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USB 4 – all you need to know

All the info on the new USB connecting cable
Last Updated on November 7, 2023
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Have you ever been in a situation where you have a file in your smartphone, and you need to use it on your PC? Most of us have been there. One solution that can help us in such situations is a USB connection. In this evolving space of connecting cables, a major milestone is about to occur with the launch of USB 4. In this article, we will explore everything you need to know about this new technology.

What is USB 4?

Before we get into the minute details of its capabilities, let’s make sure we have a firm understanding of what USB 4 actually is. The USB Implementers Forum officially recognized USB-4 as version 1.0 on August 29, 2019. In contrast to earlier versions, this technology demands the use of USB-C ports and necessitates the power supply to be compliant with USB Power Delivery (PD). What makes it even more interesting is that, unlike USB 3.2 or earlier standard USB types, it supports both Dp and PCI Express tunneling. This makes it a wide-ranging piece of tech which could elevate your set-up and improve workflow. Furthermore, it’s bound to be used in lots of devices moving forwards.

The standard boasts a range of remarkable spec features, each contributing to its appeal and functionality:

  • 40 Gbps Maximum Speed: Devices can function at up to 40 Gbps using two-lane connections, which is comparable to Thunderbolt 3’s performance. This is impressive for this type of connecting cable.
  • DisplayPort Alt Mode 2.0: The tech is compatible with DisplayPort 2.0. This is impressive since it is a sophisticated interface capable of 8K resolution at 60 Hz with HDR10 color. It can consume up to 80 Gbps. Given its one-way data transport, this is twice the data capacity of USB.
  • Compatibility with Thunderbolt 3: Certain USB 4 configurations are compliant with Thunderbolt 3 devices, opening up new opportunities for integrating a range of accessories. This is helpful if you already own older Thunderbolt devices.
  • Better Resource Allocation: These devices can use a process known as “protocol tunneling.” This method allows for the sequential transfer of DisplayPort, PCIe, and USB data packets. The transmission occurs intelligently, with bandwidth allotted based on the specific needs of each application.

These improvements position the new technology as a leading contender among connectivity standards. This makes it one of the most versatile and adaptable choice for a range of devices. But there are some key links to other types of connecting cable which you might want to note. We’ve outlined these below.

Is USB 4 Port the Same as USB-C?

At first sight, USB 4 and USB-C may seem identical, but they differ in terms of connectivity. USB-C represents a specific cable and port design, recognized for its plug-and-play connector that works in both directions. In contrast, the former serves as a standard governing data transfer and power supply.

  • Compatibility: Type C ports are compatible with previous USB devices, but the new tech is a USB-4.0 enhancement.
  • Year of Invention: USB-C was launched in 2014, whereas USB 4 was introduced in 2019.
  • Data Transfer Speed: High data transfer speeds are achievable with both devices, with USB-4 offering better bandwidth.

It’s important to differentiate between the two since a USB-C cable can work with both USB 4 and earlier technologies. Similarly, even if USB 3 is accessible with the newer USB-C designs, certain devices may continue to use USB 3 ports with the USB-A build.

Does USB 4 Require a Special Cable?

USB 4 does not demand the use of any special cables. It is compatible with your current Type-C wires, and improves speed and overall performance while leaving the cables undisturbed. This means you can upgrade to the new technology without having to change your current cords. This ease is particularly helpful for people who want to switch to the current standard without having to completely restructure their cable arrangement.

Is USB 4 the same as Thunderbolt?

USB 4 and Thunderbolt share a close relationship, yet they are not one and the same. Notably, Intel handed over the Thunderbolt 3 protocol to the USB Promoter Group, paving the way for potential compatibility between USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3 devices. This represents a noteworthy advancement, particularly for individuals seeking to link external graphics cards (eGPUs) to their PCs, whether for gaming or resource-intensive computing tasks.

There are, however, differences between the two:

  • Thunderbolt 4: Thunderbolt 4 has similar advantages. It has a USB-C connector that can carry data at up to 40 Gbps. It can also accommodate up to two 4K screens at the same time and has greater power needs.
  • Compatibility: Thunderbolt compatibility is not a necessary feature of the USB 4 standards, therefore manufacturers can choose to or not to include it in their version of the product. This may cause compatibility concerns, therefore buyers should verify the specifications of their devices. Check the information provided in product descriptions, either online or in person.

Here’s a comparison chart to help you tell the difference between USB 4 and Thunderbolt 4:

FeaturesUSB 4Thunderbolt 4
Up to meters of universal 40Gbps wireNoYes
Computer portNoYes, One
Prerequisite for Lowest Speed20Gbps40Gbps
Accessories with four Thunderbolt portsNoYes
Recommended PC video specificationsOne display (No Minimum)Two 4K displays
PC charging need on minimum 1 computer portNoYes
Basic PC data needsUSB 3.2 – 10GbpsPCIe 16Gbps USB 3.2 – 10Gbps
Necessitates the PC wakes from sleepNoYes
Thunderbolt networkingNoYes
Basic PC port power for attachments7.5W15W
Mandatory certificationNoYes
Cable testing and inspectionNoYes
Requirement for Intel VT-d-based DMA protectionNoYes
USB-4 vs Thunderbolt 4 specs

Final verdict

To summarize, USB 4 is a reliable and versatile communication protocol that supports high-resolution displays and has the ability to be compliant with Thunderbolt 3 devices. While it encompasses certain characteristics of Thunderbolt 4, it additionally comes with its own distinct set of advantages. As technology advances, USB 4 will play an important part in determining the future of connection.

As a tech and AI writer for PC Guide, Gloria is interested in what new technology means for the future of consumer electronics and digital and broadcast journalism.

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