Back when the VESA announced the DisplayPort alt mode for USB Type-C, one of the most common questions was whether we’d see USB ports on a video card. As a standards body the VESA couldn’t answer this question, but ultimately whether that would happen would be up to the manufacturers. Now at Computex, MSI is showing off what looks to be the first high-end video card with a USB-C port for display purposes: the MSI GTX 1080 Ti GAMING X 11G Graphics Card with USB Type C.

The USB-C equipped card is virtually identical to its regular GTX 1080 Ti GAMING X 11G counterpart, except dropping the final DisplayPort for the USB-C port, leaving it with 2 DisplayPorts, a DVI-D port, an HDMI port, and the USB-C port. From a feature perspective, thanks to DisplayPort alt mode, a USB-C port is just as good as a DisplayPort for DP signaling purposes (though it should be noted that you lose TMDS backwards compatibility), which means the switch to a USB-C port doesn’t cost anything, but it also doesn’t necessarily gain anything.

What MSI isn’t commenting on right now is whether this USB-C port will offer anything besides DisplayPort alt mode functionality, such as USB 2.0 data another alt mode. The USB-C alt mode standard requires that the 4 USB 2.0 pins remain untouched, but strictly speaking they don’t seem to be necessary for alt mode to work since that’s handled by the CC pins. However DisplayPort monitors using USB-C for all of their connectivity, such as the LG UltraFine 21.5, will not appreciate the lack of USB data. In which case USB 2.0 data is required for maximum compatibility.

Ultimately, placing a USB-C port on a high-end video card serves a few different purposes for MSI. In the present, it makes the card fully compatible with USB-C monitors like the aforementioned UltraFine, along with any other display setups where you may want to quickly swap between said video card and a USB-C equipped laptop.

However in the longer term, I suspect this may be the first move in a larger (and very long) transition to USB-C for all display connectivity. Part of the purpose for the USB-C standard – and why groups like the VESA embrace it – is that everyone wants to solve the increasingly difficult external bandwidth problem once, and then share the technology (and a common port) rather than each group implementing their own solution. The DisplayPort and its associated cabling are coming up on a decade old and have been through 3 revisions, with the latest standard supporting ~30Gbps of cable bandwidth. Meanwhile the USB-C port and cabling system is intended to support 80Gb/sec (or more) of cable bandwidth. So while nothing has been officially announced at this time, USB-C on video cards may not just be a DisplayPort alternative, but may end up being the future of display connectivity itself.

Steven Lynch contributed to this report

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  • Aikouka - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    As a multi-monitor user, the idea of getting rid of DVI permanently is a really bleak thought. I don't think most people realize this, but HDMI and DisplayPort aren't always connected devices. If you turn off the monitor or it goes into a low-power mode, the monitor will disappear from Windows as the PC thinks it's no longer connected. (The low-power mode depends on how the monitor implements it. Some monitors allow you to turn off super low-power mode, which keeps the connection active while asleep.)

    I bought a GTX 1080 Ti Founder's Edition, but I ended up buying another 1080 Ti, because I couldn't stand not having DVI. With only DisplayPort, my windows were constantly being placed onto the main display. It's nothing bad, but it is highly annoying having to move things back whenever I go back to the machine. I tried using a headless display, but once Windows tossed my windows onto the fake display, I stopped using it. (I have to use a headless display with my kitchen Touch HTPC or else I can't remote into it while the HDMI-connected monitor is off.)

    Oh, and as a quick note, I also tried an active DisplayPort adapter (from StarTech), and it had issues when the monitor went to sleep (went to sleep, and then woke up with a "No DVI-D Signal" .. ad infinitum).
  • Morawka - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    Display Ports are still finicky on windows. Whenever i turn on my 2nd monitor which is using DP, it moves around my audio settings, and windows has to re-detect the monitor everytime i power it on. With DVI, my monitor still shows up, even when turned off in the windows display settings page, therefore when i turn it on and off, it doesn't mess with my audio settings.
  • rmm584 - Sunday, June 4, 2017 - link

    "Meanwhile the USB-C port and cabling system is intended to support 80Gb/sec (or more) of cable bandwidth."

    Is this right? I thought each USB-C lane is 10Gb/s and the Displayport alt mode enables the 4 lanes to be bonded in one direction giving 40Gb/s of cable bandwidth. I know Thunderbolt 3 doubles the bandwidth per lane using an active cable, that cable could reach 80Gb/s.
  • Guspaz - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    The port and cabling were intended to support higher speeds than the protocol currently supports, much like has happened in the past, where there was no difference between USB 1.0/1.1/2.0 cables, and how there was no difference between USB 3.0/3.1 type A cables.
  • MonkeyPaw - Sunday, June 4, 2017 - link

    Almost seems like a better plan would be to design this so the USB-C ports all end up originating from the motherboard, and the graphics card passes display signal back. That way the ports can still support all the other functionality without adding complexity to the add-on components. Having USB-C ports of varying capabilities strewn across the PC just seems like a mess that should be avoided.
  • Pinko - Sunday, June 4, 2017 - link

    What is not clear at the moment is that USB-C port supports for 2 streams DP1.2 as it's for TH3 specs, or it goes beyond and it support full DP1.4 capability. That would means 8K on a single stream. Anybody knows anything about it?
  • DanNeely - Sunday, June 4, 2017 - link

    Am I correctly understanding that the loss of TDMS back compatability only means that you couldn't hook up a passive USB-C to HDMI/DVI adapter (if such thing were to exist); but instead would need the same sort of active adapter that goes into a pure data USB-C port?
  • edzieba - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    It means you cannot use a Type-C 'displayport' output as a DP++ port (as the other two ports are). It;s a silly distinction, as Type C also offers HDMI Alternate Mode for identical functionality.

    The presence of DP++ ports means there is no good reason to include a HDMI port on the rear of a card. You basically waste a bunch of panel area that could be used for another DP++ port (or for more ventilation) just to avoid use of a passive adapter that costs single-digit $ (if not less).
  • chaos215bar2 - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    Forget USB data. If you're going to put this port on a high-end GPU, is there a technical reason it can't support Thunderbolt?
  • CharonPDX - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    Agree - they should slap an Alpine Ridge onboard, too. Route 4 of the PCI Express lanes to Thunderbolt, and voila - you have full-functioning Thunderbolt 3 on *ANY* PCI Express x16 equipped computer. Put two USB-C ports on, and you have full DisplayPort functionality, plus you gain both Thunderbolt *AND* USB 3.1 Gen 2 10 Gb/s, even on older USB 3.0/3.1-Gen1-only 5 Gb/s systems.

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