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Intel introduces Thunderbolt 4 combining the best of Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 with universal connectivity and enhanced security

Intel 8000 series Thunderbolt 4 controller. (Source: Intel)
Intel 8000 series Thunderbolt 4 controller. (Source: Intel)
Intel has announced the Thunderbolt 4 protocol and new Thunderbolt 4 controllers, which build on the capabilities of Thunderbolt 3 and also form the basis for the USB4 spec. Thunderbolt 4 offers the same throughput as Thunderbolt 3 along with additional platform and security features while also expanding the Thunderbolt dock ecosystem. Thunderbolt 4 will be compatible all existing USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 standards and will be first seen in Tiger Lake-powered laptops later this year.
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Back during Computex 2019, Intel talked about integrating the capabilities of Thunderbolt 3 into the USB4 specification. Later that year, the USB4 spec was finalized with an aim to lessen the confusion between various USB types and allowing use of a standard USB Type-C connector. Today, Intel is officially taking wraps off the Thunderbolt 4 (TB 4) standard. Thunderbolt 4 will now be the basis for the USB4 protocol while also offering a few additional features on top of the standard USB4 spec. 

Thunderbolt 4 will be the base for the USB4 spec. (Source: Intel)
Thunderbolt 4 will be the base for the USB4 spec. (Source: Intel)

Thunderbolt 4 features

Thunderbolt 4 brings no changes to the total throughput — we still get the same 40 Gb/s bandwidth that Thunderbolt 3 offered. However, the requirements for a device to be certified for Thunderbolt 4 have now changed. For instance, a TB 4 device will now support two 4K displays or one 8K display with a PCIe data throughput at 32 Gb/s. Other requirements include that at least one of the TB 4 ports on the PC should allow for charging and the ports should allow the PC to wake up from standby. TB 4 also uses Intel VT-d for Direct Memory Access (DMA) protection.

Unlike USB4, which offers a choice between 20 Gb/s and 40 Gb/s throughput, TB 4 is always 40 Gb/s and uses a common Type-C connector that allows for all capabilities offered by the protocol including DisplayPort-out and power delivery.

Thunderbolt 4 features. (Source: Intel)
Thunderbolt 4 features. (Source: Intel)
A Thunderbolt 4 port can support all of the platform's functions. (Source: Intel)
A Thunderbolt 4 port can support all of the platform's functions. (Source: Intel)
Thunderbolt 4 cables are universal. (Source: Intel)
Thunderbolt 4 cables are universal. (Source: Intel)
 

How Thunderbolt 4 is different from Thunderbolt 3

As discussed earlier, TB 4 builds upon TB 3 and offers parity with the USB4 spec. The table below illustrates the differences between the various USB specs available. The additional features offered by TB 4 include the support for 40 Gb/s cables from 0.2 m to 2 m in length. Intel said that it is looking to expand cable length to 5 to 50 m in the future. TB 4 now mandates that the PC or laptop support dual 4K display outputs, PCIe bandwidth of 32 Gb/s (2x that of the requirement of TB 3), and support for VT-d among others.

Intel said that TB 4 can be implemented irrespective of the processor type without any licensing fees, which means upcoming ARM-based Macs as well as future AMD processors are also likely to offer TB 4 support. 

Intel is also introducing a new controller for TB 4. The Intel 8000 series TB 4 controllers include the JHL8540 and JHL8340 host controllers for PC OEMs, and the JHL8440 controller for accessory makers. The new 8000 series TB 4 controllers will make their debut in PCs and accessories later this year starting from the upcoming Tiger Lake laptops including the ones made according to the Project Athena guidelines.

Thunderbolt 4 builds upon the Thunderbolt 3 spec. (Source: Intel)
Thunderbolt 4 builds upon the Thunderbolt 3 spec. (Source: Intel)
Comparison between Thunderbolt 4 and other USB protocols. (Source: Intel)
Comparison between Thunderbolt 4 and other USB protocols. (Source: Intel)
Thunderbolt 4 uses the new 8000 series controllers for PCs and accessories. (Source: Intel)
Thunderbolt 4 uses the new 8000 series controllers for PCs and accessories. (Source: Intel)
 

Thunderbolt 4 accessories

Intel said that a wide range of accessories for TB 4 would be made available starting later this year. All TB 4 docks can offer up to four TB 4 ports. TB 4 now supports a multi-port accessory architecture wherein a single dock will now be able to connect to dual 4K displays, allow for external PCIe SSDs with storage speeds up to 3,000 MB/s and still offer enough bandwidth for connecting additional peripherals. Devices using TB 3 and multiple USB standards can be daisy-chained together in whatever manner the user pleases and all these devices will interface with the PC via a single TB 4 port.

(Source: Intel)
(Source: Intel)
(Source: Intel)
(Source: Intel)
(Source: Intel)
(Source: Intel)
 

Thunderbolt 4 security

TB 4 makes it mandatory that PC and Macs support Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O or simply, VT-d. VT-d is built into most modern Intel processors and is essentially a method to prevent peripherals from unauthorized memory access. This is important as USB Type-C allows for connecting PCIe devices externally just as they were installed internally, and these devices are capable of DMA without having to involve the CPU. What Intel VT-d does is that it remaps DMA (DMA-r) and isolates a designated memory region for each connected peripheral. This prevents the peripheral from reading or writing to other parts of memory that aren't its own. 

Support for VT-d and DMA remapping is present in Windows 10 1803 and above (Kernel DMA Protection), MacOS 10.8.2 and above, and Linux kernel version 4.21 and above.

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Source(s)

Intel Press Brief

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Vaidyanathan Subramaniam
Vaidyanathan Subramaniam - Managing Editor - 1459 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2012
Though a cell and molecular biologist by training, I have been drawn towards computers from a very young age ever since I got my first PC in 1998. My passion for technology grew quite exponentially with the times, and it has been an incredible experience from being a much solicited source for tech advice and troubleshooting among family and friends to joining Notebookcheck in 2017 as a professional tech journalist. Now, I am a Lead Editor at Notebookcheck covering news and reviews encompassing a wide gamut of the technology landscape for Indian and global audiences. When I am not hunting for the next big story or taking complex measurements for reviews, you can find me unwinding to a nice read, listening to some soulful music, or trying out a new game.
contact me via: @Geeky_Vaidy
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2020 07 > Intel introduces Thunderbolt 4 combining the best of Thunderbolt 3 and USB4 with universal connectivity and enhanced security
Vaidyanathan Subramaniam, 2020-07- 8 (Update: 2020-07- 8)