Category Archives: Benchmarking

Chrome Software Reporter Tool Monopolizes CPU

After upgrading my Lenovo X12 Hybrid Tablet to Windows 11 Build 22454 , I noticed CPU usage stayed elevated. For a long time, in fact: at least 5 minutes or longer. Checking Task Manager the culprit was obvious. Item software_reporter_tool.exe consumed half or more of available CPU cycles. Upon further investigation, I learned two things. (1) plenty of other people have experienced this. (2) it’s a part of Chrome’s Cleanup toolkit, designed to remove software that could cause potential issues with Chrome. Having just rebooted, Chrome wasn’t even running. But that apparently didn’t stop its background tasks from executing. And that, dear readers, is how I learned that sometimes the Chrome Software Reporter tool monopolizes CPU on Windows PCs.

Do This When Chrome Software Reporter Tool Monopolizes CPU

I found an article from Martin Brinkmann at Ghacks.net about this phenomenon dated January 2018. It provides a battery of potential fixes. These include a variety of blocking techniques based on file permissions, and Chrome policies (via registry hack). I actually found a 2020 Codersera article that offered a more direct approach.

It’s the one I implemented, and it’s working well so far:
1. Open Chrome controls (vertical ellipsis symbol at upper left of browser window).
2. Click “Settings” resulting pop-up menu
3. Click down-arrow next to “Advanced” near bottom of that window.
4. Scroll down to “System” section and turn off item that reads “Continue running background apps when Google Chrome is closed” (move slider to left).

That should do it. At least, it seems to have worked for me: I haven’t seen any recurrences since I made this configuration change.

When Odd Processes Stand Out, Research Helps

This technique is a familiar one to those keep an eye on Windows performance. It’s often a good way to start digging into slowdowns like the one I ran into last week. I generally try to rely on well-known and -respected resources when it comes to fixes (if not the maker or vendor’s own tech support info). But usually, when there’s a will to fix such things, a way to fix them can be found.

If worst comes to worst (and I have a recent backup) I might even right-click the offending process and select “End process tree” to see what happens. Please note: don’t do this with Windows OS components, or you’re likely to experience a BSOD. ‘Nuff said.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

HDD Still Claims Price-Performance 2.5″ Crown

For laptops and portable applications, 2.5″ drives still rule. Once upon a time, hard disk drives (HDDs) owned this space, both in terms of capacity and price performance. But with a 2.5″ 8TB Samsung QVO drive readily available on Newegg for US$700, HDDs no longer own the capacity crown for this space. But 8TB for $700 translates into US$87.50 per TB. The same outlet offers the 5 TB 2.5″ Seagate Barracuda for US$147.59, or US$29.52 per TB. That’s nearly 3 times lower on a per-TB cost basis (2.96 to be more precise). And that’s why HDD still claims price-performance 2.5″ crown.

How HDD Still Claims Price-Performance 2.5″ Crown

Why do mechanical hard drives still deliver better price-performance than SSDs? Because of the costs of materials and manufacturing. HDD manufacture is a mature industry and does not depend on riding the curve for IC mask sizes, scaling and so forth. SDDs on the other hand are made of chips, and that’s a challenging technology wave to ride, and a very competitive marketplace in which to compete right now. Chip shortages may not last forever, but they affect all chip-dependent industries right now, including SSDs.

That said, the form factor on the Seagate 5TB drive is outside the envelope for use inside many laptops (its 15mm height makes it “too fat” to fit; ditto for most external USB-A or USB-C drive enclosures). I’ve owned a couple of these drives and they make excellent backup and external storage devices for the half-dozen-plus laptops I keep around. A 2TB Samsung QVO goes for US$170, and is only 7mm tall (as are all capacities in this line). Thus “laptop suitability” also goes to the more expensive SSD drives.

The Tide Is Turning Toward SSDs

As far as laptops and tablets go, I don’t see much future for HDDs any more. At best, they will make useful portable or compact external storage units for mobile use. Inside the laptop itself, though — except for so-called “portable workstations” — there’s little room for drives that can’t max out capacity in the 7mm 2.5″ form factor. I guess one can hope for a next-gen technology breakthrough in platter density that will let HDDs catch back up with flash RAM chips. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that, either. IMO the future — even for storage — is entirely solid state, not mechanical.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

New NVMe System Delivers Formidable Punch

The electrician visited our house early today to fix some switches. He also helped us find a GFI plug we didn’t know we had (duh!). He had to turn off power at the breaker box momentarily, so all the PCs went down. I took that opportunity to pop the case on the new Ryzen 5800X build. I moved the NVMe SSD from the M.2.2 slot to the M.2.1 slot. That’s when I learned this new NVMe system delivers formidable punch power, I/O-wise. Let me explain.

If New NVMe System Delivers Formidable Punch, How So?

We’re talking about the transition from PCIe x3 to x4, along with a new generation of SSD controller technology here. The lead graphic shows CrystalDiskMark 8.0.4 results from my 2016 vintage i7-6700 system left and the 2021 vintage Ryzen 5800X system right. The underlying NVMe drives are Samsung 950 PRO 512GB left, and Sabrent Rocket Q 2TB right. The speed increase ranges from 1876.41 vs. 3444.19 (upper left), or 1.83x, to 124.9 vs. 226.81 (lower right), or 1.75x. The biggest differences occur in the upper right cell, and the one beneath it. Those ratios are 2.13 and 2.12, respectively.

Thus we’re talking about a speed boost ratio for I/O in the neighborhood of 7/4 at the slowest and 15/7 at the fastest. In roundish numbers, say 2:1. That’s pretty decent. I daresay it’s a big enough difference to be noticeable. I can tell the difference in ways that range from working with the filesystem, to performing backups, to running applications, and more.

Where Value Sits…

I’m still learning how the new system works, and what it can really do. I just ran WhyNotWin11 on the PC and it doesn’t have TPM turned on. I just checked the Asrock website. Happily it provides instructions on how to turn on fTPM in BIOS for that motherboard. It’s a single, simple option, so I’ll take care of it the next time I reboot. Then, the system should be ready for Windows 11.

Switching the NVMe from the M.2.2 slot to the M.2.1 slot delivered the promised speed increase. It also made the 2 previously blocked SATA devices on that machine visible. So far, it’s been a peach to work with. The speed and capabilities of this current-gen Ryzen processor definitely impress. I am indeed inclined to think the upgrade was worth the cost. I’m still waiting for Nvidia 3070 cards to come down in price before endowing that PC with more graphics oomph, though.

Stay tuned. I’ll report in on system temps and stuff, and take a few pics of the build later this week. Should be fun!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

USB Flash Drive Follies 4th vs 11th Gen

Just yesterday I got videotaped for an upcoming session at SpiceWorld 2021 Virtual. One of the subjects I covered for HPE covered “the aging of technology” and what that does to IT efficiency, security and resiliency. That got me to thinking. “How has USB fared as faster busses, faster connections, and faster media have evolved over the past while?” I decided to conduct some USB flash drive follies 4th vs 11th gen systems to see what changed.

What’s Up With USB Flash Drive Follies 4th vs 11th Gen?

It turned into a tale of two drives, two systems, and three means of attachment. These were as follows:

Drive 1. Sabrent mSATA SSD enclosure with Samsung 950 EVO mSATA 500GB SSD USB 3
Drive 2: Fideco NVMe SSD enclosure with Sabrent Nano NVMe 1TB SSD USB 3.1
System 1: 2014 Vintage Microsoft Surface Pro 3 (i7-4650U, 8 GB RAM, USB 3)
System 2: 2021 Vintage Lenovo ThinkPad X12 (i7-1180G7, 16 GB RAM, USB 3.2/Thunderbolt 3)

The three means of attachment were USB 3, USB 3.1 (both using Type A connectors) and USB 3.2 using USB-C.

Technology Trumps Bus Speed

First things, first. There’s simply no comparison between mSATA and NVMe devices. It’s an order of magnitude from the older mSATA SSD technology to the newer NVMe. That tells me — and it should tell you — it’s simply not worth buying mSATA devices anymore. If you’ve still got them (I’ve got half-a-dozen) you can still use them.

The aging effect shows very strongly in the mSATA results. They stay pretty much the same across both systems and across all USB connection types (3.0, 3.1, and 3.2). That’s because the mSATA enclosure is either 3.0 or 3.1 (I just checked: it’s 3.0).

Things get more interesting with the NVMe devices. They run at about half-speed when there’s no UASP support on the PC (as with the Surface Pro). Amusingly, I got the same results from my Belkin Thunderbolt 3 dock with a USB 3.1 cable plugged into the NVMe enclosure. But when I used a USB-C cable directly into a USB-C port on the ThinkPad X12 I got big-block read/write speeds of ~1050 MBps read/~1004 MBps write from the NVMe flash device. Compare that to ~455 read/~457 write through the Thunderbolt dock for the same device.

Very interesting! This tells me that USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 or better drive enclosures, coupled with PCIe x3 or better NVMe SSDs in those enclosures deliver the fastest external drive storage I can use today (on my newer systems with USB-C, of course). And it looks like the performance boost from using the fastest possible port and connection is also very much worth it. Good to know!

This just makes me more interesting in acquiring a Thunderbolt 4 dock to see if it can extend that performance to secondary ports (right now, I get best speed only from USB-C ports on the X12, of which there are only 2).

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Living with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12

It’s been nearly a month since the brand-new ThinkPad X12 showed up at my front door. Since then, I’ve used it for a variety of everyday computing tasks, including writing stories, conducting research, tuning and tweaking, and more. As I’ve gotten to know it better, I’ve come to like it better as well. It’s not exactly perfect, but it’s not bad, either. In fact, living with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12 has been a mostly positive experience.

It’s Good, Living with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12

Here’s what this machine brings to its users:

CPU: 11th Gen i7-1180G7 (formerly Tiger Lake; 4 cores/8 threads; 12 MB Intel Smart Cache; max frequency: 4.6 GHz)
RAM: 16 GB (neither Speccy nor CPU-Z will tell me anything about the soldered-in RAM in this unit: interesting! The product page shows it as LPDDR4X 4266MHz.)
Graphics: Intel Iris Xe Graphics
Display: 12.3″ FHD 1920×1280 anti-reflective touchscreen 400 nits: bright and readable enough for me
SSD: Western Digital SN530 SDBPMPZ-1T00-1001 NVMe PCIe Gen3 x4 interface 1TB capacity (nominal: 953 actual)
Wi-Fi: Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX-201 160MHz adapter
Keyboard deck with fingerprint reader, pen/stylus included in purchase

Right now, the purchase price for an identically configured unit at the Lenovo website is US$1,570.00 (Memorial Day sale price). There is one kicker though: the site says “ships in 4+ months…delay due to COVID-19 global pandemic.” Ouch!

What I Like About the ThinkPad X12

This four-core/eight-thread mobile CPU is surprisingly fast and capable. Hooked up to a Thunderbolt 3 dock, I get access to added storage, wired GbE (if I want it), and more than enough wattage to charge its battery nicely. The Wi-Fi 6 adapter is amazingly peppy: I just got 640-plus Mbps from Ookla Speedtest to my nominal GbE Spectrum connection. It’s almost as fast as GbE, and sometimes I don’t even notice it’s connected wirelessly.

Battery life is great, too. I routinely got 10 hours or better when using the device untethered. Such use involved mostly reading Kindle eBooks, light-duty e-mail checks and web surfing, and watching an occasional video. It’s much better than my old (2014 vintage) Surface Pro 3, on which I’m lucky to get 4 hours of battery life.

It’s especially cool that Lenovo includes the keyboard cover (with fingerprint reader) and a pen/stylus as part of the purchase package. MS still charges separately for those, to the tune of US$150-200, depending on deals and options.

What Don’t I Like About the ThinkPad X12?

Not a whole lot actually. That said, I was surprised at the relatively slower speeds from its Western Digital SSD. Check out the CrystalDiskMark results from the X12 (left) vs. my 2018 vintage X1 Extreme, with a Samsung OEM 1 TB SSD. Makes me wish Lenovo had picked a bit more expensive SSD for the X12 .

Living with the Lenovo ThinkPad X12.CDM-compare

X12 CrystalDiskMark 8 left, X1 Extreme right.
[Click image for full-sized view.]

Other negatives are mostly minor. There’s no microSD or SD card slot for flash media. The unit sports 2 USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 ports, but no USB-A (or other ports, except an RCA mini-jack for audio). The built-in speakers are fairly flat and lacking in power and the front and rear cameras relatively low in resolution and visual fidelity. For me, none of this is a big issue, nor a deal-breaker.

I wanted something more affordable, a bit faster, and with better battery life to replace my aging Surface Pro 3. For my needs, especially for reading eBooks in bed, the ThinkPad X12 is a winner.  It’s as close to an iPad with real PC capabilities as I’ve ever come. IMO, it’s worth taking seriously. If it fits your needs like it does mine, it’s worth buying, too.

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Thunderbolt 4 Is Getting Underway

OK, then: first things first. Thunderbolt is a joint technology effort from Intel and Apple. The first iteration appeared in 2011, and version 4 (aka Thunderbolt 4) is just showing up in the marketplace. Intel’s 11th gen processors and supporting motherboards are the first to provide native Thunderbolt 4. And of course, add-on PCIe cards for Thunderbolt 4 are also starting to trickle out (see this ASUS item, for example). Hence the assertion that heads this story: Thunderbolt 4 is getting underway.

I’ve had recent experience to show me that the speed advantages it can confer are measurable and tangible. At the same time, I’ve learned that the right cables can — and do — make huge differences.

What Thunderbolt 4 Is Getting Underway Really Means

The following table sums up the differences among Thunderbolt 3 and 4, and USB 3 and 4 versions. Basically, it offers more and faster capabilities, but is limited to special, certified cables no more than 2M in length. It can also handle either 2 4K displays or 1 8K display, and works with the latest PCIe 32Gbps lanes. It is, in fact, a pretty strong argument for all-around hardware upgrades (mobo and ports, cables, and peripherals) all by itself. Check the table for details, please.

. Thunderbolt 4 Thunderbolt 3 USB4 USB 3/DP
1 universal port
40Gb/s cables up to 2 meters
Accessories with up to 4 TB ports
Min PC speed requirement 40Gb/s 40Gb/s 20Gb/s
(40Gb/s is optional)
10Gb/s
MinPC video requirement 2 x 4K displays
or
1. x 8K display
1 x 4K display 1` display (no min resolution) 1 display (no min resolution)
Min PC data requirements PCIe 32Gb/s
USB.3.2 10Gb/s
PCIe 16Gb/s
USB 3.2 10Gb/s
USB.3.2 10Gb/s USB 3.2 5Gb/s
PC charging port required At least one
PC wake from sleep w/TB dock connected Required
MinPC port power for accessories 15W 15W 7.5W 4.5W
Thunderbolt networking
Mandatory certification for PCs and accessories
Intel VT-d based DMA protection required
USB4 specification Compliant Compatible Compliant Compatible
Source: Table from 11/20/2020 Liliputing story about Thunderbolt and USB versions.

What I Plan To Do About Thunderbolt 4

I’ve got a new PC build in my relatively near future (as soon as finances allow). I’ll be making sure to pick motherboard and CPU with Thunderbolt 4 support. I’m looking around right now and while some cases do offer USB-C support, none of them have caught up to Thunderbolt 4 capability just yet. I may end up waiting for that to occur, and go ahead and recycle the trusty old Antec 902 case I recently reclaimed from my sister. This may take some further thought and research. Stay tuned!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

Tiny 1TB SSD Toshiba Technology Triumph

Yeah, I know. They’re not called Toshiba anymore. it’s now Kioxia, but Toshiba’s the name on the stick-on label. It’s stuck on a teeny tiny 2230 M.2 SSD I just installed in my Dell Optiplex 7080 Micro SFF PC. And in this case 2230 means it’s a package that measures 22 mm wide and 30 mm tall. It’s not much bigger than an SD card. It’s also reasonably fast and amazingly compact. That’s why I call it a tiny 1TB SSD Toshiba technology triumph.

What Makes for a Tiny 1TB SSD Toshiba Technology Triumph?

It just blows my mind that one can buy a 1TB SSD that’s so darn small. It uses the PCIe Gen3 x4 NVMe 1.3b interface, so it also runs surprisingly fast. The specs page says it runs up to 2.3 GB/sec. I observed speeds of just over 2.0 GB/sec on CrystalDiskMark in the Dell 7080 Micro.

I confess I had to go to eBay to buy this device. In fact, they’re not currently for sale directly to end-users through conventional online outlets. That said, I paid under US$200 for the unit, which I consider an amazing deal given how much demand there is right now for such compact, capacious storage devices.

Seems Rock-Solid, But We’ll See

Having just received it in yesterday’s mail and installed it today, I can’t claim much experience with this unit just yet. Recalling issues with the Sabrent 2242 unit I tried out earlier, I’m reserving judgement. But I am stunned. It’s so small!

I’ve haven’t been this excited about miniaturization since I visited Madurodam in the Hague back in 1964 as a Boy Scout. There was a lot more to see there and then, but this little SSD definitely rocks the storage in today’s world. Stay tuned for more info, stats, and such as I get to know this little powerhouse better with time.

Interestingly, Dell doesn’t provide a hold-down screwport on the 7080 motherboard. I had to tape the drive down with some electrical tape to hold it in position. I have a nut I can superglue to the mobo at some future point instead. I’m still pondering that, as I get to know this device better. Stay tuned for more deets next week!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin

USB Cables Make Amazing Differences

A couple of weeks ago, I read an online item bemoaning the variations in USB cables, especially those with USB-C connectors on one or both ends. This weekend, I experienced this phenom for myself. I also learned that the right USB cables make amazing differences in speed/throughput.

In the lead-in screenshots above, CrystalDiskMark speeds for the same device appear at left and right. To the left is the US$26 Fideco M.2 NVME External SSD Enclosure – USB 3.1. It’s linked to my Lenovo Yoga X390 through its USB 3.1 port using the vendor-supplied cable. Inside is the Sabrent 1TB Nano M.2 2242 SSD I’ve been writing about a lot lately. To the right everything is identical except I used a USB 3.1 Gen 2 cable. It’s rated at “up to 10 GBPS.”

No Lie: USB Cables Make Amazing Differences

Why on earth would the equipment vendor ship such a POS cable with an otherwise capable NVME enclosure? Speed results for the in-box cable (right) versus a US$7 cable purchased from Amazon differ starkly. For bulk transfers, the Amazon cable is 10 or more times faster. For 4K random reads and writes (bottom two rows), it’s between 6 and 7 times faster for queue depth = 32. That drops to 2 to 3 times faster for queue depth = 1.

Clearly, this is a red flag. It tells us that faster USB-C cables can speed peripheral I/O significantly. It also indicates that one should know what kinds of cables to buy. I got the speed-rated cables so I could see if they did make a difference. Little did I know I would actually benefit greatly from this experiment.

Wrinkles in the Plug-n-Play Experience

The question with USB-C cables is not “Will it work?” Rather, it should be “How fast does it go?” I’ve just learned that big differences sometimes present themselves. Testing your devices is the only way to confirm what kind of performance you’re getting. In my case, it quickly showed me that a high-speed USB-C cable is a worthwhile expense.

FWIW, this experiment also  explained some of the cost differential between the US$26 Fideco unit linked above and the US$45 Sabrent units I also own. The latter ships with USB-C 3.1 Gen 2 cables that perform on par with the speed-rated cables I mentioned near the outset of this story. The NVME enclosures are more or less on par performance wise. That’s NOT true for the in-box USB-C cables, though. There indeed: you get what you pay for!

Facebooklinkedin
Facebooklinkedin