Microsoft Announce Thunderbolt Support for Audio

US Does this mean we'll finally see a wider adoption?      29/01/16

Microsoft Announce Thunderbolt Support for Audio

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Windows Thunderbolt support has been eagerly awaited - unfortunately there have been a number of reasons why this has taken a while - one being the security issues as Thunderbolt gives  direct memory access under Windows which has proven tricky.

However as announced yesterday, since November 2015 when Microsoft first started work on the necessary software engineering to ensure secure and reliable Thunderbolt 3 Audio devices can be built for Windows 10 PCs. The following statement has been released which may lead to adoption of Thunderbolt in Windows applications and hardware integration. We shall see.

The following was posted by Pete Brown - who we interviewed on the subject of Windows 10 Audio and MIDI here.

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:

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.

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