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Next-gen USB is guaranteed to work twice as fast, using cables you already own

The next version of USB could be one of the fastest connectors we’ve ever seen. USB Promoter Group says USB 4 version 2 will have speeds of up to 80 Gbps, twice the capacity of the original USB 4 and Thunderbolt 4.

The actual technical specification hasn’t been released yet from the USB Implementers Forum, which is responsible for the standard, but the details coming out today are a little more exciting. The promoter group writes in a press release that USB 4 version 2 cables will use the USB-C connector, which is expected, but the real bombshell is this line: “Key features of the updated USB4 solution: operation up to 80 Gbps, based on a new physical layer architecture, using exists 40 Gbps USB Type-C passive cables and the newly defined 80 Gbps USB Type-C active cables” (emphasis added).

USB-IF spokesperson Joe Balich confirmed that if I buy a USB 4 cable currently rated at 40 Gbps, I can work at double that speed in the future. That is, frankly, very impressive. USB has always been good about backwards compatibility (and USB 4 version 2 is no exception), but using the same cable and taking advantage of the flagship of the new spec is another level.

Balich did not explain how this was technically possible but said “this benefit is a requirement when the new specification is developed and the specifics of how 80Gbps signaling will be achieved will be revealed once the final specification is released.” It will be held ahead of the upcoming USB DevDays developer events in Seattle on November 1st and 2nd and in Seoul on November 15th and 16th.

USB-C and power delivery specs will be updated “to enable these higher levels of data performance,” according to the USB Promoter Group, made up of companies such as Intel, Apple, Microsoft, HP and Texas Instruments. The USB 4 version 2 specification also includes updates that will deliver better speeds when you’re using USB 3.2 — a group of promoters promise over 20 Gbps — as well as improved support for DisplayPort and PCIe, which uses the latest version of those standards (the first USB 4 only allowed you to use DisplayPort 1.4a when “tunneling” or carrying DisplayPort and USB signals at the same time).

Finally, we need to talk about the name. Labeling it “Version 2” of USB 4 is an odd move, but the speed bump certainly feels like it should be called USB 5. The standard has been confusing for a few years now, though — USB 3.2 is actually a few different standards: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (AKA the original USB 3.0), USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB 3.2 Gen 1×2, and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (which is the full-fat 20 Gbps spec). USB 4 made it easier, as it basically has the same specs and capabilities as Thunderbolt 3, but now it seems we’re going back to a slightly confusing naming scheme – cable compatibility certainly helps, but I can definitely see the device. Spec sheets can be a minefield for a while.

Not that we’ll ever have to deal with it. With fresh branding and marketing guides (including things like logos) coming later, the update is “specifically aimed at developers at this point,” the press release said. Still, it’s exciting to see what’s in the pipeline and imagine that a 4K Blu-ray can transfer worth of data in about five seconds.

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