A new USB specification update, called USB4,  was announced Monday by the USB Promoter Group, bring compatibility with the Thunderbolt 3 specification, backward compatibility with earlier USB specifications and up to 40 Gbps bandwidth.

The new specification is said to compliment and build on the existing USB 3.2 and USB 2.0 architectures, allowing backward compatibility. The USB4 architecture is based on the Thunderbolt 3 protocol specification recently contributed by Intel.

The new specification effectively doubles the bandwidth of USB and enables multiple simultaneous data and display protocols. That means that consumers will be able to use existing USB-C cables but will need new 40 Gbps certified cables to leverage the full bandwidth of the new spec.

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The USB4 specification is expected to be published later this year, and could possibly make it into consumer devices next year.

According to the statement announcing the specification, “the new USB4 architecture defines a method to share a single high-speed link with multiple end device types dynamically that best serves the transfer of data by type and application.”

The promoter group said the USB Type-C connector has evolved into become the external display port of many host products, and that the USB4 specification “provides the host the ability to optimally scale allocations for display data flow.”

The promoter group includes such major companies as Apple, HP, Intel, and Microsoft. Over 50 companies are involved in reviewing the USB4 specification.

USB4 introduces a new underlying protocol, compatibility with existing USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3 hosts and devices; and allows scaling to the best mutual capability of the devices being connected.

“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. “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.”

Key characteristics of the USB4 solution include:

  • Two-lane operation using existing USB Type-C cables;
  • Up to 40 Gbps operation over 40 Gbps certified cables;
  • Multiple data and display protocols to efficiently share total available bandwidth over the bus;
  • Backward compatibility with USB 3.2, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt 3.

The promoter group said more than 50 companies are actively participating in the final stages of review of the draft specification.

“Coincident with the release of the USB4 specification, the release of an updated USB Type-C specification will be made to comprehend USB4 bus discovery, configuration and performance requirements,” the group added.

Branding and marketing guidelines will be established after the final specification is published.


By Greg Tarr


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