Gamers and creative professionals can connect their computers to monitors with high 8K resolution, ultra-fast refresh rates, and higher resolution HDR with Intel’s release of Thunderbolt 5 – and share the Thunderbolt pipeline more efficiently with external drives and other devices. the chipmaker said on Tuesday. The latest version of the technology is twice as fast as Thunderbolt 4 and eight times as fast as the first version from 2011.
Thunderbolt 5 is a connection technology that uses the same fundamentals as USB 4 version 2. That means data will be transferred at 80 gigabits per second, twice as fast as Thunderbolt 4’s 40 Gbps, Intel said Tuesday. And like USB 4 version 2, which also hasn’t shipped in products yet, Thunderbolt 5 will come with a mode that can boost PC-to-peripheral speeds to 120 Gbps. However, this comes at the expense of halving the return speed to 40 Gbit/s.
The extra speed means support for two displays with 8K resolution and potentially better HDR playback – handy for well-heeled creative professionals – or three 144Hz 4K displays (Thunderbolt 4 tops out at 120Hz for a single 4K monitor) . At lower resolutions, it supports a whopping 540Hz for better gaming options – faster screen refresh rates are better up to a point, as they allow for smoother playback when gaming at high frame rates. It is also better suited for other demanding peripherals such as high-end docking stations and large storage arrays. Not something average laptop users need, but some help for people with high-end hardware.
These new video benefits are made possible by updating the Thunderbolt standard to incorporate VESA’s DisplayPort 2.1 specification. Thunderbolt 4 used DisplayPort 1.4 to drive monitors via its DP Alt mode.
The push toward Thunderbolt and USB has given personal computers the ability to connect to much more powerful external devices such as monitors, storage systems, high-speed networks, and docks that have a variety of ports. This has helped increase the utility of thin laptops because these ports are so flexible.
Although Thunderbolt uses the same basic technology as USB 4 and performs the same basic task, products that support it must pass Intel certification tests. This improves compatibility and ensures that all cables are both fast and can handle at least 100 watts of charging power, which can be reassuring for those worried about USB-C cable mix-ups. This also means that Thunderbolt products tend to be more expensive.
In short: USB-C offers a variety of powerful options, but with Thunderbolt these features are mandatory. You won’t be surprised by a Thunderbolt cable that transfers data at slow USB 2.0 speeds. And Thunderbolt is necessary for laptops to earn the right to carry Intel’s Evo brand for high-end devices.
“Thunderbolt-based products go beyond basic requirements … to provide a higher set of required features, robust validation and the required Thunderbolt certification,” Jason Ziller, Intel’s longtime head of client connectivity work, said in a statement.
Another benefit: Thunderbolt ports can deliver at least 15W of power per port, compared to 7.5W for USB 4, which is handy for peripherals like external drives that don’t have their own power source. Thunderbolt 5 also supports 240W charging power using the USB Power Delivery standard.
However, USB and Thunderbolt have not become as universal as some engineers wanted. After switching to laptops that only had USB-C and Thunderbolt ports, Apple restored the HDMI video cable ports customers wanted and its MagSafe 3 magnetic power ports for the price of one of the Thunderbolt ports. However, you can still charge these MacBooks using the Thunderbolt/USB-C ports if you just want to carry a charger for the many devices that connect via USB-C.
Expect Thunderbolt 5 cables, which are both long and fast, to be more expensive. One-meter-long Thunderbolt 5 cables can be passive, meaning they don’t require processors to boost signals, Intel said. Additional electronics are required for cables 2 meters or longer (just over 6 feet), Intel said.