Old news is starting fresh: USB4
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Old news is starting fresh: USB4

Martin Jud
Zurich, on 07.03.2019
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook
Don’t expect any changes from the next version of USB. Chances are, you won’t even notice the switch. Then whatever innovation USB4 is touting, Thunderbolt 3 has already done.

The USB Promoter Group announced USB4 this week. Maybe you’re thinking that a technological revolution is on the horizon. I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. After all, there’s certainly a revolution in how they’re naming it. There’s no space between USB and the version number anymore. For future reference, however, I’ll continue using the space.

The story is finally getting some traction, after Intel announced they’d give chip manufacturers the transfer standards for Thunderbolt 3 for free back in 2017. We can assume that USB4 will mostly resemble 2015’s Thunderbolt 3 series. Aside from that, the biggest innovation to USB 3.1 Gen2 would be a theoretical speed increase of 20 GBit/s.

The following specifications are speculated: * A maximun speed of 40 GBit/s (5 GByte/s). * Up to 100 watts of power for multiple screens or external graphics cards. * Displayport 1.2 support. * Compatibility with USB 3.1, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3. * USB-C will be used as a port.

You’re probably asking yourself why this would be useful if Thunderbolt 3 is already using this technology now. It’s biggest advantage: you won’t have to think about which USB-C attachment you’re using anymore, Version 3.1 Gen2 or Thunderbolt 3. No matter what you plug in where, you’ll theoretically receive full speeds. Licensing costs also won’t be an issue anymore, reducing production costs. Let’s just hope that this improvement in price gets passed on to the consumer.

Thunderbolt 3 will continue staying certified. In contrast to an open standard, all specifications will be met this way. If you’re a manufacturer, sticking with Thunderbolt is still advantageous thanks to reference design and support. From this point of view, coexistence between USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 is definitely possible. It’ll also be possible to receive certifications from USB4 through the USB Implementers Forum, this, however, is optional. There will never be 100% certainty that all manufacturers will be able to fulfill all USB4 specifications.

USB4’s final specifications will probably appear in the second half of the year. After that, the USB Promoter Group expects the first manufacturers to start implementation after another one and a half years.

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Martin Jud
Martin Jud
Editor, Zurich
I find my muse in everything. When I don’t, I draw inspiration from daydreaming. After all, if you dream, you don’t sleep through life.

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