Storage speeds will also jump from 16 Gb/s to 32, making Thunderbolt 4 a godsend for video editors or anyone else moving gigantic files around. Intel is also bumping up security by requiring its VT-d virtualization technology that protects against Direct Memory Access, or DMA, attacks. That includes the recent Thunderspy vulnerability, a complex hack that could allow someone to steal your data, even if your system was locked and had encrypted storage. Every major OS already supports VT-d DMA protection as of last year, but since that security tech is fairly recent, Intel tells us it couldn’t require it when Thunderbolt 3 launched.
So what does all of this mean for you? Probably not much if you’re just browsing the web and not really pushing your PC much. But if you’re the sort of user who regularly connects your notebook to multiple screens, or juggles vast amounts of data, Thunderbolt 4 could make your life a lot easier. Intel is debuting the technology this fall alongside its Tiger Lake chips, which are expected to be powerful in their own right.
You can also look forward to a few other nice bonuses with Thunderbolt 4: Intel is requiring USB-C charging on at least one port, as well as the ability to wake up your PC when it’s connected to a dock. Those accessories will also be able to support up to four Thunderbolt ports, which should make it easier to string together all sorts of gadgets to your desk-bound laptop.
Thunderbolt 4 also supports the upcoming USB-4 standard, which helps to future-proof it a bit. Confusingly enough, USB-4 shares most of the features of Thunderbolt 3 — and don’t forget, they all rely on the same USB-C port. If you’re not paying close attention to the specs of your next PC, it may also be tough to tell if it supports Thunderbolt 4 or 3. You’ll likely only see the small lightning logo on most PCs, with no visible version number, according to Intel.
It’s a shame that after spending years developing an intriguing new protocol, something that could genuinely help consumers, Intel may stumble a bit when it comes to communication. I know plenty of techies who still have trouble dealing with the different types of USB-C ports on their systems. Thunderbolt 4 may just well lead to more confusion.
Still, there’s a lot to look forward to, especially if you push your PC more than most. And maybe, these improvements will lead to more computer makers adopting Thunderbolt. Microsoft has infamously avoided the technology on its Surface machines, which are otherwise some of the best PCs you can buy today. Maybe one day, we’ll finally get a Thunderbolt-equipped version of a Surface tablet that can be powered by an external GPU.
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