USB 4 Is Coming: Everything You Need To Know

USB is getting another major upgrade. A new industry standard for the popular cable specification has been announced by the USB Promoter Group and it's going to change the way we hook up devices and transfer data.

Here's everything you need to know about the USB4 specification - including speed, release date and how it's going to affect your existing gadgets.

It feels like only yesterday that USB-C supplanted Micro-USB as the default connector for most phones and gadgets. Fortunately, this latest standard change doesn't actually affect existing hardware ports. (At least, not that we know of - more on that below.)

So what's different then? Let's take a look at the major changes.

What Is USB 4?

USB 4 is a new Universal Serial Bus standard relating to cables and connectors for computers and peripheral devices. Like USB-C it will be used for everything from transferring digital data to power supply. The latest version, which is still in development, is based on the Thunderbolt protocol specification and provides a host of improvements including faster speeds.

How Fast Is USB 4?

According to USB Promoter Group, USB 4 is capable of speeds reaching 40 gigabits per second. By contrast, USB 3.2 tops out at 2.5 GB/s. In other words, it's going to be almost twice as fast as the best USB gear currently on the market.

What else can USB 4 do?

What, the huge speed boost mentioned above isn't enough for you? Fine. The new architecture also allows multiple end device to share a single high-speed link. As Tom's Hardware notes, this makes all kinds of things possible, like daisy-chaining 4K monitors, external storage and GPU enclosures together into one cable that connects to your PC.

The standard will also allow third-party companies to use Thunderbolt 3 without paying a fee. This should result in quicker adoption by the industry (and may even result in cheaper prices for the end user - but we wouldn't hold our breath on that score.)

What's the USB 4 release date?

We don't have an official publication date yet, but it is expected that USB 4 will be released sometime in mid-2019.

How does this affect existing USB standards?

The USB4 architecture is backwards compatible with USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3. With that said, nobody has seen a USB4 port yet so we don't know if it will differ from the current USB-C standard. Watch this space, as they say.

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Here's the full announcement from the USB Promoter Group:

March 4, 2019 – The USB Promoter Group today announced the pending release of the USB4 specification, a major update to deliver the next generation USB architecture that compliments and builds on the existing USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 architectures. The USB4 architecture is based on the Thunderbolt™ protocol specification recently contributed by Intel Corporation. It doubles the bandwidth of USB and enables multiple simultaneous data and display protocols.

The new USB4 architecture defines a method to share a single high-speed link with multiple end device types dynamically that best serves the transfer of data by type and application. As the USB Type-C™ connector has evolved into the role as the external display port of many host products, the USB4 specification provides the host the ability to optimally scale allocations for display data flow. Even as the USB4 specification introduces a new underlying protocol, compatibility with existing USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3 hosts and devices is supported; the resulting connection scales to the best mutual capability of the devices being connected.

“The primary goal of USB is to deliver the best user experience combining data, display and power delivery over a user-friendly and robust cable and connector solution,” said Brad Saunders, USB Promoter Group Chairman. “The USB4 solution specifically tailors bus operation to further enhance this experience by optimizing the blend of data and display over a single connection and enabling the further doubling of performance.”

Key characteristics of the USB4 solution include:

  • Two-lane operation using existing USB Type-C cables and up to 40 Gbps operation over 40 Gbpscertified cables
  • Multiple data and display protocols to efficiently share the total available bandwidth over the bus
  • Backward compatibility with USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3

With over 50 companies actively participating in the final stages of review of the draft specification, the USB4 specification is on track to be published around the middle of 2019. Coincident with the release of the USB4 specification, the release of an updated USB Type-C Specification will be made to comprehend USB4 bus discovery, configuration and performance requirements.

USB Developer Days 2019, in the second half of this year, will include detailed technical training covering the USB4 specification and the latest for USB Type-C, USB Power Delivery, and other exciting topics.

This update is part of the USB performance roadmap and is specifically targeted to developers at this time. Branding and marketing guidelines will be established after the final specification is published.

“Releasing the Thunderbolt protocol specification is a significant milestone for making today’s simplest and most versatile port available to everyone,” said Jason Ziller, General Manager, Client Connectivity Division at Intel. “By collaborating with the USB Promoter Group, we’re opening the doors for innovation across a wide range of devices and increasing compatibility to deliver better experiences to consumers.”

“USB4’s high throughput and advanced features enable new scenarios in consumer, enterprise, and intelligent edge markets, while maintaining interoperability with existing USB and Thunderbolt 3 devices,” said Roanne Sones, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft OS Platforms. “We are excited to work with our partners in the ecosystem to bring USB4 to market and showcase its benefits.”

[Via USB Promoter Group ]

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