The nightmare of the cables may be over soon. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) today unveiled USB 4.0 specifications (PDF), and USB 4.0 is very similar to Thunderbolt 3.
Although specifications will be completed later in 2019, USB 4 will support speeds up to 40 Gbps. The USB-IF says it used Thunderbolt 3 as the base for USB 4.
Intel originally developed the Thunderbolt with Apple 2011. It is supposed to be a much faster and more flexible interface that supports multiple protocols.
For example, you can use Thunderbolt cables and devices to connect monitors and hard drives. You can use it for your peripherals, such as external graphics cards.
With Thunderbolt 3, Intel added USB 3.1 Gen 2 support, which enabled a USB device to be connected to a Thunderbolt port.
In other words, Thunderbolt ports became USB ports with Thunderbolt capabilities. This means that any USB device can be used with a Thunderbolt port. If you are using MacBook Pro, you probably know this feature.
But the devices USB that are connected to Thunderbolt ports do not acquire the Thunderbolt properties. If you connect an external hard drive with USB 3.0 to a Thunderbolt port, you only have the speeds given by USB 3.0.
Although it Thunderbölt is technically superior, it was not as popular as USB devices. Device manufacturers had to pay Intel the rights fees (the Thunderbolt 3 was always without rights, but the specifications were not). So the Thunderbolt devices cost more.
Two years ago, Intel announced that it would make Thunderbolt available to everyone at no charge. Thus, the USB-IF seems to have taken the opportunity and incorporated the specifications of Thunderbolt 3 into the upcoming USB 4.
USB 4.0 will support 100 W power, 40 Gbps transfer speeds and plenty of video bandwidth for two 4K screens or a 5K display. USB 4 will also be compatible with older USB devices 3.x, 2.x and 1.x.
If you have a USB cable 3.x with C-type connectors, you may need to upgrade to USB 4 cables.
Intel will not stop the name Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt devices are Intel-certified, but you do not need any certification for the upcoming USB device.
But let's hope manufacturers will follow official standards and not try to cut back.