All you need to know about Thunderbolt 4 ports

Connecting the right hardware to your system can really improve your gaming set-up. The great thing is it’s pretty easy to do. Whether you need to connect a gaming monitor to a video device for live streaming or a keyboard and mouse, then Thunderbolt 4 is the perfect thing for you. But what exactly is it?  

Thunderbolt technology is a cable connection interface developed over the last ten years by Intel. It has been designed so that connecting devices is much easier and it means that other ports are freed up for additional use. It’s a no frills, no fuss way to connect your devices.

Here are three key features of Thunderbolt technology:

• Thunderbolt ports provide high bandwidth for connecting high-speed devices.

• Thunderbolt cables help to ensure a quality connection between the device and a PC.

• Thunderbolt accessories mean it is easy to expand the capabilities of your PC with docking options and external devices, making your PC the centre of communications.

What are the main benefits of Thunderbolt 4?

Yes, all ports could be said to fulfil a similar role, but Thunderbolt 4 ports have several advantages. Let’s take a look at them:

• Flexibility

Whilst some ports transfer your data from your devices to your PC, there are also ports which actually power your devices. There are also others which transfer video signals from your PC to an external monitor. A Thunderbolt 4 can do all three of the above things easily. And even better – it can do all of them at the same time!

• Bandwidth

Thunderbolt 4 ports have a 40Gbps (gigabits per second) bidirectional bandwidth. What on earth does that mean? It means you can move data to and from external storage really quickly, and up to five Thunderbolt devices can be connected for varying configurations, and all are powered by one port.

In July 2020, Intel announces the Thunderbolt 4 controller 8000 series. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

• Versatile connectivity

Thunderbolt 4 ports are compatible with most other connections. This includes all previous versions of Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort and PCle. standard USB-Thunderbolt ports fit standard USB-C type connectors

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What exactly can you connect?

You can connect, docks, displays, storage, video capture devices and all Thunderbolt 3 devices and cables. You’ll need an adaptor if you want to connect older Thunderbolt devices.

• External monitors

One Thunderbolt 4 port can connect up to two 4K 60hz DisplayPort or HDMI monitors through a compatible dock or an adapter. Pretty impressive!

• Storage

To expand the storage capacity of your system, simply connect a high-speed external Thunderbolt SSD. What does this give you? It gives you speeds on a par with internal drives!

• Other devices

You can connect USB devices such as keyboards and mice, controllers and headsets for gaming. You can also add video capture devices for live-streaming gaming by adding a PCI Express (Pcle) expansion chassis.

• Networking

For example: You can connect to a high-speed 10 Gigabit Ethernet network via an adapter or use a Thunderbolt cable to connect two computers over a peer-to-peer network. This translates to: You can transfer large volumes of data from one PC to another. This is a huge help when upgrading to a new system.

• Charging

If you’re looking to charge devices such as your mobile or notebook quickly, then this is for you. (As long as they require less than 100W).

What’s new with Thunderbolt 4?

What’s the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4? Let’s go through the differences!

• Speed

Thunderbolt 4 ports have the same high-speed 40Gbps bandwidth as Thunderbolt 3. However, minimum PCIe data requirements have increased from 16Gbps to 32Gbps. This means that high-speed external PCIe devices like storage and external graphics could see significant increases in transfer rates and performance.

• Security

VT-d based DMA protection helps prevent security threats by remapping requests from external devices. It also does the appropriate checks for proper permissions, so you get extra security…

• Wake from sleep

This is a brand-new feature which allows your PC to be brought out of hibernation with peripherals which are connected through a dock. Very convenient.

What are the benefits of gaming with Thunderbolt 4?

Many people use Thunderbolt 4 just for the various benefits it brings to their gaming. Let’s take a look at them:

• Docking

A multiport Thunderbolt 4 dock can connect via a Thunderbolt 4 cable to a single Thunderbolt 4 port on your PC. But what are the benefits of docking?

• Expand your ports

A Thunderbolt 4 dock opens up a whole new world. For example, you can connect a gaming keyboard, a wired gaming mouse, external monitor, and SSD to a dock, and then to a PC with a single Thunderbolt 4 cable. The vast majority of Thunderbolt 4 docks increase the number of Thunderbolt 4 ports available and usually feature additional ports for USB 3.0 Type-A, DisplayPort, and audio.

• Connect high-performance devices

With a bandwidth of 40Gbps, Thunderbolt 4 ports make it easy to connect devices such as gaming monitors and high-speed SSDs. More importantly, it enables you to use them at the speeds they were intended without overloading the port’s capacity. And, as the bandwidth is bi-directional, the outgoing video signal won’t conflict with incoming data from peripherals or a storage drive. These are real plus points.

• Keep those cables under control

Using a dock will keep all of your workspace organised and tidy. All of your peripherals will be plugged into a central hub, hidden away rather than directly into your PC, creating a spaghetti junction of wires. One cable will go from the dock to your PC, so everything else will be out of the way. This also means that when you want to relocate with your laptop, you only have disconnect one cable instead of three or four!

• External Upgrades

Thunderbolt 4 ports provide external access to the high-speed PCIe bus, which means that components which use PCIe can be connected without having to install them internally.

• External SSD

You can run games from an external NVMe SSD, such as the Samsung Portable SSD X5 and the built-in drive in the Seagate FireCuda Gaming Dock. Because NVMe storage uses PCIe instead of the older SATA connectors used by SATA SSDs and traditional HDDs, read/write speeds are fast enough for gaming from an external storage device. This allows games to be transferred to an external drive, and then they can be played on any systems which support Thunderbolt 4.

• Video capture devices

Another thing you can do is attach an external capture device for streaming. Gameplay can be captured in full 4K at 60Hz or in 1080p at 240Hz. If you have a dedicated unit for capturing gameplay, then your system resources are freed up. This gives you the option to then play games at higher settings while retaining clear video quality.

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• External Graphics

If you want to boost the graphical performance of your laptop of lightweight PC then you can connect an external GPU. This allows you to play more games at higher settings.

Cable stuff

USB cables having gone through so many revisions that finding the right cable can be really confusing. USB 2.0? USB 3.2 5Gbps? USB 3.2 10Gbps? USB 3/DP? A single Thunderbolt 4 cable perfectly does the job of all of them. How easy is that? And, all Thunderbolt 4 connectors are marked with the Thunderbolt symbol and the number 4, so you know exactly what you’re getting. Thunderbolt 4 cables provide top transfer speeds at up to 2 metres in length, which is perfect for putting together a gaming laptop setup.

More connection

A Thunderbolt dock with multiple Thunderbolt ports allows you to connect all your gaming accessories and a high-speed monitor, while keeping your gaming space clutter-free at the same time. Look for a PC which uses Thunderbolt 4 ports to get the most out of your devices. You can also store games with large file sizes and play them at fast speeds using Thunderbolt SSD’s and Thunderbolt docks with integrated storage.

Desktop or laptop?

It doesn’t matter whether you go for a laptop or a desktop for your next gaming setup – Thunderbolt 4 technology provides a wide range of options to deliver an outstanding and improved experience.

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