Something to look forward to: Intel has been teasing the next generation of Thunderbolt since last year, promising to double the bandwidth of Thunderbolt 4 in an upgrade that looks a lot like USB4 2.0. When revealing all the details, the company explains its high expectations for the upcoming cable standard.
Intel recently announced that developers will be able to work with Thunderbolt 5 starting in the fourth quarter of 2024. As previously announced, this next-generation cable specification will support bandwidth of up to 120 Gbps in certain scenarios, with the company aiming to significantly expand its application range.
When demonstrating the technology last year, Intel did not confirm its name, only referring to it as next-generation Thunderbolt. However, it is now officially called Thunderbolt 5. This decision makes the branding less confusing compared to USB, where there are significant performance differences between USB4 and USB4 2.0.
In standard operation Thunderbolt 5 allowed for bidirectional transfers at 80 Gbit/s, doubling the performance of Thunderbolt 4. However, the new specification can also switch to an alternative mode when it detects data-hungry devices, allowing 120Gbps transmission while receiving at 40Gbps. Intel has not yet finalized the device requirements for overclocked bandwidth. The 120 Gbit/s mode is initially limited to cables that are two meters or shorter.
Thunderbolt 5’s increased bandwidth offers a wider range of connectivity options for storage, displays and other hardware. While Thunderbolt 4 can connect up to two 4K 60Hz monitors, Intel claims its successor can handle two 4K 144Hz displays. The company has also confirmed compatibility with dual 8K monitors, without specifying the maximum refresh rate at that resolution. The new standard could theoretically support refresh rates of up to 540 Hz, depending on the resolution. Additionally, Thunderbolt 5 supports up to three DisplayPort 2.0 streams.
Intel believes this upgrade will encourage gamers to use Thunderbolt for external graphics cards, allowing laptops and other low-end devices to benefit from powerful desktop GPUs. Thunderbolt 5 supports PCIe 4.0 connections, although some PCIe 5.0 devices may exceed bandwidth.
Electricity is another area where there has been significant improvement. Thunderbolt 5 can power certain devices up to 240W, compared to 140W for the previous standard, allowing for faster charging.
Additionally, Thunderbolt 5 is backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 3, USB4 and USB3. Intel expects gamers and content creators to be the first adopters. Thunderbolt 5 devices are expected to hit the market in the next few years, followed by workstation users.