Thunderbolt™ 3 vs. Thunderbolt™ 4 Technology: What’s the Difference?

Thunderbolt™ Technology Key Takeaways

  • The Thunderbolt™ 4 protocol doubles the minimum video and data requirements of Thunderbolt™ 3 technology.

  • The latest generation also supports accessories with up to four Thunderbolt™ ports and requires laptop charging1 of up to 100W on at least one computer port.

  • Thunderbolt™ 4 technology requires key features that were optional on Thunderbolt™ 3 products, including waking the PC from sleep with a connected accessory and Intel® VT-d-based DMA protection.

  • Thunderbolt™ 4 technology is backward compatible and can be paired with Thunderbolt™ 3 devices.

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Explore How Thunderbolt™ 4 Technology Delivers New Capabilities and Improvements Over the Previous-Generation Thunderbolt™ 3 Technology

Thunderbolt™ 4 technology advances the universal connectivity standard by doubling the minimum video and data requirements of Thunderbolt™ 3 technology and by expanding end-to-end solution capabilities.

What Is Thunderbolt™ Technology?

Developed by Intel, Thunderbolt™ technology is a powerful connectivity standard that delivers data, video signal, and laptop charging over a single connection. The versatility of Thunderbolt™ technology makes it a top choice among workers, gamers, and content creators who want to organize and enhance their productivity space with fewer cables.

The Differences Between Thunderbolt™ 3 and Thunderbolt™ 4 Technology

Thunderbolt™ 4 technology is the next generation of the Thunderbolt™ protocol, following Thunderbolt™ 3 technology. Both generations use the same USB-C connector type, but Thunderbolt™ 4 technology introduces higher minimum requirements and new capabilities for a best-in-class user experience.

 

Thunderbolt™ 4 Technology

Thunderbolt™ 3 Technology

Connector type

USB-C

USB-C

Total bandwidth

40 Gbps

40 Gbps

Minimum bandwidth available for data transfer

32 Gbps

16 Gbps

Display

Up to two 4K monitors
or one 8K monitor

One 4K monitor

Thunderbolt™ ports per accessory

Up to four ports

Up to two ports

Laptop charging

Up to 100W on at least one computer port

Supported, but not required

System wake from sleep from connected accessory

Required

Supported, but not required

Intel® VT-d-based direct memory access (DMA) protection

Required

Supported, but not required

USB4 specification

Compliant

Compatible

Required Support for Dual 4K Monitors or One 8K Monitor

Thunderbolt™ 4 technology requires support for dual 4K monitors or one 8K monitor vs. Thunderbolt™ 3 technology, which only requires support for one 4K monitor. Note that while Thunderbolt™ 3 protocol-enabled computers aren’t required to support dual 4K monitors, some can. As a best practice, review your device specs, or check with the manufacturer to find out what your device can support.

Figure 1. Thunderbolt™ 4 technology supports up to two 4K displays or one 8K display.

Higher Minimum Data Transfer Speed

Known for its high-speed data transfer rates, Thunderbolt™ technology is favored among gamers and creators for the ability to move massive files in a short amount of time. Thunderbolt™ 4 technology advances the standard even further by doubling Thunderbolt™ 3 technology’s minimum data transfer bandwidth from 16 Gbps to 32 Gbps. Both Thunderbolt™ 4 and Thunderbolt™ 3 technology offer up to 40 Gbps connections, but higher minimums provide the assurance that users are getting higher speeds with Thunderbolt™ 4 technology.

Figure 2. Both Thunderbolt™ 4 and Thunderbolt™ 3 technology offer up to 40 Gbps total bandwidth.

Charging Power

When connecting a laptop to a Thunderbolt™ technology-enabled dock, hub, or monitor, users can expect fast device charging, so your PC is ready to go mobile when you are. Thunderbolt™ 4 product certification requires at least one computer port that provides laptop charging1, unlike other USB-C ports that don’t guarantee system charging. Both Thunderbolt™ 4 and Thunderbolt™ 3 ports provide 15W power to all Thunderbolt™ accessories and can also be used to charge smartphones.

Figure 3. Rapidly charge laptops with up to 100W power transfer over a Thunderbolt™ 4 interface.

Wake from Sleep Mode

A connected keyboard or mouse input can wake a sleeping computer over a Thunderbolt™ 4 interface. For users who connect their laptops to a Thunderbolt™ technology-enabled dock or hub, this feature provides the convenience of quickly waking up a computer so they can get back to their work, game, or creation in seconds.

More Thunderbolt™ Ports

More ports mean more connected accessories and monitors. Thunderbolt™ 4 technology now supports up to four ports per accessory, compared to two ports with Thunderbolt™ 3 technology.

Backward Compatibility

Thunderbolt™ 4 technology is backward compatible with Thunderbolt™ 3 technology, and users can connect cross-generational computers and accessories interchangeably.

Enhanced Security

Memory isolation is a key security capability that helps protect computers from data loss and attacks like memory snooping. Thunderbolt™ 4 technology now requires Intel® VT-D-based direct memory access (DMA) protection or equivalent. (The Thunderbolt™ 3 protocol supported this capability, but the latest generation makes it a requirement.) DMA protection helps ensure that accessories connected through a Thunderbolt™ port can only access the data for their specific workloads by isolating data in memory.

To illustrate this point, imagine a wall of mailboxes. DMA protection helps ensure that only you have the key to your mailbox. Neighbors can’t take letters (data) from your mailbox, and vice versa.

USB4 Specification Compliant

Both Thunderbolt™ 4 and Thunderbolt™ 3 technologies are compatible with the USB4 specification, allowing users to use Thunderbolt™ 4 and Thunderbolt™ 3 products with USB4 ports.

Choosing Between Thunderbolt™ 3 and Thunderbolt™ 4 Products

Both generations of Thunderbolt™ technology offer a great experience for connecting and powering multiple devices. Many of the latest laptops feature Thunderbolt™ 4 ports, while the accessories market includes a wide variety of both Thunderbolt™ 4 and Thunderbolt™ 3 technology-based solutions. These laptops and accessories will work together smoothly.

Devices can exceed Thunderbolt™ technology’s minimum requirements, so it’s important to review your device specifications or check with the device manufacturer if you are looking for a specific feature or capability.

Shop Thunderbolt™ Products

Get Thunderbolt™ 4 technology on the latest computers for Windows, Mac, Linux, and Chrome OS. At least one Thunderbolt™ 4 port is required on all Intel® Evo™ laptops and all Intel vPro® computers powered by Intel® Core™ processors.

FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

No. Thunderbolt™ 4 technology is an advancement of the Thunderbolt™ protocol that offers key improvements and updated minimum requirements compared to the previous generation, Thunderbolt™ 3 technology. These additional requirements include the ability to support up to two 4K monitors or one 8K monitor, higher minimum PCIe bandwidth for faster data transfer speed, and Intel® VT-d-based DMA protection.

Yes. Users can connect both Thunderbolt™ 4 and Thunderbolt™ 3 devices, accessories, and cables interchangeably over the common USB-C connector type. Thunderbolt™ 4 devices work well with both Thunderbolt™ 3 and Thunderbolt™ 4 accessories, but we recommend using Thunderbolt™ 4 accessories with Thunderbolt™ 4 connectors in PCs for the best experience.2

Product and Performance Information

1

Laptop charging: For thin and light notebooks that require less than 100W to charge.

2

Thunderbolt is a trademark of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries. Thunderbolt and the Thunderbolt logo are trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries.