what you need to know about the new USB standard

Do you have questions about USB 4? In this dossier, we invite you to explore its advantages, the way the standard is labeled by manufacturers, its backward compatibility with older standards, the issue of charging via USB-PD, or even a list of some examples of products compatible with the technology.

In September 2019, theUSB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) officially adopted the standard for the next generation of USB architecture, theUSB 4. The USB-IF is the body responsible for defining the specifications that must comply with the equipment that boasts of offering USB 4. It is made up of representatives of major international tech groups, such as Apple, HP, Microsoft or Intel.

This operation by consortium is usual in the field of technologies: there is one for WiFi, Bluetooth, mobile networks, emojis, etc. This ensures that all stakeholders agree on the definition of a standard and guarantees a certain quality and continuity between the brands. So what will the new USB 4 standard actually bring?

What are the advantages of USB 4?

  • Transfer speed explodes to 40 Gbps. USB 4 is a free version of Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 that allows such speeds. However, you have to buy suitable cables: the longer these cables are, and compatible with high transfer rates, the more expensive they are.
  • All PCs with USB 4 are Thunderbolt 3 compatible (accessories and cables)
  • Support for 8K displays with DisplayPort Alt Mode 2.0 : this mode doubles the USB 4 bandwidth to 80 Gbps for this specific application and with a compatible graphics card
  • Backward compatible USB 2.0 and 3.2. However, you will probably need adapters if the devices concerned have not yet adopted a USB type C port.

Read also: USB Type C and USB 3.1: what are the differences and what are the advantages for the user

USB 4: one standard, two speeds

USB 4

Not all USB 4 compatible devices will have access to the theoretical 40 Gbps that the protocol allows. The standard is open, which means that many manufacturers will be able to integrate it into their machines. But a more entry-level version of the 20 Gbps USB 4 flanged chips is also planned for the less expensive devices.

So the next entry-level computers with USB 4 should have 20 Gbps USB 4 ports on board – while more high-end computers will offer 40 Gbps. The new logos of the standard reflect this well, since it is no longer a question of displaying an obscure standard or generation number but the possible speed (20 Gbps or 40 Gbps).

All USB 4 ports must be able to charge the computer

MacBook USB-C Charge
A MacBook charges from one of its USB-C ports / Credits: Unsplash

You know it, For now, computers with USB type C ports support charging via the USB Power Delivery standard on some ports but not on others. What to lose the user, especially since these cables, of the same appearance, carry, in addition to USB, other protocols like DisplayPort, without the protocol in question being available on all the ports of the machine.

USB 4 puts some order in this. The standard defines a set of standards with in particular the obligation to offer the Power Delivery standard on all the USB 4 ports of the same machine. In other words, you will soon be able to plug your PC’s charger into any of its ports to recharge it.

USB 4 is compatible with all previous USB standards up to USB 2

USB connector 4

It means that all your old devices, cables and peripherals still work through your machine’s USB 4 ports – of course, provided you have adapters. You may even feel improvements: thanks to USB 4 all your cables and ports will operate at their maximum rated speed. Which obviously won’t go as fast as USB 4 end-to-end.

Note that the consortium does not specify what will happen to the first USB generations. We note, however, that Thunderbolt 3 compatible machines are compatible with all previous USB standards, including USB 1.0.

Which products already offer 4 USB ports

For the moment technology is just starting to hit the market. The best way to benefit from the advantages of USB 4 is therefore for the moment to look for devices compatible with Tunderbolt 3 since the USB4 standard is derived from it, and many USB4 PCs should be Thunderbolt 3 compatible.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of some examples of USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 / USB4 products that you can connect to your machine with USB 4 ports:

Of course, this list should grow over the months. If you know of a product that we are not talking about, please let us know in the comments.

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