Editorial: There are Other Options to the 2016 MacBook Pro’s Dongle Life

Look, I respect the living hell out of The Verge’s Lauren Goode. She is one of the best tech journalists out there today. If you’re not following her and reading her stuff, you’re doing yourself a real discredit. If it sounds like I’m just buttering her up to bring everything crashing down, that’s because I pretty much am. I didn’t want to write a rebuttal of someone I respect or revisit this topic, but I thought this was incredibly one-sided.

Lauren wrote a piece and filed an associated video for the verge called Is it worth living the dongle life for the new MacBook Pro and iPhone 7? for the Verge. The article takes a rather extreme angle, showing the worst case of the new Thunderbolt/ USB-C MacBook Pro without exploring other options. Despite what a lot of people are saying and writing, there are other options. We’ll now go over what other options could have been taken.

In each Exhibit section in the video, there is a Black shirt wearing Lauren with a 2016 MacBook Pro debating a flannel wearing version with a 2011 MacBook Pro. This was the last version with an optical drive, Firewire, and a traditional 2.5” form factor hard drive. The 2016 Lauren is surrounded by an army of various adapters and the new headphone-less iPhone 7.

Exhibit A

2016 Lauren is looking to charge her phone. She picks through a myriad of mini-hubs and Lightning to USB-A adapters. Not present in any form is the simplest solution: Lightning to USB-C. Apple offers them in 1m and 2m lengths for $19 and $29 respectively. You can expect that go down as third-party MFI versions hit store shelves. You can bet they are coming fast now that there’s a market for them.

The fact ignored here is that USB-C IS USB, not some abnormal Apple variant. You don’t need an adapter, you need a cable.

Exhibit B

In Exhibit B, the Laurens are trying to listen to music. 2011 Lauren simply places her 3.5mm headphones into the jack on her older smartphone while 2016 Lauren looks for Lightning splitter adapter and Lightning to 3.5mm adapter. This is a clunky solution, but there are other options.

I’ve never run into it. Why? Because I am extremely happy with a pair of an affordable pair of bluetooth earphones that I bought earlier this year. I press the power button, they automatically pair and I listen to my music. No adapter or even cable required. I have yet to use either the included Lightning EarPods or the adapter. By the announcement of the Ear Pods and three different sets of wireless beats, this is what Apple intended.

Exhibit C

Exhibit C is 2-point. 2016 Lauren is looking for a wait to put her pictures from her camera on her computer. Of course the only way is the SD-reader right? Nope, there are also more options here.

First, you can directly hook up the camera to the MacBook Pro. In many ways, this faster than digging out the SD card. You would need a USB-C to USB A adapter as many cameras use a proprietary form of miniature USB-B, but those are available in leading retail stores for under $10. You could also purchase an external reader, but what if you didn’t even need a cable at all? Most cameras of the last couple years include wireless capability built-in.

The other part of the Exhibit was transferring photos from a Thunderbolt hard drive to your Thunderbolt 3 Mac. If you have a Thunderbolt Drive, you will need the Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt 3 adapter. However, let’s be honest here, the Thunderbolt hard drives are very rare. Pretty much everybody, Mac users included, have USB 2.0 or 3.0 for single drive units. These will need either the afore mentioned C to A adaptor or a Mini/Micro-B to C cable. You can get those on Monoprice easily and cheaply.

Exhibit D
Exhibit D is kind of a rehash of part of Exhibit B. 2016 Lauren receives a phone call and fumbles around with adapters while she misses the call. Oh please. I am either wearing the aforementioned bluetooth headphones or simple just pick up the iPhone and answer the call.

The Cost of Adapters

2011 Lauren asks 2016 Lauren how much all of it cost. If you would have all the adapters Lauren has in front of her, its not cheap. However, you don’t need all of those adapters. There are other, more cost effective and many cases better solutions out there.

The Dongle Life Isn’t Unique to the 2016 MacBook Pro

Let’s say that 2011 Lauren wants to to charge her phone, her smart watch, plug in a mouse, plug in a hard drive, she couldn’t do it all. Why? Because that MacBook only has 2 USB ports. You need a USB Hub, a type of adapter to plug all devices in. Ironically with 4 ports that could be used for USB, in a couple ways, the 2016 model is more flexible. The 2016 MacBook wasn’t designed to place undue hardship people. It realizes the change in how people use our computers. I survived the change form ADB, serial, and SCSI to USB and FireWire. I survived FireWire to Lightning. I survived like half a million different ways to connect a computer to a display. You will to.

The Fuss over Thunderbolt MacBooks Is Much Ado About Nothing

There was a rumor that new MacBook Airs and Pros were slated to be announced on October 27th. That rumor became fact yesterday when Apple announced the first major redesign to the MacBook Pro line since WWDC 2012 and the first laptop to be completely rely on Thunderbolt 3 and USB-Type C. How will be the transition from USB Type-A and Thunderbolt 2 to the single connector of USB Type-C? Its not going to be near as difficult as the media may lead you to believe.

USB Type-C is just another USB

USB Type-C is NOT replacing USB. USB-Type C IS USB. its just USB that is smaller and more flexible. What that means is everything still works. You may just need a different cable for it. The USB standard has multiple different connectors: The two most common varieties are the standard Type-A and Type-B as they exist in USB 1.0 and 2.0. They are the rectangular connector on your computer, the smaller connector on your printer, and the cable that runs between them. Your Garmin has Mini-USB and your cell phone has Micro-USB. There’s also modified versions of these for USB3.0 that have more pins for faster speeds. In addition to connector types, USB is available in speed ranges from 12Mbps in USB 1.0 all the way up to 10Gbps in the newest USB spec USB 3.1 Gen 2.

That’s far too many connector types. the Type-C connector was designed to replace them all with a single connector that could be used anything from cameras to phones to computers to even You don’t need any kind of adapter, you can just buy a cable with USB-C on one end and your printer, hard drive, audio interface, etc will work as it always has. This is more akin to the transition from Firewire 400 to Firewire 800 or DisplayPort to MiniDisplayPort than legacy ports to USB.

Availability of Type-C

The USB Type C is nothing new at this point. Its available on two generations of the Retina MacBook, most middle to high end PCs bought in 2016. A quick check online shows Belkin, Apple, and other branded cables of various types of cables available from your typical who’s who of big box retailers. Online sources like Amazon and Monoprice go even further. Its also fairly easy to find a a USB power supply that will work with your MacBook or PC of choice. Yes, with USB-C being non-proprietary you can grab any power supply you want as long as it produces enough power for you PC.

Here is the one caveat: There are multiple reports of USB Type-C cables that do not meet spec. If ordering from from Amazon, make sure your cable is on Engineer Benson Leung’s List for full compliance. This isn’t an issue you should find in retail stores though.

Availability of and Need for Thunderbolt 3

If I have to be honest, this is where the sticking point will be. Cables are available, but devices are not outside of external graphics enclosures for gaming PCs. Complicating matters is that Thunderbolt 3 is essentially a new ecosystem. The only real devices prior to launch were a couple RAID enclosures, some docks, and a few rather pricy and bulky Thunderbolt 1/2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapters. Apple made it a bit easier with their own Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 adapter which is far less bulky and half the price of third-party options at $50. The Apple cable is bidirectional so it can not only adapt your Thunderbolt 2 devices to a new MacBook Pro (and presumably everything else going forward), but also take future Thunderbolt 3 devices with the USB-C Connector and use then on your existing Mac.

Right now Thunderbolt 3 is nowhere near as mature an environment as the USB Type-C. Further more, in its latest form, USB-Type C has gained speed and computer to computer networking that were previously Thunderbolt’s territory. The number devices that need a Thunderbolt connection may not be as many in the future.

Apple is right to be pushing ahead here. The future is one connector to rule them all. All transitions have some degree of difficulty. Thunderbolt 3 has to exist in the wild before devices exist for it. Same with Thunderbolt, FireWire, SCSI, and whatever exited before that. You may not want to get into new I/O at this time and nobody is forcing you to. If you’re not ready to move on, there is no shame in that.

Its The Era of USB-C and Thunderbolt 3

New MacBooks with New I/O isn’t something to fear, it’s just time. Apple isn’t putting an undue burden on its users, as I’ve shown here, unless you have a large Thunderbolt accessory collection, its not really much of a burden. USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are going to make your lives a lot easier. Let’s embrace that instead of wasting time resisting an inevitable change.

#CES2016: The Year of USB Type-C

USB Type-C debuted in the year world with the iPad-eque Nokia N1 in November of 2014 in its USB 2.0 variety, but the one port to rule them all really came onto the scene with on March 9, 2015 with the unveiling of the ultra-slim MacBook. It was the only port the little notebook needed with USB 3.1, Displayport & HDMI, and up to 100 watts of power mixed into one port barely larger than Lightning or Micro USB. It didn’t take long to understand that this lone port was the future. That was further solidified with Intel with them making Thunderbolt 3 essentially a supercharged version of Type-C with direct access to the PCI-E bus and 40Gbps speeds instead of 480Mbps of the USB 2.0 variant or 5-10mbps of the USB 3.1. It would take a while to get going for sure, but if CES has shown anything it’s that while legacy ports aren’t gone, USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 are here to stay with a barrage of products.

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Computers

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Apple should be very flattered. Just as the MacBook Air became the inspiration of a generation of Ultrabooks, there’s a lot of insanely thin fanless 12″ laptops this year wearing little more than a Core-M and a USB-C port. There’s plenty of options from HP, Dell, Samsung, and LG. Yeah, apparently LG makes laptops now. The creme of this crop seems to be the HP Elitebook Folio with high-end construction and a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports. There might actually be more devices announced with USB-C/ Thunderbolt 3 than not.

Likewise, the full power of Thunderbolt is fully realized this year. Acer has introduced its 12.5″ Aspire Blade Switch 12 S 2-in-1. This tablet/ laptop hybrid features Full HD and 4K Ultra HD displays and an Intel Core M CPU with HD515 graphics. This can be enhanced by an external Thunderbolt 3 graphics card in the Acer Graphics dock. Gaming accessory maker Razer takes this concept further with the Razer Blade Stealth. This ultrabook also features a 12.5″ FHD or UHD screen but includes a Intel Core i7 6500 with Intel 520HD graphics. Its external graphics solution is much more extreme. The Razer Core features a 500 watt power supply with 375 watts reserved for graphics, 4 USB 3.0 ports, gigabit ethernet, and a full-length double-slot PCI express slot for a graphics card of your choice. That includes even the most high-end extreme graphics cards on the market. Of course it can also take professional Quadro or FirePro graphics turning it from a Mini gaming monster to a tiny workstation.

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Displays

I fell in love with my AOC 15″ portable display despite some issues with DisplayLink and relatively low quality displays. With USB-C, DisplayLink is no longer needed as USB monitors can natively use DisplayPort and have access to more power. The first USB-C display in the form of ASUS’s MB169C+, a further evolution of the company MB168B+ USB 3.0 DisplayLink monitor. The new version also replaces the 1080 TN panel of the previous version with a much higher quality IPS display. I don’t think this will be the last either.

A lone portable display is far from USB Type-C’s only appearance at CES. It turns out a single connector for video, power, and USB was a bit popular in the medium-to high end range. Acer’s 2016 version of the H7-series comes in 25 and 27-inch Quad HD (2560×1440)flavors and features USB-C, HDMI 2.0, a pair of full size USB 3.0 ports, and a MacBook-friendly gold finish. Lenovo is offering pair of displays in the 24″ Full-HD Thinkvision x24 Pro and the 27″ 4K Ultra HD Thinkvision X1. LG also added a 27″ 4k entry in the 27UD88-W.

Dell However, took first in class when it came to USB-C compatible Displays with the New UltraSharp 30 OLED. As the name gives away, this display eschews traditional In-Plane Switching LCD technology for Organic Light Emitting Diode displays. While OLED technology has become affordable in mobile screens, it is still expensive with larger panels and this Dell is no exception at just a hair under $5 grand. However, it might also be the best 30-inch display on the market. If there is one thing Dell knows, it is professional displays. Dell is also offering a dock in regular USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 variants for use with legacy displays.

lacie-chrome

Storage

Seagate’s stylish and Mac-Friendly subsidiary LaCie hit USB-C hard this year offering products from the affordable and portable LaCie Porsche Design Mobile Drive and its desktop brother to the high end Chrome. Samsung is also in the game with the portable SSD T3 with solid state capacities up to 2TB.

griffin-breaksafe

Accessories

I Could list every USB Type-C accessory that was announced, but honestly, that might take the rest of my life so I’ll talk about the one that stands out: Griffin’s BreakSafe Charing Cable for the MacBook, Google Chromebook Pixel, and other lightweight USB-C powered laptops. This power only cable has a magnetic break near the connector much like Apple’s MagSafe connectors. In other words, the cord reversibly splits in two instead of sending your computer flying. Why couldn’t have Apple and Google have done this in box?

Other than that, you have a bevy of docks, hubs, and cables from the usual high-class suspects like Griffin, Belkin, Satechi, and Incipio.

macbook-usb-c

The Elephant in The Room

The one company that didn’t announce anything at CES might be the company most looked at for USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3: Apple. They effectively ushered in the USB-C era just under a year ago and have spearheaded convergence of ports through Thunderbolt 1 & 2. In other words, the industry might be getting on it big time, but its effectively Apple’s train.

We won’t be waiting long to find out. The MacBook is nearly a year old and is due for its Silverlake update. Given the amount of similar machines with Thunderbolt 3, I wouldn’t be surprised if the original MacBook is the first and last Mac with just plain USB Type-C. The top of Apple’s line, the Retina MacBook Pro is also due for an update. It was well ahead of its time in 2012, but the Industry has changed a lot. It also uses traditional USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt 2. Both are due for replacement by Thunderbolt 3. I’d expect more a complete design than a mere update this go around with the Retina form factor being around for 4 iterations.

While it could drag on into March, I suspect we’ll see the first Thunderbolt 3 Macs by the end of spring.

#CES2016 Acer Introduces Insane 2-in-1 with Thunderbolt 3.

Imagine a 12.5″ Windows 10 tablet with a 6th Gen Silverlake Core M CPU. Now imagine that that tablet has a dock for a keyboard. At this point you have a standard 2-in-1 with maybe a little more kick with the Core M instead of an Atom. Now add Thunderbolt 3 to that mix to make it compatible with high end storage & I/O devices. Next, let’s use some of that Thunderbolt 3 bandwidth for an external discreet graphics card. You have machine that goes from bit tablet to mini-workstation. This isn’t theoretical or a concept, Acer is actually nuts enough to build this and they’re calling it the the Aspire Switch 12 S. They have my attention.

As I said in the opener, the Switch 12 S has a 12.5″ screen with a pair of options: 1920×1080 Full HD or an option Ultra HD, yes as in 4K, display at 3840 x 2160. 4K on something that can be used as a tablet is utterly insane. Either option has Gorilla Glass 4 with further Acer enhancements to maximize viewing angles and reduce eye strain. They’re flanked with Dolby-Premium compatible speakers Acer is calling True Harmony. Power is provided by the aforementioned 6th generation Intel Core M though Acer did not specify which ones. For I/O you have two full size USB 3.0 ports, Micro-HDMI, MicroSD, and your standard 3.5m audio jack. Its also has a 720P front camera and a 3D Intel Realsense R200 on the back. Memory is either 4GB or 8GB and you can have 128 or 256GB of solid-state storage. Its super light too weighting under 2 pounds as a tablet and just over 3 with the keyboard dock. Speaking of said dock, it uses Smart Hinge gold connections that secure magnetically while providing 6gbps transfer speeds and charging the keyboard. In other words, its designed to be a tablet when its a tablet and a laptop when it’s a laptop. For other accessories, that afore mentioned optional external graphics haven’t been fully fleshed out as for as details, but it’s coming. It won’t make the Switch 12 S a gaming PC, but it will give it a boost for gaming and professional graphics work.

The next two questions are pretty obvious: When and how much? Its be available next month, February 2016. but the exact date has not been released. Pricing for the base model is a very affordable $999, but it’ll go up from there once you add the really intriguing options.

Acer has come with a really intriguing option that lives in multiple worlds. Hopefully The Acer Aspire Switch 12 S will live up to its great promise.

Source: Acer

Thunderbolt 3 Takes of the Best of USB Type-C and Turns it up to 11

I have to admit, with the invention of USB 3.1 Type-C, I wondered where Apple and the rest of the professional PC market was going to go.  USB-C took a lot of Thunderbolt’s advantages and put them into a connector that’s not much better than a Micro-USB or Lightning connector.  Intel made a lot of the ambiguity go away with today’s announcement of Thunderbolt 3.  Its faster, more capable, and completely compatible with USB 3.1 Type-C.  Apple’s future got a lot clearer.

The Mini-DisplayPort connector used by Thunderbolt is tiny compared to even HDMI and USB Type-C makes it look like a pig.  Thunderbolt had some advantages especially with professional customers since its direct to the PCI-E bus, but for consumers, the reversible connector of USB-C, 10Gbps data, DisplayPort and HDMI over a single cable, and gives you 100w of power.  In other words it takes every great great about USB 3.1, doubles the speed, makes it smaller, and combines it with both your display cable and your power cable.  USB-C is both more capable and more flexible.  Because of this, sooner rather than later you’ll see Thunderbolt 3 replace USB Type-A ports on computers, MicroUSB ports on phones and tablets, 12v power ports, and if I were a betting man even Apple’s proprietary Lightning connector.  It makes too much sense not to.  As for Thunderbolt, it features a couple of features that USB-C does not such as a faster data rate and lower latency with its own dedicated chip and peer to peer communication.

Thunderbolt 3 uses a combination of all of the advantages above and adds PCI-E 3.0 to the mix for up to 40Mbps of data bandwidth.  That’s double Thunderbolt 2 and Quadruple that of USB 3.1.  Its fully backwards compatible with USB 3.1 Type-C devices and gives the same 100w of power for computers and up to 15w for bus powered accessories.  It doesn’t stop there.  Thunderbolt has built-in 10gig-E ethernet in addition to the existing Thunderbolt peer to peer protocols.  It has a full 8 DisplayPort lanes that can drive twin 4k displays at 60hz.  It gets even better, while external graphics solutions were toyed about unofficially with Thunderbolt 1 & 2, Thunderbolt 3 officially supports external graphics cards for giving your laptop a little more umph.  This is especially huge if you have a laptop with Intel or AMD integrated graphics.

When will you see Thunderbolt 3 laptops, I expect later this year or early 2016.  With the USB Type-C compatibility,  there isn’t a whole lot of reason not to add it to the next revision of desktops, desktop replacement laptops, and (mobile) workstations that already use Thunderbolt.  For Apple, fully expect it to show up in the next revision of their computers.  It could also make sense to move Thunderbolt more mainstream.  PC gamers will appreciate the external graphics capability and people that don’t want to use Thunderbolt just have another USB-C port on their computer.  We have seen the future.  USB-C is the future with Thunderbolt evolving to become a higher-end version of that standard.  Its a commonsense solution that combined with much improved capabilities will benefit everyone.  I, for one, am excited about the future.

Source: Intel