USB is still the industry standard for transferring data and power between devices over a cable, even if the physical ports keep changing. USB4 Version 2.0 has now been announced, and it’s another significant boost for USB devices.
The USB Promoter Group, a consortium of companies including Apple, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and others, announced the “pending release of the USB4 Version 2.0 specification.” The update won’t be finalized sometime before November, so don’t expect to see PCs and other devices with USB4 Version 2.0 before the end of the year.
Data speeds are the main improvement this time around, just like with most USB updates. The maximum speed is now 80 Gbps, thanks to a “new physical layer architecture,” which is expected to be compatible with 40 Gbps existing cables. That’s faster than Thunderbolt, which maxes out at 40 Gbps across both Thunderbolt 3 (which USB4 is based on) and Thunderbolt 4. That could lead to improved external GPUs and other hardware that requires an ultra-fast data connection.
The new standard, at least on paper, may provide a speed boost with older hardware as well. Devices using USB 3.2 can only reach 20 Gbps at the most, but data tunneling updates in USB4 Version 2 will boost that to higher (unspecified) speeds. USB4 Version 2 also supports the “latest versions of the DisplayPort and PCIe specifications,” and is fully backwards compatible with older USB standards and Thunderbolt 3.
Unfortunately, the USB Promoter Group is still using confusing names for new standards. It’s not quite as ridiculous as previous updates, where older standards were retroactively renamed (e.g. USB 3.0 became USB 3.1 Gen 1, then USB 3.2 Gen 1), but there’s no reason why “USB4 Version 2.0” couldn’t have been “USB 5.” The USB Group hasn’t finalized branding and marketing guidelines for certified 80 Gbps products and cables.
Even though most devices need 80 Gbps data speeds right now (or 40 Gbps, for that matter), it’s great to see USB become more future-proof. Intel is also working on Thunderbolt 5, which leaks indicate will also offer 80 Gbps speeds with a similar physical layer (PHY) connection. It’s possible Intel is waiting for USB4 Version 2.0 to be finalized before revealing Thunderbolt 5, so the two can be fully compatible.
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