Intel to debut Thunderbolt 5 with Arrow Lake CPUs, enables PCIe Gen4 x4 for external GPUs

Intel's next-gen Thunderbolt 5 controller is codenamed Barlow Bridge, has up to 120Gbps of bandwidth one-way, or 80Gbps in both directions... wow.

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Intel announced its next-gen Thunderbolt 5 standard last year, codenamed Barlow Bridge, with some monster specifications that we'll see introduced later this year inside of its next-gen Arrow Lake CPUs.

Intel's new Thunderbolt 5 for Arrow Lake-S (source: YuuKi_AnS)Intel's new Thunderbolt 5 for Arrow Lake-S (source: YuuKi_AnS)
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Intel's new Thunderbolt 5 for Arrow Lake-S (source: YuuKi_AnS)

Now we've got some more information on Intel's plans with Thunderbolt 5 from hardware leaker "YuuKi_AnS" on X, who shared some new slides for the Barlow Bridge controller for Intel's next-gen Arrow Lake-S platform, so now we know Thunderbolt 5 connectivity will be featured on at least some next-gen Intel 800 series motherboards.

Intel will have support for the PCIe Gen4 x4 interface, offering up to 64Gbps of bandwidth... that's double the 32Gbps of bandwidth that is maxed out with Thunderbolt 3 and 4 while enabling users to use their Thunderbolt 5 connector for external GPUs of the future.

Intel's new Thunderbolt 5 for Arrow Lake-S (source: YuuKi_AnS)

Intel's new Thunderbolt 5 for Arrow Lake-S (source: YuuKi_AnS)

Thunderbolt 4 maxes out with PCIe Gen3 x4 or PCIe Gen4 x2, which is why we're seeing manufacturers moving on and using the new OCulink connector for external graphics cards. OCulink supports full PCIe Gen4 x4 connectivity and is already baked onto some gaming handhelds and external GPUs. Thunderbolt 5 should be the next big step for Intel, allowing fast, bandwidth-hungry graphics cards to be fed over a single Thunderbolt 5 cable.

Intel to debut Thunderbolt 5 with Arrow Lake CPUs, enables PCIe Gen4 x4 for external GPUs 62

The following are the Thunderbolt 5 specifications that Intel teased last year:

  • PCIe Gen4 x4 support (64 Gbps full duplex)
  • DisplayPort 2.1 support (up to 80 Gbps)
  • Asymmetric operation (120 Gbps transmit / 40 Gbps receive), in addition to the regular 80 Gbps transmit / 80 Gbps receive
  • Usage of PAM3 (Pulse Amplitude Modulation with three levels) enabling more data transfer in each clock cycle
  • Compulsory requirement to support dual 6K monitors
  • Compulsory 140W PD support for charging, up to 240W optional
  • Doubled Thunderbolt networking bandwidth (from 10 Gbps full duplex to 20 Gbps full duplex)
  • Existing Thunderbolt 3 cables up to 1m can also support the new speeds

Thunderbolt 4 supports asymmetrical connection of up to 120Gbps of bandwidth in a single direction or 80Gbps bi-directional bandwidth (80Gbps both up and down the cable). Intel's new Thunderbolt 4 standard also supports the new DisplayPort 2.1 standard and has compulsory support for 140W Power Delivery, with optional support of up to 240W Power Delivery.

Intel to debut Thunderbolt 5 with Arrow Lake CPUs, enables PCIe Gen4 x4 for external GPUs 63

Intel's new Thunderbolt 5 standard will use the regular USB-C standard for its connector, compatible with USB for data transfer. The new Thunderbolt 5 standard will also support up to a mammoth 10K resolution, with up to 3 x DDI (Display Interfaces) supporting the new DisplayPort 2.1 standard, with graphics cards connected through the PCIe 5.0 x16 interface and into the new Intel Arrow Lake-S processor.

We shouldn't expect to see Thunderbolt 5 devices or products until 2025, while the new standard might even spill into 2026. I think we'll see them in 2025, with Intel ready to go for the next-gen connectivity standard at the time.

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Anthony joined the TweakTown team in 2010 and has since reviewed 100s of graphics cards. Anthony is a long time PC enthusiast with a passion of hate for games built around consoles. FPS gaming since the pre-Quake days, where you were insulted if you used a mouse to aim, he has been addicted to gaming and hardware ever since. Working in IT retail for 10 years gave him great experience with custom-built PCs. His addiction to GPU tech is unwavering and has recently taken a keen interest in artificial intelligence (AI) hardware.

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