Microsoft’s annual fall Surface event is coming up on September 22, but there’s already one big rumor that might be worth paying attention to come event day. And no, it’s not about a “one more thing” device. Rather, it is about the port on said device.
To understand why this is so exciting, let’s take a step back. Ever since Thunderbolt hit the scene and became more mainstream on PCs, Microsoft has been very reluctant to adopt it.
These days, Thunderbolt ports look a lot like USB-C ports. You’ll know you have a Thunderbolt device when the laptop or tablet’s port has a lighting bolt next to it. Even this year’s iPad Pro has Thunderbolt. Yet, Microsoft has always opted for standard USB-C over Thunderbolt on all of its devices.
That means that despite selling “Pro” tablets like the Surface Pro 7+ and the Surface Pro X, Microsoft’s $1,000-plus devices don’t support Thunderbolt technology. It’s likely not a deal-breaker for some, but it means expensive, professional devices with slower port speeds, more limited docking, and the inability to power accessories like external graphics.
Thunderbolt lets you transmit data at a rate of up to 40GBps for faster transfers to USB drives and external SSDs. For multimedia, you can output to two 4Kmonitors at 60Hz (or an 8K display.) When it comes to mobile productivity, you can use Thunderbolt on your computer to charge smartphones with USB-C at up to 100 watts of power.
According to Microsoft, the lack of support for Thunderbolt has to do with security.
If you look at the market right now, Microsoft’s $1,000 midrange Surface Pro 7+ doesn’t have the port. Yet, if you head over to Lenovo, and opt to buy Lenovo’s ThinkPad X12 Detachable, you’ll get Thunderbolt 4 included. That’s the newer Thunderbolt standard, which can bring performance boosts and other advantages. Both devices have Intel’s latest processors, but Microsoft opts to exclude the Thunderbolt part on the motherboard.
According to Microsoft, the lack of support for Thunderbolt has to do with device security. In 2020, leaked documents revealed that Microsoft believed that Thunderbolt 3 was not secure. Microsoft believed it could lead to “indirect memory access,” where someone with bad intentions and extensive hacking knowledge, plus the right tools, could use the technology and port to access data stored on a device.
The lack of Thunderbolt could also be due to Microsoft’s desire to sell its own products. While you can find a variety of Thunderbolt docks that work with almost any PC that supports the technology, Microsoft wants you to use Surface Connect instead. The company sells a special Surface Dock 2, which uses the proprietary Surface Connect port to power dual monitors, and add USB-C ports, a USB-A port, and an Ethernet jack to your Surface.
Microsoft hasn’t commented on the true reasoning behind it’s slow adoption of Thunderbolt, but it appears to be changing its tune.
Changes for the good
Even with all the Pro products that Microsoft currently sells, there’s yet another one on the way. Microsoft is rumored to be working on some kind of a Surface Laptop Pro model, which could potentially be a professional-level content creation machine.
This upcoming laptop, more than any other Surface device, could benefit from Thunderbolt 4. This new laptop is rumored to have Nvidia’s latest RTX mobile graphics and Intel’s new processors, which sounds good. Microsoft would be selling an all-powerful Surface with features in line with other mainstream machines, and it would match together its hardware with its software.
More importantly, you even connect to an external GPU via Thunderbolt 4. So, say you buy a budget-level Surface Laptop Pro without RTX or GTX graphics, you can always buy an external GPU later and add one in. Considering that Microsoft is marketing Windows 11 toward gamers, this would be a natural fit for new Surface devices powered by the operating system.
Elsewhere, the newer Thunderbolt 4 standard also lets you immediately wake the computer at a touch of the keyboard or mouse when connected to a Thunderbolt dock, and it has protection against the very Direct Memory Attacks Microsoft was afraid of.
Better late than never, right? The timing feels right for Microsoft to finally come on board with Thunderbolt, and the Surface devices will be better for it.
Did Microsoft accidentally leak the next version of Windows?
A brief glimpse of a desktop. Just a moment to take in what you were looking at. But then it hits you. Did Microsoft accidentally leak its next version of Windows during the company's Ignite event? Many watching the event are asking the same question.
Zac Bowden at Windows Central has done a great job of breaking down what, exactly, you saw. For a moment, there was a Windows desktop with a floating taskbar along the bottom and a Mac-esque Dock along the top, and a floating search box in the center of the screen.
This is not the first time we’ve seen this design. Microsoft is working on a three-year update cycle and the next version of Windows is known internally as "Next Valley." The user interface shown off briefly at Ignite matches up with what we know about Next Valley. Of course, the update is not due until 2024.
For starters, the floating taskbar along the bottom of the screen takes direct inspiration from macOS, down to the rounded corners and the frosted glass background. The icons look bigger and brighter, a la macOS.
Next, the toolbar along the top featured a battery icon, Wi-Fi icon, the date on the right, and weather on the left. All of this was on the same frosted glass background as the taskbar. If you didn’t know better, you might think this was actually a MacBook running Windows.
But the giant floating search bar in the upper-middle of the screen belies that notion. It was pure Microsoft from the icons to search and close to the font in the search box. What it was doing there on the screen is a big question.
Is Microsoft planning on adding a big floating search box to Windows? If so, it could work a lot like Apple’s new Dynamic Island on iPhone. In fact, we’ve seen a leak for Dynamic Island on Mac, and we were not fans. It would take up a lot of usable space, slow the system down with needless animations, and while not being terribly useful. It'll be interesting to see how Microsoft plans to handle it.
This brief glimpse of a strange Windows operating system may have been nothing more than a mock-up of somebody’s idea for Windows. It could have been an experimental concept that accidentally made it into the presentation. Or it could have been an intentional leak of what Microsoft has planned in Next Valley, giving us a glimpse of what's to come.
Microsoft’s DirectStorage may improve loading times by 200%, but don’t get too excited
Microsoft has just introduced GPU decompression to its new DirectStorage API, bringing it to version 1.1.
GPU decompression can provide huge performance gains in gaming -- Microsoft promises up to a 200% performance improvement in loading times. Unfortunately, it's still much too early to get excited -- we might not see DirectStorage for quite a while.
Microsoft is finally refreshing the Surface Studio 2 (four years later)
Almost four years ago to the day, Microsoft released the Surface Studio 2, which we called "a true Mac killer" in our Surface Studio 2 review. It has fallen our of favor as Apple switching to the M1 iMac over the past couple of years, but Microsoft is finally answering back with the aptly named Surface Studio 2+, announced during Microsoft's fall hardware event.
It's a revision to the model released a few years back, at least based on the name. But under the hood, the Surface Studio 2+ is an all-new machine. You're now getting an 11th-gen Intel mobile processor, which Microsoft says is "50% faster" than the previous Surface Studio. Even that's an understatement. The previous version was stuck with a 7th-gen Intel processor that was dated when it was released.