Announced in March this year, the all-new USB “USB4” standard is ready for use next year. With the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) finally reveals all the specifications powering the latest USB iterations. The news about the emergence of USB4 has been around for a long time, but I am interested in discussing it, and hopefully this information will answer your questions about USB4 or want to know everything about the latest USB standard. In this article I will explain all the important features and changes that have been packaged with USB4.
What is USB4?
Whether it’s top speed or high efficiency, USB4 has stepped up in almost every aspect for a huge improvement. And yes, it also tries to get rid of old problems through neat simplification. So, if you have experienced some of the biggest weaknesses of its predecessor (USB 3.2), you will definitely not find the same thing with this latest USB standard.
1. What is the Technology behind USB4?
I think one of the first questions that might come to your mind is: what is the technology behind USB4? The latest version of the USB standard is based on the Intel Thunderbolt 3 connector technology which provides higher speed and higher efficiency. Additionally, USB4 builds on existing USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 architectures. While the latest USB standard takes advantage of the same dual-lane architecture as USB 3.2, USB4 doubles the individual lane switching speed. Thanks to the two-line operation, it is better able to meet consistently high demands. Whether it’s transferring files much faster or charging compatible devices fast, it’s been largely upgraded to be much more powerful than previous versions.
2. Name and Version are not confusing
For too long, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has used a somewhat confusing naming pattern. Luckily, with the introduction of USB4, messy naming systems have become a thing of the past. That’s why they leave no space between the USB and the number. And they’ve also stated that the next iteration will be named only USB5 and not USB4.1 like never before. USB Promoter Group CEO Brad Saunders has made it clear that they now want to simplify things. With that, we can finally hope that the era of completely chaotic naming patterns will end forever!
3. Using the Type-C Port
While not surprising to anyone, it’s worth noting that USB4 uses a Type-C port. When you expect the best speed, safety and efficiency, the Type-C can deliver very well. But USB4 is much higher and gets the best of the connectors to provide high-end performance. Unless something more compact and symmetrical comes to USB, I expect many newer versions of USB to continue to support Type-C.
4. Faster Data Transfer
Perhaps, the biggest improvement coming to USB4 is the speed boost. While USB 3.0 is touted to provide 10 Gbps of speed, USB 3.2 doubles that speed up to 20 Gbps. And with the arrival of the latest iteration of USB, it’s finally possible to transfer data at a maximum speed of 40 Gbps – twice the speed of USB 3.2. This huge jump in speed is perfect for pro video designers and editors who often have to deal with heavy files. Of course this will be very beneficial for users who often transfer large data and are not so felt for users who often transfer small data.
5. Three Speed USB4
Note, not all USB4 devices will be able to provide a maximum of 40 Gbps. According to USB Promoter Group CEO Brad Saunders, the latest iteration of USB will provide three speeds: 10 Gbps, 20 Gbps, and 40 Gbps. While smartphones and lower-priced devices are expected to be compatible at lower speeds, high-end devices will be able to support maximum speeds. So, when you are looking to buy a new laptop or smartphone, make sure to check the maximum speeds it can support!
6. USB4 Host Supports USB PD
Another department where USB4 has made big changes is support for USB power deliveries which carry a massive 100 watt power delivery. Until now, only a few USB-C devices were used to support USB PD. So, there is an increasing demand to make USB PD available on all USB-C devices and hosts. With higher wattage and much better power management, USB4 will change the way you charge your devices.
7. Compatible with Thunderbolt 3 Devices
As someone who has been using Thunderbolt 3 for a long time and has always appreciated its unmatched speed and efficiency, I have been waiting for USB4 to be compatible with Thunderbolt 3 as it guarantees a better user experience. Not to mention, that’s also good news for people who like to play games on their laptop by connecting an eGPU (external graphics card).
From now onwards, device manufacturers and hosts will not have to pay huge royalty fees to Intel. Thus, there is a high probability that USB4 device manufacturers and cable makers will make their offerings Thunderbolt 3 compatible. Hence, there is the possibility of mass adoption.
8. Improved Display / Data Splitting
Another area where USB4 has improved considerably is its ability to dynamically adjust the bandwidth between video and data. When you send video and data simultaneously over the same connection, the latest USB standards will automatically allocate bandwidth to ensure there is no reduction in speed. For example, if the video feed will demand 25 Gbps, USB4 will offer the remaining 15 Gbps for data sharing so that both tasks will run smoothly without stuttering.
9. Compatible with old devices
While more powerful and efficient than its predecessors, USB4 is compatible with older devices. In fact, this has been the hallmark of all USB generations. And the latest iteration continues to live up to that promise. So, you can use USB 4 comfortably with your USB 3 and USB 2 devices as well. Keep in mind that USB cannot provide 40 Gbps speed when connected to USB 2 or USB 3.2 ports.
10. Older Cables and Adapters Will Support USB4
For all those wondering if their cable and adapter will work with USB4 or not, let me quickly confirm that there is no cause for concern. Yes, your old cable, as well as the adapter, will work with the latest USB standards. But please note that your accessory will provide the maximum rated speed. Say, you have a USB 3.2 cable which has a maximum rated speed of 20 Gbps. It will provide speeds of only 20Gbps if you plug it into the USB4 port. Note that in most cases you will have to use a dongle to connect the older cable as USB4 uses a USB-C port and not the universal USB A port which is standard.
11. More expensive than USB 3.2
Due to more expensive components, USB4 will cost more than USB 3.2. The additional costs may hinder the mass adoption of the latest USB standards. While there’s no clarity yet on how much USB4 will cost, it’s expected to be slightly less expensive than Intel Thunderbolt. However, USB Promoter Group CEO Brad Saunders hopes that the overall costs will come down soon.
12. USB4 – Timeline Enabled Device
Now that everything about USB4 is out in the open, when will USB4-enabled devices finally be felt? However, you should know that it will take a while before USB4 powered devices finally make their way to the newest devices. If manufacturers step up their efforts, it will take at least 12-18 months from now for USB4-equipped devices to go mainstream, especially if in Indonesia USB4 will certainly be felt much longer than in other countries. So, while keeping an eye on upcoming devices, be content with what USB 3.2 currently has to offer.
USB4 vs USB 3: What Do We Get?
Now that you know everything that’s new in the USB4 standard, you should have a pretty good idea of the improvements that come with this latest USB iteration. The biggest improvements come in the areas of speed, resource allocation, and USB power delivery capabilities. If you want to learn more, you can read my next article on comparisons excess USB4 over USB 3.
USB4: A Big Leap in Most Aspects
All things considered, USB4 seems to be a great upgrade in most aspects. While the big jump in speed seems perhaps the biggest highlight, compatibility with Thunderbolt 3 could prove to be a game-changer. Not to mention, the ability to dynamically adjust the bandwidth between video and data is also worth noting as this will have a significant effect on productivity. What’s your favorite feature on USB4? Please provide a comment in the column below.