USB-C’s main competitor Thunderbolt is being used to fix one of the standard’s biggest problems: the absence of hubs and docs.
Before the end of the year, Other World Computing will start shipping it., The company said on Wednesday. Products, which take advantage of the new Thunderbolt 4 standard, will convert a laptop into either a Thunderbolt or USB-C standard into a laptop in three ports. Due to the data limitations of USB-C, the standard cannot support the dock today.
“This opens up options,” OWC Chief Executive Larry O’Connor said of the Thunderbolt products.
Thunderbolt and USB-C are at the heart of modern high-end computing. The standards allow you to plug in larger, higher-resolution monitors, faster external storage arrays, and in the case of Thunderbolt, even an external graphics card to boost a major gaming or video-editing performance. This gives you a machine that is both powerful and portable.
This is a big thing for modern computing. Most of us buy ever thinner laptops with dwindling room for ports. More powerful ports mean that your laptop can increase serious computing load, especially when hubs and docking stations increase that power.
Thunderbolt 4 debuts with Intel’s new Tiger Lake processor laptop. Thunderbolt uses USB-C connectors and cables and can transfer other types of data, including DisplayPort video for monitors and USB for countless other devices. It has Thunderbolt adaptability that lets you plug multiple USB-C devices into the Thunderbolt port on the Thunderbolt 4 dock or hub.
Here’s how USB-C and Thunderbolt get complicated. The two standards compete but are linked. Thunderbolt adopted the USB-C connector, and the latest version of USB is being overhauled with Thunderbolt’s fast and adaptable technology.
A blur of usb standards
USB stands for Universal Serial Bus, and is well named. Everything from standard car dashboards and airport charging stations to plasma balls and hamster wheels has spread far and wide as you type faster. Originally, it was used to transfer data across devices such as keyboards, mice, and printers.
Three recent efforts have improved USB. First, USB Power Delivery (USB PD) brings better electrical smarts so that you can charge power-hungry devices such as laptops, which are used as 100 watts, not just phones.
Second, the core data transfer technology, USB 3.0, was upgraded several times and now accommodates speeds of up to 20 gigabits per second. This is sufficient to move fast video and photo files quickly, although support for top speed remains rare.
The third is USB-C, a simple physical connector for cables and ports. Eliminates the need to fiddle with a USB-C cable. And it is quite small for phones and skinny laptops.
The next improvement will be USB 4, an overhaul that incorporates Thunderbolt data technology, allowing for docks and hubs with higher speeds. Tiger Lake supports USB 4, which should help Coke peripheral manufacturers upgrade.
Thunderbolt 4 vs USB-C
Although USB improves, it is still catching Thunderbolt. And the thunderclap continues.
Thunderbolt 4 may not look like a major improvement over Thunderbolt 3 at first glance as it is no quicker. But it brings other benefits:
- Vajra 4 allows you to connect multiple devices to a hub, which Thunderbolt 3 did not support. This helps maintain speed and support more devices.
- Cables will become cheaper because they will no longer need built-in processors.
- This will power two 4K displays instead of one.
- Windows machines powered by Tiger Lake should more strongly support Thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt devices cost more than USB-C devices, but they are better tested and last longer, OWC’s O’Connor said. “It’s worth paying a little bit more. A lot of USB products are built to be disposable,” he said.
Intel has hoped to make its proprietary Thunderbolt technology common among PCs for years, if not as widespread as USB. Tiger Lake and Thunderbolt 4 facilities should help with its prospects.
Just don’t expect it to replace USB.