Gamers and creative professionals will be able to connect their computers to monitors with high 8K resolution, ultra-fast refresh rates and HDR at higher resolution – and share the Thunderbolt pipeline more efficiently with external drives and other devices – with Intel’s release of Thunderbolt 5, the company said. chip maker Tuesday. The latest version of the technology is twice as fast as Thunderbolt 4 and eight times as fast as the first version released in 2011.
Thunderbolt 5 is a connectivity technology that uses the same foundation as USB 4 version 2. That means data is transferred at 80 gigabits per second, double the 40 Gbps speed of Thunderbolt 4, Intel said Tuesday. And as with USB 4 version 2, which also hasn’t shipped in products yet, Thunderbolt 5 will come with a mode that can boost speeds of up to 120 Gbps from PCs to peripherals. However, this comes at the cost of halving the return speed to 40 Gbps.
The extra speed means support for dual 8K resolution displays and potentially better HDR playback – useful for affluent creative professionals – or three 144Hz 4K displays (Thunderbolt 4 tops out at 120Hz for a single 4K monitor) . At lower resolutions, it supports as much as 540Hz for better gaming options – faster screen refresh rates are better to an extent, as they deliver smoother display when playing games at high frame rates. It will also be better for other demanding peripherals, such as high-end docking stations and large storage arrays. Not something that average laptop users need, but some help for those with high-end hardware.
These new video benefits are made possible by updating the Thunderbolt standard to integrate VESA’s DisplayPort 2.1 specification. Thunderbolt 4 used DisplayPort 1.4 to drive monitors via DP Alt Mode.
The push for Thunderbolt and USB has given personal computers the ability to connect to much more powerful external devices such as monitors, storage systems, high-speed networks and docks that come with a plethora of ports. That has helped increase the usability of thin laptops because these ports are so flexible.
Although Thunderbolt uses the same basic technology as USB 4 and does the same basic work, products that support it must pass Intel certification testing. That improves compatibility and ensures that all cables are both fast and can handle a charging power of at least 100 watts, which may be reassuring for those worried about confusion with USB-C cables. It also means that Thunderbolt products tend to be more expensive.
In short, USB-C offers a variety of powerful options, but on Thunderbolt these features are mandatory. You won’t be surprised by a Thunderbolt cable that transfers data at slow USB 2.0 speeds. And Thunderbolt is needed to give laptops the right to use Intel’s Evo brand for higher-end machines.
“Thunderbolt-based products go beyond basic requirements… offering a higher number of required features, robust validation and required Thunderbolt certification,” Jason Ziller, longtime leader of Intel’s client connectivity work, said in a statement.
Another benefit: Thunderbolt ports can deliver at least 15W of power per port, compared to USB 4’s 7.5W, which is useful for peripherals like external drives that don’t have their own power source. Thunderbolt 5 also supports 240W charging powers that come with the USB Power Delivery standard.
However, USB and Thunderbolt haven’t become as universal as some engineers wanted. Apple, after switching to laptops that only had USB-C and Thunderbolt ports, restored the ports for HDMI video cables and the MagSafe 3 magnetic power connectors that customers wanted at the expense of one of the Thunderbolt ports. You can still charge these MacBooks with the Thunderbolt/USB-C ports, if you only want to carry one charger for the many devices that connect via USB-C.
Expect Thunderbolt 5 cables that are both long and fast to be more expensive. One-meter Thunderbolt 5 cables can be passive, meaning they don’t require processors to amplify signals, Intel said. For cables 6 feet or longer, cables (just over 6 feet) require additional electronics, according to Intel.