All posts by Ed Tittel

Full-time freelance writer, researcher and occasional expert witness, I specialize in Windows operating systems, information security, markup languages, and Web development tools and environments. I blog for numerous Websites, still write (or revise) the occasional book, and write lots of articles, white papers, tech briefs, and so forth.

Exploring TB4/USB4 Backup Speeds

OK, then. I’m starting to dig into the capabilities of my new loaner SFF Lenovo P360 Ultra PC. It’s a beast, especially for such a small package (3.4 x 8.7 x 7.9″, 87 x 223 x 202 mm, weight 4.4lb/2.0 kg). Right now I’m giving the front USB-C ports a workout, and exploring TB4/USB4 backup speeds. They’re amazing.

Exploring TB4/USB4 Backup Speeds.f&rview

About the preceding graphic. It shows a front and rear view of the P360 chassis. Here’s what those numbered items convey:

1. Power switch (on/off)
2. Audio/headphone jack
3. USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type A port
4. 2 x Thunderbolt4/USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type C ports
5. Wi-Fi antenna mount
6. 2.5 GbE wired network (RJ-45)
7. 1.0 GbE wired network (RJ-45)
8. 4 x miniDP GPU (connects to Nvidia GPU)
9.  Chassis latch release
10. 3 x full-size DP GPU (connects to on-chip Intel GPU)
11. 4 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type A ports
12.  Optional PCIe card slot/port
13. Power in from 300W power brick

What Exploring TB4/USB4 Backup Speeds Says

First things first: I ran comparatives using CrystalDiskMark on a set of different NVMe enclosures with their own drives, as follows:

Enclosure                NVMe SSD              Price (Date)
======================   ==================    ==============
Sabrent NVMe PCIe x1.3   ADATA XPG 256GB       US$ 60  (2019)
Puhui USB 3.1 USB-C      Samsung OEM 512GB     US$ 30  (2022)
Konyead M.2 TB4/USB4     Rocket 4 Plus 1TB     US$162  (2022)

I didn’t get a lot of useful data out of that comparison, though the numbers for all three devices increase their readings down the preceding list. The final item shows most readings between 2x and 3x those for the first item. However, I decided to compare backup results for all three setups, working through a brand-new Belkin Pro Thunderbolt 4 Dock.

The results turn out to be a bit of a good new/bad news scenario.  New TB4/USB4 NVMe enclosures are still punishingly expensive. Performance results from backup show them not yet worth the $132 differential vis-a-vis a cheap0 USB 3 3.1 Gen2 version. About the only thing they can do right now, as far as I can tell, is bring up the “USB 4.0 SSD” label in the Thunderbolt Control Center, as shown in the lead-in graphic.

Big Price Diffs Don’t Translate to Performance

Here’s a table of backup times from Macrium Reflect Free to the three drives, listed by Enclosure name (consult previous table for more info on innards):

Enclosure                Backup (times)
======================   ==============
Sabrent NVMe PCIe x1.3     162 (2:42)
Puhui USB 3.1 USB-C        131 (2:11)
Konyead M.2 TB4/USB4       132 (2:12)

While there’s a 31/32 second difference (about 20%) between the older Sabrent enclosure and the two newer ones, there’s so little difference (1 second) between the other two that I’m sure that falls in the margin of measurement error one would expect.

What’s interesting here is that these backup speeds — even on the slowest/oldest device — are about twice as fast as on my other, similarly loaded test machines (which top out at USB 3.1 Gen 2). That tells me for those who do a lot of backing up, video editing, or other data intensive stuff there’s some real benefit to be gained from investing in TB4/USB4 ports and devices.

Lessons Learned

What lessons do I draw from this experiment? Glad you asked! Here’s a list:

  • It’s definitely worth adding an interface to older desktops to support TB4/USB4 for the speed bump it provides.
  • This new technology provides a “speed reason” to consider buying in on a newer laptop or PC.
  • Newer, more expensive TB4/USB4 NVMe enclosures may not be worth the added cost as compared to USB 3.1 Gen 2/TB3 counterparts.
  • From what I’m reading, it’s a good idea to use as short a USB4/TB4 rated cable as possible.
  • It’s also best to hook the NVMe enclosure directly to the PC if you can (going through the dock reduced performance by about 5% overall)

A terrific experiment, and a  great learning lesson, too. Thanks to the nice folks at Belkin and Lenovo who made their gear available to me.

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RDP Mystery Finally Resolved

For years now, I’ve wondered why some of my RDP connections work only some of the time. Now I know why, and it’s provokes a Homer Simpson response “Doh!” Now that I’m done laughing at myself, let me explain how I got that RDP mystery finally resolved.

I was working with my various Thunderbolt docks this weekend, and I noticed that a previously not-working RDP connection started working again. Turns out that of necessity devices with both GbE and Wi-Fi adapters have separate and distinct IP addresses for each such adapter. Therein lies the key to the mystery, as shown in the lead-in graphic.

Explaining How RDP Mystery Finally Resolved Itself

This all started when I had to move my X12Hybrid dock upstairs. When I disconnected from the dock, and its GbE connection, the RDP connection defined for X12Hybrid (also the machine name used in RDP) resumed working. Then it hit me: because the GbE connection uses a different IP address from the Wi-Fi connection, my RDP definition works only when the IP address it knows about matches the address actually in use. Again: “Doh!”

You can see this clearly in the dual windows shown in the lead-in graphic. PowerShell is in top position, and shows that nslookup stores the IP address associated with the Wi-Fi interface (192.168.1.20). But when I plug the GbE interface in, it takes a different address instead. That private IP address ends with .39, as shown in the NetBScanner window at bottom of the same graphic.

How to Adapt to Changing Connections

The primary router on my local network is an Arris model: it comes from Spectrum as part of its Internet connection and services. I’ve not figured out how to forcibly reset its address tables for DNS lookups on Windows machine names. Instead, I use NirSoft NetBScanner when an RDP connection fails and enter the correct IP address instead of machine name in its “Computer” data field. This works every time.

By observation, it looks like this data updates every 24 hours or so. If I leave the RDP connection unchanged (no switch from Wi-Fi to GbE, or vice-versa) over that interval, nslookup eventually matches the current address. But at least I now know why this is happening, and why using the IP address for the NIC in use fixes the issue.

That’s the way things go here in Windows World, where I still manage to surprise myself by  relearning the obvious. Sigh.

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CarPlay Cable Connections Are Key

Here’s another recent lesson learned from our just-completed trip to New England. On our reconnaissance mission in late July, we quickly figured out that a Lightning cable between iPhone and in-car USB makes connecting simple and fast. This time around, we learned that the cable itself also matters. Though I packed 3 such cables in our cable bag, only one of them worked well to support CarPlay. Hence my title: CarPlay cable connections are key. Let me explain…

Why CarPlay Cable Connections Are Key

One of the cables was probably shorted: the charge indicator kept turning on and off when it was in use in the car. That simply won’t do.

The second cable was an old — iPhone 6 vintage, at least — Apple-provided charging cable. Clearly, it couldn’t handle the bandwidth requirements needed to ferry comm traffic between the iPhone and the car’s built-in display. It simply didn’t work reliably or well.

The third cable proved to be the charm. It was a 10-foot Amazon Basics USB A for iPhone and iPad cable purchased in 2019. This item is no longer in stock, but something like this iPhone 11 model (US$16.99) would undoubtedly work. I gave one to my son when he went off to school, so I’m ordering 2 more right now.

Underlying USB Support in CarPlay

As I understand it, Lightning cables support USB 2.0 more or less uniformly (here’s an interesting discussion from Volvo, and an informative Reddit thread). My guess is that both of my old cables were sufficiently “used” that they simply couldn’t provide full USB 2.0 capability/bandwidth. The newer cable — despite its 10ft (~3M) length — worked just fine.

Hint/tip: before you take off on a road trip, it’s probably a good idea to test your chosen Lightning cables (listening to music is a fair method) to make sure they can carry the load. I’d also recommend taking a spare — I always do — just in case you lose or damage one while traveling.

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USB-C Port Choice Really Matters

Here’s an interesting discovery. Or maybe it should be called a “realization.” Yesterday, upon trying out my new Belkin and CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 docks, I learned that USB-C port choice really matters. In fact, my reported GbE issues with the Belkin Thunderbolt 3 port are probably related. Please: let me explain…

Why USB-C Port Choice Really Matters

Simply put, if you plug a dock into the upper USB-C port in the Lenovo X12 hybrid laptop it works as it should. Plug it into the lower USB-C port and the GbE connection disappears. Also, the device does not show up in the Thunderbolt Control Center app, either.

More details:

  • The Ethernet controller built into the CalDigit unit depicted in the lead in graphic is an Intel I225-LMvP. When the unit is plugged into the upper USB-C port it appears in Device Manager. If plugged into the lower USB-C port it does not.

  • When I plug the dock into the lower USB-C port, it vanishes from Thunderbolt Control Center, which then shows no attached devices. Interestingly, Windows still finds attached storage devices. But wired networking through the dock no longer works.

Extremely interesting!

What Does It All Mean, Mr. Wizard?

What it means is that on this Lenovo model, only one of its two USB-C ports also supports Thunderbolt (and it’s version 4, interestingly enough). Here’s my clue from the product family specifications page, which reads as follows under “Ports/Slots”:

    • USB 4 Type-C with Thunderbolt™ 4 (DisplayPort, Power Delivery and Data Transfer)
    • USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C

The reason why storage keeps working, but why networking and video — and presumably  other high-bandwidth connections — do not, is because Thunderbolt support is required for such things. If I’d still had a monitor attached to the X12 (I sent it off to school with my son) I might have figured this out faster. But now I know . . . and so do you! And it goes to show that sometimes, where you plug in really matters, even if the “gozintas” look the same.

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Appreciating Apple CarPlay

Hello there! We’re just back from a combination trip to the Northeast. On August 25, we flew to Boston with son Gregory to move him into Emerson College. On August 31, we took an Uber to the Boston Logan rental car pickup to head north to Maine. This latter half of the trip has me appreciating Apple CarPlay greatly and enthusiastically.

Why I Am Appreciating Apple CarPlay

I’ve owned and used various in-car GPS systems for years, including those available in Mercedes, Volvo, and Toyota models. Each one is a little different. Each one has its decided UI quirks and foibles. That leads me to my number one source of CarPlay gratitude: a single, consistent and pretty intuitive UI for navigation via Google Maps. It’s great!

Item number two may be just as important. I can remember paying $300 to $500 to access GPS capability in several cars. CarPlay comes as a standard (no added cost) feature on many cars these days. That’s a nice savings, in addition to the benefits of a familiar and standard UI.

My third source of gratitude is a YMMV thing, or it may be a matter of personal preference. I find the voice instructions in Google Maps to be easier to understand and follow than those in the Mercedes GPS (that’s the built-in one I know best thanks to using it in 3 cars over the last 10 years or so).

When driving in unfamiliar places, that’s a benefit that’s hard to overstate. I’ve learned to turn around or re-route to rectify my mistakes while driving. But gosh! I’d rather not have to rectify mistakes that result from misunderstanding voice instructions. Google Maps works better for me in that regard.

All My Future Vehicles Will Have CarPlay

Because we’re an iPhone family (wife, son and myself all have 13 models right now), it makes sense to integrate phone and vehicle. There are lots of other benefits, too — including music, phone calls and SMS messages, the Waze app, and more. Frankly, I just can’t see paying extra for a feature from a carmaker that doesn’t work as well for me as the iPhone running Google maps (or some other equivalent). One more thing: here’s an interesting MakeUseOf story that explains the best of the CarPlay apps, and what new stuff lies ahead in this category. Check it out!

‘Nuff said!

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Inspecting Travel Cable Bag Contents

OK then, we’re sending my son off to college where he will have both a portable laptop (going with him) and a more powerful desktop (shipped in advance). Inspecting travel cable bag contents to take inventory, I find the following items:

  • 2 2.4 Amp iclever dual USB port wall chargers
  • 2 USB-A to lightning cables, 10 ft
  • 1 USB-A to lightning cable, 2 ft
  • 1 USB-A to USB-C cable, 2 ft
  • 1 USB-C to USB-C cable, 2ft (for next item)
  • Sabrent USB-C NVMe drive enclosure PCIe x.3
  • 1 RJ-45 Cat6e network cable, 6 ft

The whole thing weighs in at 795g (1 lb 12 oz). It fits nicely in the front pouch of my soft-sided Targus computer briefcase when we go on the road. I bought a duplicate for the boy to take with him to school.

After Inspecting Travel Cable Bag Contents…

We’re usually charging stuff — phones, mostly — until we go out the door, so the cable bag is one of the last items to go into my briefcase. Please note: the image serving as the lead-in graphic obviously belongs to an Apple-head. While we do all have iPhones (and thus, lightning cables) the rest of our stuff is Windows centric. So the picture doesn’t show the local story. I just grabbed it from Amazon for eye-candy.

This time out, the travel briefcase will start out with 3 laptops: my work unit, another for other family members, and the laptop for school use. Those items are, respectively:

  • A Lenovo X1 Extreme, i7 32 GB RAM, 1.5 TB across 2 SSDs
  • A Lenovo Yoga 7i 14″, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD
  • A Lenovo X390 Yoga, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD

It will probably make the TSA guys wonder why we need 3 laptops when we transit the x-ray machine tomorrow. It is what it is, and I’ll just have to tote the weight until we can do a little lightening when the boy heads off to his dorm on Sunday. Please: wish us all luck! Some of us may need it more than others, but you can never have too much…

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Realtek Audio Console Goes MIA

There are two flavors of Realtek Audio drivers for Windows 10 and 11. The most prevalent are the High Definition Audio (or HDA) drivers. The less prevalent but slightly more capable are the Universal Audio Drivers (UAD). Confusingly, these show up in Device Manager as Realtek(R) Audio. More properly that would be Realtek® Audio, but DevMgr apparently doesn’t do metacharacters like the registered trademark symbol (®). Whatever you call it, the Realtek Audio Console Goes MIA in the MS Store.

Knowing When Realtek Audio Console Goes MIA

One used to be able to access this app through the Microsoft Store. No longer. Confusingly, the app says Realtek Audio Console in its title bar, but the Store listed it as Realtek Audio Control. Thus, for example, if you visit it at MajorGeeks.com (a usually safe and reliable download source), its Microsoft Store download link is broken. Likewise, a direct search at the Store produces no results. Ditto for a search at the Realtek downloads page.

Thus it looks to me that it’s at least possible that Realtek is de-emphasizing the UAD side of its audio drivers. In the absence of statements of direction or intent, it’s only possible to speculate. But it looks to me like UAD drivers and the app console may be orphaned, and no longer supported.

A Driver Search May Tell…

In looking at UAD drivers for Realtek, I see only Nahimic variants for the last half-dozen versions at Station-Drivers.com. None of these work with the plain vanilla FF00 audio codecs on my now-aging Z170 Skylake motherboard. I do have a B500 AMD rig that supports this Nahimic stuff, though.  In a couple of weeks, I’ll probe this mystery further and see if the Audio Console is available (and working) for that set-up.

Right now, I have a working UAD set-up with drivers that are now about a year old (version 9215.1, dated 8/3/2021). I have been unable to find any newer variants that work. Ditto for a newer version of the Realtek Audio Console (or Control). Very interesting!

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Exploit Winget Include Unknown Syntax

For the past couple of years I’ve been learning — and using — the Microsoft package manager, Winget, It helps me keep my PC apps updated. Just recently, I’ve learned to exploit Winget include unknown syntax to broaden its coverage. Basically, this will “upgrade packages even if their current version cannot be determined.” That quote comes from the upgrade command section of the MS Winget documentation.

How to Exploit Winget Include Unknown Syntax

First, that syntax couldn’t be simpler: just add the string
--include-unknown
to the usual invocation for winget . For the record that’s
winget upgrade --all
. This tells the program to apply upgrades for all packages with known versions. You can see this at work in the lead-in graphic for this story, in fact. Chrome shows up when unknowns are included, but not otherwise. (Compare top and bottom sections, or view the image full sized by clicking the following thumbnail.)

Exploit Winget Include Unknown Syntax
Exploit Winget Include Unknown Syntax

The difference between the unadorned “all” version of Winget upgrade and the one with unknowns included applies in large part to applications like Kindle, Chrome, Firefox, and more, which apparently do not report their current version numbers either consistently or well to Winget during its initial survey phase.

This addition to the command finds those things and attempts to upgrade them. Certain apps — most notably Teams — will not work with this tool because of version mismatches (and the prudent decision not to overwrite versions outside the same version tree). But this does improve its overall coverage. That lowers the number of apps and applications I must update manually. To me — and to you, too, I bet — that’s a good thing!

Note: Winget works in PowerShell with equal facility for both Windows 10 and Windows 11. It’s become one of my go-to tools for keeping my small fleet of PCs (currently numbered 12, with 2 going off to college with my son soon) up to date.

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KB5012170 Can Provoke BitLocker Recovery

Here’s an interesting tidbit that’s making the rounds right now. KB5012170 appeared on August 9 on the latest Patch Tuesday. According to various sources — see this Neowin story, for example — some users’ PCs boot into BitLocker Recovery after the mandatory post-update restart, rather than business as usual. Thus, applying KB5012170 can provoke BitLocker Recovery (though unintentionally).

Of those affected, some have been able to get back to rights by applying the PC’s BitLocker Recovery key. Others have had to update their UEFI before that key application “takes.” In my case, I apparently dodged that bullet, because none of my production Windows 11 machines (four Lenovo laptops of various descriptions, and a Ryzen 5800X desktop) fell prey to this gotcha.

You can see the “success” report for this KB item boxed in red in the lead-in graphic for this story, in fact…

If KB5012170 Can Provoke BitLocker Recovery, Then What?

BitLocker keys can be stored in at least three ways. 1. On paper, 2. Electronically (usually on a USB drive). 3. Associated with a specific MSA (Microsoft Account). I prefer method 3 because it’s easy to set up and MS manages it automatically on your behalf.

You must log into your MSA online (I go through account.microsoft.com). Then go to Devices, and pick the affected PC. Next, click on Info & Support. There you’ll find a Bitlocker data protection item that includes a link to “Manage recovery keys.” That’s what you want. It will show you recovery keys for all the devices associated with that MSA (I show 11, of which I’m actually using 2, so I just got rid of the rest after saving a backup copy to an encrypted disk).

BTW, that means it’s essential to add all devices you might ever want to recover to your chosen MSA. Do so right away, if you haven’t already!

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Thunderbolt Dock Loses GbE Port

Drat! In jacking around with my Belkin Thunderbolt 3 Dock Plus today, I couldn’t help but notice that the wired Ethernet port wasn’t blinking. Further testing included multiple cables and connections to the same port, none of which worked. When I tried a passive Thunderbolt 3 mini-dock in the other USB-C port on the Lenovo X12, that wired Ethernet port worked immediately. Thus, I can only conclude that Thunderbolt Dock loses GbE port is the right diagnosis. Sigh.

Note: The lead-in graphic for this story shows the rear view of the aforementioned Belkin device, with its RJ-45/GbE port at the left. No blinkin’ lights, man!

If Thunderbolt Dock Loses GbE Port, Then What?

For the time being, I’m using another dock — the Thunderbolt 3 Minidock — just for its RJ-45 GbE connection. Good thing my X12 Hybrid has a spare USB-C/Thunderbolt port, eh?

Longer term, I’ve already contacted Belkin about sending me a replacement. They’ve got a nice looking Thunderbolt 4 dock for sale now, so hopefully they’ll ship one my way. I’ve also gone ahead and ordered the CalDigit TS4, reputedly one of the best Thunderbolt 4 docks on the market today.

Thunderbolt 4 Docking Brings Other Benefits

Acquiring one or more Thunderbolt 4 docks will also help with my ongoing testing of NVMe SSD enclosures. As I reported a few days ago, switching from USB-C/3.1 or 3.2 to Thunderbolt 3 makes a difference in IO performance on my fastest SSD enclosure/drive combos. I’m curious to see if a bump to Thunderbolt 4 will make any additional difference.

According to what I read, throughput doesn’t vary that much for external drives from Thunderbolt 3 to 4. I’ve also observed that synthetic IO tests (e.g. CystalDiskMark) tend to overstate the real-world speed-ups available from faster buses. Thus it will be interesting to observe exactly how much difference the bump from 3 to 4 makes.

Stay tuned! I’ll let you know what comes of that testing. Should be fun!

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