Intel debuts Thunderbolt 4 for future PCs

Thunderbolt 4

Thunderbolt 4 is the next iteration of the all-in-one cable supporting video, audio, data and power. It is likely to be seen on lower-cost PCs as well as a range of other devices.

Since Intel cleverly gave the Thunderbolt 3 standard free to the world (and that is a great thing) its adoption on Macs and PCs has become almost mandatory in the flagship models. For the rest, it is a case of USB-C 3.1/2 Gen1/2 that is a subset of Thunderbolt 3. And for the most part, it works very well as the same USB-C connector and cable now connect almost every peripheral. Thunderbolt 4 adds more will remaining backwards compatible.

Jason Ziller, general manager, Client Connectivity Division at Intel briefed journalists on the new Thunderbolt 4 standards. He said

“Thunderbolt provides consumers with a leading connectivity standard across a range of devices, helping to advance computing experiences and delivering on the promise of USB-C with simplicity, performance and reliability. The arrival of Thunderbolt 4 underscores how Intel is advancing the PC ecosystem toward truly universal connectivity solutions.”

Thunderbolt 4

In brief Thunderbolt 4

  • Is part of Intel’s new Tiger Lake CPUs. Other CPU makers may licence it or use the USB-C 4.0 subset.
  • Is mandated into the Project Athena program moving forward (small, light, always-on computers)
  • Runs on Windows, macOS and Linux (he would not comment about the new ARM-based Macs)
  • It is a 40Gbps and downstream per port standard (and host devices can have multiple full speed ports). This includes Alt DP, PCIe and new sleep/wake protocols
  • Supports up to 100W upstream PD charging via a new 2m TB4 cable (to overcome the .8m cable limit)
  • New docks will support 2 x 4K@60Hz or 1x8K monitors and have three downstream Thunderbolt 4 ports (all dock connected devices share the 40Gbps host device).
Thunderbolt 4

Intel will manage a mandatory certification program using established external certification providers. This will get over the issues of dodgy cables or devices that don’t meet specifications.

Ziller said that in many ways Thunderbolt 4 is a superset of Thunderbolt 3 and all devices will work with both – it is simply the extra speed that compatible devices can reach.


Intel has included Intel Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O (VT-d) that helps prevent physical DMA attacks. These solutions block peripheral devices from unauthorized access to system memory. Basically, it ensures that a DMA attack cannot originate from a connected peripheral.

GadgetGuy’s take – Thunderbolt 4 – one cable to rule all

The new USB-C 4 standard (20Gbps) is a subset of Thunderbolt 4 (40Gbps), and it means that you can use the devices you need at their best speeds – ditto for USB-C 3.x.

The news that it will support up to 2metres cable is welcome. Few knew that if you used anything other than a certified Thunderbolt 3 .5m cable speeds dropped enormously. They are working on an active fibre-optic cable to reach as much as 15m.

Thunderbolt 4

Native support for two monitors is welcome although Thunderbolt 3 can now support that with the new latest Intel Titan Ridge Chipset (JHL7440 – it’s a PDF link so check downloads) that is on the new Plugable Thunderbolt 3 dock (review here 4.9/5).

Another interesting feature is the support for daisy-chained devices and multi-port architecture.

Thunderbolt 4

Thanks, Intel. Here is a video on Tiger Lake that will be the first to support Thunderbolt 4