Next-gen Intel Thunderbolt 5 delivers speeds as high as 120Gbps

Intel unveils next-gen Thunderbolt 5 delivering speeds as high as 120Gbps

Note: This article was first published on 13th September 2023.

When Intel quietly officiated their Thunderbolt 5 connectivity standard promising up to 120Gbps transfer rates, on the same day Apple launched their iPhone 15 that boasts a USB-C connection with 480Mbps transfer rates, you can understand why this seems like a light jab at them. wink

To be fair, Apple does support up to 10Gbps USB 3.0 transfer rates over USB-C on the iPhone 15 Pro models. However, the standard iPhone 15 and 15 Plus are stuck with USB 2.0 transfer rates, which is a little ludicrous considering the cost of the phone.

This is what you’ll get on the new Thunderbolt 5:-

  • 80Gbps of bi-directional bandwidth (double that of Thunderbolt 3 and 4)
  • Thunderbolt Bandwidth Boost:- Three times the throughput for video-intensive usage, up to 120Gbps in a single direction
  • Double the PCI Express data throughput for faster storage and external graphics
  • Double the bandwidth of Thunderbolt Networking for high-speed PC-to-PC connections
  • Support for USB4 V2, DisplayPort 2.1 and PCIe Gen 4
  • New signalling technology, PAM-3, to deliver the significant increases in performance
  • Backward compatible to Thunderbolt 3 and 4, including USB4 standards.

Thunderbolt 5 is made to tackle the new bandwidth-hungry needs of tomorrow that are rapidly approaching today. (Image source: Intel)

So, while Thunderbolt 5 officially supports 80Gbps of bidirectional bandwidth, it’s designed to be more flexible, allowing more lanes to work in the downstream direction to boost the bandwidth up to 120Gbps for high display traffic volume situations. This video exemplifies how Thunderbolt Bandwidth Boost works as simple as possible:-

So why is Intel upping the game of their already reliable, dependable and fast connectivity standard, the Thunderbolt 4? Now, as good as it is with its 40Gb/s bidirectional data throughput, supply 100W of charging power to your laptop and supports up to 15W of of power output per port to charge devices like your phone or power bank, it doesn’t quite cut it anymore with ‘only’ up to two 4K resolution display support. Indeed, it’s plenty for most consumers. Still, for professionals and creators looking for 5K resolution displays or greater, such as this Samsung ViewFinity S9 5K screen, there needs to be more bandwidth to go around. 

How the various USB and Thunderbolt standards stack up at the moment. (Image source: Intel)

Intel actually outlined their next-gen Thunderbolt capabilities nearly a year ago, but it’s only now that they’ve christened it as Thunderbolt 5 and have also showcased in a video demo of the first prototype laptop with Thunderbolt 5 connected to a prototype Thunderbolt 5 dock, connected to a 6K and 4K display concurrently and having the dock equipped with PCIe Gen 4 storage built-in.

Looks like it was a Gigabyte Aorus test notebook fitted with Intel's new Thunderbolt controller and mated to an early-generation Thunderbolt 5 dock.

In the image above, you’ll note the storage read/write test speeds were recorded to be over 6,200MB/s and 5,300MB/s respectively. That’s crazy fast for just a PCIe 4.0 storage over an external Thunderbolt interface. 

When can we expect Thunderbolt 5? Intel says computers and accessories based on Intel’s Thunderbolt 5 controller, code-named Barlow Ridge, are expected to be available starting in 2024. So stay tuned.

Source: Intel

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