What is Thunderbolt 5? | Digital Trends

Thunderbolt 4 technology is still relatively new, but Intel is already working on its successor: Thunderbolt 5 (or whatever Intel decides to call it). Although it’s not been officially announced by Intel, we do know it’s being developed and that it has the potential to be vastly superior to any other connector standard that exists today.

There’s not much yet, but here’s everything we know about Thunderbolt 5.

Availability

With Thunderbolt 4 being only about a year old, Thunderbolt 5 is not likely to be released until at least next year, or perhaps even longer. Thunderbolt 4 will see wider adoption with Alder Lake in 2021, with Thunderbolt 5 likely becoming more commonplace in future generations of processors.

Performance

According to some leaked images from a tour of an Intel facility earlier this year, Thunderbolt 5 will support up to 80Gbps throughput. This is double the bandwidth of the existing Thunderbolt 4 connection and vastly more than anything else available for data transfers.

Thunderbolt 5 is a huge step ahead of existing connectivity technology. Thunderbolt 4 was an upgrade from Thunderbolt 3 in terms of power and utility. However, it didn’t deliver a bandwidth increase over the maximum 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 offered. Hence, Thunderbolt 5, with its doubled output, brings a significant upgrade. Intel’s upcoming release will likely provide greater support for higher refresh rates of 4K and 8K monitors along with providing backward compatibility with older Thunderbolt and USB connections.

Technology

Thunderbolt 5 is expected to be based on novel PAM-3 modulation technology. That’s a novel method of transmitting bits along the cable.

Traditionally, NRZ (non-return-to-zero) encoding is used, which allows for a 0 or a 1, or a single bit, to be transmitted. Some connection options also make use of PAM -4 or Pulse Amplitude Modulation 4, which allows two bits to be transferred. The 4 is a demarcation of how many different variants of two bits could be seen (00, 01, 10, or 11). Thunderbolt 5 will make use of a 3-bit data signal, allowing it to reach a higher bandwidth than that achieved by the standard NRZ and PAM-4 implementations seen in current connectivity technologies.

A Thunderbolt 4 port on a laptop.

Port

As leaked in the infamous tweet earlier this year, Intel is expected to continue using the same USB-C interface connector for Thunderbolt 5. That should mean that any existing USB-C and Thunderbolt devices can make use of the faster connector, though they won’t necessarily be able to take advantage of its speed.

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