What Is USB4? How the New Interface Boosts Speeds, Supports Screens, and More

Just call it USB4 on the floor: 2021 will see a big wave of devices featuring a new USB standard that goes beyond the usual speed boosts. USB4, the newest version of USB, nixes the space (it’s not “USB 4″—more on that in a moment) and papers over some of the wooly confusion that is USB 3. Plus, beyond the new speeds, it adds new nuances to device compatibility and charging over the port.

Where does USB4 come from? In part, from earlier USB specs; in part, from another interface. USB4 leverages the Thunderbolt 3 protocol to deliver speeds up to twice as fast as the USB version it replaces. In addition to its greater bandwidth, USB4 can more deftly shuttle and prioritize file and video data through its pipes than previous USB iterations could. And USB4 offers backward compatibility with all the old PC-connectivity crowd on its physical ports: Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.2, and USB 2.0 devices.

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