Welcome to the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 Era

Welcome to the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 Era

USB-C has quickly become ubiquitous, and not just on mobile devices: This incredibly versatile connectivity standard is now pervasive on modern PCs as well. When combined with Thunderbolt 3, it’s nearly perfect.

So much so, in fact, that Microsoft needs to adopt this standard—USB-C with Thunderbolt 3—for its coming generation of Surface devices. And drop the proprietary USB-based Surface Connector for good.

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As a refresher, USB—literally, Universal Serial Bus—debuted in the late 1990s as a way to obsolete previous competing and incompatible standards for connecting peripherals to PCs. (Let’s briefly shed a tear for the serial, parallel, and PS2 ports that none of us really miss.) Over the years, USB has evolved to accommodate faster transmission speeds, of course, but also new capabilities. And with USB-C, we see the apex of that evolution in a plug type that is (finally) reversible and twice as fast as the previous standard, while offering a stunning array of capabilities. Indeed, the sheer number of things that USB-C replaces makes the initial USB of the late 1990s look like an under-achiever.

Granted, not all USB-C capabilities are available on all devices—or, I should say, on all USB-C ports, even—which makes for some confusion. Adding to this confusion is the frustration that accompanies any such transition: We’re going to be dealing with various dongles, adapters, and port multipliers for the next few years. The good news? It’s worth it.

It’s especially worth it when you combine USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, which Apple and many PC makers are doing. And to be clear, when I write that Microsoft needs to embrace USB-C and rid itself of the terrible and proprietary Surface Connector, what I really mean is that it should embrace USB-C plus Thunderbolt 3.

HP's new Spectre x360 utilizes Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C.
HP’s new Spectre x360 utilizes Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C.

So what does that mean?

Put simply, USB-C by itself is basically the latest version of USB, a connectivity standard, with a particular plug type. Which in this case is much smaller than the full-sized (or “Type A”) plugs that most people associate with USB and, more important, is reversible. Meaning you don’t need to know which way is “up” when you plug a USB-C connector into a USB-C port.

By itself, USB-C provides a number of useful features. These are:

Power. On smartphones, tablets, and now even PCs, you can power your device using a USB-C-based cable and charger. So new PCs like the 2016 HP Spectre x360 and Apple’s MacBook and MacBook Pro can be charged using the same type of cable. And you can use the USB-C ports on those devices to do much more as well.

Data. Like previous versions of USB, USB-C can be used to transmit data. But because it’s based on the latest USB standard, USB 3.1, USB-C can also be much faster than previous USB-C ports, assuming of course you’re using a USB-C device (or a USB 3.1 device with a dongle) on the other end: USB-C can transmit data at speeds up to 10 Gbps, which is twice as fast as USB 3.0’s 5 Gbps speed. But it’s also backward compatible with previous generation USB devices; when such a peripheral is connected, they will work as before, at what speed they support.

Video. Using various dongles, you can transmit video via HDMI, DisplayPort, and other video standards. (A future update will also add audio support over USB-C, similar to Apple’s implementation of audio over Lightning on its iPhone 7 and other iOS devices.)

Older Apple devices, like this MacBook Air, required three different ports for SD, USB, and Thunderbolt 2.
Older Apple devices, like this MacBook Air, required three different ports for SD, USB, and Thunderbolt 2, plus a separate proprietary power plug (not shown).

This all sounds impressive as-is. But by “adding” Thunderbolt 3 support, PC makers can add additional functionality. And this is what really puts USB-C over the top. (On PCs; you won’t see Thunderbolt 3 support on phones and other smaller devices.)

For example, Thunderbolt 3 supports 40 Gbps data transmission, a speed that is four times that of native USB 3.1. And you don’t lose that 10 Gbps transmission speed for USB 3.1 peripherals, of course. Thunderbolt 3 also offers reduced power consumption when compared to previous Thunderbolt standards. And it can drive power for PC-class devices, whereas USB-C by itself is only powerful enough for phones and tablets.

The real, um, power here, though, is that you can do all this from a single plug. That is, using the right adapter or a USB-C/Thunderbolt dock, you can drive one or more 4K displays, a keyboard and mouse, various USB hard drives, and more … all from a single port. And if you have a PC with multiple USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, you can pick and choose. You can plug the power cable into any of those ports, and not be stuck using a specific port. You can also use a power cable—which is really just a USB-C cable with a power adapter attached—that you acquired elsewhere. That’s the point of this being a standard.

Given this, you can see why Microsoft should support USB-C/Thunderbolt 3: Its current Surface Connector solution is just USB 3.0 with a proprietary connector, and USB by itself suffers from bandwidth and power issues. By using USB-C/Thunderbolt, Microsoft could create a docking solution that supplies everything you’d need for Surface—including power—from a single plug, and do so in a way that is both powerful and efficient.

Current Surface devices, like Surface Book, offer video-out over miniDisplayPort (which is the same as Thunderbolt 2) and power/expansion over Surface Connector, which is proprietary.
Current Surface devices, like Surface Book, offer video-out over miniDisplayPort (which is the same as Thunderbolt 2) and power/expansion over Surface Connector, which is proprietary.

Of course, much has been made about the temporary compatibility problem we will all face in moving to USB-C. That is, since the plug is still fairly new, and many people already own peripherals based on earlier USB and video standards, we’ll need to buy and, for portable computers, travel with dongles and other adapters.

This isn’t the disaster many make it out to be, and this situation is no different than the move to PS2 in the late 1990s, or to the original USB in the late 1990s. It’s called progress. And if the result is dramatically better—which it is—then the temporary inconveniences are worth dealing with. Which they are.

Once this transition is complete, we’ll have a single plug that works with everything. We will have USB-C connectors everywhere, and near-universal compatibility. (Apple will almost certainly stick with Lightning for its iOS devices, if only because that plug type is even smaller than USB-C, allowing or ever-thinner phones and tablets.)

Welcome to the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 era, folks. This is a great time to be a PC fan.

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Conversation 69 comments

  • 1217

    03 November, 2016 - 8:40 am

    <p>The one benefit of the power ports on the previous generation of MacBooks and the current generation of Surface devices is that the port is magnetic, and the cable comes out with no (or very little) danger of breaking anything. &nbsp;I like the idea of USB-C being used to power the device from the standpoint of requiring less ports. &nbsp;On the other hand, I personally prefer having the magnetic power port as well. &nbsp;Give me the option, and maybe allow the devices to be powered by EITHER cable. &nbsp;I’ve kicked my fair shair of power cords just crossing my legs when sitting on my couch, so for me, having the magnetic power ports is nice, and a safety feature! &nbsp;;)</p>

    • 1285

      Premium Member
      03 November, 2016 - 9:01 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24368">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/nordyj">nordyj</a><a href="#24368">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>A magnetic USB-C to USB-C adapter could provide the same benefits as MagSafe or Surface’s magnetic power port. &nbsp;As USB-C devices grow in number, someone will make a good magnetic adapter. &nbsp;One already exists for the MacBook.</p>

      • 1217

        03 November, 2016 - 9:05 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#24376">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/rob_segal">rob_segal</a><a href="#24376">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>Nice! &nbsp;And not surprising, though I didn’t know that this existed already. &nbsp;Thanks for the info! &nbsp;I don’t need this now (my current computer is a Surface Book), but I don’t doubt my next computer will, so it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.</p>

        • 1285

          Premium Member
          03 November, 2016 - 12:26 pm

          <blockquote><em><a href="#24377">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/nordyj">nordyj</a><a href="#24377">:</a></em></blockquote>
          <p>There is also&nbsp;Snapnator on Kickstarter. &nbsp;I backed it today for my HP Spectre. &nbsp;I expect more adapters like this will get made.</p>

          • 442

            03 November, 2016 - 1:05 pm

            <blockquote><em><a href="#24445">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/rob_segal">rob_segal</a><a href="#24445">:</a></em></blockquote>
            <p>The Snapnator is cool, but you still lose a port, and the plug is now massive in size.&nbsp; Oh well.</p>

  • 1001

    03 November, 2016 - 8:41 am

    <p>"This isn&rsquo;t the disaster many make it out to be"</p>
    <p>No, it is not. However, I strongly criticize Apples approach here, which only serves to maximize the amount of dongles. The approach of HP with the Spectre x360 is clearly better, offering the newest standard while still providing a legacy USB 3.0 port.</p>

  • 5592

    03 November, 2016 - 8:52 am

    <p>Which is why Apple now sells 17 different dongles.<br /><img src="http://img.v3.news.zdn.vn/w660/Uploaded/Aohuouk/2016_10_31/Screen_Shot_20161031_at_213931_1.png&quot; alt="Apple’s 17 dongles" width="510" height="467" /></p>

  • 186

    03 November, 2016 - 8:58 am

    <p>Does the USB C and Thunderbolt 3&nbsp;use the same jack?</p>

    • 5394

      03 November, 2016 - 9:31 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24373">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Delmont">Delmont</a><a href="#24373">:</a></em></blockquote>

  • 1080

    Premium Member
    03 November, 2016 - 9:01 am

    <p style="padding-left: 30px;">How long can Apple keep using the lightning port on the iPhone? Once audio support is added to usb-c and becomes the standard headphone connector (and hopefully the standard connector for everything) will they not have to switch to usb-c. They couldn’t really put out iPhone with a connector only found on the iPhone. Even the MacBook are all usb-c.</p>

    • 1387

      04 November, 2016 - 5:06 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24375">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Finley">Finley</a><a href="#24375">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p><em>"They couldn’t really put out iPhone with a connector only found on the iPhone."</em></p>
      <p>You mean, basically do what they’ve always done?</p>

  • 5184

    Premium Member
    03 November, 2016 - 9:13 am

    <p>USB-C is great, but have to respectfully disagree that MS should drop others. &nbsp;I much prefer the magnetic power connector over other styles. &nbsp;It’s just so easy to connect and disconnect. &nbsp;USB-C doesn’t quite achieve the same thing despite being reversible. &nbsp;Also, SD or micro-SD needs to be retained. &nbsp;Folks hate the freaking dongles. &nbsp;It’s really silly to drop the utility of the SD slot over thinner devices. &nbsp;I want one device that I carry, not 5 or 10.</p>
    <p>Agree it makes sense to move to USB-C for things like displays and storage. &nbsp;</p>
    <p>I think MS should retain one USB-A connector for the near future. &nbsp;We all still have many devices that use that standard. &nbsp;MS, don’t be Apple and remove things people truly need.</p>

  • 5394

    03 November, 2016 - 9:30 am

    <p>Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C uses the same port. I just read up on it. Why even bother with the Thunderbolt standard?</p>
    <p>Makes me wonder if HDMI should also use the same port. Or at least redesign it to work interchangeable, or just stick with the slim port. My portable point and shoot camera has a slim HDMI port so I must invest in a adapter to plug into my television.</p>
    <p>What about the full sized USB&nbsp;3.0 ports? My one year old Skylake PC has 2 USB 3.0 ports and 4 USB 2.0 ports. The new PC doesn’t have any USB C ports.&nbsp;Not exactly consistent. This will take awhile to work itself out.</p>
    <p>"This is a great time to be a PC fan."</p>
    <p>I pray for a better wireless solution. Wires begone.</p>

    • 5234

      03 November, 2016 - 10:34 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24382">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/glenn8878">glenn8878</a><a href="#24382">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>USB-C <em>IS&nbsp;</em>the port type. &nbsp;Thunderbolt 3 uses that form factor for Thunderbolt connections, but supports USB devices too. &nbsp;USB-C is something that came about when USB 3.0 was released, but it’s not part of the communication standard, just like USB Type A and Type B don’t require USB 1.x or 2.x. &nbsp;</p>

  • 2130

    03 November, 2016 - 9:45 am

    <p>Do you have a source for the Surface docking port using USB 3.0? Because as far as I know, USB 3.0 will not pass through Displayport from an internal graphics adapter like the docking station does. I’m not saying USB-C/Thunderbolt doesn’t have a lot going for it, but there is a lot more going on in that proprietary docking port than a USB 3.0 port could have ever handled and USB-C wasn’t even an option at the time.</p>

    • 7218

      03 November, 2016 - 10:29 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24388">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Tallin">Tallin</a><a href="#24388">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>I don’t know for sure but my understanding always has been that the charge connector is basically just miniDisplayPort, USB 3.0, and power rewired into a new connector (though the one on the bottom of the Surface Book obviously is reconfigured PCIe to give external GPU support).</p>

      • 2130

        03 November, 2016 - 11:34 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#24406">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/jhoff80">jhoff80</a><a href="#24406">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>As I understood, it works much like any other docking port that you’ll find on business laptops: it’s a proprietary connection to the bus for various connections on&nbsp;the main computer. In other words, it would be&nbsp;similar to&nbsp;plugging into&nbsp;various&nbsp;headers on&nbsp;the motherboard of&nbsp;a desktop computer, but conveniently provided in one port. A USB 3.0 connection like Paul describes the docking station&nbsp;would recreate all the ports through the USB bus, which would be very&nbsp;cumbersome. It would not provide the experience you get with a Surface Pro docking station unless you only had very light usage.</p>

  • 6844

    03 November, 2016 - 10:00 am

    <p>I still like the magnet capability of the exsiting charging port. Maybe they could have both options for charging.</p>

    • 5539

      03 November, 2016 - 12:12 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24397">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/kenhes">kenhes</a><a href="#24397">:</a>&nbsp;</em>A proprietary charge port at least helps ensure you are using a charger designed for your device, either by being first party or licensed. With four potential USB-C charge ports, there’s no telling what people will hook up to them and where they came from. There’s always the counterfeit issue, but with USB-C it could be a perfectly valid charger, but not for your device. The standard should prevent that sort of thing, but cutting corners on standards implementation is a time honored method of cutting costs.</blockquote>

      • 2130

        03 November, 2016 - 12:22 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#24435">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/SvenJ">SvenJ</a><a href="#24435">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>And people still buy those "universal" chargers with fifteen different ends&nbsp;(which could potentially damage your laptop) because the first party chargers are either four times the price (or more) and only sold from the company website, or have been&nbsp;discontinued.</p>

  • 5592

    03 November, 2016 - 10:01 am

    <p>Which is why Apple now has to sell <em>SEVENTEEN</em> separate dongles in their store to actually get their various incompatible devices talking to each other and the rest of the world.</p>

    • 2130

      03 November, 2016 - 10:12 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24399">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/MikeGalos">MikeGalos</a><a href="#24399">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>That’s true right now, but eventually you will only need those dongles rarely when working with legacy equipment.</p>

      • 5592

        03 November, 2016 - 10:33 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#24402">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Tallin">Tallin</a><a href="#24402">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>No. That’s only true if EVERY existing standard disappears. And that will only happen if EVERY requirement of EVERY standard is a pure subset of Lightning with a USB-C physical port and then only if no new standards appear that create new requirements.</p>

        • 2130

          03 November, 2016 - 10:55 am

          <blockquote><em><a href="#24407">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/MikeGalos">MikeGalos</a><a href="#24407">:</a></em></blockquote>
          <p>Like what happened with serial, parallel, joystick, PS2, etc. after USB showed up? USB-C&nbsp;allows you to transmit Displayport, USB, Thunderbolt&nbsp;and pretty much any other protocol that is adapted to it. For any legacy USB device (printer, hard drive, etc), all you’ll need is different cable. The same for legacy Displayport monitors&nbsp;on any video-enabled USB-C&nbsp;port. There really isn’t much need for anything else, except perhaps in niche situations. Now, having only one port even&nbsp;on a laptop does seem silly to me, but it’s not designed for me. On a desktop, though,&nbsp;you wouldn’t need to be&nbsp;swapping out dongles/cables all the time (or need a dock of some kind). And eventually, all this stuff will just have USB-C.</p>

          • 5592

            03 November, 2016 - 11:11 am

            <blockquote><em><a href="#24416">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Tallin">Tallin</a><a href="#24416">:</a></em></blockquote>
            <p>Yes. Exactly. And how today’s current standards and connectors will be replaced by new ones.</p>

            • 2130

              03 November, 2016 - 12:00 pm

              <blockquote><em><a href="#24420">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/MikeGalos">MikeGalos</a><a href="#24420">:</a></em></blockquote>
              <p>And hopefully by that time it’s basically just&nbsp;one port to replace, and they’ll have the same level of backwards compatibility to make it an easier transition.</p>

              • 5592

                03 November, 2016 - 12:04 pm

                <blockquote><em><a href="#24430">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Tallin">Tallin</a><a href="#24430">:</a></em></blockquote>
                <p>Which is what they said about USB and USB 2 and IEEE1398/Firewire and SCSI and, and, and…</p>

                • 2130

                  03 November, 2016 - 12:12 pm

                  <blockquote><em><a href="#24431">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/MikeGalos">MikeGalos</a><a href="#24431">:</a></em></blockquote>
                  <p>And it happened for USB, as far as the devices it was designed to replace. Which is why&nbsp;computers only needed USB, power, video, audio&nbsp;and network. No serial for mouse, LPT for printer, PS2 for keyboard, game port for your gamepad/joystick…</p>

    • 5714

      03 November, 2016 - 12:50 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24399">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/MikeGalos">MikeGalos</a><a href="#24399">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p><em>Just because they sell them, doesn’t mean everyone needs them. &nbsp;The only cable I carry is a USB to Lightning Port cable for my iPhone 7. &nbsp;I have long since abandoned all dongles, USB hard drives, thumb drives, and wired mice/keyboards, for LARGE factory SSD’s, network attached storage, and wireless input devices. &nbsp;I’m really surprised this is such a big problem for people.</em></p>

      • 5592

        04 November, 2016 - 1:24 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#24460">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/TEAMSWITCHER">TEAMSWITCHER</a><a href="#24460">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>So your answer to lack of compatibility is not using devices? That’s kind of demonstrating my point.</p>

  • 7741

    03 November, 2016 - 10:20 am

    <p>The problem is not the newly sized plug per se. The problem is that you can get a no-name old-style USB cable for a dollar and it will work, maybe not as fast or as well, but it will work. A badly made USB-C cable can *damage your device*. So not only do you need new cables/adapters, but you have to shell out to OEMs or big names to get additional cables that don’t come with your device. Right now I have one device (a phone) that has a USB-C port. It came with a data cable and a charger. I bought two more data cables to charge it at work and in the car. These are all USB 3 to USB-C cables by the way. If my next work or home computer switches to USB-C, suddenly I need a different type of cable or I can’t connect or charge my device from it any more. And, as &nbsp;I said, they are more expensive. Not to mention possibly a reverse adapter for other in my family that use older phones. Do those even exist?</p>

    • 8043

      04 November, 2016 - 9:23 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24403">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/bzakharin">bzakharin</a><a href="#24403">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>Let’s be fair about that cost/damage issue. A cheap, poorly made cable is far more likely to cause damage than a well made USB-C cable.</p>

  • 5234

    03 November, 2016 - 10:36 am

    <p>Having Thunderbolt 3 for all ports isn’t something that I could see happening on any recent systems. &nbsp;If anything, they are likely using a shared controller, since the ability to drive several ports at full speed would need a lot of open PCI Express lanes, which modern mobile processors lack. &nbsp;Forget about Thunderbolt 3 for low-power SoC’s.</p>

    • 180

      03 November, 2016 - 12:22 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24411">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Waethorn">Waethorn</a><a href="#24411">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>This is one of the more interesting – and underreported – aspects of the 13" MacBook. It has 4 USB-C/TB ports. But only the ones on the left side go at full speed. Is it obvious? No. Is it marked? No. The 15" MacBook Pro, I presume due to its quad core processor, has all 4 ports running at full speed.</p>

      • 2354

        03 November, 2016 - 9:31 pm

        <blockquote><em><a href="#24441">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Polycrastinator">Polycrastinator</a><a href="#24441">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>Also, unless things have changed, TB still requires an active cable which drives up the cost significantly.</p>

  • 4567

    Premium Member
    03 November, 2016 - 10:54 am

    <p>It is refreshing to read your articles about USBC/TB3 Paul. &nbsp;Based on what I’m reading elsewhere in the blogosphere evidently nobody has ever had to buy a dongle for anything up until this point. &nbsp; I must’ve been doing something wrong all these years. &nbsp;The whole dongle-gate thing. &nbsp;My basement has drawers full of dongles,adapters, and cables of computers past. &nbsp;Micro USB, mini USB, different firewire camcorder connectors, different kinds of serial cables, different ipod connectors, lightening, dvi to vga, hdmi to vga, displayport to whatever. &nbsp;</p>
    <p>Apple has once again really pushed peoples patience by nuking popular connectors. &nbsp;Removal of the SD slot I think will be a deal breaker for many. &nbsp; Magsafe was cool too, but I won’t necessarily miss it. &nbsp;I’m really looking forward to our any-port-any-purpose future. &nbsp;Why couldn’t we get there 10 years ago is my question? &nbsp;Why do monitors STILL come with DVI and VGA ports and their corresponding cables in the box?</p>
    <p>Could Apple’s decision to nuke all legacy ports backfire? Will be interesting to see what happens. &nbsp;But on the flip side how else are we going to move the usbc/tb3 ball forward? &nbsp;We need to push accessory/peripheral vendors to get their stuff to this standard quickly. &nbsp;I hope Microsoft follows suit with its next generation of products. &nbsp;They probably won’t nuke all legacy ports, but certainly get rid of anything proprietary and put the focus on usbc/tb3 ports.</p>

    • 442

      03 November, 2016 - 1:02 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24415">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/joeaxberg">joeaxberg</a><a href="#24415">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>There is an article in PC Mag today outlining Apples sales figures dropping as of late.&nbsp; If you ask me, Apples hardware changes are affecting them pretty harshly.&nbsp; I hope other OEMs take note.</p>

  • 5539

    03 November, 2016 - 12:04 pm

    <p>’competing and incompatible standards …the serial, parallel, and PS2.’ What is that supposed to mean? serial, parallel and PS2 were competing with each other? Various serial ports were incompatible? Come on. These were more standard and consistent than many ‘standards’ we have today. Tell me you haven’t had BT compatibility issues. I have yet to find a USB-C to USB-C cable that will work between my MS Dock and Lumia phones for continuum, except for the one that shipped with it. I have a USB-C dock that when hooked up to a Lumia 950XL fails to output HDMI to one monitor, does so with tearing on another and works perfectly on a TV. Some of that is poor implementation of standards to be sure, but a standard shouldn’t be that easy to screw up.&nbsp;</p>

    • 2130

      03 November, 2016 - 4:20 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24432">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/SvenJ">SvenJ</a><a href="#24432">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>Actually, there were competing serial standards. Mac, for instance, mostly used RS-422, while PC used RS-232. But RS-232 also came with two different port types: DB-25 and DB-9. I had a DB9 mouse that would not work on a DB25 port with an adapter. Not sure what was going on there, just ended up using a different mouse. So&nbsp;life was definitely not all roses with those standards, either. USB is way better than what came before in both compatibility and capability.</p>

  • 5496

    03 November, 2016 - 12:27 pm

    <p>So you want to use more dongles? People use regular USB devices. They don’t want to use a dongle for everything.</p>

    • 5485

      04 November, 2016 - 5:12 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24447">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/lordbaal1">lordbaal1</a><a href="#24447">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>You don’t need more. Actually you’ll less in the middle term. But even the ones you need now are probably one or two.</p>
      <p>1. USB-C is USB compliant. Meaning you can plugin any current USB device, meaning external storage, cameras, USB switches … you name it</p>
      <p>2. You need a dongle for: HDMI and Mini-display port connections.</p>
      <p>For desktops: I don’t see problems on either. Plug the dongle into the HDMI or Minidisplay port cable and leave it there.</p>
      <p>For laptops: Again, if you mainly use your laptop as a desktop replacement the same reasoning applies to the desktop. A more challenging context is when you regularly plugin your laptop to multiple displays&nbsp;while away from your regular workspace. In which case you will need either a HDMI or Minidisplay dongle or both in your bag. Mind you, if the second is just to connect to a screen for meeting purposes probably a better solution would be a wireless dongle for display mirroring (I used chromecast in meetings and works great in 1080p).</p>
      <p>1. I have a Surface Dock, paid, around $200 for it. I did not like to pay for it because I felt exploited for the price and technology in comparison with other devices in the same price (say a console or Apple TV has more tech in it). But I needed it and well, I used Surface. Still its not a good solution for several reasons, it was the one possible. Now integrating the surface dock function into a display&nbsp;and with only one cable connect the laptop … that is a far better solution.</p>
      <p>2. The application of these kind of interface is only in the beginning. There are already external GPUs … and more will for sure appear.</p>
      <p>So no. I don’t want to use more dongles. But I also don’t want to use more docks and proprietary interfaces for this and that.</p>
      <p>I understand your point. But I don’t think is well made. Hopefully it will not persevere, but it will be a uphill battle changing that perception considering people don’t really like to think much about their own opinions~, which is perfectly normal. Change is quite often misunderstood.</p>
      <p>PS: Apple is normalizing all its interfaces around USB-C + Firewire 3. I wish tech champions like MS did the same. It would clear in less time a lot of misconceptions about the change and spike the industry to move forward (third party accessories so on and so forth, more options).</p>
      <p>PS: Now get rid of HDMI on the TV …. :)</p>

  • 1526

    03 November, 2016 - 12:45 pm

    <p>Excellent article. Yes, strange that Microsoft has not adopted this standard. To me that’s a showstopper. Apple does it right, pushing forward. You forget 5 K @ 60 Hz monitors. On the MacBook Pro 15 you can plug two of them right into two USB-C/TB-3 ports. The Surface Book supports only two 4 K @ 30 Hz monitors with a dock. You cannot use a second 5 K display with Surface Studio. TB-3 goes right into the PCI bus. You can use external graphic cards. There’s support for 10 Gbps networking. The one port to rule them all.</p>

  • 289

    Premium Member
    03 November, 2016 - 12:54 pm

    <p>Is there some kind of universal labeling system to identify which capabilities are present in a given Type C port and/or cable?&nbsp; It might support USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 or Thunderbolt 3; it might support additional Alternate Modes such as HDMI, DP or MHL; I think there’s also a spec for analog audio; and I think there may be two specs for power delivery. &nbsp;So not every port, cable, peripheral and power supply will be perfectly compatible. &nbsp; To the extent that anyone is paying attention, this is going to lead to some confusion. &nbsp;</p>

  • 442

    03 November, 2016 - 12:58 pm

    <p>I wouldn’t call it a disaster, as I’m eager to become more USB C and less legacy USB.&nbsp; However, it is a major annoyance, that the OEMs of computers are too far ahead of the devices and peripherals.&nbsp; As most of you know, I HATE DONGLES!!!!&nbsp; So these changes remain unwanted for now, hopefully a short lived "now" but still annoying as anything.&nbsp; I also dislike power input through a data port.&nbsp; That spells disaster on device without this functionality, and also annoying too that you loose out on a port to get more power.&nbsp; Magnetic is still to me the best power port setup.</p>

  • 2416

    03 November, 2016 - 1:29 pm

    <p>I agree with Paul on this USB 3 &amp; Thunderbolt are the future.</p>
    <p>What I hope MS does with the Surface Phone is along the same lines as what they did with the Surface Book… detachable components that effectively upgrade/downgrade the device while it’s running.</p>
    <p>Imagine a Surface Phone with a Thunderbolt connection that can plug into a "Centennial-compatible" dock that contains an x86&nbsp;CPU and GPU. This would allow someone to install a centennial app on their device and then run the app via continuum when it is docked into the Centennial dock… that would be a killer feature.</p>
    <p>The other mobile move I think MS should make, if feasible,&nbsp;is to create a "Windows 10 app" for Android. The app would do two things, run UWP apps and enable Continuum for those apps. When a user installs the app it will check the device for Android apps that have a Windows 10 UWP equivalent and ask to replace the android app with a Windows 10 app so they can benefit from Continuum… I think that would give developers a compelling reason for developing on UWP.</p>

    • 2130

      03 November, 2016 - 3:08 pm

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24475">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/mikefarinha">mikefarinha</a><a href="#24475">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>Running an external CPU would be beyond the capabilities even of Thunderbolt, even&nbsp;if Windows supported it. They could potentially&nbsp;use USB-C as a link to a Remote Desktop session, instead of using network, but that seems unnecessary when current remote apps already fulfill this need over standard&nbsp;network connections.</p>

  • 7037

    03 November, 2016 - 2:01 pm

    <p>We won’t have "universal compatibility" if companies like HP continue to require their own USB-C power adapters and lock third party adapters out. The correct thing for HP to do is allow trickle charge for 3rd party adapters not powerful enough to fully charge their laptops.</p>

  • 169

    Premium Member
    03 November, 2016 - 2:23 pm

    <p>I would not want to lose the magnetic surface connector. Everything else is okay</p>

  • 8008

    03 November, 2016 - 4:16 pm

    <p>You know Panos Panay is resisting this as long as he can, for no reason at all. This is why I haven’t bought a Surface, and in fact have no PC at all. I don’t believe there is a single PC worth buying at this point in time. A detachable 2-in-1 with Intel Kaby Lake and Thunderbolt 3 simply doesn’t exist. Will Panos deliver a Surface Pro 5 worth buying? I remain skeptical.</p>
    <p>Also, I wish Microsoft would take the Apple approach here and only have USB-C ports. It would force accessory manufacturers to act in a timely manner. I am tired of waiting for USB-C enabled accessory devices like Bluetooth speakers, portable storage, etc. They won’t do it unless the market forces them to do it. That is the sad reality.</p>

  • 4370

    Premium Member
    03 November, 2016 - 4:35 pm

    <p>While I often agree with you, here I do disagree Paul. Sure Tb3 is great and I am not buying any new laptop/convertible that hasn’t got at least 1 USB 3.1 gen 2, or better TB3, port. But Apple choice is impossible to defend. Out of 4 ports you could very well give 2 or at least 1 UBS type A in order to have the best of both worlds and travel without dongles. That’s what many windows pc makers are doing with their flagship devices (especially gaming devices, the first to offer TB3). And out of 2 (base model) one could be TB3 and one type A (did you know that you can have USB 3.1 gen 2 over type A too?). It will be several years before most mice, pen drives, external hard disks, phone cables (even Apple’s ones are type A…) are type C. And what about all existing peripherals? Should we replace them all if they still work? I am all for MS to replace the surface connector with type C, provided they don’t remove the type A port… Not buying any PC that hasn’t at least one type A port over the next 5 years….</p>

  • 427

    03 November, 2016 - 4:54 pm

    <p>I think the this makes sense.&nbsp; The only thing I’m curious about is. If you have thunderbolt ports and usb 3.1 ports (both type c connector ports) then how do you know which port is which? The USB 3.0 blue ports was a cool way to know.</p>
    <p>I hope something simple like that comes to computers.&nbsp; Also, I really think the daisy chaining makes sense if we do actually get to the point where everything is using the USB-C Cables.&nbsp; Including mice, keyboards, monitors, and all other peripherals.&nbsp;&nbsp; Hopefully the USB c cables will be useful for 10 or more years and they cables won’t have to change in order to support newer versions of thunderbolt or USB versions.&nbsp; Because I think a lot of people would agree, not having to care about the cables would be ideal.&nbsp; Most normal humans probably just want to be able to plug stuff into other stuff and move own.&nbsp; Maybe some day your grandparents will be able to hook up their TVs to their cable box and 4k+ disc players or anything else.&nbsp; I also saw Thunderbolt has a networking option, maybe that will replace ethernet cables in routers eventually too. Who knows?</p>

  • 5485

    03 November, 2016 - 8:05 pm

    <p>Yes, Yes, Yes. By the way, make those docks integrated with the monitors. So we simply connect one cabe from the laptop to the monitor and that is it (like Apple / LG did). No need fot dumb Surface like docks of 240 euros ($200).</p>
    <p>Don’t mind carrying one or two adapter for say card readers and regular USB as long as the above is provided.</p>
    <p>Furthermore this is only the beginning … there are external GPUs already using tech similar to this.</p>

  • 8016

    03 November, 2016 - 10:20 pm

    <p><em>The real, um, power here, though, is that you can do all this from a single plug. That is, using the right adapter or a USB-C/Thunderbolt dock, you can drive one or more 4K displays, a keyboard and mouse, various USB hard drives, and more &hellip; all from a single port</em></p>
    <p>Then why do you need 4 usb-c ports? &nbsp; Why not keep the others free for legacy use?</p>

    • 8043

      04 November, 2016 - 9:24 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24528">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Oliver_Chompsky">Oliver_Chompsky</a><a href="#24528">:</a>Because all devices would need to have a pass through of all of the power/data/video options. As most devices do not have pass through, now you just plug whatever you need into whatever port you want, and it works.</em></blockquote>

      • 5592

        06 November, 2016 - 12:16 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#24598">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Robert_Ameeti">Robert_Ameeti</a><a href="#24598">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>Well, first, a legacy port would only have to support legacy functions.</p>
        <p>Secondly, you can’t just "plug in whatever you need into whatever port you want" since the two left&nbsp;side ports on some of the new MacBook Pro models apparently run at a different speed than the two on the right side. Not that you’d know from the port or any markings on the port since, of course, the ports not looking the same or having something as "unaesthetic" as labels wouldn’t do for an Apple product.</p>

        • 8043

          06 November, 2016 - 8:10 am

          <blockquote><em><a href="#24733">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/MikeGalos">MikeGalos</a><a href="#24733">:</a></em></blockquote>
          <p>When I’ve connected a device that could benefit from a ‘high speed’ USB port, and I’ve inadvertently plugged into a ‘low speed’ USB port on a PC, a notice has appeared on the screen telling me that I would be better off plugging it into one of the ‘high speed’ USB ports on that PC. And this was on computers that had some sort of different icons/symbols on the ports. Not that I’d really remember what the different icons meant. Most often these were computers that I was not intimate with but instead I was plugging in to of clients. My point is that just having the icon does not make life wonderful. Notification to the consumer, when necessary, is the best answer. It certainly does sound that you like to whine.</p>

  • 5525

    04 November, 2016 - 12:18 am

    <blockquote><em><a href="#24512">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/awright18">awright18</a><a href="#24512">:</a></em></blockquote>
    <p>You don’t need separate ports for USB-C and TB3. &nbsp;If your computer has TB3, but you only have USB-C cables, then you can plug them in, and they will simply run at the native USB speed of the device. &nbsp;I think that even applies, if you pick up a TB3 device, have a TB3 port on you computer, but only have USB-C cable. &nbsp;It will just default to the USB speed, in the second example I gave, that of&nbsp;USB3.1.</p>

  • 8025

    04 November, 2016 - 5:37 am

    <p>I agree that Thunderbolt 3 is a great port but the only problem so far is no body is making a dock that works with current TB3 computer and supports USB 3.1 Gen 2. &nbsp;Supporting legacy devices is fine but what about devices that should be coming out with USB 3.1 Gen 2 speeds. &nbsp;OWC is coming out with a nice dock with 13 ports but no USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports. All the USB 3.0 ports should be 3.1 Gen 2. &nbsp;Another problem is Apple has made it so docks made for the new MacBook Pro will most likely not work with current TB3 Windows machines. &nbsp;Manufactures have not done much in the past year to support TB3 for Windows computers that will support future hardware.</p>

  • 129

    Premium Member
    04 November, 2016 - 9:29 am

    <p>Is there any reason we can’t have Thunderbolt 3 over USB Type-A? Best of all worlds?</p>

    • 4370

      Premium Member
      05 November, 2016 - 10:23 am

      <blockquote><em><a href="#24601">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/Shmuelie">Shmuelie</a><a href="#24601">:</a></em></blockquote>
      <p>TB3 works only over type C. The fastest you can have on type A is USB 3.1 gen 2 (10 Gb/s). But nothing prevents a manufacturer to add some USB type A ports to the system together with USB-C… That’s how you have the best of both worlds…. </p>

      • 129

        Premium Member
        06 November, 2016 - 8:36 am

        <blockquote><em><a href="#24693">In reply to </a><a href="../../users/digiguy">digiguy</a><a href="#24693">:</a></em></blockquote>
        <p>But WHY? I don’t see why it can’t besides we don’t want it to.</p>

  • 7063

    04 November, 2016 - 9:48 am

    <p>Paul, You have a small&nbsp;error in your "Data" paragraph where you say "USB-C can transmit data at speeds up to 10 Gbps." USB-C is just the connector type, it is USB 3.1 that can transmit data at speeds of 10 Gbps. USB-C connectors can actually be attached to USB 2 electronics if the vendor wants.</p>
    <p>So for example: Logitech could start releasing mice, keyboards, and webcams with USB-C connectors that use the current USB 2.1 internals&nbsp;and it would be a perfectly valid USB device.</p>

  • 410

    Premium Member
    04 November, 2016 - 10:01 am

    <p>Couldn’t agree more.</p>
    <p>Hopefully Surface Pro 5 will have Thunderbolt &amp; lose the proprietary connector.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p>
    <p>I use&nbsp;Surface Dock; I’m happy to use a Break-out device to expand Ports on the desktop to provide for a couple of monitors, USB etc. etc.&nbsp;&nbsp; Intel will undoubtedly be providing numerous Thunderbolt\USB3.x options with Kaby Lake chipsets and hopefully MS will just ‘go with the flow’ instead of re-reinventing the wheel.</p>

  • 1400

    04 November, 2016 - 10:59 am

    <p>Thanks for this article, Paul. I wasn’t clear on what Thunderbolt 3 "changed" about USB-C ports, but you made it very clear!&nbsp;</p>

  • 639

    Premium Member
    06 November, 2016 - 11:27 am

    <p>I feel the same way about USB-C.&nbsp; I left the charging cable for my 950 at home once and had to search all over the place to find one in the city I was visiting. It just makes since to have one type of port. Especially for places that want provide charging options for their customers.</p>
    <p>I held off on buying a Surface to see if version 5 has at least one type&nbsp;C port.</p>

  • 1775

    07 November, 2016 - 10:52 am

    <p>&gt;…PS2 in the late 1990s…<br />Actually, it was the late 80s.</p>

  • 670

    07 November, 2016 - 3:31 pm

    <p>This is plain BS – I’m tired of Apple’s (and now Paul’s) excuses with the solution being to "just get over it already." There is no reason that a USB Type A port couldn’t be left in for the millions of thumb drives and other devices out there. And Schiller’s excuse of "your SD card hangs out" is totally a red herring – Apple CHOSE to use a half-depth slot; just use a full depth slot why don’t you.</p>
    <p>I truly hope MS will put a Thunderbolt 3 port in both the keyboard base and the Clipboard for SB2, but don’t follow Apple’s all or nothing routine.</p>

  • 248

    Premium Member
    07 November, 2016 - 9:32 pm

    <p>Apple was wrong to switch so quickly on their pro line of devices. Remember this is MacBook Pro, not MacBook portable. They already had a thin and light form factor, now they have two. It is nonsense that they would take core features out of their pro device that many professionals use all day. The SD card for example is used by almost all photographers because it is the easiest way to put photos on a device. They needed one more transition generation which could be USB-C all the way but also had some older ports to cater to the pros.</p>

  • 8252

    15 November, 2016 - 12:00 am

    <p>All for progress here! &nbsp;I’ve been using the Surface Pro 3 for 2 and a half years with 3 dongles when remote and a dock at the office. The lightweight portability and battery life is worth a few dongles. &nbsp;For those looking for multiple port types, there are still larger heavier devices and at the other end there is the one port Macbook or iPad Pro.</p>

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