USB4 expands Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to everyone

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A Thunderbolt 3 cable is also a USB4 cable.
A Thunderbolt 3 cable is also a USB4 cable.
Photo: Caldigit

Just a week after USB 3.2 was unveiled, the USB Promoter Group went ahead and took the wraps off the follow up. But if the specs of USB4 sound familiar, that’s because they’re based on the Thunderbolt 3 standard already implemented in most Macs.

So users of other types of computers can finally benefit from the faster connection speeds that Apple devices have been enjoying for years.


The Thunderbolt standard was developed by Intel in collaboration with Apple. And with rare exception, it’s been adopted only by Macs, despite its obvious advantages over USB. Several years ago, Intel promised to expand its availability. That’s finally coming to pass.

USB4 specs

“The USB4 architecture is based on the Thunderbolt™ protocol specification recently contributed by Intel Corporation. It doubles the bandwidth of USB and enables multiple simultaneous data and display protocols,” wrote the USB Promoter Group in a statement.

USB 3.2 tops out at 20Gbps. The Group promised that USB4 will make the jump to 40Gbps.

As Thunderbolt 3 supports 100W of power, the expectation is the nascent version of USB will as well. The same goes for supporting dual 4K monitors.

All the details of the new standard haven’t been nailed down yet. That’s likely to happen around the middle of this year.

In the mean time, the USB Promoter Group promised backward compatibility with USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3 peripherals.

What’s in it for Mac users

Anyone with a Thunderbolt 3 Mac already has the basic advantages of USB4. But they’ll still see benefits.

With this standard now available to far more computers, the number of accessories should grow. And their prices should drop.

And there’s simplicity. Once USB4 is implemented, there should be no more need for Thunderbolt 3 to be separate. The two standards will be the same.