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.

asus

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.

sam

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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