A tweet from an Intel executive tweeted and later deleted an image showing some details about Thunderbolt 5 in development, including that Intel is aiming to double the existing Thunderbolt bandwidth limits to 80Gbps.
An early sunday cheep published by Intel Client Computing Group Executive Vice President and General Manager Gregory Bryant has sparked speculation about the future of Thunderbolt as a communications technology. The executive posted a collection of four images from a visit to Intel’s research and development center in Israel, but quietly erased one of the photos.
Seen by Anandtech, the image was removed from Twitter as it includes a poster in the background detailing what Thunderbolt 5 is believed to be. The poster imparts some key pieces of information about the operation of the connection, including that it is tentatively called “USB 80G “.
Despite not mentioning Thuderbolt at all on the poster, Bryan’s tweet mentions that it was a Thunderbolt-related lab tour. Also, given the closeness of Thunderbolt and Intel’s USB allowing the Thunderbolt 3 specification to be part of the USB 4 standard, it seems very plausible that the poster is about Thunderbolt 5.
According to the poster in the image, the connection is “intended to support the existing USB-C ecosystem,” which means that Intel plans to continue using the USB Type-C connection.
An unusual element of the poster is the mention of its use of a “new PAM-3 modulation technology”. This indicates that Intel is willing to try a completely different bitstream system than normal.
Typically, the data line transmits one bit at a time, with an electrical signal that switches between two states, also known as NRZ encoding. An alternative, Pulse Width Modulation 4 (PAM-4) mentions how two bits can be transferred at once, and the 4 refers to the number of bit pairs it can produce.
PAM-3 differs in that a data line can move between three states, covering 0, +1, or -1. A pair of transmissions tells the system what a group of three bits is, giving an efficiency about 50% greater than NRZ.
For consumers, Thunderbolt 5 should theoretically provide many of the existing benefits of Thunderbolt 3, including power delivery, video, Thunderbolt networks, and large amounts of bandwidth. In the case of Thunderbolt 5, the doubled bandwidth from 40 Gbps to 80 Gbps will allow for faster file transfers, in addition to maintaining data-intensive communications between connected devices with fewer limitations.
Current Apple products are compatible with Thunderbolt 3. While some accessories have been released with support for Thunderbolt 4, it may take a while before Apple switches to the standard.
It remains to be seen when Thunderbolt 5 will be formally introduced, but the unexpected leak at least offers a hint of what to expect from the arrival of the standard.