Thunderbolt 4 brings only incremental advances over Thunderbolt 3 [UPDATED]

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Thunderbolt 4 coming later in 2020
Apple and Intel developed Thunderbolt, and a new version debuts later in 2020.
Photo: Intel

Intel unveiled the specs for Thunderbolt 4 on Wednesday without bringing dramatic changes to this connectivity standard built into most Macs. Still, any computer running the new version has to offer an upgraded set of specifications, including the ability to handle a pair of 4K monitors.

Update: Apple promised to build Thunderbolt 4 into future Macs. “We remain committed to the future of Thunderbolt and will support it in Macs with Apple silicon,” an Apple spokesperson told The Verge.

What’s new in Thunderbolt 4

Thunderbolt 4 doesn’t raise the minimum connection speed; it’s staying at 40Gbps. Still, it’s already vastly faster than USB 3.2, which tops out at 10Gbps. But in the past each new Thunderbolt version doubled the speed of its predecessor, and the fact that this one doesn’t could raise a few eyebrows.

But Intel requires that computers running Thunderbolt 4 can be charged through this port, not only a proprietary one.

“Thunderbolt provides consumers with a leading connectivity standard across a range of devices, helping to advance computing experiences and delivering on the promise of USB-C with simplicity, performance and reliability,” said Jason Ziller, Intel general manager of the Client Connectivity Division, in a statement.

Thunderbolt 4 compared to its predecessors.
Thunderbolt 4 offers some advantages over its predecessors.
Chart: Intel

Your Mac probably has Thunderbolt 3

Apple and Intel created this standard, and Thunderbolt 3 is in every MacBook Pro built since 2016, every MacBook Air since 2018, the 2019 Mac Pro and multiple other models. No iPad has it yet.

Many people are confused though, because this connectivity standard uses USB-C cables, just as USB 3.2 does. And one port can support both standards. Macs that offer both communicate with regular USB accessories at the slower speeds, but connect to Thunderbolt-compliant peripherals at faster speeds.

Intel promises the first computers and accessories with Thunderbolt 4 ports are expected to be available later in 2020. When the first Mac with this standard will be available is unknown.

Even before then, however, Mac users can start benefiting from the new Thunderbolt 3 accessories hitting the market, like recently-launched multi-port hubs from Belkin and Anker.