Not long ago, Thunderbolt 3 was the latest and greatest technology because of its ability to combine Thunderbolt, USB, DisplayPort, Ethernet and power via a single USB-C connector.

Now, Thunderbolt 4 is here — with all of the previous benefits of Thunderbolt 3, plus the ability to send LAN signals between devices. One look at a typical workstation in nearly any working environment is enough to explain the allure of this technology. Where there is typically a messy tangle of cables to operate a monitor and peripherals, there can instead be one cord doing just about everything.

Besides decluttering workstations, Thunderbolt 4 is also cheaper than other connection technologies and supports desktop IT demands, such as greater data transfer speeds — eight times faster than conventional USB 3.0 cables. Thunderbolt 4 monitors, such as Samsung’s S80TB, have everything in one bundle.

A monitor is, by nature, the center of attention and activity at any desk — and with a Thunderbolt 4 port, it’s also the command center.

What is Thunderbolt 4?

“Thunderbolt” and “USB-C” are sometimes used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion, because they are not the same.

USB-C refers to the physical port used for connecting and powering devices. That port is the product of an industry-developed standard, USB 3.1, intended to streamline the many cables typically found at a workstation into a single cable that does all the work, while also improving performance.

Thunderbolt 4, meanwhile, is a new and powerful connectivity standard that uses both USB-C ports and that USB 3.1 standard. So while a Thunderbolt 4 connector and cable uses USB 3.1, a USB-C connector isn’t necessarily Thunderbolt 4.

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A true USB-C device, like one using Thunderbolt 4, has a wide range of capabilities that make computing simpler and faster for business users and IT administrators. But other devices and cables that use USB-C may do nothing more than connect, as older versions of USB have done for many years.

You’ll know a cable is Thunderbolt 4 if there’s a lightning bolt icon on the connector tip. A standard USB-C cable will just have the familiar three-pronged USB logo.

Thunderbolt 4 takes USB 3.1 and optimizes its potential. It has all the USB-C single connector benefits, plus blazing fast data transfers — 40GB/s — on the same cable, while doing other work.

Using Thunderbolt 4 means:

  • Charging with up to 90W power delivery
  • Data transfers 8 times faster than USB 3.0 (you could transfer a 4K movie in less than 30 seconds)
  • Sending a LAN signal by connecting the LAN cable to a monitor
  • 4 times more video bandwidth than HDMI
  • Backups of entire music archives in a few minutes

Thunderbolt 3 vs. Thunderbolt 4

Thunderbolt 4 is the next generation in connectivity. Here’s how it differs from its predecessor:

Screen expansion: Thunderbolt 4 can support 4K on dual monitors and 8K on a single monitor. By comparison, Thunderbolt 3 can also support 4K on dual monitors, but only 5K on a single monitor.

Data transfer: With even faster transfer speeds, Thunderbolt 4 supports a PCIe data transfer speed of up to 32Gbps, double the data transfer speed of Thunderbolt 3 monitors (16Gbps PCIe).

Sleep mode: A new feature on Thunderbolt 4 allows users to wake up their laptop with an external keyboard or mouse. As long as the peripheral devices are connected via the Thunderbolt 4 port, it’s simple to wake up the screen and jump back into work.

The benefits of Thunderbolt 4

One connection from a laptop or desktop PC to a Thunderbolt 4-ready monitor enables full office productivity. Power, data and display transmissions all happen via that single cable, and all peripherals and devices are connected, too.

Connecting a Thunderbolt 4 cable from PC to monitor provides a high-speed, 8K-ready display signal and supports multiple peripherals. Thunderbolt 4 is also bidirectional: while the cable is sending a signal and commands to the screen, the screen can send back power to charge the laptop.

Some monitors that support Thunderbolt 4 have more than one USB-C connector at the rear, so they can connect to a PC while the second port does something else, like daisy chaining the signal to a second screen. The monitor can also become a USB hub, with conventional USB ports that connect peripherals like a mouse and external keyboard.

A fully equipped Thunderbolt 4 monitor largely eliminates the need for a docking station at a work desk — which is great for large businesses, as a single docking station can cost up to $200. Docking stations are peripheral devices with software drivers and firmware, so they sometimes need updating and troubleshooting. USB-C reduces connections and, therefore, their potential to loosen, break or go missing.

One of the simplest attractions of using USB-C connectors is the reversible oval connector, which has no top or bottom. There’s no more inadvertently bending or breaking parts because they don’t fit, which means lower replacement costs and productivity loss.

Taking full advantage of Thunderbolt ports

The USB-C standard is relatively new, and so is Thunderbolt 4. It’s important for businesses and individuals upgrading their monitors to understand the difference between USB-C and Thunderbolt 4 so they don’t accidentally buy something that looks like it supports Thunderbolt 4 but really doesn’t.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Cables: A Thunderbolt 4 cable is different from a USB-C cable. Their connectors are the same, but even a genuine USB-C cable that’s fully USB 3.1-compatible will have slower data transfer speeds than Thunderbolt 4. Look for the lightning bolt on the connector end, and buy from a familiar brand. A cheap offshore cable may have the lightning bolt but none of the capabilities.
  • PCs: It’s good for a laptop to have a USB-C port, but the port doesn’t guarantee the laptop supports all of the USB-C standard’s capabilities. PC Magazine found that some manufacturers haven’t fully developed their graphics hardware to optimize USB-C connections. In other words, you may still need a VGA or HDMI cable to connect to certain displays. Also, not all laptops or desktop PCs will support power input through a USB-C port.
  • Monitors: As you sift through monitor options, evaluate USB-C power delivery support, which lets a user connect one USB-C cable from their laptop to the monitor, support multiple peripherals and simultaneously charge their laptop. This added functionality gives employees peace of mind during the workday, since they won’t need to scramble for a charging cord.

Function meets form

Thunderbolt 4 is still emerging, so there are only a few options on the market. Samsung offers a widescreen display that includes Thunderbolt 4’s speed and core functionality, but in an ergonomic and visually appealing form. The S80TB, part of Samsung’s latest ViewFinity series, features two Thunderbolt 4 ports. Users can easily expand their screen by connecting compatible monitors for a dual ultra-high-definition (UHD) setup, all while charging their devices with a single cable.

For a curved monitor option, the CJ791 34-inch monitor is tailored to users who need a big canvas to work on and enough power to easily work on one or multiple demanding tasks at once. Big desktop screens aren’t a new idea, but the CJ791 uses Quantom Dot LED (QLED) technology to produce brilliant, realistic detail across the entire color spectrum.

Ready to declutter your workspace? Explore Samsung’s line of Thunderbolt 4-enabled computer monitors. And calculate the total cost of ownership of upgrading your business’s monitors with five easy questions in this free assessment.

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Dave Haynes

Dave Haynes is a well-known veteran in the digital signage industry. He consults to some of the world’s largest brands on their digital signage strategy and technical needs, but also spends time mentoring start-ups. A former daily newspaper journalist, Haynes has for the past decade written a highly-respected blog about digital signage, Sixteen:Nine. Follow Dave on twitter @sixteennine

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