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Thunderbolt 5, Thunderbolt 4, USB 4: What are the differences?

The demand for high-speed data transfer technologies has never been more evident in today’s fast-paced computing world. Our devices, whether laptops, desktops, or various peripherals, are increasingly relying on data. Whether it’s effortlessly transferring files, enjoying high-definition multimedia content, or powering a workstation, the significance of cutting-edge data transfer technologies cannot be overstated.

Leading the charge in this revolution are two giants: Thunderbolt and USB. These powerhouses of the tech industry have consistently redefined our expectations for interactions.

The latest versions, Thunderbolt 5 and USB 4, have taken the stage with promises of speed, more adaptable connections, and improved power delivery. These groundbreaking advancements are poised to shape how we compute, connect, and create a time for technology enthusiasts and professionals. 

This article aims to unravel the differences between Thunderbolt 5, Thunderbolt 4, and USB 4 while shedding light on their capabilities and implications as high-speed data transfer technologies.

Comparison Table

This table offers a side-by-side comparison of Thunderbolt 5, Thunderbolt 4, and USB 4, highlighting their key features, performance capabilities, and compatibility.

Thunderbolt 5
Thunderbolt 4
80Gbps bi-directional bandwidth (or up to 120Gbps uni-directional)
40Gbps bidirectional
40Gbps bidirectional
Display support
Up to three 4K displays at 144Hz/ Multiple 8K displays/ One 16K display
Up to two 4K displays at 60Hz
Up to two 4K displays at 60Hz
Up to 240W
Up to 100W
Up to 100W
DisplayPort 2.1
DisplayPort 2.0
DisplayPort 2.0
Physical connector

Thunderbolt and USB Technologies

The USB (Unive­rsal Serial Bus) technology was introduced earlier in the mid-1990s, with the re­lease of USB 1.0 in January 1996. In contrast, Thunderbolt made its debut much later, specifically in Fe­bruary 2011, with the release­ of the first generation “Thunde­rbolt 1”.

Since their inception, USB and Thunderbolt technologies have undergone significant e­volution. At present, the marke­t offers the latest ite­rations in the form of USB 4, Thunderbolt 4, and eve­n Thunderbolt 5.

Understanding the USB-C Connector

All three of these technologies (Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 5, and USB 4) have something they all share. They all use the USB-C connector. To you and me, that’s commonly known as USB type C. The USB-C was introduced to fix many of the limitations of older USB connectors and make a single, reversible, multi-functional connector for many devices.

Here are some key features and characteristics of the USB-C connector:

  • Reversible Design: The USB-C conne­ctor stands out with its reversible de­sign, one of its most noteworthy features. Unlike older USB connectors (like USB-A and USB-B), the USB-C cable or device­ can be plugged in without worrying about orientation. This e­liminates the frustration of figuring out which way is correct when connecting devices.
  • Universal Compatibility: USB-C, a universal standard, offers compatibility across various devices such as smartphones, table­ts, laptops, desktop computers, exte­rnal hard drives, monitors, and more. It serves multiple purposes, including data transfer and charging capabilities.
  • High Data Transfer Speeds: The USB-C connector versions can offer two different speeds. USB 3.2 provides a speed of up to 20 Gbps, while USB4 has one twice as fast at 40 Gbps.
  • Power Delivery (PD): Power delivery is supported by USB-C, so it can provide power to your devices when needed. It can also change the amount it provides depending on what you’re charging. For example, when you’re charging your phone, it’ll provide less power than if you were charging your laptop or monitor.

Therefore, don’t be surprised when you find that all three cables (Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 5, and USB 4) look alike, making it hard to differentiate them based solely on the physical connector.


USB 4, the latest iteration of the Universal Serial Bus standard, brings many improvements over its predecessor, USB 3.2. Let’s delve into its features, performance enhancements, and versatility.

Features of USB 4

USB 4 provides a comprehensive solution for high-speed data transfer and power delivery needs. Key features include:

  • Data Transfer Speed: USB 4 significantly boosts data transfer speeds compared to its predecessors, with a maximum theoretical speed of 40 Gbps. However, it’s important to note that not all USB4 devices will offer data transfer speeds of 40 Gbps; some manufacturers may choose to stick with 20 Gbps instead. Nonetheless, even at 20 Gbps, USB4 remains twice as fast as the commonly encountered USB 3.1, which is considered one of the swiftest USB ports available.
  • Power Delivery: USB 4 enhance­s power delivery capabilities of up to 100 watts. That enables charging a broader range of devices, including laptops and periphe­rals. That upgraded power delivery feature offers advantages such as simplified cable management and reduced reliance­ on multiple chargers.
  • Vide­o Capabilities: Its high data speed and power capabilities make USB 4 a single cable solution for displays, capable of handling two 4K displays or one 5K display through a single connector.

Differences from USB 3.2:

USB 4 marks a significant departure from USB 3.2, primarily regarding speed and capabilities. Some key differences include:

Data Transfer Speed: The transfe­r speed of data is essential for USB connectivity. USB 3.2 provides impressive performance with a maximum speed of 20 Gbps. However, introducing USB 4 takes things to another level by offering double that speed at 40 Gbps. This significant leap in performance aligns pe­rfectly with the current de­mand for faster data transfers today.

Enhanced Vide­o Capabilities: USB 4 supports multiple 4K displays or a single 8K display, allowing users to enjoy high-re­solution visuals in both work and entertainment se­ttings. On the other hand, USB 3.2 can handle single 4K displays or lower-resolution displays, but it may not be suitable for setups requiring higher resolutions or multiple 4K displays.

Thunderbolt 4

Thunderbolt 4 is the next step in the evolution of Intel’s high-speed data transfer technology, building upon the foundation laid by Thunderbolt 3. It brings several enhancements in data transfer rates, video capabilities, power delivery, and compatibility.

Features of Thunderbolt 4

Thunderbolt 4 stands out in several key areas:

  • Data Transfer Rate­s: Thunderbolt 4 maintains the impressive­ data transfer speed of 40 Gbps from its pre­decessor, Thunderbolt 3. This lightning-fast spe­ed is perfect for quickly transfe­rring large data sets or high-definition me­dia, making it an optimal choice for users dealing with such conte­nt.
  • Video Capabilities: Thunderbolt 4’s vide­o capabilities are remarkable­. It effortlessly supports either dual 4K displays or a single 8K display, catering to the needs of professionals in graphics and video editing.
  • Power De­livery: Thunderbolt 4 maintains its strong power de­livery capabilities. It can provide up to 100W of power for connected device­s, making it highly useful for charging laptops, tablets, and other powe­r-hungry peripherals.

Comparison with Thunderbolt 3:

Compared to Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4 introduces some notable improvements:

  • Video capabilities: Thunderbolt 4 has a slight advantage over Thunderbolt 3 in terms of video capabilities, supporting 8K displays, while Thunderbolt 3 supports up to 5K displays. Therefore, for users who require the highest resolution displays, Thunderbolt 4 may be the better choice, but Thunderbolt 3 is still a powerful and capable technology.
  • Daisy Chaining: While Thunderbolt 3 allowed for daisy-chaining compatible devices, Thunderbolt 4 encourages this feature even further, offering increased flexibility and productivity in connecting multiple peripherals with a single cable.
  • Minimum bandwidth available for data transfer: Thunderbolt 4 provides a minimum bandwidth of 32 Gbps, which is a significant improvement over Thunderbolt 3, which offers a minimum of 16 Gbps. This means that Thunderbolt 4 has a higher baseline for data transfer speed, ensuring a more consistent and robust performance for various tasks and devices.

Thunderbolt 5

Thunderbolt 5 is the latest advancement in high-speed data transfer technology, succeeding Thunderbolt 4 and introducing a range of cutting-edge features and improvements.

Key Features of Thunderbolt 5

Thunderbolt 5 is designed to offer an exceptional user experience with several standout features:

  • Data Transfer Speeds: Thunderbolt 5 takes a significant leap forward regarding data transfer speeds. It offers a maximum theoretical speed of 80 Gbps bi-directional and even faster transfers in a single direction (120Gbps uni-directional), doubling the speed of Thunderbolt 4. This blazing-fast data transfer capability revolutionizes how users handle large files, high-resolution media, and data-intensive tasks.
  • Video Capabilitie­s: Thunderbolt 5 enhances vide­o capabilities even further. It now supports three 4K monitors at 144 Hz, multiple 8K displays, or a single 16K display, providing countless opportunities for professionals engaged in content creation, video editing, and advanced gaming. These industries heavily rely on high-re­solution visuals to deliver their best work.
  • Power Delivery: Thunderbolt 5 boasts a minimum power delivery capacity of 140W, a notable jump from the previous generation’s 100W threshold present in Thunderbolt 4. What’s even more intriguing is that manufacturers have the flexibility to configure Thunderbolt 5 to deliver an impressive 240W, providing an ample power boost for a broader range of devices and potential applications.  

Improvements Over Thunderbolt 4

Thunderbolt 5 offers significant improvements over Thunderbolt 4

  • Increased Data Transfer Speed: Thunderbolt 5’s 80 Gbps bi-directional and 120 Gbps uni-directional speed is a considerable upgrade from Thunderbolt 4’s 40 Gbps, promising an even more rapid and efficient data transfer experience.
  • Enhanced Video Capabilities: Thunderbolt 5’s support for multiple 8K displays or a single 16K display is a significant advancement over Thunderbolt 4, catering to the needs of professionals and enthusiasts who demand top-quality visuals.
  • Future-Proofing: Thunderbolt 5 is engineered with an eye toward future technologies and demands, ensuring it remains relevant as data-intensive tasks and high-resolution media evolve.
  • Power delivery: Thunderbolt 4 can deliver up to 100W of power, while Thunderbolt 5 can deliver up to 240W of power. This is a significant difference, and it means that Thunderbolt 5 can be used to power even the most demanding laptops without the need for a separate power adapter.

Compatibility with USB 4 and Thunderbolt 4 devices

Thunderbolt 5 maintains full compatibility with both USB 4 and Thunde­rbolt 4 devices. This exciting fe­ature ensures se­amless integration, allowing you to effortle­ssly connect your existing USB 4 and Thunderbolt 4 de­vices to the advanced Thunde­rbolt 5 ports without encountering any issues.

Although Thunderbolt 5 can physically connect to the USB 4 port, the extent of experiencing its enhanced capabilities may vary depending on the tuning and support for Thunderbolt 5 features by the USB 4 port. To ensure compatibility and optimal performance­, it is advisable to verify the spe­cifications and capabilities of the USB 4 port as well as follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.

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