M1 Macs deliver Apple's first support for USB4

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited November 2020
The first Apple Silicon chip used in a Mac, the M1, implements Apple's first custom controller for USB4 and Thunderbolt 3 and delivers the platform's first systems meeting the new USB4 specification. Notably, Apple has brought USB4 to market about a month after Intel's own 11th Gen Tiger Lake processors for PC notebooks.


M1 Macs are Apple's first custom implementation of Thunderbolt 3

Apple Silicon's first with USB4 is a sign of things to come

[Note: the original version of this article incorrectly stated that Apple had brought USB4 to market ahead of Intel; a correction by Ryan Smith of AnandTech noted that some PCs have already shipped with Intel's TL chips. Smith stated that Dell began delivery of systems supporting USB4 in the first week of October.]

M1's support for USB4 isn't exactly an earthshaking leap on the same level as Apple's custom GPU, Neural Engine, or the Unified Memory Architecture of its new M1 System on a Chip. But it is noteworthy that Apple has been able to quickly implement and deliver a new emerging standard on its own custom Apple Silicon-- a rapidly expanding advantage the Mac maker now holds over Windows PC and Android licensees.

The USB4 specification is largely an attempt to simplify and streamline the confusing array of definitions related to USB 3.x and other protocols that can work over USB-C cables, including HDMI and DisplayPort.

USB4 also represents the shift of Intel's proprietary Thunderbolt protocol from a paid licensing scheme that required an Intel controller chip to an openly licensed standard now under the control of the USB standards body. In fact, most of the technical improvement in USB4 is effectively a copy of Thunderbolt 3's high-speed connectivity features, now available from the nonprofit group that promotes USB as an industry standard.

Apple's ability to develop its own custom controller supplying Thunderbolt 3 speed and compatibility, right on the M1, comes directly from Intel's move to share the technology as part of USB4. The fact that Apple's M1 hit the market in a 5nm chip before Intel is eye-opening.


M1 MacBook Pro connected via 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3 to an Intel Mac in Target Disk Mode


Thunderbolt was initially developed by Intel in partnership with Apple, originally under the name "Light Peak." It was intended to be a modern, optical replacement for FireWire-- a standard Apple had developed on its own in the early 90s but failed to gain broad PC industry adoption.

But a decade later, Intel's Thunderbolt has seemingly suffered the same fate as FireWire: enthusiastic adoption by Apple on its Macs but with limited penetration on generic PCs with less appetite for pushing state of the art. Adoption of Thunderbolt has mostly been stymied by PC makers' cost-cutting efforts to settle on the cheaper to implement but much more limited USB as "good enough" for most users.

USB4 standard mandates USB-C ports and cables

Last year, Intel announced plans with Apple, Microsoft, HP, and chipmakers Renesas, STMicroelectronics, and Texas Instruments to define a unified USB4 standard. It would offer the same ultra-fast 40Gpbs bandwidth of Thunderbolt 3 along with improved support for tunneling USB 3.2, DisplayPort, and PCIe protocols across USB-C cables.

In addition to mandating USB-C, USB4 also requires support for the USB-PD (Power Distribution) specification for charging devices over the same cable that delivers data.

Defining USB-C as a requisite part of USB4 should help to broaden the use of the modern, omnidirectional, and more robust USB-C hardware standard for cables and ports that Apple has exclusively standardized on in its recent Macs. This is happening even as some critics have bemoaned the loss of the legacy USB-A connectors that have been in widespread use since they were first popularized by the original iMac back 1998.

Apple added USB-C to its iPad Pro and now ships its newest iPhones with a Lighting to USB-C charging cable. Apple has also shifted to USB-C across its charging adapters for MacBooks.

Thunderbolt 3 strikes again

The USB4 standard also offers the potential, but not the requirement, to support existing Thunderbolt 3 peripherals, which involves supporting some unique differences from the core definition of USB4. For the first time, that means that other companies apart from Intel could build their own silicon controllers delivering Thunderbolt 3 speeds and even compatibility without needing to buy a component from Intel.

This agreement was ideal for Apple-- and was necessary for the company to deliver its new M1 Macs with support for both the refreshed new USB4 and compatibility with existing the Thunderbolt 3 devices that Mac users already have. Previous Apple Silicon chips-- including the A-series SoCs used to power iPhones and iPad-- never could support Thunderbolt.

That's why Apple's WWDC20 Developer Transition Kit, basically a Mac mini case outfitted with an iPad Pro-class A12Z Bionic chip, could only deliver the same USB 3 support as the iPads that chip was initially designed for.


The Developer Transition Kit specs reflected a souped up A12Z iPad Pro


PC makers who wait for Intel to deliver chips for them were initially expected to gain support for USB4 early next year with Intel's Tiger Lake processors. Some machines are already shipping, as Smith noted. This summer, Anandtech reported that the first devices supporting USB4 could ship before the end of 2020. However, there has been less urgency outside of Apple to move to USB4 because PC makers could already license Intel's existing Thunderbolt 3 chips if they want to deliver ultra-fast connectivity.

No other PC makers have shown any ambition to develop their own custom silicon in the model of Apple's M1, and few have been that enthusiastic about Thunderbolt. USB4 should help drive the adoption of cost-effective USB disks that can achieve Thunderbolt 3 speeds faster than the more typical 5Gbps of USB 3.x devices. That should benefit everyone, including Mac users.

Effectively, USB4 as a wide standard should help make the technology used by Thunderbolt 3 more broadly available. In supporting both existing Thunderbolt 3 devices and new devices appearing under the revised standard branded as USB4, M1 Macs will be ready for the peripherals of the future as well as the high-performance devices existing Macs can already use.
williamlondon
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 28
    For reference, the PS5 SSD runs at 44 gigabits per second. This already exists in a real consumer device. Next year there will be third party drives at reasonable prices (they do exist today in the pro market). So these new drives will have to run at reduced speeds over the USB 4 standard that has not even been officially released yet. Still major kudos to Apple's hardware team for supporting USB 4 ahead of Intel and AMD. They really are firing on all cylinders.
    F_Kent_Dlkruppalexonline
  • Reply 2 of 28
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,822member
     The fact that Apple's M1 hit the market before Intel could even finish its own chips supporting the new standard is eye-opening.


    I believe the word you're looking for is "embarrassing". 
    williamlondonF_Kent_DStrangeDayswatto_cobraalexonline
  • Reply 3 of 28
    "M1 Macs with support for both the refreshed new USB4 and compatibility with existing the Thunderbolt 3 devices that Mac users already have" except external GPUs or anyone that uses more than 2 displays.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 28
    sflocal said:
     The fact that Apple's M1 hit the market before Intel could even finish its own chips supporting the new standard is eye-opening.


    I believe the word you're looking for is "embarrassing". 
    Intel has been having fabs issue for a while, it's one of the few time where vertical integration ended up being a liability rather than a strength, now that TSMC is effectively the best chip maker in the world. Sadly for Intel they can't just hop in, since the way that they do thing is too different from the norm, effectively forcing them to fix their fabs  :D

    Their next desktop cpu "Willow Cove" had to be ported back to 14 nm, because 10nm was stil not ready. A 2021 cpu in 14 nm. Meanwhile AMD can enjoy TSMC 5nm in 2021  :D
    edited November 2020 watto_cobraalexonline
  • Reply 5 of 28
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,428member
    lezmaka said:
    "M1 Macs with support for both the refreshed new USB4 and compatibility with existing the Thunderbolt 3 devices that Mac users already have" except external GPUs or anyone that uses more than 2 displays.
    I suspect the next round of Apple hardware with the next level M chips will address those features for semi-pros.  What we have now is the range of Macs for the masses and basic needs.  Oh, my Mac mini M1 I bought just to have the first Apple Si Mac for posterity, just arrived...  
    F_Kent_Dwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 28
    F_Kent_DF_Kent_D Posts: 85unconfirmed, member
    MacPro said:
    lezmaka said:
    "M1 Macs with support for both the refreshed new USB4 and compatibility with existing the Thunderbolt 3 devices that Mac users already have" except external GPUs or anyone that uses more than 2 displays.
    I suspect the next round of Apple hardware with the next level M chips will address those features for semi-pros.  What we have now is the range of Macs for the masses and basic needs.  Oh, my Mac mini M1 I bought just to have the first Apple Si Mac for posterity, just arrived...  
    I wish my self Christmas budget was that high still. Not with 3 kids and the Wife that come first. I’m ready to get the Mac mini to run my PLEX server on.
    williamlondonwatto_cobraalexonline
  • Reply 7 of 28
    bageljoeybageljoey Posts: 1,941member
    lezmaka said:
    "M1 Macs with support for both the refreshed new USB4 and compatibility with existing the Thunderbolt 3 devices that Mac users already have" except external GPUs or anyone that uses more than 2 displays.
    These devices are NOT pro devices. These are consumer devices. GPUs? 3+ displays?  For an entry level/low cost device?  
    Get a grip.  Don’t let the eye popping benchmarks fool you, these are not the Apple Si pro machines you are looking for because they are NOT pro machines. (I know the 13 incher says pro, but let’s not let marketing sidetrack the discussion) Wait till Apple releases a 16inch MBP or Mac Pro that has limitations that matter to pros to complain about that. 
    edited November 2020 lkruppMacProflydogphilboogiewatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 28
    Can USB4 ports be multiplied by an external dock, since the TB3 cannot? That would help. 2 TB3 ports are not sufficient.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 28
    The down side of Apple designing their own TB3 controller is compatibility. I have a 4K LG display that uses either HDMI or Display Port--not Thunderbolt like the high end 5K LGs. It has worked with TB ports with the same Display Port cable on other computers but with the new M1 MacBook Air it doesn't connect. The display never sees any display data. I haven't contacted Apple yet and I can probably work around the problem with a TB3 to HDMI cable which I currently don't own but this is pretty annoying. I hope it is fixable in software.
    edited November 2020 watto_cobraalexonline
  • Reply 10 of 28
    MacProMacPro Posts: 19,428member
    jdb8167 said:
    The down side of Apple designing their own TB3 controller is compatibility. I have a 4K LG display that uses either HDMI or Display Port--not Thunderbolt like the high end 5K LGs. It has worked with TB ports with the same Display Port cable on other computers but with the new M1 MacBook Air it doesn't connect. The display never sees any display data. I haven't contacted Apple yet and I can probably work around the problem with a TB3 to HDMI cable which I currently don't own but this is pretty annoying. I hope it is fixable in software.
    I got the Mac mini to dabble with.  I am using it with HDMI into a Dell 27" 4K monitor that also is the second monitor for an iMac 5K i9 and a gaming PC.  The Dell has three inputs covering all the bases I need but without the HDMI on the Mac mini, I'd be screwed.  That said I just tried it with an old 27" Apple 2560 x 1440 LCD and used an Apple TB2 to TB3 adapter and it fired up no problem.  Have you tried that approach?
    edited November 2020 williamlondonwatto_cobraalexonline
  • Reply 11 of 28
    MacPro said:
    jdb8167 said:
    The down side of Apple designing their own TB3 controller is compatibility. I have a 4K LG display that uses either HDMI or Display Port--not Thunderbolt like the high end 5K LGs. It has worked with TB ports with the same Display Port cable on other computers but with the new M1 MacBook Air it doesn't connect. The display never sees any display data. I haven't contacted Apple yet and I can probably work around the problem with a TB3 to HDMI cable which I currently don't own but this is pretty annoying. I hope it is fixable in software.
    I got the Mac mini to dabble with.  I am using it with HDMI into a Dell 27" 4K monitor that also is the second monitor for an iMac 5K i9 and a gaming PC.  The Dell has three inputs covering all the bases I need but without the HDMI on the Mac mini, I'd be screwed.  That said I just tried it with an old 27" Apple 2560 x 1440 LCD and used an Apple TB2 to TB3 adapter and it fired up no problem.  Have you tried that approach?
    My old 2560x1440 Thunderbolt monitor with the TB2 adapter works fine. The LG monitor and the Belkin USB-C to Display Port cable works with a different USB-C Mac and my iPad Pro. So it isn't the cable. It looks like a incompatibility with Apple's Display Port tunneling and the monitor. I'm going to contact Apple to make them aware of the problem but like I said, I can probably get it to work with a USB-C/TB to HDMI adapter--I just don't own one yet to test.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 28
    flydogflydog Posts: 1,027member
    lezmaka said:
    "M1 Macs with support for both the refreshed new USB4 and compatibility with existing the Thunderbolt 3 devices that Mac users already have" except external GPUs or anyone that uses more than 2 displays.
    So compatible for 99.99% of all users, but not for the .01% who buy a $700 entry-level computer and pair it with $4,000 worth of 4K monitors and eGPU.

    Thanks for clarifying. 
    edited November 2020 osmartormenajrwilliamlondonStrangeDayschasmwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 28
    Lmao, so I see Appleinsider continues to publish fake news.

    The entire premise of this article is false. Tiger Lake laptops (which include Thunderbolt 4) were released in late October. Thunderbolt 4 includes USB4, but it's faster.

    https://www.tomsguide.com/reviews/asus-zenbook-flip-s-review

    https://sundogblognet.wpcomstaging.com/thunderbolt-4-is-usb-4-maxed-out/

    No, Apple was not first. Does anyone here do any research before writing an "article"?
    williamlondonmbenz1962philboogie
  • Reply 14 of 28
    dv_42 said:
    Lmao, so I see Appleinsider continues to publish fake news.

    The entire premise of this article is false. Tiger Lake laptops (which include Thunderbolt 4) were released in late October. Thunderbolt 4 includes USB4, but it's faster.

    https://www.tomsguide.com/reviews/asus-zenbook-flip-s-review

    https://sundogblognet.wpcomstaging.com/thunderbolt-4-is-usb-4-maxed-out/

    No, Apple was not first. Does anyone here do any research before writing an "article"?
    The Dell XPS 13 9310 with the 11th Gen Tiger Lake processor and Thunderbolt 4 has been out since October. I think the key difference is Thunderbolt 4 and USB4 have the same top speed of 40Gbps, but Thunderbolt 4 should always be that fast whereas USB4 can be slower (20Gbps) (as is indicated in your second link).
    philboogie
  • Reply 15 of 28
    ctt_zh said:
    The Dell XPS 13 9310 with the 11th Gen Tiger Lake processor and Thunderbolt 4 has been out since October. I think the key difference is Thunderbolt 4 and USB4 have the same top speed of 40Gbps, but Thunderbolt 4 should always be that fast whereas USB4 can be slower (20Gbps) (as is indicated in your second link).
    Point being, this article is false.

    Apple was not first to release a USB4 product, since Tiger Lake has been out since October, which includes Thunderbolt 4/USB4.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 16 of 28
    dv_42 said:
    Lmao, so I see Appleinsider continues to publish fake news.

    The entire premise of this article is false. Tiger Lake laptops (which include Thunderbolt 4) were released in late October. Thunderbolt 4 includes USB4, but it's faster.

    https://www.tomsguide.com/reviews/asus-zenbook-flip-s-review

    https://sundogblognet.wpcomstaging.com/thunderbolt-4-is-usb-4-maxed-out/

    No, Apple was not first. Does anyone here do any research before writing an "article"?
    Do you have a real link to USB4 laptops currently on sale? Your first from September points to a model that was expected to arrive in October, but searching Asus brings up USB 3.x models. The other is from January. 

    Thanks 
    williamlondonStrangeDayschasmjdb8167watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 28
    Dan_Dilger said:

    Do you have a real link to USB4 laptops currently on sale? Your first from September points to a model that was expected to arrive in October, but searching Asus brings up USB 3.x models. The other is from January. 

    Thanks 
    Sure, there are quite a lot of them:

    https://www.bestbuy.com/site/searchpage.jsp?st=intel+evo

    All Tiger Lake chips support Thunderbolt 4/USB4.

    Dell's XPS 13" was the first to go on sale, on September 30th:

    https://9to5toys.com/2020/09/28/dell-xps-13-upgrade/

    https://www.dell.com/en-us/shop/dell-laptops/new-xps-13-laptop/spd/xps-13-9310-laptop
    mbenz1962jdb8167
  • Reply 18 of 28
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 2,581member
    More power to Apple supporting USB4 and indirectly take lead pushing USB4 standards by offering on MACs before others. I strongly believe the MACs will continue lead the industry in laptop and desktop computing. Hope, MAC based processors don't get into Cloud Data centers, otherwise that is taking over the high performance,low power consuming computing world.
    edited November 2020 williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 28
    flydog said:
    lezmaka said:
    "M1 Macs with support for both the refreshed new USB4 and compatibility with existing the Thunderbolt 3 devices that Mac users already have" except external GPUs or anyone that uses more than 2 displays.
    So compatible for 99.99% of all users, but not for the .01% who buy a $700 entry-level computer and pair it with $4,000 worth of 4K monitors and eGPU.

    Thanks for clarifying. 
    I have a not so quite entry level Mac mini ($1200) and an M1 model coming.  I use the Mac mini with an eGPU ($300 for chassis, and $350 for card), with mid range 55" 4K TV (< $1000).  This is much less than your $4000 forth of 4K monitors and eGPU!  I use it for work & play - quad flight simulators quite frequently.

    I can't use the eGPU & card ($650 total) with the M1 Mac mini.  There goes my flight simulator use on a Mac mini... :neutral: 
  • Reply 20 of 28
    dv_42 said:
    Lmao, so I see Appleinsider continues to publish fake news.

    The entire premise of this article is false. Tiger Lake laptops (which include Thunderbolt 4) were released in late October. Thunderbolt 4 includes USB4, but it's faster.

    https://www.tomsguide.com/reviews/asus-zenbook-flip-s-review

    https://sundogblognet.wpcomstaging.com/thunderbolt-4-is-usb-4-maxed-out/

    No, Apple was not first. Does anyone here do any research before writing an "article"?
    Do you have a real link to USB4 laptops currently on sale? Your first from September points to a model that was expected to arrive in October, but searching Asus brings up USB 3.x models. The other is from January. 

    Thanks 
    While asus 4.0 laptop are still on pre-order, lenovo is literally selling some on their website : https://www.lenovo.com/fr/fr/laptops/yoga/yoga-2-in-1-series/Yoga-7i/p/88YGC701456

    I used to think that english tech outlet where better, but I'm starting to see them doing a fair amount of mistakes, when french reporters seems to be more rigorous. I think that I'll check macgeneration first from now on  :p  


    edited November 2020 williamlondon
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