The Next Generation of USB Is Here – How Does It Compare to Thunderbolt?

Usb C Adapter Macbook Pro Thunderbolt1 Credit: Bodnar Taras / Shutterstock
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The next generation of the USB standard is officially here, the group in charge of developing it announced Tuesday. But what does that mean for consumers?

If you already use USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 , you won’t see any marked improvements. But the introduction of USB4 is still going to usher in changes and updates, even for MacBook Pro users. Continue reading to learn more.

USB4 vs Thunderbolt

Currently, the fastest USB standard is USB 3.2. While it’s still fairly uncommon on consumer devices, USB 3.2 offers data transfer speeds up to 20 gigabits per second, or Gbps. USB4 will double that.

According to the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), USB4 will offer speeds up to 40Gbps by implementing Intel’s Thunderbolt technology.

Essentially, that means if you own a recent-model Mac, you’re already familiar with the performance of the high-end connector. USB4 will merge the currently available capabilities of Thunderbolt with the existing USB standard.

In addition to improved data transfer speeds, USB4 will also offer other improvements.

  1. Two-lane operation using existing USB-C cables with up to 40Gbps with certified cables.
  2. Multiple data and display protocols that will efficiently share the maximum bandwidth.
  3. Backwards-compatible with USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3.

Now that the standard is done, all that’s left to do for consumers is wait for devices to begin implementing it. The first consumer-facing products with USB4 should start hitting the market as early as the latter half of 2020.

What USB4 Means for You

Of course, those specifications may not mean much to the average Apple user. So here’s how the new standard could benefit you.

  1. It’ll improve the charging accessory market. Users should begin seeing more powerful and capable cables and charging accessories at lower price points.
  2. Dongles could have more options. The USB-IF notes that USB4 dongles could support multiple USB4 ports, rather than just offering USB-A or HMDI connectivity.
  3. Better connectivity options. Users may be able to plug multiple USB-C devices into a single USB4 port, allowing for better juggling of data streams.
  4. USB4 will make fast charging standard. Anyone building USB4 accessories will be required to implement USB Power Delivery, meaning that users should see much higher charging rates.

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