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Thunderbolt 4: A supercharged port upgrade with 8K monitor support

Intel has detailed some of the biggest features coming to the next generation of its port protocol, known as Thunderbolt 4, which will be launching in Intel’s next generation of processors. These Tiger Lake mobile processors are slated to debut later this year on Windows, Mac, and Linux systems.

Similar to Thunderbolt 3, the next-generation Thunderbolt 4 unites charging, video delivery, and data transfers on the same port. Thunderbolt 4 also adds compatibility with the USB4 standard, improved security, support for multi-monitor setups, and fast data transfer rates of up to 40Gbps.

For multitaskers who use a laptop docked to two monitors at a desk, the multi-monitor support is arguably one of the biggest upgrades this year. Thunderbolt 4 promises support for either two 4K UHD monitors or one 8K panel. Intel’s specifications will require that compatible PCs will be able to wake from sleep when connected to a Thunderbolt dock, can charge on at least one port, and can support direct memory access (DMA) for added security.

With hardware-based security and the ability to leverage Intel’s Virtualization Technology for Directed I/O, the Thunderbolt 4 ports will prevent physical DMA attacks by blocking peripheral devices from unauthorized system memory access.

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All computers supporting Thunderbolt 4 will also be USB4 compliant, Intel said. While Thunderbolt 4 will come integrated with laptops running Intel’s Tiger Lake processors, the company will also launch its 8000 series controllers to support the standard on desktops.

Like Thunderbolt 3 before it, the new Thunderbolt standard will support accessories like portable storage drives, desktop storage, external graphics, video interfaces, adapters, docks, hubs, power supplies, and monitors. Accessories can be daisy-chained as well, helping to minimize cable clutter. If you’re in the market for a new laptop later this year, you can look for the Thunderbolt 4 designation. Cables and other peripherals that support the new standard will be denoted with the Thunderbolt logo along with the number 4.

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These cables will be available in various lengths, from 0.2m to 2.0m, and Intel promises cables from 5m to 50m will be available in the future.

Intel claims that the new Thunderbolt 4 cables will be able to replace various standards of the USB-C cable, a USB3 Display Port cable, a USB4 20Gbps cable, and a USB4 40Gbps cable, making it a versatile connector for high data transfer speeds. To ensure that things work the way they should, Thunderbolt-branded accessories will have to be part of a mandatory certification program.

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Chuong Nguyen
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