I’ve been troubleshooting a vexing M.2 2242 NVMe drive this week. If you look back over my recent writings here at edtittel.com, you’ll see this adventure has led me to some interesting places. Yesterday, it led me to recognize that not all USB-C ports are the same. I found myself confronting the profound difference that current-gen Thunderbolt support can make. Thus indeed, a tale of two USB ports follows.
Telling the Tale of Two USB Ports
On the one hand: a 2019-vintage Lenovo X390 Yoga. Its fastest USB port is described in its tech specs as “USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C / Intel Thunderbolt 3.” On the other hand: a 2021-vintage Lenovo X1 Nano. Its fastest USB port is described in its tech specs as “USB 4 Thunderbolt 4.” I must confess, I was curious about what differences might manifest between these two technology generations.
It made a significant difference. Thus the story’s lead-in graphic shows. CrystalDiskMark output from the Nano is on the left, the X390 on the right. It shows the speed-up varies somewhat. It is better than 2:1 on the big-transfer items (upper 2). But the more important random 4K reads/writes fill the bottom two rows. There, we see 17-18% (read-write) for random with queue depth=1. That jumps to 42-50% with queue depth=32.
In practice, I believe it’s what allows the X1 Nano with an i5 processor to work much like my older i7-6700 on my desktop PC. It also makes the X1 Nano faster than the X390, despite an i7 on that older machine. I/O is indeed a powerful performance factor.
Is USB 4 Thunderbolt 4 Worth Buying?
If you’re in the market for a new PC or laptop, you will get a performance boost from using the newer USB technology. If the ability to complete backups (and other big file transfers) twice as fast is worth something to you, factor that into the price differential. If better overall I/O performance of at least 18% in accessing peripheral storage has value, ditto.
Only you can decide if it’s worth the price differential. For me, the answer is “Heck yeah!” I’m not sure that means I’ll buy an X1 Nano. But I am sure it means my next laptop will have USB 4 Thunderbolt 4 ports.