Category Archives: USB devices

Flash Drive Goes Incredibly Slowly

Here’ s an interesting item. Last week, when trying to troubleshoot the graphics driver on the Lenovo P360 Ultra SFF PC, I ran into an interesting follow-on issue. I decided to copy the “old driver” file to a flash drive to take it upstairs where the unit lives (networking issues temporarily kept me from using RDP, as is my more typical practice). And gosh, I couldn’t help but notice my Mushkin Atom flash drive goes incredibly slowly when copying that 649K file.  The deets, courtesy of File Explorer, provide the lead-in graphic for this story.

If Flash Drive Goes Incredibly Slowly, Then What?

Just for grins, I plugged in an older USB3 mSATA device and copied the target file again. Despite its antique vintage (2014 or thereabouts) it beat the snot out of the flash drive. As you can see in the next screencap, it achieved a data rate of 236 MB/sec. That’s a whale of a lot faster than the paltry 12.5 MB/sec shown in the lead-in graphic.

Flash Drive Goes Incredibly Slowly.copy-speed

The SSD-based USB device is more than 18 times faster than the flash-based device. Wow!

What does this say? It says that older mSATA SSDs are worth keeping as a much speedier alternative to flash drives. Back when I bought the Sabrent enclosures in which my 3 mSATA drives are housed — I have one each 256, 512 and 1,024 MB devices — I paid US$60 or thereabouts to buy them. Now, you can pick them up at Amazon for US$14.

Flash Drive Goes Incredibly Slowly.msata-device

For US$14, you can move files around a whole lot faster!

To me, that’s money incredibly well spent, given the half-dozen or so mSATA drives I still have kicking around here. If you’ve got one or more sitting idle, this would be a smart buy for you, too.

Note Added 2 Hrs Later: Cheaper Than Flash!

You can buy a 256GB mSATA SSD for under US$30 right now. That makes the total price around US$45 for enclosure and drive. That’s about 3X what you’ll pay for a 128 GB flash drive, and less than some “faster” 256 GB flash drives cost. To me, this argues even more strongly that this is a good way to boost your USB storage arsenal without breaking the bank.

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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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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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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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Thunderbolt Turns Up NVMe IO Speeds

This is too cool. I’m finally starting to make sense of how to get the best performance out of external NVMe-based storage devices. As far as I can tell, bus speed is key. In fact, Thunderbolt turns up NVMe IO speeds. I apparently have only one laptop that’s new enough to show off the difference, but those results speak for themselves.

It also took me a while to lay hands on an NVMe enclosure that could deliver the performance goods. If you look at the lead-in graphic above, you’ll see two sets of CrystalDiskMark results from the same storage device and PC. The left-hand set comes from a USB-C port (USB 3.2, according to the Lenovo Yoga 7i specs). The right-hand set comes via a Belkin Thunderbolt 3 dock with the NVMe enclosure snuggled into one of its two available USB-C ports.

Showing That Thunderbolt Turns Up NVMe IO Speeds

The graphic speaks for itself. It shows speed boosts that range from ~2.5 X (Read SEQ1M Q8T1) to ~1.2X (Read RND4K Q1T1) faster for Thunderbolt versus a direct USB-C connection. I’m going to spring for the CalDigit Thunderbolt 4 dock, in the belief that it will improve speeds still further. Time will tell if that’s wishful thinking or actually worthwhile.

I can tell you this much from direct observation. Through the USB-C port on the Lenovo Yoga 7i, Macrium Reflect takes 4:03 to make an image backup (with reported read/write speeds of 7.6 and 7.2 Gb/s, respectively). Through the Thunderbolt 3 dock the same device takes 3:33 (with reported read/write speeds of 8.6 and 6.9 Gb/s). The former is what I would call “reasonably speedy;” the latter is 14%  (30 seconds) faster.

I’m not sure that’s a big enough difference to count. You tell me…

Heat Can Be an Issue

Running backups back-to-back also showed me that heat can be an issue if you drive an NVMe SSD hard in an unventilated metal enclosure. So I parked the aluminum case on an ice-pack and it sailed through repeated backups with a reported temp of 13 C. Where there’s the will, there’s almost always a way! LOL

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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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