Category Archives: USB devices

Why USB Disk Speeds Matter

It’s been a busy and interesting week. I’ve been messing around with numerous backups and restores. Ditto for mounting ISOs and running Windows repair installs. A LOT of disk reads and writes to USB drives have been involved. Because of the huge amounts of data involved, I’m better prepared to explain why USB disk speeds matter. A LOT!

Why USB Disk Speeds Matter So Very Much

In a word, the shortest possible answer is “Time.” If you can get something done faster, you can do more in a single work interval. Compare the USB disk speeds for an NVMe drive in a USB-C enclosure (left) to those for an mSATA drive in a USB-A 3.1 enclosure (right — see lead-in graphic). When backups and restores are concerned the top lines (which involve large file transfers) actually matter. Of course, all the times matter as well.

But those differences are pretty stark for backup and restore. Let me explain… If you look at the top pairs of numbers, these cover large data transfers with a queue depth of 8 (upper) and 1 (lower). In both pairs of numbers, the NVMe drive is over twice as fast as the mSATA drive. Those same results were born out in backups and restores (7 and 14 minutes for backup; 11 and 23 minutes for restore).

The More You Do, the Better You’ll Like It!

Those results show why I’ve long been a believer in using fast USB drives whenever possible. I’m still waiting to see what kind of bump I can get with a Thunderbolt 4 NVMe enclosure, proper cables and enclosure, and Thunderbolt 4 on the host device. From what I read, it should be 25-40% as fast again.

This realization came to me when I started copying a backup from a BitLocker protected NVMe drive to an mSATA unprotected drive. I got a consistent 26-27 MBps transfer rate between the two devices. It took over 20 minutes to copy the file!

If I could’ve gone Thunderbolt 4 all the way, I could have quadrupled the transfer speed or better. That would cut my wait time from 20 minutes to 5. Waiting for necessary data can’t be completely bypassed — but it surely shows the “need for speed” on such occasions.

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Windows Docking Rules Legal Computing

OK, then. I just spent the last week in Waco, at the courthouse for the US Western District of Texas. A few blocks away, the law firms I worked with rented office space at Legal Lawfts on 4th street. In both locations I noticed (and used) a key technology for computing. When I say “Windows docking rules legal computing” I mean that 90-plus percent of the PCs in use ran Windows (10 mostly). And even the lone Macintosh I saw also used a dock for extended functionality.

What Windows Docking Rules Legal Computing Means

When lawyers, witnesses and support staff go to trial, that’s essentially an “away team” exercise. But nowadays when they rent office space, desks come with one or two monitors, external keyboard and mouse, and — you guessed it — a USB-C/Thunderbolt dock of some kind. Thus, I too was able to benefit from a 27″ monitor along with a decent Logitech keyboard and wired mouse, while keeping on working on my trusty and powerful Lenovo X1 Extreme laptop. It rocked!

I also noticed in the courtroom that the “mobile clerk” — that is, the person who is in and out of the courtroom on the judge’s orders — also used a docking station. When he left he would disconnect a single USB-C/Thunderbolt cable and take his laptop with him. Upon his return to his desk, one plug reconnected and he had access to two 27″ screens, plus his own external keyboard and mouse. Good stuff.

Productivity Benefits Power Through

At the offices, we all mostly used cheapo, unpowered hubs with a single HDMI/DP port for video, two USB-C ports, and two or three USB3 Type A ports. That’s where the wired Logitech keyboard and mouse already consumed two of the latter. I actually had to plug the HDMI cable into my laptop because the underpowered hub in the office didn’t work with my X1 Extreme. I did see others using them for video without issues, so something odd was up with my rig.

Thing is: it all worked. We were all much more productive with 2 (and in some cases, 3) screens at work with our laptops. And even on a conventional bar-shaped keyboard (not ergonomic as I use at home) I’m still a lot more productive typing on same rather than the more condensed and taller layout on my laptop’s keyboard deck.

I also have to hand it to my office-mate Jeff, an appellate specialist from Austin.He came prepared with his own, externally powered high-end USB-C/Thunderbolt 4 dock, plus wireless ergonomic keyboard and mouse combo. Heck, he even brought a seat cushion for the comfortable Herman Miller Aeron chairs with which the desks were also endowed. Good stuff, and a valuable learning experience.

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Quick Win11 Reghack Shows Removables Recycle Bin

Here’s an interesting item that shows off a difference between Windows 10 and 11. Adding a specific Registry key and value to Windows 11 lets it show the recycle bin (and contents) in File Explorer on removable drives.  Normally (and on Windows 10) it doesn’t appear. A quick Win11 Reghack shows removables recycle bin.

That said, the same hack produces no visible sign of the Recycle Bin in Windows 10 File Explorer. Here’s what one of my 8 GB USB 3 removables looks like therein:

Quick Win11 Reghack Shows Removables Recycle Bin .win10

Notice there’s no entry shown named “Recycle Bin.” But as the lead-in graphic shows, it’s defined, even if it’s not visible.

When Quick Win11 Reghack Shows Removables Recycle Bin, Here’s What’s Shown

After adding a registry key named Explorer to

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies\

One must create a DWORD therein named

RecycleBinDrives

Then that DWORD must be assigned the hexadecimal value “ffffffff” (all 1s for all 8 possible hexadecimal digits). Next comes a quick restart to make sure the setting “takes” in the Registry.

Presto! Recycle Bin Appears

As shown in the next screencap (from my X1 Extreme “road laptop”), you can now see the Recycle Bin (and System Volume Information) in the items listed in Explorer. (Note: for these items to appear, File Explorer Options/View must check “Show hidden files…” amidst its settings. As you can see, I also like to uncheck “Hide extensions…”)

Now you can see Recyle Bin and System Volume Info on the USB drive. Good-oh!

Why is access to Recycle Bin a good thing? Because it provides a ready means to recover deleted files from a USB drive directly, if one so desires. I agree with Sergey Tkachenko at WinAero.com (the source for this story and its info, though I had to create the Explorer key from scratch on my test PC) that easy recovery of deleted files can sometimes be a lifesaver!

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Zoom Mystery Gets Interesting Resolution

For the past month or so, I’ve been unable to run Zoom on my primary desktop PC. That’s actually OK, because it doesn’t have a video camera, so it’s been no major gotcha to switch over to the laptop I keep at the left-hand side of my desk. There, a camera is built-in and it works fine with my Jabra 75 USB plug-in headset. Today, determined to find a solution, I stumbled across a revelation in the Zoom Community forums. There, my Zoom mystery gets interesting resolution: because the PowerToys “Video Conference Mute” is enabled by default, it crashes Zoom. Turn that feature off. Presto! No more crashing.

Flailing About Leads to Zoom Mystery Gets Interesting Resolution

At the same time, I’ve also had to switch from my Jabra 75 headset to the older Logitech H750e headset on the production PC. Though the sound widget in Control Panel shows sound input/output, it’s not audible on the headset itself. That’s working properly now, too.

If it hadn’t been for some inspired Google search, I’d never have found this by myself. Turns out it’s a “known thing” in GitHub (where PowerToys development is run). There a bug report about this there. It’s entitled “Zoom continuously crashes with Video Conference Mute enabled.”

I’m very glad this finally popped up on my radar. I’m even gladder there’s an easy fix. Shoot! I’m just glad to see the Zoom dashboard popping up and working on my production desktop PC. This fix was a long time coming, but I’m glad to see it finally in place. Sigh.

 

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2021 Road Trip Technology Bag Contents

As I reported in my previous post, our family took a Texas-to-Florida road trip from December 18 through 30. It occurs to me readers might be interested in what came along for that ride, technology-wise. Thus, I’ll inventory our 2021 road trip technology bag contents, to show what the Tittel family used to stay in touch while traveling. I’ll also explain — briefly — how we used all that stuff.

Enumerating Road Trip Technology Bag Contents

To begin, I’ll simply list what we carried with us on the road by category and kind:

1. Laptops (2): Lenovo X1 Extreme (8th Gen i7, 32 GB RAM, 1.5 TB NVMe SSDs: 1 + 0.5 TB); Lenovo Yoga 7 14ITL5 (11th Gen i5, 16 GB RAM. 0.5 TB SSD), each with its own power brick and power cord.

2. iPad Air 2: 128GB storage, Wi-Fi + LTE

3. External battery packs: an older freebie (WIMVP 2018) 4,000 mAh, plus a newer RAVPower 26,800 mAh

4. Cable bag with 2xUSB/LIghtning cables for iDevices, 2xUSB A/USB-C cables, 2xUSB A/mini-USB cables for battery chargers, 2x iClever USB-A chargers with dual 2.4A charging ports

The cable bag was a convenience, a $17 ProCase Travel Gadget Organizer bag I purchased in 2020, and it appears as the lead-in graphic for this story. In fact, it proved its worth every day on the road. This organizer made it easy to store (and find) chargers and cables when and as they were needed in the 6 hotels we patronized on our trip.

Typical In-Hotel Usage Scenarios

The iClever chargers were vital for keeping our smartphones and iPad charged. We used them every day, without fail, along with the appropriate cables. The battery packs came in handiest on the long driving days (2 each way) to and from Florida. That’s because time in the car routinely outlasted battery life on at least 3 of those 4 days.

In the hotel room, I used the iPad for recreational reading and map checking. We also used the two laptops, both of which run the production version of Windows 11 (Build 22000.376). My wife and I shared the X1 Extreme. Indeed, I actually had to do about 6-7 hours of legal work on the trip as various questions and document drafts required my input.

My son took over the Yoga 7 as his exclusive PC, and reported that it met his needs for streaming video, email, light gaming, and managing his social contacts quite nicely. He also used it to work on a short 2-minute film he’s planning to shoot this weekend as part of his college application process (he wants to major in film).

Stowing the Gear

All of this stuff fit well into a standard “schoolbook” back pack we keep around for travel. Its large internal pouch easily accommo-dated both laptops inside a padded  sub-area with Velcro closure. The iPad, cable bag and battery packs went into the forward section of that same internal pouch. And finally, both laptop bricks lived in a half-height zippered pouch at the very front of the backpack.

We maintained this organization for the whole trip because it made unpacking and packing easy. Ditto for ensuring that everything was present and loaded during pre-departure checks.

The Bottom Line

As I look over my Amazon Order history, I see we spent under US$300 for the bag and its contents, not including laptops and iPad. All together, cables accounted for under $50, the chargers for about the same amount, and the bags the same again. The RAVPower charger was the big-ticket item, at about US$120. But it can recharge all three of our smartphones and the iPad, or extend battery life for either laptop by 2-4 hours. Well worth the cost, methinks. All this gear helped us stay informed and in touch — and organized — on the road. Good stuff!

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Dual NVMe Enclosure Supports RAID

Whoever built this product clearly saw me coming. After upgrading both of my older desktops, I find myself looking for ways to use their now-idled NVMe drives. One is a Samsung OEM 512GB NVMe from the 2014 vintage PC, and the other is a Samsung 950 EVO 1TB NVMe from the 2016 model. As it happens, Sabrent has an offering for just that. In fact, its dual NVMe enclosure supports RAID, too.

What Dual NVMe Enclosure Supports RAID Means

Thanks to built-in RAID support,  this enclosure offers faster throughput than a single-drive configuration. It even handles Thunderbolt, so I can use it in my newer docks and on my newer laptops and desktops. At a list price of US$249 my initial though was: “Ummm. No!” But after I visited the Amazon page and saw it was marked down to US$149 (about double the price of two phantom-powered Sabrent Thunderbolt 3 NVMe enclosures) that response changed to “Ummm. Yes…”

The specs claim speeds up to 1,500 MB for single drives, but up to 2,500 MB for drives in RAID configurations (I’m guessing that means striped or mirrored, rather than JBOD). Watching some of the videos that Sabrent provides on how to set things up, my guess is confirmed.

Should I Take the Plunge?

Now, I have to decide if I want to further raid the exchequer to cover an additional US$149 outlay, on top of the ~US$1,300 I’ve already spend to get my production desktop hardware refresh funded. I’ll have to chew on this for a little while, and perhaps ask “the Boss” for permission. Should I indeed buy into this device, I’ll review it in a future blog post.

In the meantime, I must consider how deeply I feel like digging into available funds right now. That’s a perennial problem for hardware junkies like myself, and one I’ve wrested with before. Stay tuned: I’ll keep you posted.

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USB-3/C Header Cable Mystery

OK then. I’ve got the parts for my second hardware refresh. I now understand I may have been rooked. The Asrock B550 Extreme4 mobo comes with a perfectly serviceable 19-pin USB 3.1/3.2 header block on the motherboard, but no cable to match. And upon looking around, I find precious few such cables available at any price. To me, this poses something of a USB-3/C header cable mystery. It’s a mystery I’d like to solve before I start building.

Solving USB-3/C Header Cable Mystery

The situation raises an interesting question: should such cables come with the mobo or the case? In my case (pun intended) I’m recycling something that predates USB-C and USB 3.2/Thunderbolt 3 or higher. Thus, I’m purchasing the 5.25″ drive bay plug-in shown in the lead-in graphic. It needs a 19 (sometimes called 20) pin connector to get from the mobo header to the front panel device.

Thing is, I can’t tell if the device includes any cables or not. I can tell, having just checked, that the Asrock mobo includes no cables except for some SATA cables for hooking up such drives. To span the distance from the front panel to the back of the motherboard, it looks like I need to buy 3 (!) 15 cm cables to be sure to get from the bottom and back of the case to the top and front. Sigh.

When in Doubt, Spend More $$$

Just to be safe, I’m going to order the cables along with the front-panel device. If that device includes cables I’ll be sure to email Amazon to get them to update the product info. It’s currently silent on that all-important subject (to me, anyway).

And indeed, these are the kinds of conundrums that face people like me trying to refresh hardware in anticipation of meeting Windows 11 hardware requirements. I can’t see any point in having an unused high-speed USB header on my motherboard without making those ports easily accessible. Stay tuned: I’ll let you know how it all turns out.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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