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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  • Spunjji - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    Genius! Hopefully now Intel are opening up the standard a bit we can get some competing controller chips out there to enable stuff like this. The GPU can easily make do with the remaining 12 lanes.
  • DanNeely - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    The electrical implementation would be more complex than just "the GPU can use the other 12 lanes" would imply. PCIe can only be split in powers of 2. Which means that a basic implementation when using the TB3 port could either be x16 to the mobo, feed 8 to the GPU, 4 to the TB3 controller and discard the last 4 or 8 to the mobo and 4x to the GPU and TB3 controller. For a single GPU setup the first isn't a particularly bad result since x8 vs x16 is negligible. Only having 8 lanes to share would start to hurt some games significantly though (others would barely notice).

    The more expensive options to avoid this would be to either go with a 2 card solution: an x16 GPU and an x4 TB3 card with an internal connector to link the two. Or to put a PLX chip on the card to split the PCIe lanes as needed. This option would let the GPU always have at least 12 lanes of bandwidth. The Problem is that the PLX chip maker was bought by a company who's more interested in getting huge per chip profits from server mobo makers than selling lots of commodity chips to enthusiast mobo vendors; and jacked the price up to about $100. Combined with the need for a TB3 controller from Intel and extra engineering work to make it all work and doing it this way while the best from a technical/performance standpoint would probably put a $200 price premium on the card.
  • lmcd - Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - link

    This could open up a pretty nuts world where an external GPU is connected to the internal GPU for SLI. That'd be pretty fun, honestly. Imagine one of those small ITX machines using a GPU with Thunderbolt for "docking" at home? Amusing to think of docking a desktop, but nevertheless, I'm sure people would enjoy it.
  • nagi603 - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    Are there long, tested usb c cables even under testing? I mean 5 meter long ones. I had to hunt for ages to find one that works with DP 1.2 for my freesync display, reportedly being told there is no such thing. I'd rather not have to repeat that, but it seems like there are none available over 2 meters.

    I mean bandwidth is nice and all, but if I can't get said bandwidth to the damn display, what good is it?
  • DanNeely - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    Apparently due to the way they're terminated, a max length beyond 2m in 5gb mode or 1m in 10gb mode is impossible.
  • Hxx - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    one more reason to go with a liquid cooled setup. There is no need for that 3 slot behemoth of a cooler on a graphics card.
  • masouth - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    there is no need for a liquid cooled setup on a graphics card either, it's just a choice. Just like choosing to go with an extra thick heatsink that takes up 3 slots instead of choosing a 2 slot model.
  • bigboxes - Monday, June 5, 2017 - link

    "leaving it with 2 DisplayPorts, a DVI-D port, an HDMI port, and the USB-C port"

    The supplied pic shows two HDMI ports and a single DisplayPort.
  • wi11ian - Saturday, October 7, 2017 - link

    This says the same specs
  • JyveAFK - Tuesday, June 6, 2017 - link

    Can the USB port be used to receive data? ie, if I get this card, plug in power, and then connect it to a USB-C laptop, can I drive a monitor/play games straight off it without using these big propriety gfx card enclosures? Some small (and hopefully cheap) mini-case/power for it? (heck, maybe an old mini-itx case).

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