Thunderbolt 5 offers up to 3x the speed over Thunderbolt 4
Intel has revealed its newest iteration of the Thunderbolt technology.
Thunderbolt, a high-speed hardware interface technology first developed in collaboration between Intel and Apple, made its debut in 2011. Its primary purpose is to deliver rapid data transfer rates and support a wide range of data and display connections through a single port. Over the years, Thunderbolt has seen several iterations, each offering improved performance and functionality.
The most recent advancement, Thunderbolt 4, introduced enhanced display capabilities, allowing for dual 4K monitor support or a single 8K monitor. Additionally, Thunderbolt 4 mandated support for USB4 specifications, provided up to 100W of charging, and offered a minimum data transfer rate of 32 Gbps. However, despite these improvements, Thunderbolt 3 and 4 both maintain the same total bandwidth of 40 Gbps and compatibility with the PCIe Gen3 standard.
The updated version raised the minimum PCIe data transfer requirement to 32 Gbps, although Thunderbolt 3 also supported this speed, albeit not as a mandatory requirement. Consequently, gamers utilizing external graphics typically wouldn’t recognize any distinction between Thunderbolt 3.0 and 4.0 enclosures.
In October of the previous year, Intel unveiled its plans for a new generation of Thunderbolt technology. Today, they officially introduced it as Thunderbolt 5. The standard offers a total bandwidth potential of up to 120 Gbps, hinging on the utilization of Bandwidth Boost technology. Thunderbolt 5, in its default configuration, supplies an 80 Gbps bidirectional connection. However, when the need arises for high-resolution displays with increased refresh rates or for accommodating multiple displays, devices can harness the full 120 Gbps speed. In such scenarios, the receiving speed can be flexibly adjusted, ranging from 80 Gbps down to 40 Gbps.
A noteworthy feature of Thunderbolt 5 is compatibility with DisplayPort 2.1, USB v4, USB 3 20G, and PCIe Gen4. This standard also includes charging support of up to 240W, eliminating the necessity for separate charging cables for some laptops. The inclusion of PCIe Gen4 compatibility implies that Thunderbolt 5 will unlock greater bandwidth potential for external GPUs, potentially addressing one of the principal limitations of Thunderbolt 3 and 4 standards. However, for this to be fully supported, systems must be equipped with PCIe compatible links operating at 64 Gbps speeds.
It is anticipated that upcoming laptops, potentially those based on the Meteor Lake architecture, might be among the pioneering systems to incorporate Thunderbolt 5. Officially, the first systems featuring this technology are to launch in 2024.