The last decade saw many innovations in the technology sector that would wow us twenty years ago. A rapid rise in personal computing power meant eventually, extensibility would become essential for progress. Thunderbolt’s aim from the beginning was to increase data transfer rates using a single solution port configuration for data, video, and power.
Thunderbolt™ 4 is the latest iteration of Intel’s connectivity technology that’s redefined what is possible with our peripherals. Over the last ten years, the company has used subtle approaches to making the technology a standard when it comes to high-speed data and video capabilities. Universal compatibility is one of the cornerstones that Thunderbolt™ 3, USB-C, and subsequently Thunderbolt™ 4 and USB4 are trying to solve.
With this evolution in connectivity, you’ll want to know what Thunderbolt™ 4 is, how it affects your desk setup, and if you can upgrade without worrying about additional adapters.
The Evolution of Thunderbolt™ Connections – From Light Peak to Thunderbolt™ 4
At the time when Intel started working on Thunderbolt™ (called Project Light Peak in 2009), consumers didn’t have too many options available when it came to high-speed data connections. For video, most of us still relied on our trusty VGA ports. HDMI was not going to support data or power and USB didn’t have the capacity to carry high-definition video. It was a mess.
With Solid-State Drives (SSDs) and USB 2.0, it became possible to extend device memory but you still needed a dedicated video port for your external monitors. Similarly, USB and HDMI weren’t capable of delivering power to your laptop or MacBook. There was a need to unify these capabilities into a single cable and port, which eventually saw Intel deciding to take up the challenge.
Intel aimed to solve this “too-many-ports” problem by combining all these capabilities, including power delivery, data transfer, and optical output into a single port. By 2010, the first generation of Thunderbolt™ ports combined high-speed video and data transfers onto a single cable and port.
The Rise of Thunderbolt™ Connectivity
Apple quickly saw the value in this approach. Reducing the number of ports saves space in the design, helping make devices sleeker and more efficient. The benefits were two-fold, once Apple adopted the first generation, it opened up new possibilities in device designs and since then, Thunderbolt™ and Apple continue to have a mutually beneficial relationship.
The success that Thunderbolt™ had with Apple devices quickly made other specifications take note, and since 2015, Thunderbolt™ 3 and USB-C started working together towards a unified standard.
Thunderbolt™ 3 and USB-C Standards
In 2015, Thunderbolt™ decided to work together with the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) and join the USB standards going forward. At the time, USB-C was the latest implementation of USB and Thunderbolt™ had the opportunity to influence the system design. As consumers, we were the major beneficiaries of this partnership.
USB-C is the connector type that has its own set of specifications, but Thunderbolt™ increases the capabilities of the port. By joining the USB-IF standard, more devices can now implement both USB-C and Thunderbolt™ technologies together.
With USB-C and Thunderbolt™ 3 devices, we got:
- A universal adapter that worked across different devices
- Power delivery and data output using the same port
- Data transfer rates of up to 40Gbps (in Thunderbolt™ 3) and 10Gbps (with USB-C 3.2 Gen2)
- Support for dual 4K 60Hz video in Thunderbolt™ ports
Since then, the notable benefits to consumers came from the latest set of specifications. USB4 and Thunderbolt™ 4 promises to further enhance our capabilities and get us closer to universal compatibility.
The Thunderbolt™ 4 Update – What You Need to Know
With the latest update, Intel isn’t rocking the boat too much. Instead of releasing a host of new capabilities, the company strengthened its existing technology. Thunderbolt™ 4 will now double the PCIe speeds, include VT-d PMA protection, and of course, be USB4 compliant.
You’ll still get the same great speeds as Thunderbolt™ 3 (at 40Gbps) but customers will be guaranteed a minimum spec of dual 4K video or single 8K video output. Thunderbolt™ 4 will also support four fully functional Thunderbolt™ 4 ports (one upstream and three downstream) in a docking station, making it the perfect port for maximum productivity.
What Thunderbolt™ 4 Means for Your Docking Station
The good news is that your Thunderbolt™ 3 docking system will still work with a Thunderbolt™ 4 device. Changes were limited to the inner workings of the technology and focused heavily on standardizing and complying with the latest USB standards.
You’ll still get your 40Gbps data transfer, rated power delivery, and dual 4K video from your Thunderbolt™ dock without needing any new adapters. However, if you are looking to maximize your connectivity, you can combine your latest Thunderbolt™ 4 device with a Thunderbolt™ 4 dock from Kensington.
SD5700T Thunderbolt™ 4 Dual 4K Docking Station with 90W Power Delivery
Our latest Thunderbolt™ 4 Dual 4K Docking Station with 90W Power Delivery (PD) gives you universal compatibility with VT-d DMA protection included. You can protect your system from unauthorized access to your memory and connect up to three downstream Thunderbolt™ 4 devices in your desk setup. Dual 4K video (or single 8K video) allows you to connect your external monitors without hassle using the simple plug-and-play installation.
A zero-footprint mounting keeps your desk clutter-free and with the built-in SD 4.0 memory card reader, you can expand your storage as required. You’ll also get our Kensington DockWorks™ software and a three-year warranty.
Kensington Docking Solutions for Your Thunderbolt™ and Apple Ecosystem
Thunderbolt™ used to be something only Apple users cared about, while PC users were familiar with USB. The latest updates now mean that both types of users can start taking advantage of the Thunderbolt™ 4 technology and finally enjoy universal compatibility. By opting for a Thunderbolt™ 4 docking solution, you can future-proof your desk configuration with one of the best Thunderbolt™ docking stations and ensure you have the latest connection technology available regardless of what device you use to power your primary workstation.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that the new Apple M1 powered devices will work with Thunderbolt™ 4 docks (even though M1 MacBooks only support Thunderbolt™ 3), but to connect multiple monitors you’ll need to look for a Hybrid USB-C DisplayLink docking station or leverage a USB-A DisplayLink adapter with your current docking station.
If you need a reliable docking solution that is backward and forward compatible with Thunderbolt™ 3 and Thunderbolt™ 4, check out our SD5700T or find the ideal solution for your setup with our docking station product finder.
This is the first in a five-part series, view the other blogs below:
- Blog one: What is Thunderbolt™ 4
- Blog two: What are the Differences between Thunderbolt™ 3 and Thunderbolt™ 4?
- Blog three: Does a Thunderbolt™ 3 Dock Support Thunderbolt™ 4 Laptops?
- Blog four: Which Thunderbolt™ Dock is Right for Your Setup?
- Blog five: What is Intel VT-d DMA Protection?