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What is Thunderbolt 4? The connectivity standard explained

Thunderbolt 4 is popping up on more and more devices each year, but what is it and how does it affect your laptop’s performance?

Anyone who has purchased a new laptop within the last few years will likely be familiar with Thunderbolt 4, as the technology is becoming more of a mainstay. If you want to learn more about Thunderbolt 4, keep reading on as we will run through everything you need to know.

What is Thunderbolt 4?

In a nutshell, Thunderbolt 4 is a new upgradable specification that was introduced by Intel in 2016 with the purpose of connecting computers and other peripherals for high-speed data transfer over a single cable. To this day it remains a badge of quality for Intel and a key requirement for any laptop wanting to use its Evo certification.

The technology is based on IEC 62481 connector standards and offers significant bandwidth options that are up to three times faster than the older USB 3.1 Gen 1 (10Gbps) and 10 times faster than USB 2.0 (480Mbps).

We can personally attest to the speed of the port from our in-house laptop testing. During our checks, we’ve found it offers an even greater level of speed and performance across different devices as well as peripherals – hence its growing popularity among professional users who require ultra-fast connectivity for their high-end equipment.

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When did Thunderbolt come out?

Thunderbolt 4 was originally introduced by Intel in 2011, originally being known as Light Peak. The name was later changed to Thunderbolt in 2013 and then trademarked, with the standard debuting to the public with the Intel Core iMac in October 2012.

The first generation of the technology was released in 2013 and was backwards compatible with the previous Thunderbolt 1.0 specification. It gained popularity because the data transfer rate was not just limited to just one direction, meaning that you can connect multiple devices to your PC and transfer large amounts of data without bottlenecking the device.

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What is new in Thunderbolt 4?

Thunderbolt 4 uses a USB-C connector, but unlike a standard USB-C cable, it has a bidirectional bandwidth of 40Gbps. It works as both an internal or external cable and allows for daisy-chain connections, meaning that multiple devices can be connected to the same computer with just one cable.

Moreover, it is backwards-compatible with older Thunderbolt devices, meaning that the new standard can be used with anything that has a Thunderbolt port.

Intel calms that the technology can leverage the power of a laptop or PC CPU to improve data and video performance and that gaming setups can be enhanced with gaming docks and video capture solutions to record gameplay at the highest settings.

Some of the other benefits of Thunderbolt 4 are listed below:

  • It can support multiple 4K displays
  • It can transfer data at a much faster rate than USB 3.0, making it ideal for video editing
  • It can be used as either an external or internal cable, so it can be used behind your computer or in a dock
  • One Thunderbolt 4 cable can replace multiple other cables for a more streamlined experience
Intel Thunderbolt 4 connections
Image Credit (Intel)

Which laptops come with Thunderbolt 4?

Thunderbolt 4 is now a key requirement for Intel’s latest Evo certification, which aims to guarantee users a minimum standard on aspects like portability, battery life and usability. This means that Thunderbolt 4 is a staple on most premium Intel laptops including the Razer Blade 17, Huawei MateBook X Pro (2022, 12th-Gen), Dell XPS 13 Plus and many more.

It is not just limited to Intel devices, however; Microsoft has integrated the technology into a number of Surface devices and it’s included in a plethora of Apple laptops, including the MacBook Air (M2, 2022), MacBook Pro (2021) and iMac (2021).

You will find more Thunderbolt 4-supported laptops on our Best Laptops roundup, but for a broader selection, you can see which laptops are Intel Evo certified, which details every device that currently supports Intel Evo.

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