What Is USB4 and What Benefits Does It Offer

The next generation of data transfer is here: USB4. That’s right! USB4 with no space, the clever marketers in charge of that decision have outdone themselves.

While USB4 was announced in 2019, progress on creating compatible devices has been slow. Like everything else in 2020, manufacturers were affected by the pandemic and few devices have been made so far. But, devices are being made!

Keep reading to learn the benefits of USB4, what is different between it and Thunderbolt 4, and how the new connection will affect your portable charging.


USB4 Benefits

As you would expect, USB4  specifications feature many improvements over the USB 3.x cables that might be in your bag. For example, USB4 is faster, more functional, and will have improved compatibility with Thunderbolt 4. 

Fast Speed

The current max transfer speed of the USB 3.2 is 10 Gbps, which seems fast. However, Thunderbolt 3 featured 40 Gbps of data transfer. USB4 features both 20 Gbps and 40 Gbps.

Why would you want to have two transfer speed options? Well, most people don’t really need to transfer data at a high speed. After all, most of our work is done on the cloud nowadays. However, if you have large files like videos or software you’ll want to make sure you have the 40 Gbps version.

UGREEN USB4 Cable with Mac

DisplayPort 2.0

In addition to fast data transfer rates, USB4 allows you to use the USB-C connection to connect a display to a computer or other source. USB4 uses DisplayPort 2.0 in order to provide high-quality video.

DisplayPort alt-mode will allow the Type-C connection to transmit video in 8K HDR. This opens up a world of opportunity for TV alternatives like Roku, Amazon Fire, and projectors. While HDMI cables and DisplayPort cables might not be going anywhere right away, eventually they might be a thing of the past. 

You will be able to connect two screens with two separate USB/TB cables. This is a process that is called daisy-chaining. If the displays have the correct ports, you could be able to have two 4K displays through this kind of connection. 


The new USB specifications will be fully compatible with Thunderbolt 4. Currently, Thunderbolt 3 is compatible with USB 3.x, for the most part. However, even when this compatibility functions as it is supposed to transfer rates are limited by USB’s slower transfer speeds.


USB4 vs. Thunderbolt 4

If you were reading the new features of USB4 and think it looks very similar to Thunderbolt 3 and 4, you are right. For the most part, USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 are the same. Both standards have a maximum data transfer rate of 40 Gbps. Both connection types feature DisplayPort 2.0 for transmitting video. It would be easy for you to be confused about what makes the two standards different. For the most part, Thunderbolt 4 is still better than USB4. 

Single Transfer Speed

Thunderbolt only has a single transfer standard of 40 Gbps, but USB4 has two possible transfer speeds. If fast data transfer is something that you want, it would be simpler to just pick a Thunderbolt 4 connection.

Identifying the Connection

It is much easier to identify Thunderbolt 3 and 4 compared to the various generations of USB. Right now, there are very few USB4 devices available. But, one issue is that companies rarely feature the logo of the proper generation of the cable. 

The proper USB4 logo is an arch over the number 40 or 20 (depending on which version of USB4 you have) followed by a three-pronged trident. Thunderbolt on the other hand is easily identified but the lightning bolt symbol on the side of the cable with the version number underneath.

USB4 Cable

USB4 & Charging

USB4 will not increase the charging speeds directly. In a new blog post for developers, USB-IF announced new standards for 140W, 180W, and 240W charging. This will enable you to use a USB cable to charge your high-performance laptops instead of company-specific connectors. However, these new standards aren’t specific to a certain standard of USB cable. If you value speed transfer AND charging speed, you need to read the description of the product carefully. 

When Should You Upgrade?

It takes time for companies to implement the new specifications. Furthermore, both ports in the connection need to be USB4 or Thunderbolt in order to benefit from faster transfers, not just the cable. If you have an older port involved in the connection, the connection will be downgraded to whatever that port is capable of supplying.

So, if you buy one device that uses a USB4 connection, you might need to upgrade other pieces of kit too. More monitors will feature USB-C ports in the future, but for now not many do. If you transfer a lot of data to an external hard drive, you might consider buying a new hard drive that uses a Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 4, or USB4 port.

The Future of USB-C

It will be interesting to see if USB and Thunderbolt both exist in 10 years. If the two are essentially interchangeable, do we need both? In any case, the USB-C connection is poised to become the only connection you will need. You can use it to connect to a new TV, computer, or cell phone.

USB4 will allow people that never experienced the fast Thunderbolt transfer rates to do so. But, how important are USB-C cables to transferring data anyway? Cloud storage and high-speed 5G internet will allow you to have your data on any device, whenever you want it. The product improvements for USB4 show that data transfer speed is still a priority for USB-IF and cable manufacturers. 

To learn more about USB connections click here.

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