USB4 is officially on the way. The consortium behind the standard has revealed some key info about the USB4 spec, and things sound good for those of us on the user side of the equation. Speed and compatibility are both improving, and we’re getting a cool new name for it, too. By which we mean they deleted a space.
USB4 was announced back in March, but now gear heads can dig in to do some analysis.
The biggest thing to pay attention to is speed. USB4 will top out at 40 Gbit/s, double the speed of USB 3-point-whatever-we’re-on (and a match for Thunderbolt 3’s top speed). The spec will offer three speeds: 10, 20, and 40 Gbps.
Also coming with the USB4 spec, though, is universal Thunderbolt 3 compatibility. Intel has seen fit to offer up its previously proprietary spec for free. That means we won’t have to differentiate between USB4 ports and Thunderbolt-enabled USB4 ports anymore; everything can use the same cable. That, of course, depends on manufacturers adopting it. Thunderbolt compatibility is an optional part of the spec, and could lead to price increases. The USB Promoter Group’s CEO Brad Saunders says that he expects most PCs with USB4 to be Thunderbolt 3-compatible.
One of the coolest parts about Thunderbolt 3 via USB Type-C was the ability to plug in a single cable and send power, video, and data signals. If you could afford all the hardware, plugging a Macbook into a USB Type-C monitor and having it act as a charger, USB hub, and secondary display with just one cable was very cool. The improved bandwidth means that USB4 will handle this more effectively. The USB4 spec allows for the connected monitor to reserve its necessary bandwidth and ensure that the other devices only work with the leftover bandwidth.
If you’re using a certain subset of phones, such as the Pixel 3, you charge our phone over USB Power Delivery. Finding a USB PD-compatible charger can be a headache. With USB4, which can provide up to 100 watts, every device specced for USB4 must be compatible with PD.
Some things stay the same
Finally, the consortium seems to be learning from its mistakes. First, the USB Type-C cable is here to stay, and we’re okay with that. We’re still in that annoying transitional period, but now we know those cables we’re buying won’t suddenly go out of style. And then there’s the name. USB4 will be called USB4 until we get to USB5 (or USB 5). Brad Saunders also told Tom’s Hardware that the consortium has no plans to introduce USB4.0gen2v3.2 or any of the other nonsense that has made the Universal Serial Bus less and less universal over the last few years.
The USB4 spec is finalized, but we’re likely not going to see it popping up in consumer hardware until next year, and another four or five years before it achieves something like wide adoption.