Next Generation USB4 Is Coming Soon And It Might Just Be What We Need

USB4 might have the potential to sweep away the need for other serial ports.
Jessica Miley

USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has announced USB4 will be launched later this year. The update will build on and complement the existing USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 architectures.

The next generation USB doubles the bandwidth of USB up to 40 Gbps and enables multiple simultaneous data and display protocols. “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.

Double or nothing 

“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.” The USB4 isn’t actually totally new news though.

Similar specifications are offered by the Thunderbolt 3 specification, which actually hit markets in 2015. Intel announced it would make that advanced tech available to other chip makers in 2017, letting anyone manufacture the technology royalty free. USB4 is the result of that promise.

USB4 opens the market

USB4 will be able to deliver up to 100W of power, and has enough data throughput for the use of external graphics cards. It can also power two 4K displays, or a single 5K display.

Using cables that are capable of 40 Gbps speeds is essential to enjoy the standard’s full benefits. But older Thunderbolt 3 cables and accessories should also work with the new port.

USB4 is essentially an old technology that is now open sourced. That’s good news for consumers as it will definitely become more widespread and cheaper. USB-IF has hopes to simplify the whole USB ecosystem, but may run into trouble as USB is an open standard.

USB regulation a distant dream 

Implementation of any new rules would be totally optional though, however perhaps there could be some uptake if companies saw a benefit in complying and getting their devices certified by the USB-IF.

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Mandatory regulations on manufacturing partners would fail due to the sheer scale of the USB market. For the average consumer, a USB port and lead are pretty standard things, they fit where they need to and do the job required.

But the world of USB is very complex and means a lot in the overall design and cost of hardware. One example is that even though the new USB4 will integrate the existing Thunderbolt 3’s features the two will continue to coexist side by side.

USB4 will be open while Thunderbolt 3 requires manufacturers to be certified to use it. Intel will also assist these certified manufacturers will more reference designs and technical support.

The full specification of USB4 will come out later this year. At that time we’ll get a full picture of what the future of USB looks like and just how confused or sane we can be about all the naming conventions and abilities. The actual manufacturing of USB4 devices aren't likely to appear for another 18 months after the specifications are released.

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