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The popular USB standard — the U doesn’t stand for “ubiquitous,” but it might as well — is about to get a whole lot faster. Twice as fast, to be exact, with the new USB4 protocol pre-announced today.

The USB Promoter Group, an industry-led body that developers USB specs, says the USB 4 protocol doubles the bandwidth of USB. It will also enable multiple, simultaneous data and display protocols.

In other words, a PC will be able to use a single high-speed link to dynamically share multiple device types, such as SSD storage, graphics processors and high-resolution displays.

Thunderbolt

For now, USB4 is only a “pending release.” The Promoter Group expects final publication by mid-year. More than 50 companies are said to be now helping with a review of the final spec.

At the same time USB4 is published, an updated release of the USB-C spec is also expected. It will let the C standard “comprehend” USB4 bus discovery, configuration and performance requirements.

Intel’s contribution

USB4 is based on Intel’s Thunderbolt protocol. In fact, Intel is now letting other chipmakers build Thunderbolt-compatible silicon, royalty-free.

Thunderbolt 3, the latest version, moves data at up to 40 Gbps when using active cables. That’s the promised speed of the new USB4 protocol, too.

Thunderbolt is already compatible with USB-C, meaning Thunderbolt cables fit USB ports. It sounds like the new USB4 protocol will keep the same size, so users will get 2-lane operation over existing USB-C cables. The USB Promoter Group says USB4 will also be backwards compatible with USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3.

Ice Lake the first

Intel, which is a member of the USB Promoter Group, has said it will integrate Thunderbolt 3 into future CPUs. More recently, at CES 2019, Intel said the first to integrate Thunderbolt 3 will be its upcoming “Ice Lake” 10nm processor.

More than 400 PC models and 450 devices from a wide range of suppliers work with Thunderbolt 3, according to Intel. These include devices running on Windows 10, macOS and Linux.

Do your customers long to bolster thin PCs with additional SSD storage, external graphics processors and ultra-HD displays? With the new USB4 protocol, it should get a whole lot simpler and faster.

 

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