Microsoft talks about its upcoming Surface USB Type-C dongle

The recent generations of Microsoft's Surface devices have been surrounded by a bit of controversy, due to the lack of a USB Type-C port, a technology that virtually all of the company's competitors are using. At a session at the company's Ignite 2017 conference today, Microsoft said that it realizes that it's time to embrace the technology, describing the dongle that the firm announced back in May.

The device, tentatively called the USB-C Docking Adapter (obviously not a final name), plugs into the Surface Connect port that you see in the image above, and includes a USB Type-C port. I don't have an image of the dongle itself because the presenter forgot to bring it, but it looks like just what you would expect; it's a small, black, rectangular device with a cable coming out of it that plugs into Surface Connect. Are you imagining that? Good, because what's in your imagination is exactly what it is.

Surface Connect uses USB 3.1 Gen 1, which means that it supports transfer speeds of up to 5Gbps. Obviously, converting to USB Type-C won't change that. It does mean, however, that if you - hypothetically, of course - bring five laptops to a conference, you have a shot of using the same charger on all of them, rather than using the same one for four laptops and having an additional charger for your Surface.

It's meant to be used with docks and adapters that are at least 27W, and it might end up only working with the latest Surface Pro and Surface Laptop. Support for the Surface Pro 4 and Book may show up via a firmware update, but Pro 3 users are out of luck. That doesn't necessarily mean that it won't work at all, but power output definitely won't work.

Microsoft said that the main reason that it's stayed away from USB Type-C for so long is that there's a lot of fragmentation. In fact, it seems to regret using micro-USB in the Surface 3, as many users would try to use their phone chargers to power it, and those just don't provide enough juice.

But with USB-C, it goes even deeper. Type-C has four lanes, which can be repurposed for different things. You have Gen 1, which is 5Gbps, and then there's Gen 2, which is 10Gbps. Aside from that, some cables repurpose those lanes for DisplayPort, and so on. And don't forget about Thunderbolt 3, which is 40Gbps, or 10Gbps per lane.

The time has come though, for Microsoft to embrace USB Type-C. It had to happen sooner or later, given that it's destined to become such a widely used technology, and Intel will be integrating Thunderbolt 3 into its chips soon enough.

The company said that the adapter will be coming later this year, but didn't provide pricing.

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