Before the end of the year, Other World Calculations will begin to deliver its own, said the company on Wednesday. Products that take advantage of the new Thunderbolt 4 standard will turn one laptop port into three ports in the Thunderbolt or USB-C standard. Due to the limitations of USB-C data, the standard today cannot support docks alone.
“It opens up options,” OWC CEO Larry O’Connor said of Thunderbolt products.
Thunderbolt and USB-C are at the heart of modern high-end computers. Standards allow you to include large, high-resolution monitors, fast external storage arrays, and in the case of Thunderbolt, even external graphics cards to significantly improve gaming or video editing performance. This gives you a machine that is both powerful and portable.
This is a big deal for modern computers. Most of us buy thinner and thinner laptops with reduced port space. More powerful ports mean that your laptop can take on heavy computing loads, especially when hubs and docking stations amplify that power.
Thunderbolt 4 debuts with laptops with Intel’s new sporty Tiger Lake processors. Thunderbolt uses USB-C connectors and cables and can transfer other types of data, including DisplayPort video for monitors and USB for countless other devices. It is this Thunderbolt adaptability that allows you to plug multiple USB-C devices into Thunderbolt ports on a Thunderbolt 4 docking station or hub.
Here’s how USB-C and Thunderbolt get complicated. The two standards compete, but are also related. Thunderbolt has adopted the USB-C connector and the latest version of USB is being redesigned with Thunderbolt’s fast and adaptive technology.
Many USB standards
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and is well named. The standard has spread widely and everywhere, from car dashboards and airport charging stations to plasma balls and hamster wheels that spin faster as you type faster. It was originally used to transfer data to devices such as keyboards, mice, and printers.
Three recent efforts have improved USB. First, USB Power Delivery (USB PD) brings better electrical intelligence, so you can charge energy-intensive devices such as laptops that use up to 100 watts, not just phones.
Second, the core data transfer technology, USB 3.0, has been upgraded several times and now holds speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second. It’s fast enough to transfer fast video and photo files quickly, although maximum speed support remains rare.
The third is USB-C, a simpler physical connector for cables and ports. USB-C eliminates the need for cable clutter. And it’s small enough for phones and weak laptops.
The next improvement will be USB 4, a major overhaul that includes Thunderbolt data technology, allowing docks and hubs along with higher speeds. Tiger Lake supports USB 4, which should help peripheral manufacturers upgrade.
Thunderbolt 4 vs. USB-C
As USB improves, it still catches up with Thunderbolt. And Thunderbolt is also making progress.
At first glance, Thunderbolt 4 may not seem like a big improvement over Thunderbolt 3, because it is not faster. But this has other advantages:
- Thunderbolt 4 allows you to connect multiple devices to a single hub that Thunderbolt 3 does not support. This helps maintain speeds and support more devices.
- Cables will become cheaper because they will no longer need built-in processors.
- It will power two 4K displays instead of one.
- Tiger Lake-powered Windows machines need to support Thunderbolt more reliably.
Thunderbolt devices cost more than USB-C devices, but they are better tested and last longer, said O’Conner of OWC. “It’s worth paying a little more. Many USB products are designed for single use,” he said.
For years, Intel has hoped to turn its own Thunderbolt technology into everyday life among personal computers, if not as widespread as USB. The features of Tiger Lake and Thunderbolt 4 should help its prospects.
Just don’t expect to replace USB.