Thunderbolt 5 release date, speed, features, compatibilityon September 12, 2023 at 16:00 Tech Advisor


Thunderbolt 5 is be integrated into new devices in 2024 and deliver up to 3x speeds over Thunderbolt 4 with data-transfer rates of up to 120 gigabits per second (Gbps).

“Thunderbolt 5 has been designed to massively improve connectivity speed and bandwidth to ensure modern PC users can enjoy the highest-quality visuals and immersive experiences for years to come,” Intel officially announced Thunderbolt 5 on September 12, 2023.

While Thunderbolt 4 saw few significant improvements on Thunderbolt 3—it was created mainly to force PC makers to stick to more technical standards than they had on Thunderbolt 3—Thunderbolt 5 sees some massive bandwidth enhancements.


Thunderbolt 5 will deliver 80Gbps of bi-directional bandwidth, and with Bandwidth Boost it will provide up to 120Gbps for displays.

Thunderbolt 5 can supply 240W of charging power downstream to the PC or Mac. Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro currently supports 240W PD 3.1 but not via its Thunderbolt 4 ports that are rated PD 3.0 and limited to 100W. A Thunderbolt 5 MacBook would hugely increase its charging power.

Thunderbolt 5 also supports DisplayPort 2.1—compared to version 1.4 HBR3 supported in today’s Thunderbolt. DisplayPort 2.1 supports a max 10K resolution (10240-×-4320 at 60Hz) on a single display, compared to the 8K resolution supported by DisplayPort 1.4. It also includes improved version of Display Stream Compression (DSC 1.2a) that improves bandwidth management.

Thunderbolt 5 is expected to be released in conjunction with the similar but not identical next version of USB4—known at the moment as USB4 V2 but surely to keep speed as USB5.


Intel says that the Thunderbolt 5 speed increase is required to meet “the growing needs of content creators and gamers,” so it isn’t really for mortal Office or Chrome jockeys.


Such blistering speeds will enable super-resolution displays, low-latency visuals for immersive gaming, and the backup or transfer of huge video and data files. Thunderbolt 5 should support much higher refresh rates for 4K and 8K monitors.




What will the next-generation Thunderbolt be called?

The “next generation of Thunderbolt” has now been given the official name of Thunderbolt 5 and we’d expect a new version of USB4 to follow suit as USB5.

While Thunderbolt 4 was more of a specification iteration rather than a significant technical enhancement on Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 5 justifies the new number.

Thunderbolt’s naming convention seems to be ordered and predictable compared to the previous holy mess of USB numbering (basically everything is called version 3.1 or 3.2).

In October 2022, Intel demonstrated an early prototype of its next-generation Thunderbolt in action with the USB Implementers Forum’s (USB-IF) release of the USB4 v2 specification. 

On September 12, 2023 Intel officially announced Thunderbolt 5.


When will Thunderbolt 5 be released?

In October 2022, Jason Ziller, general manager of the Client Connectivity Division at Intel, described the next generation of Thunderbolt as in the “early phases of development”.

In September 2023 Intel fomally stated; “Computers and accessories based on Intel’s Thunderbolt 5 controller, code-named Barlow Ridge, are expected to be available starting in 2024.”

It will appear with the next generation of Intel processors in 2024—and inside premium Intel and Apple Silicon computers.

As with any new technology, manufacturers will take time to catch up, but once it’s in the newest computers, we can expect Thunderbolt 5 accessories such as Thunderbolt docking stations and external SSDs. While backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 4, to make full use of Thunderbolt 5, your devices will need to be certified to support it.


How fast is Thunderbolt 5?

Intel has stated that this next-generation Thunderbolt will deliver 80Gbps (gigabits per second) of bi-directional bandwidth (40Gbps + 40Gbps) and, when across three lanes at 40Gbps each, would enable up to 120Gbps for the best video-intensive display experience.

Thunderbolt 5’s new speeds are therefore up to three times that of Thunderbolt 4.

This is an especially significant increase, given that Thunderbolt 4 didn’t even nudge up bandwidth when it succeeded Thunderbolt 3 in 2020. Thunderbolt 4 was more about setting common standards than speed increases.

See also: Thunderbolt 4 vs Thunderbolt 3 vs USB-C

According to Intel’s Ziller, next Thunderbolt will automatically switch from 80Gbps operation to 120Gbps only when connected to a display requiring more than 80Gbps—for example with 8K HDR monitors or a 4K display at 240Hz.

A bandwidth-hungry display is “really the most important thing that’s going to have very high bandwidth needs that are only going in one direction,” said Ziller. Storage data transfer is typically bidirectional in nature.

Intel has previously mentioned using “80G PHY Technology”, which refers to the physical layer.

Getting more technical, the PHY is based on “a novel PAM-3 modulation technology”.

This is all about how the 0 and 1s are transmitted. Traditional NRZ encoding allows for a 0 or a 1 to be transmitted (that is, a single bit). A scheme that allows two bits to be transferred is called PAM-4 (Pulse Amplitude Modulation).

However, what Intel is working on is “PAM-3”, which is a technology where the data line can carry either a -1, a 0, or a +1. PAM-3 signal encoding uses three bits of data per clock cycle instead of two bits.

80-120Gbps is pretty special when you consider that the average data speed of USB-C is 5Gbps and a million miles from USB 2.0’s 480Mbps.


Will PCI Express get faster with Thunderbolt 5?

The new connectivity standard will offer twice the PCI Express data throughput for faster storage and external graphics.   

Thunderbolt 5 will double PCIe data throughput from Thunderbolt 4’s 32Gbps to 64Gbps. This doubling matches TB4’s 2x increase over Thunderbolt 3’s 16Gbps.

Such an increase will push external SSDs to almost the speeds currently only seen with internal SSDs. It would help not just faster storage, such as moving giant amounts of data back and forth between an external SSD; it could also improve external graphics card (eGPU) performance.


What connector will Thunderbolt 5 use?

Thunderbolt 5 will use the same familiar, reversible Type-C connector as Thunderbolts 3 and 4, and plain old USB-C.

Intel has stated that “USB 80G is targeted to support the existing USB-C ecosystem”.

That stability and status quo is good news for everyone—users and device manufacturers alike.


Will Thunderbolt 5 be backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C?

Like their immediate predecessors, Thunderbolt 5 will maintain compatibility with previous versions of Thunderbolt and USB, says Intel—although the official statement is slightly cagey: “Thunderbolt 5 will be broadly compatible with previous versions of Thunderbolt and USB”. 

Passive Thunderbolt 4 cables up to one metre in length will support Thunderbolt 5.


Which version of DisplayPort will Thunderbolt 5 support?

Thunderbolt 5 will support the newly released VESA DisplayPort 2.1 for a superior display experience.   

Version 2.1 improves DisplayPort over USB Type-C (DisplayPort Alt Mode) and USB4 compatibility.

Manufacturers will have to meet the requirements for DisplayPort 2.1 to be certified for it.

VESA has said that DisplayPort 2.1 is “backward compatible with and supersedes the previous version of DisplayPort (DisplayPort 2.0)”.


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