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Thunderbolt support in Windows 10 Audio Interfaces
Old 29th January 2016
  #1
Thunderbolt audio support in Windows 10

Hi all

I'm sharing this here because I know there's a lot of interest in TB in Windows. Normally we wouldn't make a formal statement about a device interface (they just start appearing on PCs), but Thunderbolt is a special case in MI, and I know you all will appreciate the information.

Please note that this post is only about audio. We haven't yet made any announcements about support for non-audio Thunderbolt devices in Windows 10.

In November 2015, with the Windows 10 Threshold 2 (TH2) release, Microsoft completed the necessary engineering work to ensure secure and reliable Thunderbolt 3 Audio devices can be built for Windows 10 PCs. This work involved base PCIe work, audio work to respond to rebalancing, and security work for Thunderbolt in general. We didn't talk much about it, though, because we had a lot of testing, especially security testing, to do.

Since then, we’ve seen a number of in-progress and in-market PCs with Thunderbolt 3 ports on them, many new at CES. These PCs use the supported combination of the Intel Alpine Ridge chipset, Skylake, and the USB-C connector. I myself just built a new PC with an ASUS motherboard that includes Alpine Ridge, Skylake, and Thunderbolt 3.

What is required to use a Thunderbolt 3 audio device on Windows?

To accomplish this, the device manufacturer must create a Windows 10 PCIe driver that implements two new interfaces. The documentation for this is here: https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/lib...(v=vs.85).aspx

Hardware developers with experience building PCIe drivers on Windows will find the Thunderbolt 3 additions to be an incremental change. The driver requirement is on par with what is required for OSX support of Thunderbolt devices.

What does this mean for existing "legacy" Thunderbolt devices?

The convergence of Thunderbolt 3 + Alpine Ridge + USB-C makes it easier for PC OEMs to create PCs with a known and solid supported Thunderbolt configuration, doing away with the ambiguities and BIOS configuration challenges of the past.

Microsoft is working with Intel to identify the potential compatibility approaches for devices with Thunderbolt 1 & 2 and the Thunderbolt/Mini-DP connector (hubs, adapters, etc.). Although those devices (with appropriate drivers) will continue to work in Windows 10 TH2, because of limitations around resource acquisition and daisy chaining, and the instability they can introduce, Microsoft cannot officially support them on Windows 10. Any support will be up to the PC manufacturers or hardware vendors using those interfaces. We do generally recommend that if you use those Thunderbolt 1 / 2 devices on Windows PCs, you keep the Thunderbolt interface dedicated to your audio use, and not mix in other daisy-chained devices. Recommendations may vary based on device and motherboard, of course.

The Alpine Ridge chipset is relatively new to the market. We are continuing to refine and update our Thunderbolt support in the future with an eye towards continued stability and performance. We’re continuing to work closely with Intel and with PC OEMs to ensure Thunderbolt 3 on Windows 10 is a great experience.

Thunderbolt 3 on USB-C is particularly exciting to us due to the increased bandwidth it offers to our pro audio and musician customers, all with a simplified connector that works across everything from custom-built PCs to thin and light laptops and tablets. Considering the significant uptake from our OEMs, they seem to agree.

I've contacted a number of device manufacturers already. If you are a device manufacturer that I haven't yet reached, and have questions, please contact pete dot brown at Microsoft dot com.

If you are a customer, I ask that you give the audio interface/peripheral manufacturers some time to form their own plan of action on this. I know folks are champing at the bit for Thunderbolt devices on Windows, but the devices will not be available overnight. Feel free to express your interest, of course.

Pete

Last edited by Psychlist1972; 1st February 2016 at 09:19 PM.. Reason: clarified audio only
Old 29th January 2016
  #2
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Billy Buck's Avatar
 

Great news Pete and thanks for keeping us in the loop. Yes, many of us Windows users have been "chomping at the bit" for the kind of TB OS support that Mac users have enjoyed for the past 5 years. Glad to see it is all finally coming to fruition. My next PC DAW build will definitely be a combination of the Intel Alpine Ridge chipset, Skylake, and the USB-C connector and of course Win 10.

Cheers,

Billy Buck

Last edited by Billy Buck; 29th January 2016 at 04:13 AM..
Old 29th January 2016
  #3
Thanks Pete!
Old 29th January 2016
  #4
Gear Addict
 
maxy's Avatar
Good news!
Old 29th January 2016
  #5
nms
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nms's Avatar
Those who use good PCIe interfaces are familiar with the superior low latency performance compared to USB. Will LLP be any worse with TB over USB 3.1?
Old 29th January 2016
  #6
Quote:
Originally Posted by nms View Post
Those who use good PCIe interfaces are familiar with the superior low latency performance compared to USB. Will LLP be any worse with TB over USB 3.1?
Depends on the driver. The protocol is PCIe over the wire. In theory, the performance should be identical.

But it's quite likely, just like with PCIe and USB, that performance will have minor variations from PC to PC or PC to Mac.

Pete
Old 29th January 2016
  #7
Quote:
Originally Posted by nms View Post
Those who use good PCIe interfaces are familiar with the superior low latency performance compared to USB. Will LLP be any worse with TB over USB 3.1?
Also, it's not TB over USB 3.1. It's PCIe over TB over USB-C.

USB 3.1 is a protocol. USB-C is a connector/interface standard which supports DisplayPort, Thunderbolt, and USB 3.1 as different modes.

Pete
Old 29th January 2016
  #8
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GP_Hawk's Avatar
I take it you've contacted Lynx Audio and wondering if they will continue to provide solid driver support for win 10 with their current TB card regarding TB3 or would that require them to release an entirely different card?
Old 29th January 2016
  #9
Gear Maniac
 

Hi Pete, this is much welcomed news for me as my custom PC is currently in the process of being built and will host Windows 10.
Sadly the chipset is ASMEDIA and not ALPINE RIDGE.
I will only be connecting a Focusrite Clarett 8 pre to it and no Daisy chaining devices.
Realistically are my chances of this thing working likely?
Focusrite are currently beta testing Windows drivers. Are Focusrite a company that Microsoft are in conversation with?
Really appreciate your input at GS Pete many thanks
Old 29th January 2016
  #10
Lives for gear
 

Most welcome news, thank you Pete.

All this has been kicking around in rumour form for a fair while now, so great to hear some confirmation. Looking forward to some drivers finaly cropping up for various bits of kit then in due course!
Old 29th January 2016
  #11
Remember, the engineering work has been in the box since November. If your thunderbolt 2 / 1 interface works today, it'll continue to work in the same capacity and with the same level of support. We're not removing anything.

Pete
Old 30th January 2016
  #12
Also, for folks looking for high-performance interfaces for Windows today, keep in mind that there have been some nice USB 3 releases.

Examples:
Apollo Twin USB Interface with Realtime UAD Processing

Studio 192 USB 3.0 Interfaces | Products | PreSonus

Pete
Old 30th January 2016
  #13
Many thanks for your efforts to put our nice little audio industry on MS' map, Pete!

I am curious to see where TB is heading, and whether the current spread of TB motherboards (for now foremost the small chipsets) and your official support is offering an incentive to develop Windows drivers for various Mac-only interfaces.
Old 30th January 2016
  #14
Here for the gear
 

Personal question: When and if uad releases win tb drivers, Will I need to upgrade my mobo? Would a tb pcie card suffice? I have an i7 950 on a gigabyte ga x58 with a uad apollo. It runs alright on fw but id like to use it as it was intended, with Tb. Im holding off w10 update until then. Id like to be up to date, but I dont want to turn my surprisingly healthy 6 year old PC into a doorstop.

Thanks for your help, from a long time lurker.
Old 30th January 2016
  #15
Gear Nut
 
Neil H's Avatar
 

Thanks Pete that's great to hear !

Now the audio interface manufacturers who wouldn't move on TB/Win development until MS did can start to get some parity with supporting both Windows and OSX !
Luckily us PC folks still have plenty of options with our desktop machines with plenty of card slots and USB/Firewire ports of all flavours but where this will make the biggest difference is in the mobile market where many new, very nice (and powerful) Laptops are hitting the market with TB3 included.
Old 30th January 2016
  #16
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Billy Buck's Avatar
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Neil H View Post
.......but where this will make the biggest difference is in the mobile market where many new, very nice (and powerful) Laptops are hitting the market with TB3 included.
I agree, this will be great for mobile audio rigs.

Cheers,

Billy Buck
Old 30th January 2016
  #17
Quote:
Originally Posted by Zeitmachine View Post
Personal question: When and if uad releases win tb drivers, Will I need to upgrade my mobo? Would a tb pcie card suffice? I have an i7 950 on a gigabyte ga x58 with a uad apollo. It runs alright on fw but id like to use it as it was intended, with Tb. Im holding off w10 update until then. Id like to be up to date, but I dont want to turn my surprisingly healthy 6 year old PC into a doorstop.

Thanks for your help, from a long time lurker.
It is impossible to upgrade an X58 based system with Thunderbolt. The motherboard needs to have a TB header for a compatible daughterboard or a direct TB connector.
Whether UA will support older TB generations when/if they indeed release Windows TB drivers will probablynot be communicated until release, but it is very unlikely they will support anything before TB3 (my personal guess).
Old 30th January 2016
  #18
Here for the gear
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by DAW PLUS View Post
It is impossible to upgrade an X58 based system with Thunderbolt. The motherboard needs to have a TB header for a compatible daughterboard or a direct TB connector.
Whether UA will support older TB generations when/if they indeed release Windows TB drivers will probablynot be communicated until release, but it is very unlikely they will support anything before TB3 (my personal guess).
As I expected, thanks for clearing that up!

I'll just run this setup till it can't run no more and then upgrade the MOBO and CPU. I'll probably find something else to upgrade along the way, like the GPU.
Old 30th January 2016
  #19
To be clear on this: we're leading here, so it'll be a bit before you see new Thunderbolt 3/USB-C interfaces, just like it took a while to see any decent Thunderbolt audio interfaces on the Mac.

The good news is that there are a LOT of new PCs and motherboards out and coming out with this interface, already a lot more than ever had the older Thunderbolt headers.

There's also the eventual support required to high-end workstation systems. The 6700k is a beast of an i7 (mine is running at 4.5ghz without even trying on my part), but it's not a Xeon or a 6 or 8 core chip. Rumor has it that Intel is not going to go > 4 cores on Skylake, TBD for things beyond that. That said, my 4 core 6700k has total compute that blows out of the water my 5 year old Intel Extreme (cost $1000 at the time) i7 processor with its 6 cores. Per-core performance is higher as is total, according to benchmarks on the web.

For self-builds, the choice of motherboards is slim (and expensive) right now, but that will come down in price. And, as I said, there is no official support for pre-TB3 PCs. They'll work if the motherboard manufacturer includes a chipset driver and you have a PCIe/TB driver from the peripheral manufacturer (just like today), but it'll be completely on them to decide if they want to do it or support it. In any case, your best bet for support is peers in places like this because most motherboard manufacturer support drones don't really understand our (Musicians') needs.

Back at Summer NAMM, I told interface manufacturers that this was coming soon. I know they wanted to gauge uptake and interest first. If CES was any indicator, we're off to a good start. The official announcement here is the next step in making these devices a reality.

I'm excited

Pete
Old 1st February 2016
  #20
And just a reminder that we're talking audio devices here. We haven't said anything about other devices at this point.

Pete
Old 1st February 2016
  #21
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Finnish's Avatar
 

Is this an (only) incremental update or can you download the coming upgrade as a new/fresh installation image?
Old 1st February 2016
  #22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Finnish View Post
Is this an (only) incremental update or can you download the coming upgrade as a new/fresh installation image?
As I recall, when I built this PC, it was with the November/TH2 bits as a full download.

I haven't checked to see if the media creation tool includes TH2, but it likely does.

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/soft...load/windows10

Pete
Old 1st February 2016
  #23
Yes, it does.
Old 4th February 2016
  #24
This is interesting because it opens the door for a second user/sales base for the mac-only manufacturers, but it also opens the door for functional PC laptops in drives. As many of us know, FW and USB implementation in many (most) laptops was unreliable for professional use, barring a few application specific machines. It was this that in fact drove me over to the MAC. I'm not planning on going back to PCs for audio work anytime soon, but it's nice to know that if Apple screws everything up completely (not out of the question) there is a potential, viable alternative on the horizon.

Thanks for the prelim information by the way. I know it can be risky to share details before things are finalized. I'm looking forward to watching this develop.
Old 5th February 2016
  #25
Quote:
Originally Posted by Category 5 View Post
This is interesting because it opens the door for a second user/sales base for the mac-only manufacturers, but it also opens the door for functional PC laptops in drives. As many of us know, FW and USB implementation in many (most) laptops was unreliable for professional use, barring a few application specific machines. It was this that in fact drove me over to the MAC. I'm not planning on going back to PCs for audio work anytime soon, but it's nice to know that if Apple screws everything up completely (not out of the question) there is a potential, viable alternative on the horizon.

Thanks for the prelim information by the way. I know it can be risky to share details before things are finalized. I'm looking forward to watching this develop.
Firewire was always an odd duck on Windows, but USB has been great for most folks. There was a bug with USB2 devices in USB3 ports, but we fixed the main issues with that back in the November release.

Pete
Old 6th February 2016
  #26
Gear Maniac
 

Hi Pete, what is the likelihood that chipset support is opened up beyond Alpine Ridge only boards? As of now I can only name a small handful of Gigabyte boards and your high end Asusthatfeature that chipset.
I can imagine plenty of new builders buying a z1z170 board thinking that they'll be TB3 only to find out that ideally they need an alpine ridge board.

Here's a list of manufacturers with Thunderbolt interfaces on the market, apologies if I've missed any.
Focusrite
Antelope audio
Lynx
UAD
Resident audio
Zoom

To my knowledge only Focusrite, zoom and resident audio have confirmed Windows support.
Old 6th February 2016
  #27
Quote:
Originally Posted by doughnuts View Post
Hi Pete, what is the likelihood that chipset support is opened up beyond Alpine Ridge only boards? As of now I can only name a small handful of Gigabyte boards and your high end Asusthatfeature that chipset.
I can imagine plenty of new builders buying a z1z170 board thinking that they'll be TB3 only to find out that ideally they need an alpine ridge board.

Here's a list of manufacturers with Thunderbolt interfaces on the market, apologies if I've missed any.
Focusrite
Antelope audio
Lynx
UAD
Resident audio
Zoom

To my knowledge only Focusrite, zoom and resident audio have confirmed Windows support.
Actually Lynx is the only one with released TB drivers for Windows AFAIK.

Zoom displays typical marketing nonsense which does not contribute to user awareness of technology advantage:
Quote:
Thunderbolt Speed.
Revolutionary Recording.

Thunderbolt technology opens up new doors for creators. More than twice as fast as USB 3.0—not to mention twenty times faster than USB 2.0 and twelve times faster than Firewire 800—Thunderbolt is the interconnection technology of the future. Co-developed by Apple and Intel Labs, it allows signal to be transferred at an incredibly fast 10 gigabits per second, which means virtually no latency. Thunderbolt interfaces such as the TAC-8 are also unaffected by computer jitter (slight variations in timing).
As if *bandwidth* has anything to do with latency...it does not. It only allows a device to stream more channels (optionally with higher sample rates) to the system and back. Considering USB2 handles up to 64 channels back and forth, this obviously is not the reason for TB on an 8 channel interface.

Also interesting that they assume their USB interfaces suffer "computer jitter", which their TB interfaces do not seem to suffer.
Damn, now I need to throw away all our USB interfaces.
Old 6th February 2016
  #28
Gear Nut
 

Quote:
Originally Posted by Psychlist1972 View Post
The good news is that there are a LOT of new PCs and motherboards out and coming out with this interface, already a lot more than ever had the older Thunderbolt headers.
Pete
What means a LOT?

What is really deciding factor (in my opinion) for larger market adaptation is the amount of reasonably priced laptops with thunderbolt support as laptop sales is much larger than desktop sales. Until now it has been non-existent. In the last 5 years have run into abt. 5, max 10 windows laptop models that have thunderbolt connector.

Is there a change visible in the horizon with this? Has Intel lowered the price of thunderbolt chipsets so that it would be finally feasible for manufacturers to implement it in reasonable priced laptops? I would really be curious about all the models that you are aware of...
Old 7th February 2016
  #29
Quote:
Originally Posted by golem View Post
What means a LOT?

What is really deciding factor (in my opinion) for larger market adaptation is the amount of reasonably priced laptops with thunderbolt support as laptop sales is much larger than desktop sales. Until now it has been non-existent. In the last 5 years have run into abt. 5, max 10 windows laptop models that have thunderbolt connector.

Is there a change visible in the horizon with this? Has Intel lowered the price of thunderbolt chipsets so that it would be finally feasible for manufacturers to implement it in reasonable priced laptops? I would really be curious about all the models that you are aware of...
Not sure what "reasonably priced" means to you, but good computers are not cheap, and cheap computers (generally speaking) aren't good for music production.

I really like the Dell XPS line. The XPS 13 shown at CES includes USB-C + Thunderbolt and sells for under $1200.

PCIe M.2, USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, 8gb RAM, Skylake. The only complaints about this series from those on my team is the nostril-cam. I assume the webcam location isn't super important for a music production PC.

Dell Skylake XPS 13 review: The best ultrabook just got better | PCWorld

Despite the comments about the keyboard in the review, we all like it. Preference, I suppose.

I am aware of quite a few more models coming, but can't share information. The lineup is significantly higher than anything we've seen before. The killer use seems to me to be external high-end graphics to enable serious home gaming on very thin, light, and power-efficient laptops.

Some info from CES.
https://thunderbolttechnology.net/bl...-2016-by-storm

Quote:
This year’s CES in Las Vegas is bigger than ever, and there are a lot of exciting things happening with Thunderbolt™ 3 here this week. Highlights include the first external graphics gaming solution over Thunderbolt 3 from Razer, demonstrations of the first single-cable docking solutions over Thunderbolt 3 from Dell and HP, announcements of the first Thunderbolt 3 devices, and continued momentum of 6th Gen Intel® Core™ notebooks shipping with Thunderbolt 3 from Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and others. Thunderbolt 3 brings Thunderbolt to USB-C at speeds up to 40 Gbps, creating one compact port that does it all – delivering the fastest, most versatile connection to any dock, display, or data device. - See more at: https://thunderbolttechnology.net/bl....dnGvQrfg.dpuf
Pete
Old 7th February 2016
  #30
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projektk's Avatar
 

This needs to be posted on the uad forums so that uad knows what to do for their next generation of Apollos. I think RME will jump on this opportunity so I'll probably wait for the thunderface line to appear lol
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