USB4 is a new protocol that uses the USB-C connector but is not limited to just transferring data and charging devices. You can use USB4 to connect monitors, external graphics cards, mice, keyboards, docks, external hard drives, and SSDs.
Since this is a relatively new technology, it is mainly available on high-end devices and not all mainstream ones.
Table of Contents
- The Confusion Surrounding What USB4 Can Do
- USB4 Versions Explained
- The Real-World Advantages Of USB4
- Why Is It Taking So Long For USB4 To Be Adopted?
- Does USB4 Support Thunderbolt 3?
- USB4 And Compatibility With Apple Products
- Cost of USB4
- Components That Have USB4
- Motherboards With USB4
- Docking Stations With USB4
- USB4 Monitors
- USB4 External GPUs
- USB4 External Drives
- USB4 Misc Peripherals
- USB4 Laptops
The Confusion Surrounding What USB4 Can Do
USB4 is an open version of Thunderbolt 3. However, unlike Thunderbolt, USB4 does not require Intel certification. This helps reduce costs and allows laptop manufacturers to include features previously exclusive to Thunderbolt laptops. These features include 40 Gbps data transfer speeds, daisy chaining multiple devices, and PCIe tunneling.
Without an Intel certification, manufacturers can choose a subset of features that USB4 supports. That’s right! USB4 has several optional features, including 40 Gbps transfer speed, 20 Gbps USB 3.2, Thunderbolt Alternate Mode, USB-C Alternate Mode, and PCIe tunneling.
Even though USB4 is mentioned on the box, you might get only some new features and can be limited to 20 Gbps (or lower) transfer speeds.
USB4 Versions Explained
If the functionality of USB4 was not confusing enough, well, it does not stop there. Early versions of USB4 support up to 40 Gbps, but USB4 v2 has a transfer speed of up to 80 Gbps. This speed improvement is due to a new physical layer architecture. Instead of using two signaling levels, USB4 v2 uses four, allowing it to simultaneously move twice as much data.
Furthermore, USB4 v2 has the same bandwidth as DisplayPort 2.0 (80 Gbps), enough to drive three 4K screens at 90Hz with HDR. The new spec also supports PCIe and Thunderbolt, allowing you to use eGPUs.
The Real-World Advantages Of USB4
People, especially video editors, who need to move large data files, can take advantage of the additional speed USB4 offers.
Interestingly, USB4 can be used for connecting monitors, eGPU, external storage, and even peripherals. Its functionality is not limited to data transfer and charging.
Imagine that you come back home with your laptop at 50% battery. Using a USB4 dock, you can connect three monitors and all your peripheral devices to get a desktop PC-like experience while charging your laptop using a compatible cable.
Why Is It Taking So Long For USB4 To Be Adopted?
The USB promoter group has said that USB4 v2 spec is mainly being released for developers. There are only a few mainstream laptops on the market now that have USB4 ports, and you need to look at high-end models if you want one.
Moreover, most people do not need the theoretical speeds that these new USB standards offer. For example, you require minimal bandwidth to move a couple of files from a USB drive or a mobile phone. Unless their work involves regularly moving large volumes of data (a common need for creative professionals) back and forth, most people will only use their device’s USB4 (USB-C) port for charging.
Does USB4 Support Thunderbolt 3?
The short answer is yes. But it comes down to the implementation of USB4. For Example, the Corsair Voyager A1600 has USB4 that supports Thunderbolt 3, but this is one of many USB4 implementations that other laptop manufacturers may not implement.
Essentially, your USB4 mileage will vary with support for features such as daisy chaining and using compatible cables since these are optional features that are not part of USB4 minimum specifications.
USB4 And Compatibility With Apple Products
The M1 iMacs, M1 MacBooks, and Mac Mini support USB4. Your older cables will also work since USB4 is backward compatible. USB 3.2 cables will be limited to 5 Gbps, and so on. However, for Thunderbolt 3 functionality, you will need a compliant cable.
Since MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac desktops use Thunderbolt, users have already experienced some benefits of USB4. However, the new spec is still good news for Mac users as it will revitalize the accessory market, with powerful accessories available at different price points.
Cost of USB4
Since USB4 does not require Intel certification, there is no additional cost for the hardware manufacturer. As we mentioned above, USB4 does not necessarily mean Thunderbolt support. Since Thunderbolt technology is proprietary to Intel, laptop manufacturers must pay Intel for the technology or its certification.
Since USB4 has yet to hit the mainstream, it can only be found in high-end laptops and hardware. So you will be paying an early adopter fee in 2023.
Components That Have USB4
This list of USB4 components is incomplete but provides a picture of the current state of the market as of Q1 of 2023. It’s worth mentioning that several Thunderbolt peripherals are compatible with USB4. And more often than not, manufacturers blur the lines that differentiate the underlying technologies. So, while a device may have Thunderbolt, it can also be compatible with USB4.
Motherboards With USB4
There are a couple of motherboards available right now that support USB4. These include the ASUS ROG Crosshair X670E Extreme and the ASRock B650E Taichi. Motherboards with USB4 are scarce and often very costly as they aren’t viable for the mainstream market.
AMD Ryzen 6000 (AM4) and later CPUs support USB4. Similarly, Intel’s 11th gen (LGA1200) and later processors support USB4. The USB4 port on these motherboards can output a signal to external displays, charge devices, and transfer data at speeds up to 40 Gbps.
Docking Stations With USB4
USB4 External GPUs
There are a few Thunderbolt external GPU enclosures that you can buy right now that work via USB4; the Razer Core X and PowerColor Gaming Station EGPU Box are excellent choices. Unfortunately, there aren’t any eGPU enclosures that natively use USB4.
USB4 External Drives
USB4 external drives are scarce since SSDs need to be faster. USB4 supports 40 Gbps or 5 GB/s. A hard drive reaches 0.12 GB/s, an average SSD has a read/write speed of around 3 GB/s, and some NVMe SSDs can reach 7.5 GB/s.
USB4 Misc Peripherals
You won’t find USB4 mice or keyboards on the market since these peripherals do not require the power USB4 offers. Since USB4 is backward compatible, your current mouse and keyboard will work.
Laptops like the Corsair Voyager A1600, Lenovo ThinkPad T14s Gen 3, and Asus VivoBook Pro 14 with the AMD Ryzen 6000 series CPUs support USB4. The LG Gram 16Z90Q gets you a 12th Gen Intel Core processor if you prefer to stay on the Intel platform.
USB4 is an open protocol that supports fast charging, video, audio, and data transfer. You can even call it an open version of Thunderbolt 3. Since no certification is required, manufacturers can skip optional features such as 40 Gbps transfer speed, 20 Gbps USB 3.2, Thunderbolt Alternate Mode, USB-C Alternate Mode, and PCIe tunneling.
You must keep this in mind to take full advantage of the technology. While the technology is new and not widely available, you can buy laptops and motherboards that support it.