Category Archives: USB devices

Windows 11 Wi-Fi 7 & USB4v2: What’s Up?

On January 8, 2024 Wi-Fi 7 went public. That’s the same day the Wi-Fi Alliance introduced its Wi-Fi Certified 7 program. USB4 version 2.0 goes all the way back to October 18, 2022. But only with the release of Insider Preview Canary Channel Build 26063 in February 2022 did MS start testing support for related Wi-Fi 7 drivers. (USB4 version 2.0 has been baked in since Build 23615 in the Dev Channel, released January 11, 2024.)  Neither has appeared in a production version of the OS. Thus, a valid question for Windows 11 Wi-Fi 7 & USB4v2 has to be: What’s going on? TLDR answer right now is “Not much just yet.” There are lots of good reasons why so please let me explain…

What’s Afoot with Windows 11 Wi-Fi 7 & USB4v2?

One way to look at this is from a market availability standpoint. Precious few devices for sale right now support either or both of these standards. As I write this item, I see exactly 2 network adapters (one USB, the other PCIe x4) that support Wi-Fi 7.Ditto for  Wi-Fi 7 routers. I can’t find any laptops that offer built-in support for either standard just yet. Many new models are promised later in 2024, and could change that.

Though it’s being proclaimed as something of an oversight  it’s really just a function of supply and demand. (See this Tom’s Hardware news item by way of illustration.) Basic economics and recent history with Wi-Fi 6 and USB4 version 1.0 show that it takes about two years for these new standards to make their way from introduction and into more general adoption. I don’t see this latest iteration as terribly different.

Shoot! I didn’t lay hands on my first PC with built-in USB4 capability until the Panasonic Toughbook FZ-55 showed up here at Chez Tittel late last year. Just before Christmas, in fact. If it takes that long to hit my hot little hands again, I’m looking into late 2025 before a personal encounter might happen.


Wired Mouse Means No Stutter

Remember that scene near the end of The Incredibles where one older cop says to the other “No school like the old school?” That snippet of wisdom crossed my mind as I decided to switch from an MS  wireless Mobile Mouse 4000 to an MS Basic Optical Mouse 2.0. Why? Because a wired mouse means no stutter, lag, or hesitation when working on my desktop (or playing Gnu Backgammon or MS Solitaire, two of my fave diversions). Sigh.

Why Wired Mouse Means No Stutter?

I’m pretty sure the fault is mine for the wireless mouse issue. I had its transceiver mounted on my Luxo lamp, right next to a couple of monitors and less than 2 feet away from my Asus 802.11ax router. Not to mention further, it’s in close range of 3 laptops and my desktop as well. Your basic signal-rich, if not downright noisy, wirelesss environment. That said, I didn’t have these problems with the older MS Mobile Mouse 3000 (but alas, they don’t make them anymore).

But now that I’ve got a more isolated communications channel between desktop and mouse, there’s no more stutter or delay. Sometimes, the old school is the only school that works without issue. I have a feeling this may be one of those times. Plus: it was really bugging me. Go figure!

While you’re doing that, I’ll be taking the occasional break for backgammon or solitaire, content in believing that my ancient but unhampered wired mouse will remain snappy enough for my needs. Thank goodness!


Windows 11 Disks & Volumes Info

Here’s something I didn’t know. Through System → Storage → Disks & volumes, Windows 11 makes all kinds of storage device info available. Indeed, such Windows 11 Disks & Volumes info (see lead-in graphic) even includes “Drive Health” for suitably-equipped devices. Let’s explore a little bit more about what that means. But first, take another look at the graphic above.

Digging Into Windows 11 Disks & Volumes Info

What can you see in this graphic? The first section shows disk info for the internal SSD, a 1 TB Kioxia NVMe. It also shows bus, target and logical unit number (LUN 0) data. There’s a Status field that shows the drive is online. Next, a Health section shows remaining life, available spare, and temperature. Finally, Partition Style shows up as GUID Partition Table (GPT). Previously, garnering this info required accessing Disk Management and Device Properties. Fabu!

In fact, if you click on Advanced Disk Properties, the same Properties page you can access through those other utilities comes up. But to me, that’s not what’s most interesting. Turns out, older USB attached devices (USB 3.x, in my local case) do not show the Drive Health section. That only works for USB4 devices (including Thunderbolt 4 items, as USB4 is a strict subset of TB4).

Now I Get It, Yet Again

Once again, I’m seeing a tangible improvement in transparency and usability when plugging in newer and more capable (but also more costly) USB4 peripherals. Even on laptops like the 2022 vintage Lenovo ThinkPad P1Gen6 Mobile Workstation (which still relies on the Thunderbolt Controller not a USB4 Host Router) these benefits convey.

As I said before in an earlier blog post “NOW I get it.” The value of the new interface is starting to come ever clearer. When I talk to the Panasonic engineers in a few minutes, I hope I will learn more. Stay tuned!

{Note Added 4 Hours Later] None of the engineers or developers I talked to was conversant with the switchover from Thunderbolt to USB4 Host Router at the hardware level. They’re floating a discreet inquiry to the Japanese engineering team to find out more. When I get more info, I’ll share it here (or in a new post, as things unfurl). Again: stay tuned!



Incase Takes Over MS Branded Keyboards

Last year, MS announced it would stop making its company-branded mice and keyboards. As somebody’s who’s been using MS keyboards since Homer was a pup, I was naturally concerned. But those concerns were allayed last week. That’s when peripheral maker Incase announced it would sell those products as “Incase designed by Microsoft” items. Indeed, Incase takes over MS branded keyboards as part of that deal. As you can see in the lead-in screencap, that includes my beloved Natural Ergonomic 4000 (top center).

When Incase Takes Over MS Branded Keyboards, Then?

The announcement isn’t completely clear about exactly when this cutover will occur. When MS announced they’d  exit this segment of the hardware business (they’re sticking purely to Surface branded hardware going forward), they simply said they’d sell out of existing stock. Methinks Incase will need to ramp up and get going before the new incarnations of the old MS-branded items will reappear for sale.

Currently, my fave model under the old brand goes for about US$400 on Amazon. The last time I bought a pair was in 2020, and I paid US$108 for 2 of them from Newegg. I still have one unopened in the original box, but the one I’m typing on right now is about ready to be retired. It still works like a champ, but the keycaps for A, S, D, C, V and M are worn to invisibility, and many of the other right- and left-hand main keys are spotty at best. And I’ve spilled at least three coffees on this puppy over the past 3-4 years…

Hopefully, Incase Restores Rational Pricing

Most other vendors are selling ergonomic keyboards in the US$35 to $70 range (I just checked at Newegg). I’m hoping that means when Incase turns the tap back on they’ll fall somewhere in that range. If and when that happens, I’ll order another pair of keyboards. When I need a new one, I always order two, so I’ll have a spare in case something goes wrong with the one I put in service first. Fingers crossed.

At any rate, I’m grateful Incase took over these venerable mice and keyboards from MS. Hopefully, I’ll keep clacking away at the same layout until I decide to hang things up for my own retirement. Even then, I’m sure I’ll keep at least one around for old time’s sake.


HWiNFO Bestows USB4 Insight

I just learned something very interesting. Most of it comes courtesy of the GitHub HWiNFO project.  Use it to garner system information and diagnostics in Windows. The lead-in graphic  shows a  Thunder-bolt 4 NVMe enclosure plugged into a Panasonic Toughbook FZ-55. There (upper right) it appears as a Crucial NVMe SSD with PCIe x4 controller. For reasons I am about to reveal, I believe HWiNFO bestows USB4 insight into the USB-C connection in use.

What HWiNFO Bestows USB4 Insight Means

That insight comes from the full text of the Drive Controller info. It reads “NVMe (PCIe x4 8.0 GT/s @x4 8.0 GT/s). That means the PC sees the external drive, plugged in through a USB-C port on the FZ-55 as a PCIe x4 device capable of up to 8 giga-transfers per second (that latter part is what 8.0 GT/s means).

Basically, rating throughput in GT/s gives drive makers a way to account for encoding overhead in the PCIe protocol. Note: 8 GT/s translates into 7.877 Gbps with overhead backed out. Indeed, what this really means is the connection clocks half the maximum speed per PCIe x4 lane (16 GT/s). To me that indicates this connection tops out at a nominal 10 Gbps ( aka USB 3.2 Gen 2×1).

Where USB4 Comes Into Play

This is where I finally get to see a feature in Windows 11 I’ve read about but hasn’t manifested on PCs in my possession. The Toughbook FZ-553 delivered just before Christmas displays a USB option labeled “USB4 Hubs and Devices” (see below).

HWiNFO Bestows USB4 Insight.settings.sys.usb

If I hadn’t seen the PCIe x4 stuff in HWiNFO, I’d never have looked for this!

Indeed, it was seeing the mention of a visible NVMe controller and its PCIe x4 details in HWiNFO that led me to start wondering about USB4 and related Thunderbolt support. On other (older) PCs, I’ve only been able to access info about USB4 and Thunderbolt devices through the Intel Thunderbolt Control Center app. That’s been present by default on those other PCs with high-speed USB-C ports. On the FZ-55, Thunderbolt Control Center is absent. It doesn’t even come up in the Store (though it shows up clearly as a search string).

OK, NOW I get it: the Intel USB4 Host Router does on newer PCs what the Intel Thunderbolt Control Center does on older ones. It makes USB4 storage devices visible and accessible. Good to know!

Thankfully, HWiNFO shows more about the device, including the NVMe maker, controller, and drive model (a 1TB PCIe x4 Crucial NVMe drive). Likewise good to know; more insight, too!


Avoid Cascading Thunderbolt 4 Hubs

I guess it makes sense, now that I’ve figured out what’s going on. I’m using the Lenovo ThinkVision P27u-20 flat panel monitor with a Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Hybrid PC. It’s been an interesting ride, getting it working once again. (I wrote about it first last December upon its arrival here at Chez Tittel.) Over the weekend, I got it working again Among the various things I learned along the way: avoid cascading Thunderbolt 4 hubs.

Why Avoid Cascading Thunderbolt 4 Hubs?

Simple, short answer: Windows 11 can’t find the monitor when it has to traverse an upstream TB4 hub and a downstream one. There’s a longer, more complex answer as well. Too much throughput is required for an all-purpose power/video/peripherals link between host and monitor. Multiple TB4 hubs don’t work that way.

This drove me batty for a while. That’s because I used the CalDigit TS4 hub as the primary. Then, I ran a video connection from it to the P27u-20. But the monitor features a built-in TB4 hub that doesn’t work in that configuration. Good to know, but hard to figure out. What led me to this discovery? In part, a consistent report that my power link wasn’t beefy enough to recharge the X12’s battery.

When I finally checked the port map for the monitor I saw that only one is labeled both Thunderbolt 4 and “full function upstream port with max 96W With Smart Power PD output” (see pg. 6). And sure enough, that’s the one I had to hook directly to the primary USB-C port on the X12 to get the monitor recognized as a 2nd working display.

It’s all good now. But if you use a monitor like the P27u-20 with integrated hub, it’s best to avoid bringing another TB4 hub into that mix. ‘Nuff said!


MS Introduces Surface Thunderbolt 4 Dock

The field is getting increasingly crowded, and the features just keep coming. Microsoft is finally switching over from its proprietary Surface connector to more standard USB-C connections. Indeed, check out the lead photo. It pairs cable ends with ports as MS introduces Surface Thunderbolt 4 Dock (MSRP US$300). And because MS is a little late to this party, they add USB4 support to their high-speed USB-C ports, along with TB4.

If MS Introduces Surface Thunderbolt 4 Dock, Then What?

That puts another interesting and competitive option into an increasingly crowded market. The CalDigit TS4 remains at the top of the heap (US$400 and up). The Lenovo Universal TB4 Dock is priced on par with the Surface unit (US$305). Similar offerings are available from numerous other makers. These include Anker, Belkin, Kensington, Razer, OWC and many others (see this XDA Developers story for a pretty comprehensive run-down).

What makes the Surface unit unique — for the moment, anyway — is that it includes USB4 along with TB4 support on its USB-C ports. USB4 remains new enough that many docks on the market for a year or more (that is, most of them) don’t follow suit.

The USB4 Conundrum

If we see the next generation of docks adding USB4 to TB4 to one or more high-speed ports, we’ll know USB4 is gaining real traction. At present, it’s more of a rarity. When I went looking at latest generation laptops for USB4 last month (March 2023) I observed that fewer than 25% of models offer USB4 support. Most of those are higher-end PCs, too.

Ditto for higher-end NVMe drive enclosures. The vast majority support TB4, but only a few combine USB4 along with such capability. Indeed, the USB4 spec dates back to 2019, and  “Thunderbolt 4 is a superset of USB4” (PC World). This may make calling out support for USB4 a distinction without a difference when TB4 is already present. MS’s recent inclusion of a USB4 page in Windows 11 Settings (Builds 23419 and follow-ons) and inclusion in this dock show a rising tide of USB4 support. We’ll see what happens, as a new generation of PCs and related peripherals make their way into the marketplace.


Still Behind USB4 Curve

Drat! I’ve just upgraded my two Canary test PCs to build 25324. The announcement says “We are adding a USB4 hubs and devices Settings page…” But it had been on a gradual rollout, and I think that is still happening. Why do I say that? Because one of my test machines shows TB4 and USB4 in the Thunderbolt Control Center, but there’s no USB4 page in Settings on that machine. Sigh. Alas I think that means I’m still behind USB4 curve.

That’s what you see in the lead-in graphic above. It shows no USB4 hubs in DevMgr (left), the 25324 build (middle) and the TB4/USB4 items in the Thunderbolt Control Center (right).

If I’m Still Still Behind USB4 Curve, What Now?

It could be one of two things. I don’t have the right drivers loaded (I don’t think that’s the case, but it’s possible) or I don’t have any native USB4-equipped devices. Perhaps MS hasn’t rolled this update all the way out just yet, and my PCs are still on the trailing edge. Given my history with glomming onto new features, it’s darned likely to be the latter.

In the meantime, all I can do is wait for it to show up. I’m also going to reach out to my Lenovo contacts and see if they have any history with this capability on their end. I’ve got two pretty new machines (the P16 Mobile Workstation and the U360 Ultra SFF PC) that have leading-edge TB4/USB4 capabilities. Maybe I’ll have to load the 25324 image on one or both of them and see what comes up.

In the meantime, I’m just sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away… Wish me luck!

Concluding Note: If It’s Not There, It’s Not There…

OK, so I’m learning that USB4 support will show up inside Device Manager using the “Devices by connection” view. (See this informative MS Learn article for more info Introduction to the USB4 connection manager in Windows.) If your PC is properly outfitted you’ll see a series of entries that look like this:

⌄ USB4(TM) Host Router (Microsoft)
    › USB(TM) Root Device Router (Microsoft)
          USB4(TM) Device Router (Microsoft)

Alas, none of my PCs apparently have the right kinds of USB-C (or Type A) ports, because I can’t see this on any of them. Gives me a good excuse to ask for another Lenovo eval, I guess!


Canary Escape Requires Clean Install

I kind of knew this already. You probably did, too. But it bears repeating: the general rule for Insider builds is “you can go up by changing your Insider preferences; you can only go down with a clean install.” Simply put, a Canary escape requires clean install.

Thus, this recent Insider email from MS states:

You can only switch to the Dev Channel or other Insider channels that are receiving builds with lower build numbers by doing a clean installation of Windows 11.

Say What? Canary Escape Requires Clean Install

But wait! There’s more. Active Insiders will want to check their email inboxes. In their latest (March 13) email missive “Introducing Canary…” you’ll also find a one-time use code and link through which you can claim a free USB drive. I reproduce the mail-to notification from that web page as the lead-in graphic for this story, in fact. Indeed, I’ve sent my response in to claim my USB drive…

Alas, as you can see in the web page text, delivery time is 6-8 weeks. Does anybody else find this amusing? I keep a whole mini-tray of such drives around for install and repair activities. That’s mostly because Macrium requires users to agree that a rescue disk may only be used on the PC from whence it came. I see 11 on that tray right now (see below). I wonder if the one from MS will fit there, too?

Canary Escape Requires Clean Install.try

Count ’em: 11. There MAY be room for the MS item here, too (depending on size).

Those little flash USBs are Mushkin Atom drives. They’re not the fastest, but they’re compact and eminently usable. As you can see, I keep a lot of them around… And any clean installs I need to do (and, in fact, have already done on my temporarily discommoded X12 Hybrid) will be done and dusted long before that new USB flash drive arrives via mail.

Shout-out to Neowin: Thanks to Taras Buria of Neowin for his March 15 story that brought this to my attention (and got me to read the Insider email all the way to the end… ;-).


Newer USB Justifies Added Costs

I had a revelation via contrasting benchmarks yesterday. A friend returned a mid-range USB 3.1 NVMe drive enclosure after an extended loan. Thus, I popped it into my production desktop (an i7 Skylake Gen 4 PC) to see how fast it ran. Good enough. Then, just for grins I popped it into the 2021 vintage Lenovo P16 Gen 1 Mobile Workstation (an i9 Gen 12 PC). Much faster! Enough so, in fact, that it’s clear that newer USB justifies added costs of acquisition. Let me explain…

Why Say: Newer USB Justifies Added Costs?

Take a look at the lead-in graphic. It shows the difference between older USB technology in the Skylake desktop vs. newer USB technology in the Gen 12 mobile workstation. Both are using USB 3.1 ports (though the older PC goes via USB-A, the newer goes thru USB-C) to the same hardware running the same benchmark. Why is the new so much faster than the old?

Short answer: UASP, aka the USB Attached SCSI Protocol. The newer PC supports it, while the older one does not. You can see there’s a driver difference in Device Manager when it comes to accessing the NVMe drive enclosure and its installed SSD: the older machine runs a driver named USBSTOR.sys, while the newer one runs UASPStor.sys. Plain as day.

The Deal With UASP

The Wikipedia article on UASP is a good place to find some explanation. To wit: “UAS [USB Attached SCSI] generally provide faster transfers when compared to the older USB Mass Storage Bulk-only (BOT) protocol drivers.” In a nutshell, that’s UASPStor.sys versus USBSTOR.sys.

As I learned about this technology in the period from 2016 to 2019, the word at ran something like “Speeds of 500 MBps mean USB bulk transfer; 1 Gbps or better means UAS transfer.” And that, dear readers, is the difference you see between the right-hand side in the lead-in graphic (USBSTOR.sys on the Skylake) and the left-hand side (UASPStor.sys on the Gen 12).

In practical terms, this translates into much, much faster IO on the newer PC vis-a-vis the older one. I think it’s incredibly worthwhile, given that backups complete 2-3 times faster on the P16 than the Skylake. Likewise for big, bulk file transfers (such as Windows ISOs, which I mess with frequently).

Retrofit and Replacement

Does this mean one has to toss older PCs and replace them with newer models? Maybe, but not necessarily. For between US$50 and 100, you can purchase UASP capable PCIe adapter USB cards. As long as you’ve got an open PCIe x4 port available on your motherboard (desktops only, so sorry) this could be a good solution. I’m a fan of this US$95 StarTech unit for that purpose.

Older laptops can be dicey and depend on support for USB ExpressCards. I mucked around with these on some 2012-vintage Lenovo ThinkPads in the 2014-2016 timeframe (an X1 and a T420). They work, but they’re cumbersome and expensive (see this Amazon Review for a great discussion).

For best results, it may be time to shell out for a new desktop or laptop PC. That way, the fastest USB (and even Thunderbolt) technologies are likely to come built-in and ready to go. Could be worthwhile!