Ever heard of the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF)? Chances are you have lived your life up until this point and never realized such an entity even existed. Obvious by its name, they are the group that decides the fate,
follow through and future of the USB tech standard. And they are set to make some changes, once again.
Odds are you probably, only now, have a few devices that utilizes the USB 3 type-C connection as its primary source of power and data. And while we’ve had USB 3 in various capacities and form factors, the type-C interface really helped cement the concept that version 3 is here and is now the future.
Funny how time flies, because the USB-IF have published their specification for USB4. Beginning in 1996, USB as we’ve come to know it has been the largish Type-A, only fits one way, connector. Now over 20 years we have USB 3 Type-C and everyone’s dreams were fulfilled with the universal style connector that can be plugged in via any orientation. However, our dreams will not be dashed, nor will we have to buy all new cables, yet again!
USB4 will operate on all Type-A and Type-C style plugs and be backwards compatible with USB3.x and USB2.x devices. The real difference is now it is also compatible with Thunderbolt 3. The Thunderbolt technology was designed and licensed by Intel exclusively for many years. It has always been a faster way of transferring files than USB, thankfully, that’s finally changing now as USB and Thunderbolt finally unite. The current USB3.2 spec caps out at 20 Gbits per second, while Thunderbolt 3 tops out at 40 Gbit per second! The only trouble is that any device that wants to announce its USB4 will work with Thunderbolt 3 will still need to be certified by Intel. A fact which makes Thunderbolt the less common standard in the industry as it allows Intel to exert certain control in the mix.
USB4 will also feature USB3 Power Delivery technology with a peak capacity of 100w of electricity over the cable. It will also feature intelligent and dynamic bandwidth sharing. This will allow it to automatically adjust data rates to what is demanding it more at that time. An example might be a large file transfer to an external drive would take precedence over video
frames being pushed to your monitor. This will squeeze every last bit of efficiency out of its new 40 Gbit speed abilities.
When will you see your first USB4 devices? This year, 2020. But like with other versions of USB it will take awhile to fully catch on, so you have plenty of time. At least the baby can stay in with the bath water since each new standard supports the last. That means you can keep the gear you like, longer – and that’s a good thing.