Win10 + Intel Skylake + Thunderbolt 3 = Interesting PC

Much of the tech press regularly overlooks PCs for wearables, smart homes, and IoT-related topics but, in the real world and to many people, PCs still matter a lot. So, this week’s news out of Redmond and Taipei (where the annual Computex Trade show is being held) are actually really important.

To wit, Microsoft finally unveiled the official release date for Windows 10 (July 29) and Intel released more details about its next generation CPUs and chipsets, which are expected in PCs shipping in August. The combination of all these technologies will lead to not only the best performing PCs we’ve seen, but also the most capable, most flexible, and most expandable as well.[pullquote]The combination of all these technologies will lead to not only the best performing PCs we’ve seen, but also the most capable, most flexible, and most expandable as well.”[/pullquote]

Windows 10 brings back the Start Menu and melds it together with elements of Windows 8 that really were useful once you got used to them (such as Tiles), while adding fascinating new extras like Cortana, Windows Hello for biometric authentication (e.g., log-in with your fingerprint, face or eventually, eye), and better integration with other Microsoft services (OneDrive, Xbox, Skype, etc.) The net result is a genuinely better OS both Windows 7 and Windows 8 users should be quite happy with.

Intel’s Skylake CPUs are expected to bring better battery life for notebooks and 2-in-1s, greatly improved graphics performance, and support for faster DDR-4 memory. More importantly, the companion chipsets launching with Skylake are also going to enable several key new system-level capabilities including wireless charging (although, initially, with a hit to notebook thin-ness) and the introduction of Thunderbolt 3.

Now admittedly, most people lost interest in PC connectivity standards a long time ago, but Thunderbolt 3.0 looks to be a big change because it brings together the new USB type C connector along with significantly expanded capability and throughput. Specifically, the 40 Gbps data transfer rate of Thunderbolt 3.0 will support up to two daisy-chained 4K displays (as well as external storage) and up to 100 W of electrical power over a single cable.

In fact, Thunderbolt 3 also supports both USB 3.1 (and earlier standards) as well as PCI-Express and DisplayPort, all over that same reversible USB Type C connector. At long last, we have the one connector to rule them all. What that means is we’ll start to see PCs with several USB type C connectors, and we’ll eventually be able to connect them to just about any PC peripheral imaginable (and a few we haven’t been able to imagine). In the interim, yes, we’ll have to likely deal with dongles, but a better choice will be docks that have a Thunderbolt 3.0-enabled connection to a PC on one side, and just about every other PC connector available on the other.

One of the new capabilities this new connector enables is the ability to add an external graphics card to a notebook or small desktop PC. The speed of the connector, support for PCI Express, and new drivers from AMD that can enable hot plugging or unplugging all work together to bring this new capability to life.

Of course, to get all these new capabilities—particularly biometric authentication and Thunderbolt 3.0 support—will require new hardware, in addition to Windows 10. However, starting this fall, I think we’re going to have some of the most interesting new PCs and some of the most compelling reasons to upgrade we’ve seen in a very long time. And, for a lot of people, that really does matter.

Published by

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

801 thoughts on “Win10 + Intel Skylake + Thunderbolt 3 = Interesting PC”

  1. As a nerd, I’m delighted at the new features especially better integrated graphics that may allow me to get rid of my graphics card for my rather modest gaming needs; and easier connectivity – no more wondering if I need an HDMI 1.2, 1.4 or a DVI cable… well, in 10 years, when all those changes have trickled down…
    As the IT guy for the regular Joes around me, I don’t think it matters much. Actually, using the same connector for USB and Thunderbolt feels like an iffy idea, hopefully they’ll at least color-code it à la blue USB 3.0. I have trouble justifying the purchase of anything but Atom PCs these days, unless there’s gaming or some specific high-performance requirement in the mix.

    1. Back from Ars’s article and comments section… I’m not the only one concerned about having a single connector with a lot of options. An USB-C connector can be:
      – TB3 (supports displays) vs USB (doesn’t, except sometimes it does but rarely)
      – Power Delivery (can charge tablets, power printers, …) or not
      – USB 2 (slow), 3.0 (still a bit slow), 3.1 gen 1 (5Gbps), or 3.1 gen 2 (10 Gbps)
      – xHCI (supports reconfiguring the USB port into something else, say SATA) or not

      The only sure thing is that a TB3 port will support all of the above. Well, Intel’s chipset will, maybe others’ won’t. For USB 3.1 chipsets, supporting gen 2, PD, xHCI is optional.

      Where currently even my 80yo dad can’t go wrong (if you can plug it in, it’s the right connector: power, screen, keyboard, mouse, printer, backup HD…) we’re moving on to a scenario where that’s no longer the case:
      – the screen has to be plugged into the TB3 port. Not the exact same USB-C port that’s right next to it which is only USB 3.1
      – the USB-powered printer has to be plugged into the USB Power Delivery compatible USB-C port, not the USB-C port right next to it that doesn’t support PD.
      – The external hard drive should be plugged into the USB 3.1 gen 2 USB-C port, not into the USB-C port that lead to slower USB 3.1 gen 1 or USB 2 ports, again right next to it. Ecept if it support SAT over xHCI, in which case it should be plugged into the xHCI-supporting port, not the identical USB 2 USB-C connector right next to it.

      Sounds about as messy as M.2 compatibility ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M.2 ), except at least M.2 is for internal cards, you only have to be informed and careful once. USB-C sounds like a lot of recurring fun.

      1. You are presuming that PC manufacturers will be quick to add more than one USB-C port. They (other than Apple) really like keeping legacy ports, like having a mix of USB 2.0 ports even after (blue) USB 3 ports were added. Usually there’d only be a single new port, and one or more of the old ones. Most likely they will continue in this fashion, with only one USB-C port alongside one or more older USB type A ports. With Intel bringing Thunderbolt 3 to the Skylake chipsets, it’ll be easy for manufacturers making Skylake PCs to just make that single initial USB-C port also Thunderbolt-enabled. By the time the manufacturers are finally ready to use more than one USB-C port and reduce the USB A ports to only one or drop them entirely, Intel’s chipsets will probably allow them to enable all of the ports to have Thunderbolt.

        Intel’s timing on this is actually very smart. They can get Thunderbolt more more widely adopted by doing this before USB-C sees a significant amount of adoption, and they get ahead of AMD. To consumers it’ll be “Intel Inside = more capable USB-C port; AMD inside = less capable USB-C port.”

        For Apple, things are simpler. They’ll probably just ditch their Mini-DisplayPort-based Thunderbolt ports ASAP and replace them one-for-one with Thunderbolt-enabled USB-C ports. Done.

        Few Mac owners have those pricey Mini-DisplayPort-based Thunderbolt cables and peripherals, anyway. This makes the fact that the new MacBook only has a single USB-C port kind of prescient, since next year’s model can just have it’s USB-C port upgraded to Thunderbolt 3. Owners of the first-gen model are just going to be stuck with a somewhat hobbled port, though, in the same way as owners of the original MacBook Airs were, before Apple switched its external video port from Micro-DVI to Mini-DisplayPort (and later made that a Thunderbolt port).

        Probably some of the first computers to have multiple Thunderbolt-enabled USB-C ports will be the Macs that currently have dual Thunderbolt ports (all MacBook Pros, iMacs, and Mac Minis). And after this year’s new MacBook they just won’t bother putting any USB-C ports on a Mac that aren’t also Thunderbolt-enabled.

        1. Since USB2 devices don’t slow down a USB3 hub (I think), you’re absolutely right that USB2 ports should not exist at all and they should all be USB3, since it’s backward compatible. Still, other ports are acceptable to me. I would rather have them, than not have them.

          My last $2200 MBP, however, left me severely wanting when it only had USB2 and FW800 in the USB3 era (2009). This over what was likely a $5 part, and after they removed Expresscard. This made me leave Macs after a 2 year involvement.

          Since then expansion has improved through USB3 and TB, but internal component expandability and serviceability got terribly worse.

          1. As I stated above, I’m hoping Apple just swaps the Mini-DisplayPort-based Thunderbolt 2 ports for Thunderbolt 3-enabled USB-C ports and leaves the rest of the existing ports on their Macs alone.

    2. Yep, i Agree , i don’t think it matters much , even for consumers, especially where their relatively recent tech ackuisitions we’re useful things like large smartphones that also had a cool factor.

      But microsoft/intel need’nt worry. VR and AR will rescue their sales.

    1. I will grant you compelling for “most people”. Not as compelling on a non-upgradable PC. Also, Windows, for better or worse, supports the universe of hardware, from USB sticks to IEEE controller cards. Today’s Macs don’t even have slots, and where they do (Mac Pro), they are non-standard.

      1. Thunderbolt 3 is *more* compelling on a non-upgradable PC, like a laptop, which is indeed what most people are buying these days. There’s less need for slots to install a card to get a new technology when you could just attach it with a cable.

        And you’re exactly two decades out of date with “Mac slots are non-standard,” since Macs adopted PCI in 1995, and plenty of basic “standard” PCI cards for things like Ethernet and USB were always able to just plug and play. (Going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you meant “when they did” when you wrote “where they do,” since the Mac Pro hasn’t had *any* slots at all for the past two years.)

        At this point needing or wanting slots on a PC is an edge case.

        1. TB2 and 3 are mandatory on a non-upgradable PC, like an iMac, mac mini, or MacBook. Even the 2013 Mac Pro.

          Perhaps you are two years out of date. Today’s Mac Pro has two non-standard slots for the video cards.

          Upgrading video cards is far from an edge case, only in the Mac world where it’s a very edge case.

          1. The vast majority of PCs sold are now laptops, without slots. Of the remaining non-laptop PCs sold, a significant number are now slotless all-in-ones or small form factor. The remaining PCs are a fraction of the total, and the majority of those are cheap beige boxes in offices that never get hardware upgrades. So it’s down to a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of PCs that ever have anything added to or swapped in their slots after they’re initially assembled.

            People who upgrade their video cards are an edge case.

            Not that there isn’t still likely to be be a small market for it for a long time to come, but it’s like the hot rod market in cars: A niche.

            (I used to buy towers myself, and load up their slots with faster video, extra video cards, fast SCSI, extra USB port cards, WLAN cards before it was built-in, etc. I also used to upgrade my machine’s processors. I gave all that up. There came a time when enough came built-in [especially dual monitor support] that it was no longer worth the hassle.)

          2. I just added my second Titan X to my computer yesterday. Now running them both in SLI. I can’t buy my computer as a Mac at any price. Transcoded a 20 GB mkv file to a 4 GB mp4 in literally under 6 minutes, and that was from SSD (source) to HD (destination). Upgradability not only made it possible, but allowed me to do so in stages, and extended the life of my PC. See, my next upgrade would be to Skylake (probably), which, as you know is not going to be available for a year.

            I did the same with my SSD’s, added them in stages. I retired two laptops and added the p[previously installed SSD to my RAID 0 pool. Now running four SSD’s in RAID 0, with no added cost. These things are no longer possible on a Mac.

            Still contemplating a Mac Pro, to replace my Mac mini. $4,000 is one thing. $4,000 and upgrade issues (thus potentially leaving me wanting) are another. You know those video cards will be obsoleted soon. And then there’s still the matter of, what if I need to run Nvidia for CUDA?

          3. Unless you’re a creative professional or a gamer, upgrading your video card is an edge case.

          4. And does that make it less worthy?
            Just look at electronics store shelves and see the video cards. If it was that edge, do you think Best Buy will stock them?

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