Apple – Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat http://blog.fosketts.net Understanding the accumulation of data Tue, 19 Dec 2017 15:43:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat http://blog.fosketts.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/10/sc57.png http://blog.fosketts.net Understanding the accumulation of data 73504778 How To Remove Raw Images From Apple Photos and iCloud http://blog.fosketts.net/2017/07/24/remove-raw-images-apple-photos-icloud/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2017/07/24/remove-raw-images-apple-photos-icloud/#comments Mon, 24 Jul 2017 15:26:08 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9662 Apple Photos isn't the best application to manage a large digital photo library, but the integration with iCloud, iOS, and macOS is extremely useful. But even though Photos can process and store raw images, it is severely lacking in terms of library managemen. I have developed a workflow to remove raw images from Apple Photos and iCloud and thought I'd share it. Hopefully Apple will do better in future releases.

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Apple Photos isn’t the best application to manage a large digital photo library, but the integration with iCloud, iOS, and macOS is extremely useful. But even though Photos can process and store raw images, it is severely lacking in terms of library management: Smart folders don’t properly recognize them and there’s no easy way to remove them from your library so these huge files can seriously clog up your iCloud account. I have developed a workflow to remove raw images from Apple Photos and iCloud and thought I’d share it. Hopefully Apple will do better in future releases.

Apple Photos can only detect raw files if they’re (manually) set to be “Original”. And there’s no way to “divorce” raw files to remove them from the library (and iCloud)!

How Photos Stores Raw Files

Although I don’t love the slim editing features in Photos, I’m still using it because of the excellent integration between iOS, macOS, and iCloud. It’s just plain useful to have all of my photos stored together and seamlessly synced to the cloud. Still, Photos is pretty terrible when it comes to dealing with raw images.

In macOS, Photos stores all images in a bundle. By default this lives in your Pictures folder and is called “Photos Library.photoslibrary”, though macOS hides the extension so it just looks like “Photos Library” in Finder. A macOS bundle is actually just a regular folder marked so as to be treated like a single unit in Finder.

Inside the library, all photos are stored in Masters/year/month/day/event/file. For example, if you take photo with your iPhone on July 10, 2017, it might be called “Masters/2017/07/10/20170710-12304/IMG_2356.JPG”. If you import a raw+jpg image from a camera (in my case, my Leica Q uses “.dng” files for raw), it will be stored similarly, perhaps called “Masters/2017/07/10/20170710-17385/L123521.JPG” and “Masters/2017/07/10/20170710-17385/L123521.dng”. Note that both the jpeg and raw files are stored together in the same directory.

Let’s play “spot the raw+jpg”! Those little “J” and “R” boxes are the only reliable way to find raw+jpg files in Apple Photos, since Smart Folders only finds raw files if you edit them and manually select “Usr RAW as Original”

Although Photos does a nice job of keeping these paired photos together, it entirely drops the ball when dealing with them in the UI. Photos treats raw+jpg images as a single entity but only accounts for the primary or “Original” source. By default, raw+jpg files are treated as “JPEG” by the UI and are thus indistinguishable from plain jpg files from the same camera except for a little stacked “J” icon in the upper right corner. If you edit the photo and select “Use RAW as Original” in the Image menu, it becomes a stacked “R” and can be matched by Smart Folders.

This is asinine:

  • Smart Folders has a “Photo is Raw” search, but this only works then the “Use as Original” source is raw (which has to be done manually, one photo at a time)
  • Smart Folders “Filename ends with…” search also only finds the “Use as Original” source
  • Thus there is no automatic way to identify raw+jpg files since they are by default treated as jpg files
  • The only way to know which files are raw+jpg pairs after import is to look for the little “J” box in the corner

At least if you “Export Unmodified Original” it will export both the raw and jpg files regardless of which was marked as “Original”!

Raw Files in iCloud Photos

Apple Photos happily uploads both the raw and jpeg files to iCloud Photos for you, and will download them to any Mac connected to the account automatically. And Apple will generate a jpeg file for viewing on iOS devices too. This is good.

The problem is that these raw files can quickly clog up your iCloud account and there’s no way to get rid of them short of deleting the image from the library. This is bad. Considering that every raw image from my Leica Q is 41 MB, my 200 GB iCloud account quickly filled up!

There ought to be some way to clean out your library, exporting the unwanted raw files and removing them from iCloud without deleting the companion jpeg files. But that’s really hard to do.

Warning: The following processes can cause the loss of your precious photos if not done correctly! Proceed at your own risk and make a backup first! In fact, make two or three backups!

Frankly, since Photos can’t automatically select which jpeg images have a “raw companion” users of raw+jpg are really in for a tough time. The only way I can see to clean out your raw+jpg files in Photos is as follows:

  1. Manually select all raw+jpg images you want to clear out, using the little “J” box in the UI as your guide
  2. Export Unmodified Originals to an archive folder, giving you a copy of both the raw and the jpeg file but not any modifications you’ve done
  3. Export (modified) Photos to another archive folder, giving you a jpeg with your changes so you can bring those back into your library
  4. Delete these photos from your library using Command-Delete (why is there no corresponding menu item?)
  5. Really delete these photos by clicking on Delete All in the Recently Deleted folder
  6. Wait for iCloud Photos to sync, then exit and reopen the library and wait for it to really remove the photos which strangely only seems to happen after reopening (Is this a bug or a feature?)
  7. Watch the size of the library in Finder to make sure the photos are really, really deleted from the library, then wait some more to make sure they’re really, really deleted from iCloud
  8. Import the modified jpeg photos from step 3 and manually tag them, add them back into your albums, and so on

This process is painful and incomplete: There’s a lot of manual juggling and you will lose your tags, albums, and categorization. But at least your iCloud library will be smaller.

A (Somewhat) Better Way With PowerPhotos

I’ve long used Fat Cat Software’s PowerPhotos (formerly iPhoto Library Manager) to split and merge iPhoto and Photos libraries. Although it doesn’t solve the problem of finding and exporting raw+jpg images, it does automate the tagging and photo import process so you won’t lose as much when you jump through these hoops.

PowerPhotos can pull in the modified jpeg images, complete with tags and albums, from your raw photos archive

Here’s my improved way to clean raw+jpg files out of Photos, leveraging PowerPhotos:

  1. Manually select all raw+jpg images you want to clear out, using the little “J” box in the UI as your guide, and put them in a (dumb) album called “Raw Photos To Archive” or something
  2. Create a Smart Album with “Album is not Raw Photos To Archive”, then create another (dumb) album called “Photos Not Archived” or something so this selection will persist after you delete the others
  3. Make a copy of the whole Photos library by holding down Option while dragging the library to an archive folder then rename this something like “Raw Photo Archive”
  4. Close Photos and open the copy Raw Photos Archive library, then select all Photos Not Archived and delete them using Command-Delete, then clear them from Recently Deleted by clicking “Delete All”
  5. Exit Photos and reopen that library and wait to make sure they’re really deleted
  6. Back in your original iCloud Photo Library, select all Raw Photos To Archive and delete them using Command-Delete, then clear them from Recently Deleted by clicking “Delete All”
  7. Exit Photos and reopen that library and wait to make sure they’re really deleted
  8. Watch the size of the library bundles in Finder to make sure the photos are really, really deleted from the library, then wait some more to make sure they’re really, really deleted from iCloud
  9. Fire up PowerPhotos, click “Merge Libraries”, select the following:
    • Drag the Raw Photo Archive library to the “Choose Source Libraries” box
    • Drag the Default iCloud library to the “Choose Destination Library” box
    • De-select “Eliminate duplicates while merging” since you deleted the duplicates earlier
    • Select “Copy edited JPGs” so your lovely edits will be saved in your iCloud library
  10. PowerPhotos will restore your photos, including tags and albums, and Photos will send these back to your iCloud Photo library

This process results in a complete library of only raw+jpg images, complete with the tags you added and edits you performed, along with a complete library of jpeg images in iCloud for you to enjoy and share. It’s painful but functional. The only issue is that every time you repeat the process you get another Raw Photos archive.

I’ve asked Fat Cat to add a feature to handle this better in PowerPhotos and we’ll see what they come up with.

Stephen’s Stance

Here’s my ideal scenario for Apple Photos or Fat Cat PowerPhotos:

  • Allow me to automatically select all raw+jpg files in my library
  • Allow me to export and import raw+jpg files with edits and tags
  • Allow me to archive unwanted raw files without losing the jpeg images in my library, perhaps allowing me to re-link the raw files in the future

I suppose I should just switch to Lightroom. But barring that, I guess I’ll have to use the process above.


© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2017. | How To Remove Raw Images From Apple Photos and iCloud
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My Core i7 Macintosh SE http://blog.fosketts.net/2017/05/25/core-i7-macintosh-se/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2017/05/25/core-i7-macintosh-se/#comments Fri, 26 May 2017 01:05:24 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9594 I recently built the biggest, clunkiest iPad mini case ever, transforming my old Macintosh SE case into an iPad stand. But what to do with that empty case? Why, it's the perfect size for a custom Mini-ITX PC! Introducing my liquid-cooled Core i7 monster Mac SE!

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I recently built the biggest, clunkiest iPad mini case ever, transforming my old Macintosh SE case into an iPad stand. But what to do with that empty case? Why, it’s the perfect size for a custom Mini-ITX PC! Introducing my liquid-cooled Core i7 monster Mac SE!

My old Macintosh SE case hides a Skylake Core i7 PC inside!

Creative Packaging

After removing the original Macintosh motherboard, I was struck by its neat packaging in the Macintosh case. The motherboard sat at the bottom, with air venting in all around. Most of the space above was taken up by the CRT, power supply and related analog electronics, with a bit of space reserved for the two 3.5″ drive bays and processor-direct expansion slot (“SE” stood for “System Expansion”!)

Apple’s original motherboard is just a bit larger than a modern Mini-ITX motherboard, and the removal of the CRT left a considerable amount of space inside for other components. I immediately knew I could fit a whole PC, including a small power supply, inside that case. Still, it took some creative packaging to get everything oriented correctly.

The signatures of the Macintosh team are still visible inside.

One thing that became immediately obvious is that none of the original port cutouts would line up with a modern PC motherboard and power supply. I could have cut out the entire lower panel, but I wanted to keep the case as stock-looking as possible. So I decided to orient the motherboard vertically, using short cables to relocate the ports to the original holes. I mounted it “ports up” so it would be easier to reach the ports and to make use of the space alongside the integrated handle.

I also discovered that a modern SFX or TFX power supply would almost, but not quite, line up with the existing holes, so some Dremel cutting was inevitable. I enlarged the power cutouts so I could mount my Corsair SF450 SFX power supply vertically. Although this blocked the original printer, modem, and audio port, it left room for the rest of the PC inside. I also cut out a few intruding plastic tabs inside the case to make a cleaner space to work with.

The popularity of the Mini-ITX form factor opens many doors for this kind of project. Everything is available in this compact size, from fanless media devices to servers to high-performance desktop PC’s. The only trade-off is that just a single PCI Express slot is allowed. This wouldn’t pose a problem with this build, but it could be an issue for others1.

Building my “Hackintosh SE”

I decided on the Gigabyte GA-H110N, a socket LGA1151 board with lots of amazing features in a tiny package. Of note, this motherboard includes a bonus Mini PCIe slot (for a wireless adapter) and a super-fast M.2 socket on the back for an NVMe SSD. It supports the whole range of Intel’s current Skylake CPU‘s and dual-channel DDR4 DIMMs. I paired this with Intel’s 4 GHz Core i7-6700K CPU2, 16 GB of RAM, and Intel’s new 600p NVMe SSD3. I bought all this at Micro Center for under $775 (much cheaper than online!)

I fabricated this custom frame from angle aluminum

I mounted the PC components in an aluminum frame, making the whole thing easy to pull out and work on. I bought two 4-foot pieces of 1/2-inch angle aluminum and cut them to size with a hacksaw and Dremel cutting bits4. I carefully fitted each piece into the Macintosh case as I went along, making sure it would fit snugly and securely and that all the PC components would fit as well. The motherboard is mounted on conventional brass stand-offs screwed into this aluminum frame.

The original Macintosh was passively cooled, but the Mac SE added a small rear-mounted fan5. Although this means the case is designed with convection cooling in mind, a blazing Core i7 needs a little more chill power. So I decided to use a Corsair H55 liquid cooling unit to pull the heat off the CPU. This liquid cooling setup is also lighter and more durable in a portable case, putting less stress on the motherboard and CPU.

The larger fan pushes air through the Corsair radiator, while the smaller one pulls air out of my custom cooling box

The liquid cooler also let me design a better cooling solution. After experimenting a bit, I added two excellent Noctua fans and a custom plastic box to direct air out the original vent. The larger NF-P12 is optimized to force air through the radiator, while the smaller NF-60X25 runs at higher speed, forcing air out the vent. Although not visible, this airbox extends down to the SFX power supply as well, pulling hot air out along the side of the case.6

Everything fits snugly into the original Macintosh SE case

The entire PC fits nicely in the original Macintosh case, with a wiring harness “borrowed” from an old PC for power switches and lights. I’m still working on mounting this wiring7 but for now the power switch pokes out where the brightness knob once sat. I plan to use the original Macintosh speaker as well but have mounted a PC speaker for the time being.

I plan to use the original rear port locations as much as possible

I’ve mounted a USB3 header to the original floppy port, attached to the frame. I have also embedded a Griffin iMate USB to ADB adapter in the ADB port cutout, and am happily using the original Apple Standard Keyboard and Mouse on a daily basis. Although I bought an HDMI extender cable with a panel mount jack, I have not yet mounted it in the printer port.

Stephen’s Stance

 

Is that a Mac SE on my desk? No, it’s a high-end Core i7 PC!

Since I still have the iPad mini in the Macintosh SE case for video conferencing use, I’ve attached the “Hackintosh SE”8 to my 27-inch Dell 4K display. It might seem odd that the Macintosh “monitor” isn’t attached to the PC inside, but it’s not an issue in daily usage. And it would be awfully hard to go back to a 9-inch monitor after getting used to the lovely Dell panel!

Now that everything is up and running for a few weeks, I can report that my Hackintosh SE is stable and stays cool even under heavy load. I stressed the CPU to maximum for over a week using a zcash mining application and it sat at 60º C at a full 4 GHz all that time. The exhaust air doesn’t even feel that hot!

Perhaps I’ll write more about the software side of things, but that’s working pretty well too. I still haven’t gotten the video resolution right and it took some serious “doing” to get macOS booting from the NVMe SSD, but it all works now. And it’s blazing fast and stable too!

Want more details? Leave me a comment!

  1. I did discover some nice dual-slot Micro-ATX boards that might have fit as well
  2. I wouldn’t need the boxed heatsink, so the “K” CPU made sense even without overclocking
  3. This isn’t the best SSD, but you get a lot for your money
  4. I went through about a dozen cutting bits. Buy a big package!
  5. Steve Jobs apparently hated having to add a fan to the Macintosh, but it got awfully hot in there with only passive cooling
  6. There is also enough room for a PCIe graphics card to be attached, should I want to do that in the future. If I did this, I would likely modify the cooling system to vent the graphics card heat directly out of the case through the airbox or the existing expansion slot cover.
  7. I plan to use the programmer’s switch to operate the buttons
  8. Yes, it runs Mac OS X Sierra

© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2017. | My Core i7 Macintosh SE
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The Biggest, Clunkiest iPad Mini Case Ever: My Old Mac SE! http://blog.fosketts.net/2017/05/01/biggest-clunkiest-ipad-mini-case-ever-old-mac-se/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2017/05/01/biggest-clunkiest-ipad-mini-case-ever-old-mac-se/#comments Mon, 01 May 2017 18:01:04 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9587 What happens when you mix two old, broken things together? In the case of my Mac SE and iPad mini, the result was pretty cool! Meet my desktop videoconferencing system!

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What happens when you mix two old, broken things together? In the case of my Mac SE and iPad mini, the result was pretty cool! Meet my desktop videoconferencing system!

The iPad mini replaced the original CRT in my Mac SE, and is angled perfectly as a desktop conference box

I spend a lot of time on conference calls, often using one of the too-plentiful slide and video sharing applications. I’ve found that the iPad version of these apps is typically more stable, quicker to start, and more up to date than the Mac or PC version. Frankly, I hate installing the browser plugins and so on required to get these applications to function, and the iOS version just works!

I could just sit an iPad on my desk. But where’s the fun in that? If something is going to sit on my desk, it should match the retro tech style!

Is that a Mac SE on my desk? Why, yes it is!

Way back in 1992, I picked up a broken Mac SE from a guy on Usenet. I was an avid Atari ST user at the time, but I couldn’t resist the draw of free tech! Alas, the CRT tube was bad and I never got around to fixing it.

Now here I am 25 years later and that Mac SE is still sitting in my basement, waiting to be put to use. I considered making a “Macquarium” but the fish visibility factor would be quite low with that little 9-inch screen. But that got me thinking: Would an iPad fit in that space?

Although the screen of a full-sized iPad might fit in the CRT opening, the borders would be cut off. And there would be no way to access the home button or camera. But an iPad mini would fit perfectly!

Happily, I had just such an iPad sitting in my desk: My daughter broke the screen on hers and saved up to buy a replacement. Even with a broken screen, the Mini still works fine. Perfect!

I removed the CRT, analog board, power supply, and logic board of the Mac and tried it for fit. Perfect! Held in landscape orientation, the iPad mini is almost exactly the right size horizontally, if a bit narrow vertically. Although the outer buttons and switches are unreachable, there are soft controls that take their place.

I sat down with Tinkercad and designed a special “grommet” to hold the iPad in place. I designed it so it could be used at any of the four corners of the iPad, attaching to the original CRT mounding holes with the original Torx screws. It’s a tight fit for the power cord, but everything lines up nicely.

My custom “grommet” allows the Mac to be mounted to the original CRT screws inside the Mac SE shell

This was a pretty satisfying project. The iPad is extremely useful for conference calling, FaceTime, and so on. And it’s cool to be able to recycle some old, unused electronics into a useful desk accessory.

If you’ve got an old 9-inch Compact Mac, an iPad mini, and access to a 3D printer, you can do the same! Just download my Macintosh iPad mini Grommet from Thingiverse and print four of them!

There was only one question lingering in my mind: What should I do with all the wasted space in that old Mac SE case? Hmmm…


© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2017. | The Biggest, Clunkiest iPad Mini Case Ever: My Old Mac SE!
This post was categorized as Apple, Everything, Personal, Terabyte home. Each of my categories has its own feed if you'd like to filter out or focus on posts like this.

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The iPhone Revolution 10 Years Later http://blog.fosketts.net/2017/01/09/iphone-revolution-10-years-later/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2017/01/09/iphone-revolution-10-years-later/#comments Mon, 09 Jan 2017 22:51:26 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9556 10 years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, perhaps the most revolutionary technological product in history. There have been many important products introduced before and since, but nothing else was as groundbreaking as the iPhone. Watching the introduction, it's amazing to see just how many things were introduced that day that have become integral to daily life today.

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10 years ago today, Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, perhaps the most revolutionary technological product in history. There have been many important products introduced before and since, but nothing else was as groundbreaking as the iPhone. Watching the introduction, it’s amazing to see just how many things were introduced that day that have become integral to daily life today.

On re-watching the introduction, there are many things that stand out, starting with Steve Jobs iconic patter. The man sells this thing, playing music, making calls, and really enjoying this new device. He’s happy and calm, smiling as he calls Jony Ive and Phil Shiller (and Starbucks!).

At the time, it was immediately obvious that this was an important product. But perhaps it wasn’t so obvious just how important it was: Apple’s iPhone didn’t just blow away the smartphone industry; it revolutionized computing and built Apple into the most valuable and important technology company of our time.

Some highlights:

  • The iconic iPhone form factor was radically new
  • Steve had to demonstrate the absolute basics of touch computing: Scrolling, swiping, tapping, and pinching did not exist before this day
  • The familiar sound effects (marimba ringtone, “send” bloop, etc), UI for audio and video, and home screen are totally novel
  • Features like Visual Voicemail and call merge seemed important at the time but are barely used these days
  • Steve highlights the fact that multi-touch is patented, but it wouldn’t take long for competitors to appear

Perhaps most amazing is that it all works flawlessly. Today we know that the developers were scrambling to keep the phone “alive” with the early software build in use, but it all works.

Look around today, 10 years later, and you’ll see just how important Apple’s iPhone was. Multi-touch, portability, connectivity, personalization. This is the product that showed the world what was possible when all these technologies came together for the first time. Apple really was 5 years ahead of the world on that January day.

Note: At one point, Steve Jobs checks the Apple stock price. If you had bought it that day, your money would have grown by 792% 10 years later.


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Beware! USB-C HDMI Adapters are Flaky with 2016 MacBook Pro http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/11/26/beware-usb-c-hdmi-adapters-flaky-2016-macbook-pro/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/11/26/beware-usb-c-hdmi-adapters-flaky-2016-macbook-pro/#comments Sat, 26 Nov 2016 21:55:21 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9491 The new MacBook Pro has USB-C ports for everything - power, I/O, and graphics. And although USB-C ought to support HDMI monitors just fine, I've found that it doesn't work all that well with my 15" MacBook Pro. I recommend sticking with DisplayPort until Apple resolves the issues.

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The new MacBook Pro has USB-C ports for everything – power, I/O, and graphics. And although USB-C ought to support HDMI monitors just fine, I’ve found that it doesn’t work all that well with my 15″ MacBook Pro. I recommend sticking with DisplayPort until Apple resolves the issues.

This cheap $15 Monoprice adapter ought to extract native HDMI from the USB-C port, but it doesn't work
This cheap $15 Monoprice adapter ought to extract native HDMI from the USB-C port, but it doesn’t work

First, a bit of background: The “Thunderbolt 3” USB-C ports on the Late-2016 MacBook Pro computers support native “alternate mode” HDMI and DisplayPort video, in addition to USB 3.1 and Thunderbolt (PCIe) connections. I picked out a set of cables and adapters for my 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and found that, although DisplayPort works flawlessly, HDMI was pretty flaky. And my experience matches that of many others.

TL;DR: Stick to DisplayPort, which works great, and do not buy a USB-C HDMI adapter (even Apple’s own Digital AV Multiport Adapter) unless you know it works. And don’t count on 87W USB-C pass-through charging working with any adapter.

The Bad News: HDMI is Flaky At Best

HDMI is everywhere, since most inexpensive monitors are just repurposed TV’s. HDMI is also the new common denominator for those of us who travel and use projectors. So I’m very disappointed to report that HDMI cannot be trusted to work with the new Late-2016 MacBook Pro.

Although it looks like this Dell S2715H is connected correctly, the screen was blank
Although it looks like this Dell S2715H is connected correctly, the screen was blank

I purchased the Monoprice Select Series USB-C HDMI Multiport Adapter and found that it did not work with any monitor I have encountered. Some, like my Dell P2715Q, were not detected at all. Others, like the Dell S2715H at work, were detected by macOS but did not display an image. The monitor “knew” there was something happening but it remained black. On the other hand, this adapter did work with the Dell U2415 monitor.

There are numerous reports online about flaky behavior with Alternate Mode USB-C HDMI adapters, ranging from complete failure (as in my case) to connect to wakeup/power-down issues to plain old flakiness. Even Apple’s own USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter doesn’t work reliably – it’s got just 2 stars on the Apple site, with many issues reported.

I believe this is a software issue and hope Apple will address it in future revisions of macOS Sierra. Since my 1080p external monitor was detected, it seems that the hardware might be functional. Perhaps 4K monitors won’t work, but 2K or less HDMI should be OK once Apple issues software updates. But how can Apple justify selling a non-functional first-party adapter for something as critical as HDMI?

Furthermore, although Apple’s support site indicates that the 87 Watt USB-C power adapter will charge the 15″ MacBook Pro through their Digital AV Multiport Adapter, this appears to be untrue. I can confirm that my Monoprice adapter will not pass enough power to charge the battery: Although the “gong” sounds and the lightning bolt appears, the computer is not charging. And people are reporting the same behavior from the Apple adapter.

The Good News: DisplayPort Works

I purchased a couple of USB-C to DisplayPort adapters from Monoprice and am pleased to report that they both work just fine. As hoped, these simple adapters natively and passively attach Alternate Mode DisplayPort from the MacBook Pro’s integrated AMD GPU through the Intel Thunderbolt controller and connect perfectly with the monitors I’ve tried.

This USB-C to DisplayPort cable from Monoprice ought to be the best way to connect to a DisplayPort monitor
This USB-C to DisplayPort cable from Monoprice ought to be the best way to connect to a DisplayPort monitor

I’ve been using my best-choice Monoprice USB-C to DisplayPort cable with my Dell P2715Q 4K monitor for a few days and it was really flawless: No visual artifacts, full resolution and refresh rate, and no issues with sleep or wake-up. As a test, I bumped the internal display to native 2880×1800 resolution and the Dell monitor to 3820×2160 resolution at 60 Hz and everything worked perfectly.

The USB-C to DisplayPort cable effortlessly pushed 60 Hz 4K video to my Dell monitor
The USB-C to DisplayPort cable effortlessly pushed 60 Hz 4K video to my Dell monitor

The Mac automatically switches from the Intel HD Graphics 530 built into the Skylake CPU to the AMD Radeon Pro 450 as soon as it detects the external monitor, which was almost instantaneous. It was amusing to watch the connectivity change over in System Report as I unplugged the cable.

The Mac automatically switches to the built-in Radeon Pro graphics adapter as soon as the DisplayPort monitor is detected.
The Mac automatically switches to the built-in Radeon Pro graphics adapter as soon as the DisplayPort monitor is detected.

Note that others have reported sporadic issues with DisplayPort as well. But these issues seem to be rarer than with HDMI. So I still recommend DisplayPort.

Stephen’s Stance

The Late-2016 MacBook Pro is an all-new hardware platform for Apple, so I’m not surprised that some initial issues are apparent with third-party hardware. But it is disappointing that even first-party Apple adapters don’t work. There’s no excuse for this kind of flakiness for mainstream uses like HDMI connectivity!


© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2016. | Beware! USB-C HDMI Adapters are Flaky with 2016 MacBook Pro
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2016 MacBook Pro FaceTime HD Camera Not Working? http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/11/24/2016-macbook-pro-facetime-hd-camera-not-working/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/11/24/2016-macbook-pro-facetime-hd-camera-not-working/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 14:35:52 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9487 As I transition to the 2016 MacBook Pro, I'm finding myself enjoying many aspects but disappointed by the maturity of the software on this new hardware base. My latest little annoyance is that the built-in "FaceTime HD" webcam didn't work. Happily it's a quick fix, but it's another disappointment that it didn't work out of the box!

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As I transition to the 2016 MacBook Pro, I’m finding myself enjoying many aspects but disappointed by the maturity of the software on this new hardware base. My latest little annoyance is that the built-in “FaceTime HD” webcam didn’t work. Happily it’s a quick fix, but it’s another disappointment that it didn’t work out of the box!

TL;DR: If your MacBook Pro camera won’t work when called up (in FaceTime, QuickTime, or other applications), just open Terminal and type sudo killall VDCAssistant

For a while, some Macs have had issues with cameras not responding. This has affected some MacBook, Thunderbolt Display, and other machines. And now it’s cropping up with the new 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

The issue stems from an issue with a piece of software called VDCAssistant, which has been part of Mac OS X for a few revisions. For some reason, it’s not activating the camera when needed.

The solution is to stop and restart this daemon. To do this, open Terminal and type the following:

sudo killall VDCAssistant

It will ask you to authenticate with your password (sudo gives you administrator privileges) and will then kill and restart the daemon. After this, your webcam should work fine. And you shouldn’t need to do this again.

Incidentally, there is no real error message for this. QuickTime showed an orange triangle sign and black screen but there was no indication of what the issue was. Great work, Apple!


© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2016. | 2016 MacBook Pro FaceTime HD Camera Not Working?
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2016 MacBook Pro USB-C/Thunderbolt Survival Guide http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/10/30/2016-macbook-pro-usb-cthunderbolt-survival-guide/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/10/30/2016-macbook-pro-usb-cthunderbolt-survival-guide/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2016 00:18:22 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9460 So you bought a late-2016 MacBook Pro? Congratulations! So did I! But how will you connect your favorite monitor, hard drives, and other accessories to those pesky new USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports? Read on for my "survival guide", listing the essential cables and accessories you should (and shouldn't) buy to go with your new MacBook Pro!

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So you bought a late-2016 MacBook Pro? Congratulations! So did I! But how will you connect your favorite monitor, hard drives, and other accessories to those pesky new USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports? Read on for my “survival guide”, listing the essential cables and accessories you should (and shouldn’t) buy to go with your new MacBook Pro!

Sadly, Apple appears not to have included the Thunderbolt icon on the new MacBook Pro ports, creating even more customer confusion!
Your new MacBook Pro includes up to 4 Thunderbolt 3-capable USB Type-C ports. These things can do quite a lot but you must be careful about what cables and accessories you buy!

Revisiting USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3

USB Type-C ports can support a variety of protocols, with each level backwards compatible to the levels beneath it
I wrote a very popular article on this topic. For more information, read Total Nightmare: USB-C and Thunderbolt 3!

Here’s the TL;DR on those USB Type-C ports on the side of your new MacBook Pro:

  • You have two to four USB Type-C ports on your MacBook Pro. “USB-C” is a port and cable spec, but those ports are capable of a lot more than just USB! They’re where you connect power, video, peripherals, and docking stations.
  • Unlike the 2015 12″ Retina MacBook, which has USB-only ports, your late-2016 MacBook Pro has Thunderbolt 3 ports which can do a whole lot more! They’re eight times faster, for one thing, and support higher video resolution.1
  • It doesn’t matter which of the USB-C ports you use for power. Pick whichever one is convenient. But many third-party USB-C power adapters and docking stations won’t be compatible with your Mac. This is especially true if you bought the 15″ MacBook Pro, which requires 87 Watts and a cable rated for that much, which is more than typical for USB-C cables.2

Late-2016 MacBook Pro Cable Necessities

Since there is a limited assortment of accessories available for the late-2016 MacBook Pro, I thought I would outline the necessities to order along with your new Mac. No doubt better selections will become apparent soon.

You’ll need adapters for existing video and peripherals. You should pick your adapters and cables very carefully, since there are often multiple options for a given connection. I’ll try to stick with the best choice, as defined by the fastest, most-compatible, and least-complex, though not necessarily the cheapest.

Alert: Now that my 2016 MacBook Pro is in my hands, I can confidently say that HDMI support is very flaky so you should use DisplayPort if at all possible!

Power

It’s best to use Apple’s USB-C power adapters, since interoperability of USB-C Power Delivery is at a very early stage. Apple makes good power adapters, and you know they’re going to work. Plus, the Apple power adapters aren’t any more expensive than third-party options.

Apple's 61-Watt USB Power Adapter is the one to buy for the late-2016 13" MacBook Pro
Apple’s $69 61-Watt USB Power Adapter is the one to buy for the late-2016 13″ MacBook Pro

Apple's 87-Watt USB Power Adapter is the one to buy for the late-2016 15" MacBook Pro
Apple’s $79 87-Watt USB Power Adapter is the one to buy for the late-2016 15″ MacBook Pro

Buy a high-quality cable for charging and connectivity like the Monoprice Select Series 3.1
Buy a high-quality cable for charging and connectivity like the Monoprice Select Series 3.1

Note that Apple’s power adapters do not come with cables and that most USB-C cables can’t support the power draw of a MacBook Pro, especially the 15″, 87 Watt model. For this reason, and to avoid confusion in the cable bag, I recommend buying the Apple USB-C cable to go along with your Apple power adapter. Again, Apple’s cable is only a few bucks more expensive than similar third-party options. Do not buy the Apple USB Charge Cable (2 m) unless you’re only going to use it with the power adapter, since it’s a USB 2.0-only data cable. Instead, I recommend buying a high-quality cable like the Monoprice Select Series 3.1 USB-C to USB-C cable. It supports fast data transfer and a full 100 Watts of charging for just $18 or $25.

Also, the Power Adapter no longer comes with the 1.8 Meter extension cable. If you want one of those, I recommend buying the bulk-packaged cable from OWC for just $6.79. I’ve got a few of these.

Therefore, your expenditure for an additional power adapter will be $87 to $110.79, depending on what you buy.

DisplayPort Video

DisplayPort is a bit more advanced than HDMI at this point, even though the MacBook Pro only supports DisplayPort version 1.2. If your monitor supports DisplayPort, it’s best to connect directly to it using a USB-C Alternate Mode to DisplayPort cable rather than using a dock or adapter. This $35 cable from Monoprice allows the USB-C port to switch to a native DisplayPort connection, sending the raw signal to the monitor, with no additional cables needed.

This USB-C to DisplayPort cable from Monoprice ought to be the best way to connect to a DisplayPort monitor
This USB-C to DisplayPort cable from Monoprice ought to be the best way to connect to a DisplayPort monitor

You could also try the Monoprice Select Series USB-C to DisplayPort adapter for just $15.

Update: I have purchased both of these and can confirm that they work just fine with my monitor, a Dell P2715Q, pushing 3840 x 2160 at 60 Hz. I have had no issues at all with the Monoprice 12908 cable pictured above.

HDMI Video

Warning: Reviewers say that HDMI over USB-C Alt Mode has been flaky with the new MacBook Pro. I can confirm that the Monoprice adapter below does not work reliably with the Dell S2715H or P2715Q displays at least. It’s best to try to use DisplayPort if possible since that’s been much more reliable.

If you have a monitor that only supports HDMI, you might be tempted to buy the Apple USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter. But the reviews are really, really bad, so I wouldn’t spend $69 on that. Especially for 15″ MacBook Pro owners, since it won’t pass more than 60 Watts. Instead, I will be purchasing the Monoprice Select Series USB-C to HDMI adapter for just $15.

This cheap $15 Monoprice adapter ought to extract native HDMI from the USB-C port
This cheap $15 Monoprice adapter ought to extract native HDMI from the USB-C port but it does not work!

Update: I purchased the Monoprice 13235 and it did not work with either of the HDMI monitors I tried. One was not recognized at all and neither displayed any video. Do not buy an HDMI adapter until there’s news of better support!

USB-C Peripherals

You should have a few good-quality USB-C cables around in case you need one. Frankly, the official Apple USB-C to USB-C cable, at just $19, is a great choice. It’s actually cheaper than the Monoprice “Select Series” equivalent, though their shorter palette cable is only $15. Do not buy the 2.0-only USB-C cable from Apple! Instead, get a few Monoprice palette cables for only $15.

Don’t waste your money on cheaper cables, since many can’t handle the data or power that USB-C is capable of delivering. Definitely do not buy “2.0” cables, since they don’t even have all the wires connected inside!

Thunderbolt

If you have existing Thunderbolt peripherals, you’re in luck! Your new late-2016 MacBook Pro should be fully compatible with them. Just buy the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter for $49 $29 (Apple dropped the price!) It works with all existing Thunderbolt peripherals – not just Thunderbolt 2 but the original Thunderbolt, too!

This $49 dongle allows you to use your existing Thunderbolt peripherals with your new late-2016 MacBook Pro
This $49 dongle allows you to use your existing Thunderbolt peripherals with your new late-2016 MacBook Pro

Update: I purchased the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter and it worked perfectly with my Apple Thunderbolt Ethernet and Thunderbolt FireWire adapters. It’s worth getting it if you have any older Thunderbolt peripherals. However, note that it does not support DisplayPort video, despite having the same connector.

As Thunderbolt 3 peripherals begin to appear, your late-2016 MacBook Pro should work with most of them. But remember – you must use a Thunderbolt 3 cable, not just any old USB-C cable! Apple likes the Belkin cables, but the StarTech cables are cheaper and I’ve had great luck with their previous-generation Thunderbolt cables.

Warning: Thunderbolt 3 peripherals using first-generation Texas Instruments Thunderbolt 3 controllers (TPS65982) are apparently not supported by the MacBook Pro! Do not buy any TB3 peripheral unless you see that it has been tested with the MacBook Pro!

Ethernet

I recommend buying the Belkin USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet adapter from Apple for $26
I recommend buying the Belkin USB-C to Gigabit Ethernet adapter from Apple for $26

Most existing USB 3 and USB-C Ethernet adapters ought to work with the MacBook Pro. However, since many such devices require a driver to be installed, I recommend buying Apple’s choice of adapter: The Belkin F2CU040. This is a native USB-C device and should work perfectly. Furthermore, I suggest buying it from Apple since they have reduced the price to just $26 through the end of the year!

Update: I purchased the Belkin adapter from the Apple Store and it works perfectly without any driver installs. I also used the Apple Thunderbolt adapter with Apple’s converter and a USB 3 Ethernet adapter which worked but required a driver install. Get the Belkin.

FireWire

There really isn’t a great FireWire solution for the MacBook Pro right now. Theoretically, you should be able to stack the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter and the Apple Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter, but this isn’t guaranteed to work. We’ll see. I’ve also pre-ordered the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, which offers FireWire. I’ll blog about it when it’s released (tentatively February 2017).

Update: I can confirm that the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 converter does work with the Apple Thunderbolt FireWire adapter.

SD Cards

So much less elegant for photographers than the old MacBook Pro...
So much less elegant for photographers than the old MacBook Pro…

Most USB SD card readers should work with an adapter. If you want a native USB-C reader, I suggest buying the one Apple suggests, the SanDisk Extreme Pro reader. And it’s only $29 from Apple right now.

Update: Reports say that the SanDisk reader doesn’t work well. Stick with a converted USB 3 reader for now, or just plug your camera into your computer with an appropriate USB-C to USB cable.

Existing USB 3.0 Peripherals

I’m still a little nervous about “native” USB-C hubs and docks. After all, the early USB 3.0 devices were pretty flaky. Instead, I bought a few USB-C to USB 3.0 adapters and will be using my existing collection of USB 3.0 devices.

I like the idea of the little integrated USB-C to 3.0 USB-A adapters, but the initial reviews have been poor. I bought the Monoprice Select Series USB 3.0 USB-C Male to USB-A Female pigtail for $8 and it works great. In fact, I bought five of them for the whole office!

This little $8 cable lets you connect existing USB 3.0 devices to the USB-C port
This little $8 cable lets you connect existing USB 3.0 devices to the USB-C port

I also picked up a USB 3.0 USB-C to USB Micro B cable for $6 to use with my USB 3.0 portable hard disk drives. No use carrying around an adapter when the exact correct cable is available! You can also get a USB 3.0 USB-C to USB-B cable for $6 to connect to a full-size USB 3.0 device like my Drobo S.

USB 2.0 Devices

You can just connect your USB 2.0 devices to the USB 3.0 adapter cable above, or you can buy the right cable for the job. I bought a selection: USB 2.0 USB-C to USB Micro B, USB 2.0 USB-C to USB Mini B, and USB 2.0 USB-C to USB-B. At less than $5 per cable, it makes sense to have a set of these on hand.

Stephen’s Shopping List

Expect to spend another $100 or more on cables, dongles, and adapters to get the most from your already-expensive new MacBook Pro. Although USB-C peripherals will become more common in the coming year, I expect my recommendations for video and power adapters will likely hold true for years to come. And I doubt that Thunderbolt 3 will be any more popular than earlier versions of the protocol.

Here’s my MacBook Pro shopping list:

Yeah, that’s $177 in cables. Just to get started. But I really didn’t need the extra power adapter and cable, and could have skipped many of the others. In fact, I bet I could get by with just the $8 USB-C to USB-A Female Cable! That’s the one really indispensable cable! And you probably want an HDMI Adapter or a DisplayPort adapter – Monoprice has you covered for just $15! So the real minimum expense for your new Mac is just $23. Not as bad as people say, eh?

Note: I don’t get any kickbacks from any of these links. This is simply what I selected and bought. Buy whatever you want from wherever you like. I like Monoprice, despite criticizing them mightily in my previous post… Big special shout-out to Pluggable for their fantastic transparency on the Thunderbolt 3 incompatibility situation!

  1. The 2015 MacBook with Retina Display has one USB Type-C port supporting USB 3.1 gen 1 connectivity, good for 5 Gbps of USB data and 60 Watts of power. The late-2016 MacBook Pro boasts two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports, supporting USB 3.1 gen 2 connectivity, good for 32 Gbps of Thunderbolt data, 10 Gbps of USB data, up to 87 Watts of power, and a whole lot more!
  2. If you connect multiple power sources to your MacBook Pro, it will select one and ignore the rest. If you connect a lower-power brick to your 15″ MacBook Pro, it will charge more slowly or not at all.

© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2016. | 2016 MacBook Pro USB-C/Thunderbolt Survival Guide
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Total Nightmare: USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/10/29/total-nightmare-usb-c-thunderbolt-3/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/10/29/total-nightmare-usb-c-thunderbolt-3/#comments Sat, 29 Oct 2016 14:54:05 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9436 Did you buy the new MacBook or MacBook Pro? Maybe the Google Pixel? You're about to enter a world of confusion thanks to those new "USB-C" ports. See, that simple-looking port hides a world of complexity, and the (thankful) backward-compatibility uses different kinds of cables for different tasks. Shoppers have to be very careful to buy exactly the right cable for their devices!

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Did you buy the new MacBook or MacBook Pro? Maybe the Google Pixel? You’re about to enter a world of confusion thanks to those new “USB-C” ports. See, that simple-looking port hides a world of complexity, and the (thankful) backward-compatibility uses different kinds of cables for different tasks. Shoppers have to be very careful to buy exactly the right cable for their devices!

USB-C to USB 3 cable
With Apple, Google, and many other companies jumping on USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3, the world of connectivity just got very weird

USB Type-C: Ports vs. Protocols

USB Type-C ports have become fairly common, with Google adopting them on their Pixel and Nexus computers and phones and Apple implementing them on the 12″ MacBook and now the new MacBook Pro. This is a physical specification for a 24-pin reversible plug and associated cabling. From now on, in this article, I’m going to refer to this physical cable and port as “USB-C”, since that’s the most common usage1.

USB Type-C Compatibility
USB Type-C ports can support a variety of protocols, with each level backwards compatible to the levels beneath it

USB-C allows for a variety of signals to pass through this port:

  • USB 2.0 – Astonishingly, the earliest USB-C devices, including the Nokia N1 only supported USB 2.0 signals and power delivery. Pretty much every new computer supports at least USB 3.0 speed, but some USB-C phones and tablets are similarly limited.
  • USB 3.1 gen 1 – Extremely similar to “SuperSpeed” USB 3.0, this is a 5 Gbps serial connection for all sorts of peripherals to use, from hard drives to network adapters to docking stations. It’s backward-compatible with “SuperSpeed” USB 3.0, “Hi-Speed” USB 2.0, and even the original USB 1.x from way back in 1996! This is the protocol used by Apple’s 12″ MacBook.
  • USB 3.1 gen 2 – This confusingly-named specification doubles the maximum throughput of USB-protocol peripherals to 10 Gbps. It’s also backward-compatible with all previous versions of USB. Only the newest USB-C devices support this high-speed protocol.2
  • Alternate Mode – The physical USB-C connector can also support other non-USB protocols, including DisplayPort, MHL, HDMI, and Thunderbolt. I’ll go into more detail below, but suffice to say that not every device supports every Alternate Mode protocol, and this will be tremendously confusing for buyers!
  • Power Delivery – Although not a data protocol, USB-C also allows for up to 100 Watts of power delivery to connected devices. But here again, there are two different specifications and a multitude of different configurations that will be encountered.
  • Audio Accessory Mode – There’s also a spec to have analog audio use this port.

The core issue with USB-C is confusion: Not every USB-C cable, port, device, and power supply will be compatible, and there are many different combinations to consider. The newest, most full-featured devices (such as Apple’s brand-new Touch Bar MacBook Pro) will support most of the different uses for the USB-C port, but typical older devices only support basic USB 3.0 speed and (if you’re lucky) Alternate Mode DisplayPort.

And it gets worse. Many USB-C peripherals are limited in various ways as well. Consider a simple USB-C HDMI adapter: It could implement HDMI over USB 3.0 or it could use Alternate Mode (native) HDMI. It could also use HDMI “multiplexed” with Thunderbolt Alternate Mode or even (theoretically) implement HDMI over Thunderbolt using an off-board graphics chip!3 Of these options, only the newest computers, like the MacBook Pro, would support all three. Can you imagine the consumer confusion when they purchase a “USB-C HDMI adapter” only to find that it doesn’t work with their MacBook or Pixel or whatever?

Cable Nightmare

Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) USB-C Cable Palette Series 3.1 USB-C to USB-C with PD Palette Series 3.0 USB-C to USB-C Palette Series 2.0 USB-C to USB-C
StarTech Thunderbolt 3 USB-C Cable (40 Gbps) Monoprice Palette Series 3.1 USB-C to USB-C with PD (10 Gbps, 100 Watts) Monoprice Palette Series 3.0 USB-C to USB-C (5 Gbps, 15 Watts) Monoprice Palette Series 2.0 USB-C to USB-C (480 Mbps, 2.4 Amps)
These cables look identical but have vastly different capabilities. USB-C cable confusion is a nightmare waiting to happen! (I think Monoprice even re-used the same photo for two very different cables)

But the issue of incompatible cables is even more serious. Many companies, including my go-to source, Monoprice, are building USB-C cables of various quality and compatibility. If you’re not careful, you can neuter or even damage your devices by using the wrong cable. Seriously: Using the wrong cable can damage your machine! This should not be possible, but there it is.

Some cables with USB-C ports on both ends can only pass 5 Gbps data while others are compatible with 10 Gbps USB 3.1 gen 2. Other cables can’t be used for power delivery or are incompatible with Alternate Mode Thunderbolt. Check out the Monoprice 3.1 10 Gbps/100-Watt USB-C to USB-C, 3.0 5 Gbps/15 Watt USB-C to USB-C , and 2.0 480 Mbps/2.4 A USB-C to USB-C cables. Why do all these variations even exist?4

And then there are the cables with different connectors on each end: Monoprice sells an awesome USB-C to USB 3.0 10 Gbps adapter but also has one that only goes to 5 Gbps and another that’s limited to 480 Mbps USB 2.0. And they all look almost identical. What a nightmare for consumers!5

Note: I don’t mean to be picking on Monoprice here. I love their cables and just ordered over $100 of carefully-selected Monoprice USB-C cables. But their wide range of USB-C cables aptly illustrates the very real problem of incompatibility, so I’m using them as an example. Literally every vendor of USB-C cables, from Apple to Belkin to StarTech, has this same issue.

Thunderbolt 3

Now we turn to an even-more confusing topic: Thunderbolt 3. Mac owners, since the debut of the early-2011 MacBook Pro, have become accustomed to the Mini DisplayPort connector serving double-duty as both a graphics and data port. And they’ve also gotten used to the head-slapping experience of plugging a Thunderbolt cable into a basic Mini DisplayPort jack and finding it doesn’t work.

This same experience is repeated with USB’s new Type-C port:

  • Not all USB-C device ports have the same capability – Many are data-only, some can do data and video, and a few can do data, video, and Thunderbolt 3!
  • Thunderbolt 3 requires a special cable – Although it looks exactly the same as a regular USB-C cable, you need a special Thunderbolt 3 cable to use Thunderbolt 3 devices!
  • Thunderbolt 3 devices look just like regular USB-C devices – Most ordinary devices with a USB-C cable are limited to 5 Gbps (or even less) of USB data but Thunderbolt 3 devices pass PCI Express data and boast 40 Gbps of throughput!

Thunderbolt 3 ports and cables ought to be backward-compatible with USB 3.1 Type-C cables, ports, and devices. But of course they will run at that slower speed and lack Thunderbolt connectivity in that case. Thank the maker for backward compatibility!6

So owners of Thunderbolt 3-capable machines like the new late-2016 MacBook Pro must be very careful when buying devices and cables to make sure they get the performance they expect. Most of Apple’s current USB-C accessories and cables will work with the new MacBook Pro (it’s backward-compatible) but might not deliver the full Thunderbolt 3 experience. And owners of the older 12″ Retina MacBook are even more at risk, since, although Thunderbolt 3 devices will plug right in, they will not function at all!7

Since Thunderbolt 3 can also include both data and video, it can be very confusing knowing whether a given computer, cable, and device are compatible. For example, a Thunderbolt 3 cable can support two 4K 60 Hz monitors or even a 5K display, while a USB-C cable is limited to just one 4K monitor.8

Sadly, Apple appears not to have included the Thunderbolt icon on the new MacBook Pro ports, creating even more customer confusion!
Sadly, Apple appears not to have included the Thunderbolt icon on the new MacBook Pro ports, creating even more customer confusion!

Note that there are both 40 Gbps and 20 Gbps Thunderbolt 3 cables. And the MacBook Pro is not compatible with the first-generation Texas Instruments Thunderbolt 3 controller used in many early Thunderbolt 3 devices. Be very careful when buying!

Stephen’s Stance

With this insane level of “compatibility” for the new USB Type-C port, buyers must be very careful when purchasing cables and devices. Although it’s great that the industry is moving to a simple, durable, reversible port for data, video, and power, this mix-and-match device and cable situation is bound to frustrate consumers and cause technical headaches. Buyer beware!

You should also read my 2016 MacBook Pro USB-C/Thunderbolt Survival Guide. It’s the brighter/cheerier follow-up to this post!

Addendum: If It Fits, It Should Work

This article has received a ton of attention (Hacker News will do that), with many positive and critical comments. Among the chief criticisms is that I’m being alarmist and that the real-life situation for USB-C isn’t all that bad. And today, for the most part, this is true, because these people have USB-only Nexus phones and so on. But I feel that there’s a looming issue with the proliferation of uses for this “do it all” cable/port and that this will lead to the “nightmare” of my headline. Here’s why.

Electronics are no longer the realm of the geeks. Most computers, phones, tablets, and peripherals are purchased by people who are not technically savvy. They don’t know a protocol from an interface and really shouldn’t have to be bothered learning that “USB Type-C” is different from “Thunderbolt 3” or “USB 3.1”. They want to buy stuff, plug it in, and have it work. They judge compatibility by the shape and fit of the connector, not the specs or logos on the package.

Historically, the industry has done a pretty good job of this. After some initial teething issues, USB has become a real boon for average device users. Cables, devices, and peripherals all pretty much work. Although the experience of USB 3, Mini USB, Micro USB, and high-power chargers hasn’t been all that positive, the consumer expectation that “if it fits, it works” still holds true for the USB of today. Heck, I’m using a cheap swag USB cable right now! The core reason for this is that USB has always been both a cable and a protocol. Apart from power delivery (how many iPads are slowly charging on iPhone cubes?) USB has worked because USB is USB.

Now along comes a “do it all” cable that can literally be the only port on a device. Data, video, and power all share the same USB Type-C port. And Intel just kicked it into high-gear by adding a totally separate world of data and video support called Thunderbolt 3. It’s not realistic to expect that every port, cable, and device will work properly together, especially when it’s so much cheaper to build a basic USB 3.1 gen 1 or even USB 2.0 cable or device.

Starting now (since Thunderbolt 3 devices are shipping) we have a port that defies consumer expectations: Cables will not be compatible and devices will not support certain peripherals even though the port looks the same. This is the nightmare scenario: Consumers will pull “the wrong cable” from the drawer, store, or bag and will assume a peripheral or charger is broken when it doesn’t work. We’ll see frustration, returns, and misguided tech support proliferate.

This is the age-old push and pull of compatibility. We enhance compatibility only to raise consumer expectations that everything will just work. USB Type-C will never just work because USB-C is too many different things at once. This is the nightmare.

  1. Google tells me that this port is called “USB-C” 21 million times, “USB C” 12 million times, and correctly “USB Type-C” only 8.5 million times. Majority rules: “USB-C” wins.
  2. Talk about a name designed by a committee! Who thought “USB 3.1 gen 2” was a good thing to call this?
  3. I’m the guy who popularized the idea of an Apple Thunderbolt Display with an integrated GPU.
  4. Why make a 2.0-only USB-C to USB-C cable? I guess it’s intended for a bone-headed device like that old Nokia N1, but at this point this useless/incompatible/worthless cable should probably cease to be sold…
  5. Note that Monoprice incorrectly names every 5 Gbps cable “USB 3.0” and every 10 Gbps cable “USB 3.1”. Although it’s wrong, I think this naming is much more consumer-friendly than the official terms.
  6. Note that this is a simplification: Thunderbolt 3 is really an “Alternate Mode” use of the Type-C port/cable, just like HDMI. But in practice, Thunderbolt 3 is a super-set of USB 3.1 for USB-C since no implementation of Thunderbolt 3 will be USB 2.0 only.
  7. Apple has been pretty good about calling all non-Thunderbolt ports and cables “USB-C” and adding “Thunderbolt 3” where that protocol is supported. but it’s unconscionable that they’re no longer labeling the ports with some kind of icon!
  8. Funny enough, USB-C Alternate Mode has different video compatibility than Thunderbolt 3: While Thunderbolt 3 supports HDMI 2.0, USB 3.1 can only do HDMI 1.4b. But when it comes to DisplayPort, USB 3.1 has the upper hand, supporting version 1.3 vs. version 1.2 in Thunderbolt 3. Support for these protocol levels is entirely dependent on the implementation of the port in a given machine.

© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2016. | Total Nightmare: USB-C and Thunderbolt 3
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USB Ethernet Not Working in macOS 10.12 Sierra? http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/10/22/usb-ethernet-not-working-macos-10-12-sierra/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/10/22/usb-ethernet-not-working-macos-10-12-sierra/#comments Sat, 22 Oct 2016 18:45:31 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9433 It's become routine: Each new update of Mac OS X macOS breaks third-party drivers and applications. This time it's many popular third-party USB 3.0 Gigabit Ethernet adapters that don't work. But have no fear! It's a simple fix!

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It’s become routine: Each new update of Mac OS X macOS breaks third-party drivers and applications. This time it’s many popular third-party USB 3.0 Gigabit Ethernet adapters that don’t work. But have no fear! It’s a simple fix!

Cable Matters clearly intended to target Mac users with this white Ethernet adapter and its Apple-esque packaging
Cable Matters clearly intended to target Mac users with this white Ethernet adapter and its Apple-esque packaging

I’ve got a few different USB 3.0 Gigabit Ethernet dongles: One from Cable Matters (from Amazon) and another by j5 Create (from Best Buy). Both are essentially identical, though, being based on the AX88179 chipset from Asix of Taiwan.

Since this chipset is not supported “out of box” by Mac OS X or macOS, it’s necessary to install a driver to get it working. And upgrading to macOS 10.12 “Sierra” unsurprisingly kills this driver. The simple solution: Reinstall the driver!

As is typical with devices like this, it’s best to install the basic driver from the chipset company rather than the specialized drivers from the device company. So rather than trying to chase down Cable Matters or j5 Create, just head to Asix.co.tw and download the AX88179 driver from there. I installed version 2.8.0 from Asix and everything is hunky-dory again.

It’s funny: There are threads on the Apple Support forums with people crying that these devices aren’t working, and lots of horrible/useless suggestions to fix them. But just reinstalling the driver works fine!


© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2016. | USB Ethernet Not Working in macOS 10.12 Sierra?
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macOS Sierra Includes a New Apple File System, APFS http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/06/13/macos-sierra-includes-new-apple-file-system-apfs/ http://blog.fosketts.net/2016/06/13/macos-sierra-includes-new-apple-file-system-apfs/#comments Mon, 13 Jun 2016 21:26:39 +0000 http://blog.fosketts.net/?p=9329 Although not discussed in today's keynote, Apple is adding a new "universal" filesystem to iOS and macOS. Apple File System (APFS) will likely replace HFS+ as the default filesystem for Macintosh computers, iPads, and iPhones and brings a wealth of modern features. But judging from the initial developer documentation, that's not going to happen for a few more years. And there's still much confusion about how APFS and CoreStorage, introduced in Mac OS X 10.7, will interact.

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Although not discussed in today’s keynote, Apple is adding a new “universal” filesystem to iOS and macOS. Apple File System (APFS) will likely replace HFS+ as the default filesystem for Macintosh computers, iPads, and iPhones and brings a wealth of modern features. But judging from the initial developer documentation, that’s not going to happen for a few more years. And there’s still much confusion about how APFS and CoreStorage, introduced in Mac OS X 10.7, will interact.

CoreStorage, HFS+, and What Might Have Been

Back in 2011, Apple quietly added CoreStorage, a logical volume manager, to Mac OS X “Lion” 10.7. CoreStorage brought much-needed storage management capability to Macintosh computers, but most people never even noticed it. However, there were two important public-facing features based CoreStorage:

  1. FileVault 2 brought native full-volume encryption
  2. FusionDrive enabled hybrid SSD/HDD volumes to accelerate performance

What CoreStorage didn’t do was improve the basic file system. Even now, Macintosh computers rely on HFS+, which dates back 18 years to MacOS 8.1. Although Apple has done an admirable job adding features to HFS+, modern computers need something better. Many critical storage functions like extended file attributes are tacked on, core elements like inode numbers and timestamp are severely limited, and desirable elements like sparse files, per-file encryption, cloning, and snapshots are missing entirely.

There have been a few moments in the history of Mac OS when Apple almost updated the filesystem. Mac OS X was based on NeXTStep, which used the UNIX File System, UFS. But Apple retrofitted HFS+ for Mac OS X for compatibility with Mac OS 8 and 9. And Apple came very close to implementing the respected ZFS in Mac OS X “Lion” 10.5 before pulling it in the last minute, reportedly due to licensing concerns.

Introducing Apple File System

Now Apple is finally moving things forward, implementing a new filesystem in the new macOS 10.12 “Sierra”. Apple File System (APFS) appears to be a complete rewrite, unique to Apple, and brings many modern capabilities. Details are scarce, but here’s what we know right now based on Apple’s documentation.

Apple bills APFS as a “Next-Generation File System”, with “64-bit inode numbers, 1 nanosecond timestamp granularity, an expansive block allocator, support for sparse files, and a crash protection scheme.” New features include “optimization for Flash/SSD storage, copy-on-write metadata, space sharing, cloning of files and directories, snapshots, fast directory sizing, and atomic safe-save primitives.”

Now let me explain what all this means.

First, APFS takes the 1990’s out of Mac storage. Filesystems use unique identifiers called “inodes” for files and directories. HFS+ used 32-bit inodes, meaning a filesystem could only contain 232-1 objects (about 4.3 billion). This sounds like a lot, but storage capacity keeps increasing and many modern features magnify the numbers of inodes needed. Moving to 64-bit inodes helps future-proof the filesystem.

APFS also integrates extended file attributes with the filesystem instead of having these “live” in a separate file, and allows nanosecond-granularity timestamps, quite an improvement over the 1-second granularity in HFS+. Another improvement is “lazy” block allocation, allowing quick formatting of large drives and making it easy to resize a filesystem.

Next, APFS moves to a copy-on-write system, improving crash protection, enabling cloning of files and directories and snapshots of whole volumes, and enabling optimizations for flash storage. With copy-on-write, data on disk is copied only when a modification is made, building up a tree of “data history” and reducing I/O. APFS won’t need a filesystem journal anymore, individual filesystem elements can be cloned (imagine a per-file Time Machine), and whole point-in-time snapshots are possible. Small I/O operations can also be coalesced to reduce wear on SSDs. 1

APFS has a Container/Volume/Namespace structure somewhat like a volume manager
APFS has a Container/Volume/Namespace structure somewhat like a volume manager (and a lot like CoreStorage…)

APFS also has some interesting and novel new features. APFS Containers are pools of storage similar to a logical volume group, and these contain volumes that generally map to “namespaces” or file systems. In other words, there is an additional layer of abstraction between the filesystem and the disk, and multiple filesystems can be created on the same disk.

But all volumes and namespaces share the same pool of container storage, and this is explicitly displayed to the user: If you create more than one volume in a container, they all share the same capacity. In the picture above, FS1 and FS2 would both show the same total free and used space. This could be very confusing to users, but I doubt macOS users will ever see it. Instead, I imagine it will be exposed as part of a future “Time Machine 2” that uses snapshots and clones on the same disk.2

The Road to APFS

APFS will not be magically implemented when macOS 10.12 “Sierra” is installed. In fact, it probably won’t be used at all until the next version of macOS is released a year from now. Apple suggests that APFS volumes will be readable on OS X El Capitan 10.11, but this will also probably not be implemented in practice. And even in Sierra, APFS can’t be used on startup disks or Time Machine targets.3

One question is the extent to which APFS will coexist with CoreStorage. APFS seems to duplicate some of the functionality of CoreStorage today, overlapping the existing block and volume allocation and encryption functionality. The fact that APFS will not work on Fusion Drives or in conjunction with FileVault 2 suggests that APFS is at the very least incompatible with CoreStorage today. Certainly one can imagine an APFS container being placed on top of a CoreStorage Logical Volume or implemented as a CoreStorage Logical Volume Family. But will it?

It could be that APFS is another attempt at a volume manager five years after CoreStorage and will relegate it to the dust heap. This would be a great disappointment, since APFS seems very “small system” oriented, while CoreStorage is more of an enterprise approach. For example, APFS does not have any multi-disk RAID-like technology, where CoreStorage has very advanced multi-disk support (hello, Fusion Drive!)

Stephen’s Stance

Apple desperately needs a new filesystem, and it’s wonderful to see the company doing just that. Like Microsoft, which is easing into ReFS, Apple will slowly roll out APFS over a few operating system releases. And like ReFS, Apple has created a modern, flash-native filesystem with flexibility and scalability in mind. I applaud this move, but am concerned about how APFS will work with CoreStorage.

I will be experimenting with APFS as the macOS Sierra betas are released and will report my findings here.

  1.  Incidentally, the copy-on-write concept was first implemented by NetApp’s WAFL filesystem and was the subject of a massive lawsuit involving Sun’s ZFS back in 2007. NetApp lost that suit, but threatened more. This might be the reason Apple didn’t go with ZFS for Lion in the first place.
  2. Another use for multi-volume containers, multi-key encryption, and per-object encryption is a killer multi-user version of macOS and iOS. How about a protected iPad for the whole family to use!
  3. I bet initial versions of Sierra won’t even allow creation of APFS volumes from Disk Utility. Time to learn diskutil!

© sfoskett for Stephen Foskett, Pack Rat, 2016. | macOS Sierra Includes a New Apple File System, APFS
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