, upgrades and troubleshooting.

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Explore the tech trends businesses should look for in 2022.

BIZTECH: Should businesses consider waiting until the next generation of Thunderbolt is released before upgrading?

GANDHI: Thunderbolt 4 laptops are already hitting the shelves, with many built and designed on the new Intel platform. Thunderbolt is now integrated into Intel processors — in fact, it is found on 90 percent of 11th-generation Core business-class laptops.

The 12th-generation Core processors that were just announced at CES 2022 also have Thunderbolt 4 integrated. Thunderbolt 4 is required on Intel Evo and Intel vPro-based laptops, which makes finding Thunderbolt computer ports easier than ever.

Promising users a “business-class performance,” Intel has been working with popular PC manufacturers, including HP, Dell and Lenovo, to co-engineer advanced laptops based on the Intel vPro platform. These laptops will feature 11th- or 12th-generation Intel Core processors, Intel graphics and Thunderbolt 4 to improve responsiveness, provide a longer battery life, increase hardware-based security, aid with remote management and enhance platform stability.

This is a good time for businesses to purchase Thunderbolt-based PCs and accessories. With the recent launch of Thunderbolt 4, they can get the latest simple, reliable, high-performance solutions for docks, cables, display adaptors and storage to pair with the latest computer solutions.

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