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September 19, 2023

Thunderbolt 5 Arrives Officially

Intel has formally announced a new version of its Thunderbolt interface – Thunderbolt 5. Intel previewed the specification in October 2022 and we wrote about it at the time. When the announcement was made, Intel said that it expected to see products with the interface in the market by the end of 2023 although it now suggests 2024 will be the start. The recent announcement confirmed the headline specifications that had been previewed. 

  • A doubling of the core directional bandwidth to 80Gbps 
  • A new mode to allow a 3:1 split of bandwidth (output vs input) to give up to 120GHz for display support of up to two 8K displays (from dual 4K displays in Thunderbolt 4). Cables can be up to 2 metres in length. The interface can also support frame rates up to 540Hz.
  • Support for up to 240W of charging (up from 100W in Thunderbolt 4).
  • Compatibility with Thunderbolt 3 & 4 and USB 3 and 4

Like Thunderbolt 4, Version 5 is supported using the USB Type-C connector and using PAM-3 encoding (which we discussed in our previous article).

The new interface is expected to be introduced by PC makers and also by Apple, although some Apple specialists believe it may take some time to be implemented by Apple. 

Display Support

Although the interface is rated as supporting dual 8K displays, that is based on not using DisplayStream Compression (DSC). DSC can reduce the bandwidth needed considerably. Of course, having the interface is not, on its own, enough to support more multiple displays, the system also has to work correctly.

Our Experience with Thunderbolt

Your editor has been a fan of Thunderbolt for some time. Initially, he used it with a Lenovo ThinkPad PC and added a Thunderbolt 3 dock. That has worked very well with other PCs and also with Mac devices. My current system has an M1 Mac Mini connected to a 4K display and a host of peripherals using the Thunderbolt 3 interface. I also have peripherals including a bus-powered Thunderbolt audio interface which again worked well with PCs and the Mac. It’s great when a standard is properly supported – and it helps that Thunderbolt products have to be certified.

Thunderbolt was initially an Intel proprietary interface but was released by the firm in 2017 as a royalty-free system via the USB-IF. 

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