Sometime later this year we may start to see the first computers, cables, and other devices with support for USB4 v2 and/or Thunderbolt 5 functionality, bringing bidirectional data transfer speeds up to 80 Gbps. But until those devices start shipping, the next best thing may be Oculink, which is a high-speed standard has been used in servers for the past decade, but which is starting to make its way to mobile devices for consumers.

So far only a handful of small Chinese companies like GPD, One Netbook, and MINISFORUM have released (or announced) computers with Oculink ports. But it looks like mainstream PC makers might be jumping on the bandwagon soon. According to a post on Chinese social media, Lenovo’s next-gen ThinkBook 14+ laptop will have an Oculink port. Based on some real-world photos, it looks like the upcoming ThinkBook Plus 16 could have one too.

Lenovo ThinkBook 16+ with an Oculink (TGX) connector (allegedly)

Right now most devices with USB-C ports top out at 40 Gbps (5 GB/s) data transfer speeds, which is the maximum supported by the USB4 and Thunderbolt 4 standards.

But Oculink supports theoretical speeds that are much higher, since it’s basically a cable extension of the PCI Express standard. That means that it support theoretical speeds up to 128 Gbps (16GB/s) when used with hardware that supports PCIe 4.0 x8 or even speeds that are twice as high for PCIe 5.0 hardware.

So what exactly are you supposed to plug into an Oculink port? The most obvious answer is an external graphics processor.

ONEXGPU external graphics dock with USB4 and Oculink connectors

Some of the first external GPUs with Oculink support include the GPD G1 and ONEXGPU, which are both compact, portable eGPUs with AMD Radeon RX 7600M graphics. These docks support speeds up to 63 Gbps, which isn’t close to the maximum supported by Oculink, but which is substantially higher than the 40 Gbps you get from USB4/Thunderbolt 4.

It’s also possible we could see even higher-speed graphics docks in the future if this technology takes off in consumer devices.

But I’m not entirely convinced that’ll happen. While there could certainly be some appeal for niche use cases (like handheld gaming PCs), I can’t help but think that the upcoming Thunderbolt 5/USB4 v2 standards will be a better fit for most devices like mainstream laptops.

Lenovo ThinkBook 14+ 2024 (leaked picture)

The Lenovo ThinkBook 14+ (2024) laptop, for example, is expected to have an Intel Meteor Lake processor, which means it will have integrated graphics with up to 8 Intel Xe CPU cores, depending on which Meteor Lake processor options Lenovo offers.

Adding 63 Gbps graphics dock with a Radeon RX 7600M GPU would certainly go a long way toward letting you use the laptop as a gaming machine while docked, while using it as a general-purpose laptop on the go. But the same is pretty much true of a Thunderbolt 4 dock (and will be even more so when Thunderbolt 5 arrives).

Meanwhile, there are some significant advantages to sticking with Thunderbolt/USB as a standard. The ports are smaller, so they take up less space on a laptop. They support reversible cables. And they’re backward-compatible with other standards that use the USB-C connector, which means that if you’re not planning to plug in an eGPU, you can use the port to charge your laptop, hook up a webcam, mouse, keyboard, printer, storage device, audio interface, or just about anything else.

Bringing Oculink to consumer PCs feels like a stopgap solution for companies that are waiting for USB4 v2/Thunderbolt 5 to be ready. But maybe that will change if laptops like Lenovo’s prove successful and/or if we start to see eGPUs that support speeds faster than 80 Gbps in the near future.

via ITWire

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  1. This should have been added to so many laptops years ago. Intel have been dragging their heels and putting so many limitations on thunderbolt despite making it an open standard. Their controllers only work with Intel CPU boards with Thunderbolt headers. This has limited AMD CPU computers’ Thunderbolt connectivity. Instead of waiting for Thunderbolt, AMD laptop manufacturers, should have been using Oculink for years.

    Oops wrong email. Posting this comment again to make sure it goes through with the correct email. Feel free to delete the old one with the wrong email.

  2. This should have been added to so many laptops years ago. Intel have been dragging their heels and putting so many limitations on thunderbolt despite making it an open standard. Their controllers only work with Intel CPU boards with Thunderbolt headers. This has limited AMD CPU computers’ Thunderbolt connectivity. Instead of waiting for Thunderbolt, AMD laptop manufacturers, should have been using Oculink for years.

  3. This is terrible, the ports are flippable but there’s no ID or shape tells for them on the thin side bezel. Plus the cables are starting to resemble gorillapods but without tilting towards natural outer sheath materials (hydrogels, lignin, and cellulose, say.)

  4. I’m all for adding more ports back onto laptops, but I just hope they can get hot-plug working with Oculink – that’s one thing that USB4 has a big advantage over it atm, constant uptime is necessary in the enterprise and USB4 stops the need to shut down and waste time reload everything.