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What is USB4? Is it Better than Thunderbolt or USB-C? Comparison & Specs

What is USB4? Is it Better than Thunderbolt or USB-C? Comparison & Specs

USB4 is the latest generation USB standard. If implemented as per the specs, it will toss up the flagging standard.

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Also Read: List of the Best USB 4 Cables

So, it would be of significant prominence with few of its fastest competition, amalgamating various confusing naming conventions below a single banner and retaining the use of the crucial reversible USB-C connector. USB4 is anticipated to be the connector you use for nearly everything over the upcoming few years.

It would be seen in applications that involve faster data transfers, delivering output to ultra-high external monitors, charging up your gadgets, and connecting older USB devices.

Though it still suffers severe competition from the likes of Thunderbolt 4, the USB4 is the hottest topic in recent times. It owns all the potential to rule the next few years of wired connections. Let’s dive deep into the details of what it means:

What is USB4?

Like USB 2.0, USB 3.0, and all subsequent iterations, USB 4 is a USB specification developed and launched by the USB Implementers Forum(USB IF).

This standard is built on the backbone of USB 3.2 2×2 by retaining the USB-C connection. However, it warrants a minimum throughput, i.e., 20 Gbps, and explores the potential for doubling that.

Also, it enhances the compatibility with Thunderbolt standards, allowing tunneling of PCI-Express and DisplayPort to support higher resolution monitors more effortlessly through USB and warrants USB Power Delivery.

It’s an all-in-all modern connector that will be more accessible than the competition. It provides proportionate features and significant performance enhancements to anybody accustomed to the older USB standards.

USB4 also conveys the important quality of life improvement of beginning from scratch through a single naming convention. USB4 devices and cables come with their specifications.

This is how they would exist, with no intent of re-framing from the USB-IF as happened with USB 3.0 as it modified into 3.1, then 3.2, and its diverse generation designations.

The Benefits of USB4:

USB4 derives all the advantages of previous generations of USB ports and several breathtaking additions that make it an excellent alternative to the likes of Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4.

USB4 authorizes a minimum speed of 20 Gbps throughput when it comes to raw bandwidth.

Technically, it is only as speedy as the topmost USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 ports. However, that’s the minimum throughput for the USB, not the maximum. It is possible for devices designed with USB4 to support throughput of up to 40 Gbps.

To depict the maximum available bandwidth, such devices will be shared with specific logos on their ports and packaging.

That 40 Gbps might not be assured, but those devices that support it make USB4 simply as speedy as Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4. Moreover, it proves to be one of the highest bandwidth solutions for data transfer.

This enormous bandwidth also explores the support for higher resolutions using the DisplayPort Alt Mode 2.0 protocol. This provides it the potential to output to and from a display of up to 8K resolution @ up to 60Hz with the support for HDR10 color.

USB4 supports DisplayPort 1.4 and PCI-Express tunneling as well. This allows it to employ intelligent bandwidth management to gain the maximum benefit of multi-use connections.

For instance, if you were already using a USB4 link to feed output to a 4K display, you also anticipated using that connection for data transfer simultaneously.

In that case, the host system can assign the maximum available bandwidth for the data transfer without hindering the streaming process of the 4K video.

That’s more implicated than the 50/50 split, which more conventional DisplayPort Alt Mode permits, and should render a more versatile and efficient connection than previous USB generations.

Every USB4 device and host needs to support the USB Power Delivery as well. This makes it possible to charge more capable devices such as tablets and laptops over a USB4 connection.

Note that there is no assurance on the power amount that the host or device will offer. However, from a technical perspective, USB4 Power Delivery can be up to 100W. Therefore, specific devices will be able to charge very quickly.

Apart from this, USB4 was also built to provide backward compatibility with previous USB generations. This implies that it is compatible with the legacy USB 1 and USB 2 generation devices, facilitating dedicated wires in the USB-C connector to accomplish the same.

But because the USB-C connector was only equipped with the later USB 3.1 devices, it is necessary to use a USB-A to USB-C converter for connecting older USB 1 and USB 2 devices over USB4.

The same applies to any USB-A 3.0 or 3.1 devices, with USB-C 3.1 and 3.2 devices offering direct compatibility with USB4 in every case.

Thunderbolt 3 compatibility is also authorized for every USB4 hub, though not every USB4 device will support it. On the other hand, Thunderbolt 4 devices should support USB4.

Indeed, to make the most of USB4 ports, USB4 cables are designed to address the problem.

These two USB4 cables from Cable Matters provide full compatibility with USB4:

USB-IF Certified 40 Gbps USB4 Cable (Check on Amazon)

Intel Certified Thunderbolt 4 USB4 40 Gbps Cable: (Check on Amazon)

USB4 Ports & USB4 Specs:

Every USB4 port and cable will make use of the USB-C connector. However, all older USB-A devices would be compatible via converter cables and adapters.

USB4 will resolve the perplexity the confusion regarding the naming convention. The devices will have unique names only. Regrettably, there will be USB4 devices that have different data transfer speeds applicable to them.

This would be particularly true for those devices which the USB-IF hasn’t authorized.

Leading devices like smartphones, tablets, and laptops with USB4 support are expected to comply with the more typical specifications.

The ultimate high-end devices are most likely to provide the commendable bandwidth for data transfers.

The most fundamental of USB4 peripheral devices would provide a 10 Gbps data transfer speed, along with an official model name, i.e., USB4 Gen 2×1.

It is important to note that the lowest-spec USB-IF-approved devices would come with the USB4 20 Gbps tag. Furthermore, they will have a proper label showcasing the USB logo with a clear 20. It will use the USB4 Gen 2×2 mode to attain that speed.

A small proportion of devices might use the USB 4 Gen 3×1 mode across a single lane to deliver 20 Gbps of bandwidth, excluding the USB-IF’s USB4 20 Gbps label.

The most capable devices will be equipped with the USB4 40 Gbps label. This label is nothing but a USB logo with the number 40 beside it.

It will also use USB4 Gen 3 x 2 interface to provide maximum bandwidth up to 40 Gbps.

All hubs and hosts need to provide DisplayPort tunneling and 20Gbps data transfer speeds. However, they will be entirely voluntary for peripheral devices.

USB4 vs USB 3:

USB4 notices significant leaps over USB 3, extending both the lower and upper potential compared to the old connector standard.

Generally, 5 Gbps transfer speeds were widespread on more affordable devices than USB 3.0, USB 3.1, or USB 3.2 connections. But USB4 sanctions a minimum of 10 Gbps bandwidth.

Moreover, most devices will support the USB-IF-approved USB4 20 Gbps data speed.

USB4 will also make absolute use of the USB-C cables, wherein USB 3 can be used with USB-A and USB-C ports. The same will streamline future compatibility and persist in inspiring device manufacturers to employ the reversible USB-C standard.

It has been found that this reversible standard is easier to use. Moreover, being more lightweight and smaller, it is easier to design more compact devices having USB4 support.

USB4 provides outstanding resolution support for external monitors, i.e., up to 8K @ 60 Hz on most high-end devices. On the other hand, the maximum resolution that USB 3 can convey is 4K.

More commonly, USB4 may provide 4K and 5K monitor support. However, a higher resolution will be possible on specific devices.

The minimum port power fed to accessories is 4.5W in the case of USB 3. But it will be 7.5W when USB4 is used. This implies faster charging of those compatible USB4 devices.

But like USB 3.2, an option will be available for up to 100W charging through USB Power Delivery. Hence, specific devices will charge significantly faster than others.

Is USB4 Worthwhile?

USB4 will continue to provide enhanced performance and features compared to any USB 3 devices and hosts. Like Thunderbolt 4, it is built to extend to raise the bare necessities of what USB is competent. It will also provide certain latest features to enhance the standard for use with contemporary devices.

Eventually, USB4 is focused on consolidating the USB standard over a new base specification of features and performance. Though there will be a specific difference between more reasonable and exclusive USB4 devices, it would remain a relatively more straightforward standard to understand than USB 3 and its different generations.

USB4’s singular connector in USB-C will simplify its use over a broad range of devices. This will hold, although they might not support the same precise speeds. Moreover, the increased capacity for power delivery will make sure a user’s home will need fewer chargers and cables.

USB4 is a much anticipated and crucial upgrade to USB 3. Although Thunderbolt 4 may still be the superior standard through its higher bar for entry, the shortfall of proprietary control over USB4 must provide significantly better adoption on a broader range of devices.

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