Dongleworld? We’ve Always Lived in Dongleworld

Posted on November 6, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Android, Hardware, Microsoft Surface, Mobile, Windows 10, Windows Phones with 72 Comments

Dongleworld? We've Always Lived in Dongleworld

Oh no! It’s a dongle!?!

The FUD I see around the move to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 is overwhelming but is likewise without merit. Folks, dongles are nothing new. And the benefits of USB-C/Thunderbolt are undeniable.

Dieter Bohn just wrote about this topic for The Verge, but I thought I’d present a more PC-centric view here: Dieter is one of the good guys, but he’s also made the conscious decision to live in the future, and his Mac-centric computing ways may make his message less welcome in these parts. I want to assure those of you living in the past—that is, those still clinging to old-school PCs with non-touch screens and legacy ports—that you don’t have fear that future.

Because you don’t.

Granted, I just wrote about this in Welcome to the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 Era too. But one of the issues I didn’t address there was that the worry over dongles is misplaced. There is nothing unique about the dongles you will or will not need with USB-C/Thunderbolt, but there is one thing that is quite unique about USB-C/Thunderbolt: For the first time ever, we have a single connector that replaces everything.

But, please. Let’s talk dongles. You know, those annoyances that just make USB-C so unbearable. For some reason.

This is the ASUS Zenbook UX31E. It’s the first Ultrabook ever made, and the first PC that took on the MacBook Air from a looks and form factor perspective. It dates back to 2011, the year after the current-generation MacBook Air first shipped, and it has a combination of ports: USB 2.0 and SD on the side you can’t see. And USB 3.0, mini-VGA, and microHDMI on this side.


Both of those video-out ports—mini-VGA and microHDMI—will require a special cable of some kind, since both are actually pretty rare even today. But more likely, you’ll need a dongle for either. For example, a microHDMI to full-sized HDMI so you can use that weird little port with the HDMI type that is commonly available. This situation was so obvious to ASUS that they even gave Zenbook UX31E a little goody bag that included two dongles: USB 2.0 to Ethernet and mini-VGA to full-sized VGA.

Which reminds me. Anyone with a modern PC Ultrabook will probably need a USB-to-Ethernet dongle if they intend to wired up their device. I travel with one that’s part of a USB hub in order to use more USB peripherals with USB port-constrained devices like Microsoft’s Surface tablets.

Let’s look at one more example. ASUS might have been first out of the game in copying Apple’s MacBook Air, but Samsung really nailed it with its Series 9 Ultrabooks. I still own both 13- and 15-inch versions of this incredible device, and here’s the 13-inch version. Like the ASUS before it, it has one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port. But it offers miniHDMI (as opposed to microHDMI) for video-out, and it has proprietary ports for Ethernet and a second video-out. Dongles everywhere, but in this case you need Samsung dongles.


USB-C is an improvement over everything that came before. Everything. And it benefits everyone, even when you factor in dongles. Which again, is nothing new.

But the dongle situation is better with USB-C than it was in the past. It’s a standard, so everyone is using it everywhere, on PCs, on tablets, and on phones. (The only exception is the iPhone, which is ironic or whatever. Who cares?) Device makers no longer need to make their own power supplies, plugs, and connectors. They no longer need to worry about proprietary plugs or ports of any kinds. And you, as the consumer, can simply focus on the one true standard.

Yes, for the short term, you will need to deal with dongles, and even with minor inconveniences like sub-standard USB-C parts from faceless Asian budget retailers. But unlike in the past, this situation really is short-term: Soon, everything will simply use USB-C connectors: Your next display, your next storage device, your next whatever. And if you buy carefully, you can put one foot in the past and one in the future: For example, HP’s excellent new Spectre x360 offers a USB 3.0 port and two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports. Bam.

Put simply, dongles are nothing new, we’ve been dealing with them for years. We should view USB-C/Thunderbolt as the end of Dongleworld, not some terrible new era of dongles. This is about moving forward, not about complicating your life. And hopefully, this is the end of the dongle conversation.


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  1. 2 | Reply
    BigM72 Alpha Member #95 - 2 months ago

    Let's make a working assumption that I possess the peripherals I need already and have been plugging them in via USB-A.

    Right now, if I purchased a laptop with legacy ports, all my peripherals would continue to work, nothing would have to change.

    If I purchased a USB-C laptop, I would have to live #dongelife until such time as my peripherals were naturally worn down and replaced with new USB-C ones. (I wouldn't want to have to buy new peripherals early just to get rid of the dongles).

    The longer and longer life cycle of laptops and peripherals is why, although USB-C is a great idea; it really should be a ten year journey and Apple's forcing of it isn't just early, it's premature. 

    The other thing Paul's article doesn't really address is that the capability of the port depends on what capabilities the motherboard controller has. E.g. on the Macbook Pro, the left side has faster ports than the right side. Then there's confusion around thunderbolt vs mini-displayport and other alternate modes. Unless everyone adopts every standard possible for USB-C; there's going to be this journey to figure out what a port can and can't do and that's going to be massively confusing to normals who are used to 1:1 between connectors and protocols

    1. 0 | Reply
      wright_is Alpha Member #1319 - 2 months ago
      In reply to BigM72:

      For me, the use of dongles isn't the problem, it is the lack of dongles in the box. Asus had the right idea by including a couple of the most common dongles in the box. I think if Apple and Co. included a USB-C to USB-A dongle or a voucher for a couple of dongles in the box, there wouldn't be much to complain about. 

      But paying over $2000 for a notebook and then having to invest in either a plethora of dongles or new peripherals, just because you can't plug them in is not good.

  2. 1 | Reply
    ncn Alpha Member #1334 - 2 months ago

    The message I get is that Apple has designed for the future to catch up to the device. Corollary: we don't intend to deliver a new machine for 3-5 years.

  3. 1 | Reply
    digiguy Alpha Member #2015 - 2 months ago

    No Paul, the choice made by Apple was the wrong one. You know very well that devices like the new 360 etc leave at least one type A port. It's not true that everything will be USB C soon, no. Why should we throw away all the excellent mice and keyboards we have for instance. This is stupid and against the environment. Let alone the fact that so far where are the USB-C peripherals? So not only those we have bought over the past years, also those we are still buying over the foreseeable future. And and HDMI (VGA etc) port is not the same. You are generally sitting at a desk when you connect to a monitor. How about having to plug a pen drive for storage or for internet, while on the go. And don't tell me to tether my phone, that kills the battery unless it's for a few minutes... Even a single type A would have been enough for most uses. So no, I won't be buying any PC that only has type C, as well as none that only has type A.... I want both, that's best of both worlds. Fullstop.

    1. Paul Thurrott
      2 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 2 months ago
      In reply to digiguy:

      So, to be clear, I wasn't defending Apple. Just the move to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.

    2. 1 | Reply
      digiguy Alpha Member #2015 - 2 months ago
      In reply to paul-thurrott:
      Nobody is against the move to USB C. I said my next pc has to have USB C or I am not buying. But I don't agree with the brutal push towards type C. It's a bit like Windows 8. It was a move in the right direction (touch), but implemented in a brutal way that lead most people to try to avoid it. Look around the web how many apple fans are now thinking of moving to a pc, or keeping their old macs as long as they can... Microsoft tried to use its leadership in PCs to impose the "new standard" but it didn't work. They just lost clients. Same with Apple, they are simply going to lose clients (not just for the ports but also for the crazy price increases)
    3. 0 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago
      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      USB-C will get here soon enough, no need to rush things.  Though, Apple may have some backlash slowing it down rather than speeding it up.  Sad.

    4. 0 | Reply
      wright_is Alpha Member #1319 - 2 months ago
      In reply to digiguy:

      There is nothing wrong with the move to USB-C/Thunderbolt, it is the lack of dongles in the box, for me, that is the clincher. Throw a couple of dongles or vouchers to get the dongles you need and they will silence most critics. 

      USB-C is the future, but we are at the beginning of a transition period.

    5. -1 | Reply
      maethorechannen Alpha Member #377 - 2 months ago
      In reply to digiguy:

      " This is stupid and against the environment."

      By that logic, we should have stuck with PS2 ports.

      "How about having to plug a pen drive for storage"

      Type C pendrives already exist. And if you must use an old one, Type C to Type A dongles exist and are fairly cheap.

    6. 1 | Reply
      digiguy Alpha Member #2015 - 2 months ago
      In reply to maethorechannen:

      "By that logic, we should have stuck with PS2 ports."

      Bad comparison. USB A has been there for 20 years during which laptops entered everybody's house. And you have billions of peripherals. It's immensely more widespread...
      "Type C pendrives already exist. And if you must use an old one, Type C to Type A dongles exist and are fairly cheap."
      Yes, but they are inconvenient on the go... It's stupid to have to have a dongle hanging from your laptop in a train or plane. I'll let the others leave with dongles. My next pc will have both type C and type A.

  4. 1 | Reply
    joechang Alpha Member #1869 - 2 months ago

    I understand and agree that we do need to move forward, and clearly USB-C/TB3 is the future. However, I only live in the dongle world when I'm at the office or home and when I take the laptop out, the dongles stay where they are - on the desk or attached to the cable that needed the adapter. So at the moment, if I'm travelling for work, I don't worry about bringing a video adapter for presenting stuff, or if I'm on a holiday, I don't worry about bringing an SD card adapter for my photos.

  5. 0 | Reply
    ChristopherCollins Alpha Member #2122 - 2 months ago

    I agree for the most part.  I read 'The Verge' article the other day.

    I will say I would be more likely to get a Spectre360 or XPS13, if I were buying now.  Having that ONE legacy port is nice.  The Kaby Lake XPS even gives two and a card reader.  I know you are not a fan, but I never use web cams so it's what I typically recommend at work when we need a new one. I would, however, purchase an all USB C device if a 3.0 dongle was included.  I just don't feel I should be forced to buy one.

    However, I do think by mid 2017, there will be no reason to worry about a legacy port as the market will catch up with what's going on.

  6. 0 | Reply
    maethorechannen Alpha Member #377 - 2 months ago

    I just hope Type B connectors on peripherals disappear soon. It's the one type of USB cable I'm most likely to not have on hand when I need one.

  7. 0 | Reply
    gvan - 2 months ago

    I'm hoping to get that HP Specture x360 with my tax refund. Hopefully, HP will release a version in a color other than "Same Old Silver" by then. They only have one model right now in 13 inch silver. Has anyone heard anything about a 15 inch or different colors? The previous version had an OLED screen option that is not available in the newest model. Does anyone know if/when these models might be available?

    1. 0 | Reply
      BigM72 Alpha Member #95 - 2 months ago
      In reply to gvan:

      There was an ash and copper colour version of the spectre?

  8. 0 | Reply
    wright_is Alpha Member #1319 - 2 months ago

    I think the biggest problem with USB-C is that USB is so universal and suddenly we have a different plug shape that is, for the first time, not backward compatible.

    In the long term, this isn't a problem, but in the short term, for those that have dozens of USB sticks, printers, scanners etc. that plug into USB, that is a big difference. On most Windows PCs it doesn't matter, yet, as they still have a couple of normal USB 3/3.1 ports as well as USB-C.

    But the MacBooks and similar Windows ultrabooks/convertibles that only have USB-C make the problem more glaringly obvious. I still have peripherals from the turn of the century that work fine today, but not on a new PC which only has USB-C. I think your example of the Asus is pertinent here, for the transition period Apple (and other manufacturers) should be throwing a USB-C to USB-A dongle into the box (or a voucher for a couple of dongles), to help users transition.

    Interestingly, have you noticed what this means for Apple? According to them, the iPhone 7 is a legacy device, when it comes to Mac connectivity!

  9. 0 | Reply
    JudaZuk Alpha Member #2098 - 2 months ago

    A Classic , in a new version for the MacBook Pro 2016, dedicated to dongles :)

  10. 0 | Reply
    tsay Alpha Member #1259 - 2 months ago

    For the single Batchelor/Spinster living alone this is not an issue, or not much of one until they step outside of their house/flat and interact with the REAL world.

    For a family man like me, with 2 teenage children with different laptops and phones and a wife the same plus the family shared AIO, plus my latestest and greatest, plus the Xbox, the TV, the sound system, the TiVo, the Sony SLR, etc., etc.,....

    All of it bought over multiple years.

    All of it actively used.

    Not all supporting WiFi.

    At this moment NOTHING is phased out and ALL still need potential connectivity until they do finally die...

    I have to support it all, often with duplicate and triplicate on hand of specific cables to support multiple concurrent activities across the users and devices.

    It's horrific.

    and F***ing expensive.

    Adding to the problem does not offer the solution.

  11. 0 | Reply
    Vuppe Alpha Member #1076 - 2 months ago

    To me, this is an excuse to upgrade my peripherals. Good stuff.

  12. 0 | Reply
    gsmith-plm Alpha Member #1599 - 2 months ago

    For many, it's not so much the issue of dongles as it is the issue of port types seeming to change every couple years resulting in people having to replace perfectly good gear or purchase (sometimes expensive) adapters. 

    While it may be true that the new connector is better in every way, it would still be nice if there were some consideration for the costs involved with the upgrade - I've lost count of the number of cables I have scrapped over the years.  The least a mfgr could do is to provide a few adapters when they switch to a new standard.

    That said, cables today are considerably cheaper than they were at one time.  Not that long ago (in geological terms) we were using parallel cables which ran about $25 each - that was about the price for a good steak dinner.

  13. 0 | Reply
    VMax Alpha Member #1493 - 2 months ago

    The trouble with the one-port-for-everything model is that now you have ports where a cable or device can be plugged in, but will not work:

  14. 0 | Reply
    JudaZuk Alpha Member #2098 - 2 months ago

    I come to think of this Lenovo X300 ad from 2008  :) 

    Sure , Dongles are not a problem...  or are they


  15. 0 | Reply
    Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago

    Less dongles = better

    More dongles = worse

    It ain't rocket science.

    The raw fact is computers are worthless to people if the computer doesn't have I/O.  So restricting or making I/O more difficult makes the machine more difficult to use.  No amount of obfuscation is going to change that very simple concept.  Who wants to use a more difficult computer?

  16. 0 | Reply
    JudaZuk Alpha Member #2098 - 2 months ago

    Turns out there might be another problem is this new world of dongles Apple tries to create (yes it is a new world of dongles, because it is not something you have to use everyday normally .  I for instance use zero dongles on a daily basis .. and I intend to continue doing that, and I dont know many people, except Mac users, that use any dongles currently) 

    And that is the fact that there seems to be an issue with the new  MacBook Pro's and ...dongles. Recently saw a video where they tested the new MacBook Pro 13"  ..and as soon as they connected a USB A to USB-C dongle to the thing WiFi started disconnecting .. over and over. 

    They also had issues with using a HDMI to USB-C dongle  the image kept flickering, and the mouse cursor started lagging, massively .. as soon as you pulled out the dongle, everything worked fine again. 

    They of course tested the dongles in a Dell XPS 13 to check if the issue was the dongles ...nope .. worked fine on a PC, did not work properly on the new Macbook Pro 13" ....   I find it strange that not a single review have mentioned this .. at all.  

    So what is the point of creating a dongle world if the computer potentially cant even handle dongles correctly?

  17. 0 | Reply
    cseafous Alpha Member #610 - 2 months ago

    I don't do dongles. I would rather pay extra for a cable with USB-C on one end and the port I need on the other.  Now if someone could make NFC or Bluetooth as fast as USB-C with Thunderbolt and come up with a standard to power devices wirelessly, then we will be living in the future! No cables means no dongles.

    1. 0 | Reply
      FreeJAC Alpha Member #1723 - 2 months ago
      In reply to cseafous:

      "I would rather pay extra for a cable with USB-C on one end and the port I need on the other."

      I think that is the exact definition of a dongle. Having to adapt the I/O port on the computer for the need rather than plugging the I/O cable into the computer directly.

  18. 0 | Reply
    Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 2 months ago

    " And USB 3.0, mini-VGA, and microHDMI on this side"


    What?!?  That's clearly a mini-DisplayPort!

    1. Paul Thurrott
      0 | Reply
      Paul Thurrott Alpha Member #1 - 2 months ago
      In reply to Waethorn:

      Yeah, that's what I thought too. But when I looked it up, the specs called it mini-VGA.

    2. 0 | Reply
      madthinus Alpha Member #94 - 2 months ago
      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      What insane notion on the internet, someone trying to be factually correct ;-)

    3. 0 | Reply
      Waethorn Alpha Member #2235 - 2 months ago
      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Are you sure they aren't talking about the dongle?

    4. 0 | Reply
      pesos Alpha Member #104 - 2 months ago
      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      The port is mDP but likely the provided dongle is mDP-->VGA

    5. 0 | Reply
      gmanny Alpha Member #1920 - 2 months ago
      In reply to pesos:

      mDP is taller

  19. 0 | Reply
    chrisrut Alpha Member #193 - 2 months ago

    Agreed. Just add various wireless technologies to whip up a halcyon future.      

  20. -1 | Reply
    glenn8878 Alpha Member #2387 - 2 months ago

    "Anyone with a modern PC Ultrabook will probably need a USB-to-Ethernet dongle if they intend to wired up their device."

    Everywhere has gone wireless 

    1. 1 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago
      In reply to glenn8878:

      Wireless is not the ultimate way to connect.  Sorry, it's just not.  Never will be either.

    2. 1 | Reply
      hrlngrv Alpha Member #100 - 2 months ago

      In reply to glenn8878:

      Not in my house.

      I'm too far from my router with too many walls in the way to get reliable wireless in my home office. I have to use power socket ethernet.

  21. -1 | Reply
    joeaxberg Alpha Member #1896 - 2 months ago

    I agree wholeheartedly with this article.  I have basement drawers full of cables and dongles past.  Mini-usb, micro-usb, 30 pin iPod connectors, 24 pin  Zune connector, different forms of firewire, dvi, dual link dvi, ADC (remember the old Apple version of dvi that included power to the display), dvi to vga, dvi to hdmi, hdmi to dvi, display port, the list is endless.

    USB-C can fix this mess.  But we need to have the big players pushing it.  Going all-in on it.  Otherwise we'll never get there.  Displays still come with VGA and DVI ports (usually with the cables in the box).  Why?  Why in 2016?    

    All these Apple people complaining about dongles.  This is not uncharted territory.     

    1. 0 | Reply
      Narg Alpha Member #420 - 2 months ago
      In reply to joeaxberg:

      Wow, nice utopia.  Sorry, you'll never fix everything that way.