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What is Thunderbolt™ 5's Bandwidth Boost?

Woman working at standing desk with 2 monitors.

The Thunderbolt™ family of data ports has been steadily increasing in speed and capacity over the years. Not only do they offer smooth connections for large files and displays, but they are also becoming more powerful as the need for faster, more reliable connections increases along with daily data consumptions.

Thunderbolt™ 5 is the latest iteration of the technology and offers even greater speed and bandwidth than before. Offering 80 Gbps (Gigabits per second) of bandwidth, Thunderbolt™ 5 offers 64 Gbps of PCIe bandwidth at two times the transfer speed of the Thunderbolt™ 4. Add in the ability to connect up to 3 4k displays @ 144Hz, and you’ve got a powerful connection that can handle your most demanding tasks and entertainment.

But one of the exciting features in the new Thunderbolt™ 5 is Bandwidth Boost - a technology that allows you to now reach 120 Gbps of data transfer bandwidth when necessary. How does Bandwidth Boost work - and is it worth investing in for your environment?

Why Data Transfer Speeds Matters

Every device we use requires the ability to move data from one point to another. Like pipes within our homes, when we turn the tap on, more water can flow through larger pipes.

If the pipe is too small - or can’t keep up with the demand - then you’ll experience a performance bottleneck. The same principle applies to data communication between computers and accessories.

In particular, Thunderbolt™ enables high-speed data transfer rates, making it an ideal choice for professionals who need to quickly move large amounts of data. Thunderbolt™ 5 doubles the speeds of Thunderbolt™ 4 and Thunderbolt™ 3, from 40 Gbps to an impressive 80 Gbps of data transfer.

Sometimes, even more bandwidth is necessary – such as video editing or 3D rendering. This is where Thunderbolt™ 5 really excels, kicking into Bandwidth Boost to offer up to 120 Gbps of data transfer rate. This makes it the fastest serial data protocol available today, providing workflows that are both quick and reliable.

Bandwidth Boost

Thunderbolt™ 5 comes with a new feature known as Bandwidth Boost, which kicks in when there's a need for a lot of video bandwidth.

Typically, Thunderbolt™ 5 gives you a two-way bandwidth of 80 Gbps. But Bandwidth Boost can push the transmit speed up to 120 Gbps when needed. This means you get up to three times more video bandwidth compared to Thunderbolt™ 4 and 50% more than what DisplayPort 2.1 (UHBR20) provides.

The magic behind Bandwidth Boost is the asymmetry mode found in the USB4® v2 specification. In typical situations, when the transmitting and receiving needs are balanced, users get an excellent 80 Gbps bandwidth.

But when there’s a high demand for display traffic, Bandwidth Boost jumps in, reallocating the bandwidth - giving a hefty 120 Gbps for transmitting while keeping 40 Gbps for receiving, as shown again in Figure 4.

This feature is a big deal for anyone wanting to hook up multiple high-definition monitors without losing bandwidth for other data needs. With Bandwidth Boost, Thunderbolt™ 5 turns the USB-C® connector into a powerhouse for display connectivity.

When Would Bandwidth Boost Be Necessary?

As you can imagine, 120 Gbps can seem like more than you’d need for most basic tasks. However, there are times when having the capability to kick up your transmission speed can be useful.

man presenting to small group in a glass conference room.

Multi-Monitor Setups

If you’re working with multiple high-definition monitors, Bandwidth Boost ensures you get the resolutions you want without compromising on other data transmission needs.

High-Definition Gaming

For gamers, every frame counts. Bandwidth Boost allows for higher refresh rates and better resolutions, ensuring a smoother gaming experience.

Content Creation

When working on high-resolution video editing or 3D rendering, Bandwidth Boost provides the extra bandwidth needed for real-time previews and faster rendering times.

Live Streaming

Live streamers can benefit from Bandwidth Boost when streaming high-definition content while simultaneously managing other data-intensive tasks.

Professional Workstations

In professional settings where high-quality visuals are critical, Bandwidth Boost can provide the necessary bandwidth to handle complex graphical tasks without a hitch.

Bandwidth Boost & PAM-3

So how does Bandwidth Boost kick in and allow for that big of an increase in power? The technology underlying this new feature is the incorporation of PAM-3 (Pulse Amplitude Modulation with 3 levels) signaling technology, a departure from the erstwhile PAM-2 signaling used in Thunderbolt™ 4​​.

PAM-3 technology facilitates three signal levels (-1, 0, +1) during data transmission, unlike the binary levels (0,1) employed in PAM-2 technology. This increment in signal levels enables the transmission of more data per signal, significantly enhancing the data transfer rate​.

This means that Thunderbolt™ 5 can transmit 1.5 bits per clock cycle (3 bits per two cycles), much higher than the original one bit per cycle of the Thunderbolt™ 4's PAM-2. To do this, PAM-3 enlarges the “eyes,” a term in digital communications depicting the clarity or distinction of signal levels. Enlarged “eyes” translate to reduced signal errors, expediting the data transfer rates. This is instrumental in realizing the heightened bandwidth that Thunderbolt™ 5 offers​.

Thunderbolt™ 5's Bandwidth Boost can be actualized with current printed circuit boards, connectors, and passive cables up to 1 meter, which previously supported up to 40 Gbps.

man working on a large computer with graphics.

Should You Consider Thunderbolt™ 5?

For any user or product requiring the utmost performance for data transfers, Thunderbolt™ 5 is worth considering. Utilizing the higher bandwidth of Thunderbolt™ 5 will likely drive faster connections to displays and storage devices while also allowing users to daisy-chain multiple devices together without sacrificing performance.

With backward compatibility with older Thunderbolt™ port devices, a single cable gives you everything you need in one package. And at Kensington, we are excited to provide the latest Thunderbolt™ ports, docks, cables, and more to help you get the most out of Thunderbolt™ 5.

Kensington products are designed to meet the highest standards of performance, reliability, and safety so that you can be sure your devices stay connected when needed! The Thunderbolt™ 5 should be available on the market in early 2024 - so stay tuned for more updates as they become available.

Explore Kensington's Thunderbolt™ Solutions and maximize your productivity.