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What is the Difference Between Thunderbolt 3 and 4?

  • 3 min read

When shopping for a USB-C hub or docking station, you've almost certainly come across Thunderbolt technology. You might even already own a product that uses Thunderbolt.

But when you look at the Thunderbolt port, it just looks like a standard USB-C port.

So what's the difference? And what's the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and 4?

Read on to find out the answers...

1. What is Thunderbolt?

Thunderbolt's original intention was to replace and combine a number of pre-existing ports. Thunderbolt can transmit video and audio, transfer files, connect to monitors, storage devices, and it can even charge.

Thunderbolt technology was created back in 2010, and since then the maximum transfer speed has increased from 10 Gbps to 40 Gbps.

For more than a decade, Thunderbolt technology has been part of the Apple device ecosystem, and the USB-C port on Apple devices generally supports Thunderbolt technology. Thunderbolt technology is currently in its 4th generation and can be used on devices with Thunder Lake CPUs and Intel's EVO platform.

 

At present, Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 are the most commonly used versions of Thunderbolt technology.

2. What is the difference between Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4?

  • Screen Expansion: Thunderbolt 4 supports 4K to dual monitors or 8K to a single monitor, while Thunderbolt 3 supports 4K to dual monitors or 5K to a single monitor.

  • Charging: Thunderbolt 4 can provide charging power up to 100W from a single port.

  • Data Transfer: Thunderbolt 3 has a PCIe data transfer speed of 16 Gbps, while Thunderbolt 4 supoorts a PCIe data transfer speed of 32 Gbps.

  • Sleep Mode: Thunderbolt 4 lets users wake up their laptop using an external keyboard or mouse that's connected via the Thunderbolt 4 port.

  • Security: Thunderbolt 4 provides Direct Memory Access (DMA) protection. It is based on Intel VT-d's DMA* protection, which can physically prevent DMA attacks. Although this level of protection is probably overkill for ordinary users, it can prevent malicious devices from using DMA to steal information from enterprises and users with extremely high data confidentiality requirements.

*DMA attack: In a Direct Memory Access attack, PCIe devices can directly access the data in a devices memory without going through the CPU. In short, if a malicious PCIe device accesses the computer, then even an encrypted computer can be easily cracked.


How Thunderbolt 4 is different than other solutions
Based on minimum solution requirements so people know what they are getting
Thunderbolt™ 4
Thunderbolt™ 3
USB4
USB3/DP
Unrivaled Simplicity
One universal computer port
☑️
☑️
Universal 40Gb/s cables up to 2 meters in length
☑️
Accessories with four Thunderbolt ports
☑️
Maximum Performance
Minimum PC speed requirements
40Gb/s
40Gb/s
20Gb/s
10Gb/s
Minimum PC video requirements
Two 4K displays
One 4K display
One display
(No minimum)
One display
(No minimum)
Minimum PC data requirements
PCIe 32 Gb/s USB 3.2 - 10Gb/s
PCIe 16 Gb/s USB 3.2 - 10Gb/s
USB 3.2 - 10Gb/s
USB 3.2 - 5Gb/s
Required PC charging on at least one computer port *
☑️
Required PC wake from sleep when computer is connected to a Thunderbolt dock
☑️
Minimum PC port power for accessories
15W
15W
7.5W
4.5W
Thunderbolt networking
☑️
☑️
Reliable Connectivity
Mandatory certification for all shipping computers, accessories, and cables
☑️
☑️
Cable testing and cable quality audits for Thunderbolt cable manufacturers
☑️
☑️
Required Intel VT-d based DMA protection
☑️
USB4 Specification
Compatible
Compatible
Compatible
Compatible
*For thin and light notebooks that require less than 100W to charge


In short, Thunderbolt 4 is the "stricter version" of Thunderbolt3. The Thunderbolt4 interface mainly improves compatibility, reliability, and security, and improves connection capability. It can be said to be a supplement to the Thunderbolt3 interface.

3. Recommended USB-C hubs or docking stations with Thunderbolt

At the moment, Anker has launched a single Thunderbolt 3 docking station and two Thunderbolt 4 docking stations.

Of these, our flagship Anker Apex Thunderbolt 4 docking station has the highest specs. It comes with 12 ports, can connect to up to 3 screens, supports 8K to a single screen, can charge up to 120W, and can transfer data at up to 40 Gbps.

So if you're looking to get the most out of your laptop, then we'd definitely recommend taking a closer look at Anker Apex.