Intel, Apple, Microsoft battle for Thunderbolt 4

The battle is on for the release of Thunderbolt 4, with Intel holding the rights, Apple wanting first dibs, and Microsoft's marketing budget bashing both of them on the head.

Thunderbolt 1, 2, 3...

Originally, Intel developed Light Peak, the fibre-optic networking cable and plug which was to become the defacto-standard for every new server room, data centre, and rack-cabinet on the planet. It was 2012, and Intel wanted to euserp the competition by throwing away Ethernet and moving everyone to Light Peak on fibre.

Then Apple got involved. Apple, looking to replace Firewire, and looking to have something faster than USB 3.0, got involved and took a half-share in the Light Peak project. Intel and Apple between then developed a few versions of the product, and together were able to drop the cost of the final product by swapping out fibre optic for high quality copper. The trade-off was lower speed, shorter distances, and and a metal connector rather than an optic connector. They grafted-on the Mini-DisplayPort connector, and, thus, Thunderbolt was born.

Thunderbolt 1 and 2 were co-owned by Intel and Apple, first appearing on the 2013 MacBook, then the MacBook Pro, and later finding their way to refreshed versions of the iMac and the cylindrical Mac Pro.

Thunderbolt 3 became fully-owned by Intel, probably the first and only time Apple has ever let go of their rights to an innovative product. Someone, somewhere, inside Intel, baked a cake and sent it to Tim Cook.

Thunderbolt 3 increased its speeds and added more lanes, switched from mini-DisplayPort to the USB-C connector, and gave Apple another reason to sell a dongle. Appearing on the 2016 MacBook Pro, the Thunderbolt 3 port replaced everything, from power, to data, HDMi, Ethernet, DisplayPort, USB-A, USB-C, and could render all their cables useless, whether you're connecting a monitor or an external hard drive.

Thunderbolt 4

Now fully-owned by Intel, and ready to spread into Microsoft land, Thunderbolt 3 began appearing on Windows desktops and laptops in 2017 and early 2018. Set to be replaced by Thunderbolt 4, making everything newer, better, faster, with USB-C end to end, we expect Thunderbolt 4 to be better overall than Thunderbolt 3.

Thunderbolt 4 will:

  • offer better distributed power delivery to connected devices

  • offer faster speeds over short distances (20cm to 35cm)

  • offer Version 3 speeds over cable lengths up to 1 meter

  • offer a control lane and 4 or more transit lanes

  • offer scaling for increasing bandwidth over multiple lanes with one device connected to a host

  • offer downscaling resulting in lower speeds for high impact transit or where multiple devices are daisy-chained and communicate simultaneously

  • be backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 3

  • require new internal hardware for PCs to enable full Thunderbolt 4.

Get ready for your new laptop and desktop to now easily handle fast transfers to external hard drives, graphics enclosures, NAS servers, 4k and 5k monitors, and more.

Until next time,

Xavier Zymantas


XYZ Media Group

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