Most audio professionals just got over the panic and resignation of changing out cables again after Thunderbolt 4’s inclusion on a host of newer computers and peripherals. We all ran out and bought expensive adapters and cables in the hopes that things would settle down on that front, and they did for a few years. Guess what? Computer chip manufacturer Intel has announced that the new Thunderbolt 5 will soon be available, and while it has many advantages, it’s a guarantee that we’ll all be in cable and adapter buying mode once again in the near future.
Thunderbolt 5 is billed as a major leap forward, mostly because of its speed, bandwidth, and power capabilities. The baseline speed for the new format is 80 Gbps with support for 120 Gbps using bandwidth boosting, support for dual 8K screen operation, and a minimum of 140 watt charging or a more powerful 240W mode.
This at least doubles the previous capabilities of Thunderbolt 4 (see the graphic above), with the hidden benefit of really helping gamers. While a gamer could watch dual 4k screens at a generous 60Hz with a recent computer with Thunderbolt 4, Thunderbolt 5 could increase this up to an amazing 540Hz, which would make the on-screen action just about seamless.
While there are no computers or peripherals that include T5 interfaces yet, you can be sure it will be on the next generation of computer gear. Which also means that we’ll be out purchasing updated and expensive cables so we can experience the new benefits.
Not So Much For Audio Pros
This may be a boon for video creators and gamers, but the fact of the matter is that it’s probably of little value to audio professionals, who routinely deal with hundreds of tracks just fine with Thunderbolt 4 peripherals. While it’s true that spatial audio does require some bed audio tracks to be 12 tracks or more wide, you rarely hear anyone working in the format complaining about bandwidth. Not only that, the vast majority of DAW users are still in stereo mode with little demand to upgrade to a spatial format, which means they’ll be staying in stereo for a while.
The good news is that Thunderbolt 5 cables will be backwards compatible with Thunderbolt 4 cables, meaning that they’ll still work but you just won’t get the same speed as with a new cable.
Still, we’ll all be in the market for a new computer someday, and when that day comes, you can be sure that it will utilize Thunderbolt 5 for its connections, and we’ll be lining up to buy new cables once again.