When the USB 4.0 was announced, the news came as a surprise. Devices compatible with the standard 3.2 format have yet to be launched and on the USB Implementers Forum, there is already talk of a likely launch of 4.0 in 2020, which should guarantee a vastly superior performance compared to that of the currently available formats.
According to information in the announcement, the objective of this new standard (to be allocated the code USB4) is to equal the level of performance achievable with Thunderbolt 3. An estimated speed of 40 Gbps for data transfer (double that of the recent USB 3.2) is expected.
All the functionalities of USB 4.0
The new USB will use a symmetrical jack identical to the one in the USB Type-C, which has met with great success in recent years. This will enable several different types of signal (data, video, electrical) to pass through a single cable, thereby avoiding the need to find the right way to insert the device.
As well as the increased transfer speed, the main features of the new USB 4.0 format include an increase in the power of the electrical signal transferred (it will have a power capacity of up to 100 Watts), the option to connect external video cards to laptops in order to avoid losing any data during play (egpu) and better management of the various video formats.
One particular feature is smart band management when video files are present among the transferred data. This type of file is notoriously heavy, but the USB standard 4.0 is able to adapt the band consumption in order to guarantee a quicker transfer of these formats, without slowing down the passage of other files too much.
The ability to power two 4K resolution monitors or one 5K monitor using a single cable is also a very attractive feature. Of course, the cables required for this operation will have specific characteristics and will be purchased specially for this purpose.
Will USB 4.0 be backwards compatible?
Backwards compatibility has been confirmed as far as the 2.0 standard. Of course, the maximum achievable speeds for devices with USB 2.0 will depend on the limits imposed by the standard itself (480 Mbps).
Compatibility with all Thunderbolt 3 ports is another interesting feature, which will open the doors to new ways of connecting devices un-equipped with this technology. Intel has in fact explained that the objective of the USB 4.0 (based on the same technology) is to provide Thunderbolt level performance on all devices, with the huge advantage that it is royalty free.
This means that, despite its long delay compared to Thunderbolt (on the market since 2015), USB 4.0 will be accessible to a much greater number of devices, offering more people the chance to exploit the high standards set by lightning technology (at much lower prices).
The future looks bright for USB users, with high speed transfers as well as new opportunities and much improved standards. Even though the new format does not bring any special new elements compared to Thunderbolt 3, the fact that everyone will finally be able to benefit from such advanced technology is of great interest.
It should be pointed out that although the announcement mentions the launch of the USB 4.0 on the market by 2020, the first devices to use it will become available from 2021. The reassuring thing is that over 50 manufacturers of electronic devices have already signed up to the program and are currently developing prototypes.
Translated by Joanne Beckwith