As powerful as modern laptops are, their portable form factor contributes to a big limitation: connectivity. Manufacturers can only fit so many ports on a device, which is fine for light productivity work, but high-end professionals and creatives need the ability to connect many external peripherals simultaneously. This is where Thunderbolt 4 comes in.
A connection type that enables power delivery, fast transfer speeds, and multiple high-resolution displays, Thunderbolt 4 is an essential technology for power users. With all the recent headlines about USB-C following the iPhone 15 launch, you’d be easily forgiven for thinking that USB-C is a standardised type that performs the same across all compatible devices. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Under the USB-C banner, it’s a wild west of different speeds, charging output, and display capabilities.
Thunderbolt 4, on the other hand, is a standardised protocol that provides a guarantee of what you get when you connect a device. It uses the same shape connection as USB-C but is marked by a Thunderbolt symbol on both the cable and its corresponding port.
An upgrade over the previous Thunderbolt 3 technology, the newer standard expands what you can do with compatible cables, hubs, and devices. It makes it easier to transfer large files quickly and connect to more external displays, all while keeping your device charged. All of this is possible with a single cable to your laptop.
To take full advantage of Thunderbolt 4, you need to know what it can do and what devices it works with. Here’s what you need to know about the highly useful and versatile connection technology.
What is Thunderbolt 4?
Developed by Intel in collaboration with Apple, Thunderbolt 4 is a connection protocol that provides an all-in-one combination of power delivery, data transfer, and display output. It means that, with compatible devices, you don’t need a different type of cable for different functions. A Thunderbolt 4 cable to your laptop can charge the device and output to a monitor at the same time.
Think of Thunderbolt 4 like a turbo-charged version of USB-C. Depending on the generation, a generic USB-C port may not provide enough power output to charge your device’s battery, and it’s no guarantee of fast data transfer speeds. Conversely, Thunderbolt 4 supports blazingly fast speeds of 40Gbps, up to 100W fast laptop charging, and 8K monitor output. An increase over the previous generation, you can also simultaneously connect to two 4K displays at 60Hz – Thunderbolt 3 only supported output to one 4K display at a time.
Devices and accessories compatible with Thunderbolt 4 are helpfully accompanied by a corresponding symbol, meaning it’s certified to perform at a minimum required level. This includes modern laptops and MacBooks, exponentially increasing your connectivity options. With just one cable, you can connect your laptop to external devices, or an all-in-one hub, and know it will work as expected.
Why use Thunderbolt 4?
As mentioned before, your laptop only has a limited number of ports available. Creatives and many professionals usually need to connect lots of peripherals at once for the best workflow. Trying to juggle different connector types and multiple devices at once quickly gets messy, especially if you hotdesk and take your laptop across locations.
As a convenient alternative to plugging multiple cables into your laptop, one Thunderbolt 4 cable provides near-limitless options. You can connect multiple displays, storage devices, your keyboard and mouse, and more to a compatible docking station. From here, just plug in the cable connecting your laptop and the dock to access everything at once.
Backwards compatibility is a core part of the technology, too. Any Thunderbolt 3 devices, peripherals, and connections still work with the upgraded standard. Although it will be limited to the performance of the older technology, it means that you don’t need to upgrade everything at once.
Getting the most out of Thunderbolt 4
Quick transfer speeds, better charging capabilities, and better support for external displays all sound great, but what do you need to benefit from Thunderbolt 4? First, you need to check that your laptop supports the connection standard.
For Windows laptop users, any device with an Intel Evo processor contains at least one Thunderbolt 4 port. Just look for the Thunderbolt symbol and plug your device in. If you’re not sure what processor your laptop has, you can check if it’s Thunderbolt-compatible by opening Device Manager and looking under “System Devices”.
Apple has a list of Mac devices with Thunderbolt 4 on its support website. Compatible devices include most of the brand’s pro-level laptops and desktop computers from the last couple of years.
Next, to take full advantage, it’s worth getting a docking station that serves as an all-in-one hub for your devices. Belkin recently launched two new devices in Australia for this exact purpose. One is the Connect Pro Thunderbolt 4 Dock, which has 12 ports for just about any configuration you can think of. With up to 96W of power delivery, a consistent 40Gbps data transfer rate, and dual 4K 60Hz monitor support – or a single 8K display at 30Hz – it’s a gateway to the ultimate workstation.
While there are various Thunderbolt 4 docks available online, your choices have previously been limited when shopping at major retailers like JB Hi-Fi and Harvey Norman. Belkin’s new range adds more variety to the equation, and the smaller Core Hub is a good solution if you only need a few ports at a time.
Faster, better, stronger
By this point, it’s clear that Thunderbolt 4 provides a reliable solution to your laptop connectivity needs. It does away with the confusion of different USB types that have inconsistent standards, and ensures you know what you’re getting.
By combining fast transfer speeds, high power output, and external display support into a single cable, Thunderbolt 4 is undoubtedly an essential tool for all types of professionals and creatives wanting a fully-fledged workstation.