(Update: MSI has launched its Thunderbolt 4 PCIe Expansion Card. See the review of it here)
Alder Lake has been a positive step forward for Intel, although the company still has a way to go before it is going to dominate the charts again (if it happens). Raptor Lake may be what it takes to finish the job unless AMD has an answer of its own. Regardless, the popularity of the Alker Lake chips has been pretty strong and continues to be one of the top-selling options currently (along with AMD’s Ryzen 5000 series that continues to hold its ground).
The only thing holding it back is the lack for native Thunderbolt support on the DDR4-edition motherboards. By native, we refer to having TB ports on the back panel or not. In this case, none of them do. Alder Lake supports both DDR4 and DDR5 but not in the same board. So you have to choose one or the other and commit until the next time you upgrade or build a new system.
Thunderbolt 4 (TB4), the latest version of the interface, is supported (natively) via many of the DDR5 boards and none of the DDR4. Instead, the DDR4 boards require some kind of addon card (additional purchase) that takes up a PCIe slot and a special connection (cable) between the card and the motherboard in order to gain TB4 connectivity. Gigabyte/Aorus and Asus have both developed a card to support each companies list of compatible boards. Both of which launched last year (early to mid-year).
However, MSI seems to have forgotten the interest in the new interface completely. Already late to the game, in summer of 2021, MSI had stated that it planned on releasing a TB4 card solution around the time that the Alder Lake boards rolled out. Come time for release, it then said the card would release in the near future. The company added a connection on the Z690 (DDR4 edition) boards for such a card, but such a card still did not yet exist. Now we are moving into the second month of spring (of the following year) and the company has practiced radio silence on the topic.
Users have taken to the internet to express their frustration. In some cases, referring to it as “moving backward“. Likely, because they can’t even make use of Thunderbolt 3 (TB3). MSI used to have a TB3 expansion card, but it uses a completely different (cable) connection (5-pin vs MSI’s new 15-pin TB4 header). It is no longer being manufactured anyway, leading to some re-sellers inflating the cost hoping to benefit from someone’s strong desire to own one still. Others have mentioned that MSI never returned their request for comment or responded with a similar generic message they got many months before.
Therefore, MSI’s DDR4 edition Z690 boards may be in a stalemate situation if you plan on making use of TB. Making the DDR5 edition boards tempting if you can get your hands on DDR5 memory. Which continues to be elusive for the most part. DDR5 is starting to slowly become available in certain quantities. However, the price is still quite inflated in comparison to DDR4.
We’ll let you know if we hear anything from MSI about the TB4 cards in the meantime. Hopefully, the company hasn’t completely given up on the development of these cards as it would prove to be a noticable blow toward anyone using MSI boards looking to make use of the latest version of the interface. TB4 was originally launched in 2020 and has become quite popular since. Especially now that there are a lot of TB4 device options to choose from now.