Intel today introduced Thunderbolt 5, a new standard that will improve connections between laptops, monitors and docking stations.
On the surface they look the same, but Thunderbolt ports are slightly different from USB-C ports. Much more data can be transferred via a Thunderbolt port and at a higher speed than USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 connections – which are the fastest regular USB-C ports available. Thunderbolt 5 offers twice as much bandwidth as Thunderbolt 4, allowing even more and faster information to be transferred. To achieve such bandwidths, Thunderbolt 5 uses USB4 V2.
In concrete terms, a Thunderbolt 5 connection will be able to provide as much as 80 Gbps of bi-directional bandwidth. So you can simultaneously receive and send 80 Gbps over the cable. This should allow users to use faster monitors at higher quality. You don’t need such speeds for average office work, but they come in handy for gamers and creators.
For the very fastest monitors, Intel is also adding a feature they call ‘Bandwidth Boost’. This makes it possible to convert the 50/50 distribution of the bandwidth to a 75/25 distribution. Your PC or laptop can then send data over the cable at 120 Gbps, but only receive 40 Gbps. New signal technology, PAM-3, also makes it possible for the cables to be 1 meter long from now on.
Does that all sound abstract? The differences between Thunderbolt 4 and 5 make it clear what kind of leap this is. Today you can connect a maximum of 2 4K monitors to a Thunderbolt connection. The maximum refresh rate of those monitors is then a maximum of 60 Hz. With Thunderbolt 5, this becomes three 4K monitors with a maximum refresh rate of 144 Hz. However, you can also connect two 8K monitors. SSDs and external graphics cards also benefit from the increased bandwidth.
Devices that can use Thunderbolt 5 will be available from 2024. Not all devices will simply support the new standard. Intel developed a special Thunderbolt 5 controller that is required to work with the standard. Laptops, docks and other accessories with such a chip can work with Thunderbolt 5.
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Do you only have Thunderbolt 4 equipment? Thunderbolt 5 and 4 can be used interchangeably, although your speed will depend on the slowest link. You can continue to use your Thunderbolt 4 dock if you buy a laptop with Thunderbolt 5 support, although you will not be able to take advantage of all the benefits.