Up to three times the bandwidth of Thunderbolt 4. Support for multiple 8K displays, as well as gaming monitors running at up to 540Hz. 240 watts of charging power. These aren't just the highlights of my PC connectivity dreams: They're key features of Thunderbolt 5, Intel's latest stab at creating the ultimate PC cable. And this time, the chip maker may actually succeed.
When Thunderbolt 4 dropped in 2020, it mostly seemed like a refined version of Thunderbolt 3. It had the same maximum bandwidth of 40 gigabits per second, but its increased efficiency allowed Intel to standardize support for multiple 4K screens, as well as double storage device speeds. At the very least, Intel required at least one Thunderbolt 4 to support USB-C charging.
Thunderbolt 5, on the other hand, is a major leap forward. It's built on the USB4 v2 spec, which offers the same speed improvements, but Intel is making key features a requirement. That includes a baseline speed of 80 Gbps and support for 120 Gbps using bandwidth boosting (USB4 requires 20 Gbps); support for dual 6K screens (Thunderbolt 4 requires dual 4K monitors); and a minimum of 140 watt charging and a more powerful 240W mode.
Since it was originally known as Light Peak, Intel's goal with Thunderbolt was to develop a single cable that could handle all of your data and power needs. This latest version should satisfy even more demanding PC users. With up to 240W of charging, for example, some gaming laptops and workstations wouldn't need a separate power port. That means fewer cables to carry, as well as the assurance that you could always borrow someone else's USB-C cable and adapter to juice up.
As Intel previously announced, Thunderbolt 5 will also support the DisplayPort 2.1 and PCI Express Gen 4 standards. The latter should be particularly helpful with external GPUs, which have been significantly bandwidth limited until now. We can also expect that additional bandwidth to support new accessories like external AI accelerator, as well as far faster external storage.
Intel says that Thunderbolt 5 accessories and PCs will be available in 2024. It'd be nice to have a clearer time frame, but Intel may be trying to avoid scaring off people from buying new systems this year.