Blazing-fast PCIe storage for Mac Pro Tower

Options for Connecting a Display with Mini DisplayPort or DisplayPort input to a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C

See MPG’s Mac wish list  MPG gets credit if you buy through those links.
Suggested accessories for new Macs include the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, the 1TB Envoy Pro EX.

One problem Apple created while leaving users without an Apple solution is being able to connect an external display to a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C. Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter passes data only—not video.

While the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock solves this problem neatly (highly recommended, more on that below), there are cases where all one wants is adaptation for the display.

In particular, in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van (see setup), I just want to connect my NEC PA302W wide gamut professional display to the computer; an extra 15 watts for the Thunderbolt 3 Dock makes sense only if I need its other ports, which I do not need on the road, or at least do not need except briefly. So I am loathe to chew up 15 watts just to have the display connected (the display itself takes 90 watts which is bad enough). Aside from cost, that is a key reason why I am using a 2015 MacBook Pro and a 2015 iMac 5K—not the 2017 models which have Thunderbolt 3 ports and no Mini DisplayPort.

There are various products which might provide the necessary adaptation. They are not cheap, but not expensive either (about $80).

B&H Photo has Thunderbolt 3 to DisplayPort adapters as well as various DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort adapters. DisplayPort (or Mini DisplayPort) is just fine for displays like my NEC PA302W, which has both types of ports (signal is the same, it’s just a cable form factor issue). If a display has only a Mini DisplayPort port, there are DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort adapters and/or DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort cables. Be sure to test the cables; compatibility is not guaranteed in my experience.

StarTech Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort Adapter
Sonnet Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort Adapter for 4K Displays (Mac & Windows)
Mini DisplayPort (male) to
DisplayPort (male) cable

Some users might be fine with HDMI inputs on a display, but that has some limitations for calibration as I understand it, at least for 10 bit with NEC Spectra View II, so I rule it out for my needs.

Cleanest/best solution for Thunderbolt 3 to Mini DisplayPort

More expensive than the adapters above, but with far more functionality, the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock neatly solves display connectivity issue with its Mini DisplayPort port (1 port), charges the MacBook Pro, and provides gigabit ethernet and other ports, as shown. This is the cleanest and best solution for normal desktop usage.

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock port layout

Philip S writes:

"One problem Apple created while leaving users without an Apple solution is being able to connect an external display to a Mac with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C. Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter passes data only—not video.”

Perhaps I am misunderstanding what you have written. However I have an Apple Thunderbolt Display connected to my brand-new 5K mid-2017 iMac, using the aforesaid Thunderbolt 3-to-Thunderbolt 2 adapter. It works perfectly.

MPG: I tested the Apple adapter in 2016 and again in 2016 and it does not pass a video signal. Readers confirm the same. So something special is going on with the Apple Thunderbolt display—notable it is a Thunderbolt display, not just a Mini DisplayPort display. The fact that it works is consistent with the fact that NEC displays work fine off the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock.

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macOS High Sierra: Apple’s Technote on APFS is Both Confusing and Possibly Incorrect

The only serious feature in macOS High Sierra is APFS. Indeed, APFS is the most significant change in many years to macOS. There are going to be issues.

MPG reiterates its recommendation that professionals and those with important work to do not install macOS High Sierra for at least 6 months.

Apple has published a technote Prepare for APFS in macOS High Sierra. Most of it is straightforward, but from what I can tell, no engineer ever reviewed it. I say this because the terminology is so odd that I have to interpret it and make assumptions to try to understand it.

The problematic description:

APFS compatibility

Devices formatted as Mac OS Extended (HFS+) can be read from and written to by devices formatted as APFS.
[MPG: this makes NO SENSE at all, an SSD "device" does not read another SSD. Nor is it even relevant; separate file systems are separate file systems that do not interact]

Devices formatted as APFS can be read from and written to by: Other devices formatted as APFS Devices formatted as Mac OS Extended, if using macOS High Sierra.
[MPG: devices do not read other devices, macOS reads and writes to storage. WORSE, this seems to imply that a device can be simultaneously formatted as APFS and Mac OS Extended, a nonsensical statement]

For example, a USB storage device formatted as APFS can be read by a Mac using High Sierra, but not by a Mac using Sierra or earlier.
[MPG: this makes sense (macOS reads file systems not "devices" ), but is very disappointing if true]

If this is the kind of documentation we are going to get from Apple, it’s scary as to its poor quality and what it implies for APFS itself. This technote is so confusingly phrased that I have trouble understanding it. It makes bizarre statements about devices reading devices, which makes no sense: macOS controls and coordinates I/O across devices.

My guess is that the file system team is in overdrive mode trying to fix APFS bugs before the calendar-driven release of macOS High Sierra—oops it’s too late because it has gone golden master now. I say that because no one on the engineering team seems to have had the time to read this horribly confusing and possibly incorrect technote, or at least not to have cared enough to ask the tech writer to un-confuse it and to address its omissions. But that’s the job of management—to make sure that sort of thing happens—so what does that say about the state of readiness to ship? With Apple, “ship ready” is just an X on a day on the calendar: when the iPhone train rolls, anything in the way gets crushed.

The technote also suffers from its omissions:

  • What about partitioning? Can a drive have both APFS and Mac OS Extended partitions?
  • Will my partitioned boot drive SSD will be converted to APFS, damaged or reformatted, or what exactly?
  • To point out that Fusion drives will not be converted and get no benefit from APFS, i.e., Apple sold a bill of goods regarding performance gains to those buying Fusion setups and now chooses not to support APFS with Fusion setups.
  • Will users with BootCamp on their boot SSD now be bereft of BootCamp support, since macOS High Sierra forcibly converts SSDs to APFS, which does not support BootCamp (see below)?
  • Whether hard drives will be faster or slower or the same with APFS (probably slower and I wonder about RAID in particular).

The technote might also be incorrect because one reader already reports that macOS Sierra in fact does read APFS. MPG has not installed macOS High Sierra and cannot confirm this as yet.

I deem this technote incompetent—readers can make their own call onthat, but what does it say if incompetence is considered OK for the most critical OS feature in years?

I’ll make a stab at translating the above mess, for which I have to make some assumption:

APFS compatibility (attempted translation)

Devices formatted as Mac OS Extended (HFS+) can co-exist with devices formatted as APFS on macOS High Sierra.

We tech writers at Apple aren’t sure yet if devices can be partitioned as having APFS and Mac OS Extended Partitions, so we aren’t going to talk about it here.

An external SSD or hard drive formatted with APFS can be read by a Mac using High Sierra, but not by a Mac using Sierra or earlier.

If the last point is correct, this presents a serious compatibility headache for many ordinary users (old laptop and new desktop or vice versa, one running an older macOS), let alone corporations or work groups.

Boot Camp support

Apple has stated that SSDs will be forcibly converted to APFS upon installing macOS High Sierra. That’s right—no choice in the matter for users.

The technote implies yet more Apple disrespect for users a la Final Cut Pro, e.g., breaking Boot Camp support, in effect:

APFS and Boot Camp

Boot Camp doesn't read from or write to APFS-formatted volumes, but is compatible with High Sierra.

If this note is correct, then it won’t be possible to use BootCamp any longer on those SSDs, because the boot drive will now be APFS, and BootCamp cannot work with APFS.

Or does it mean that the BootCamp partition remains as-is and BootCamp continues to run just fine, excepting not being able to access anything on the macOS boot drive (or other APFS volumes), which might make BootCamp useless for some users. At the least it presents a loss of functionality for some users.

Apple has gone about this the worst possible way. This is the way it should have been done:

  • Roll video codec support into macOS Sierra in a 10.12.7 release.
  • Add support for APFS in a macOS Sierra 10.12.8 release. Purely an option. Let this 'bake' for 6 months.
  • Release macOS High Sierra 6-9 months from now with the desired forced conversions, support for Boot Camp, etc.

MPG’s view is that Apple’s calendar-driven releases result in extremely poor judgment by Apple management (users are disrespected in various ways), and that rushed development that leads to Apple Core Rot by the mandate to ship by a fixed data, bugs be damned.

MPG reiterates its recommendation that professionals and those with important work to do not install macOS High Sierra for at least 6 months. Clearly Apple is kicking macOS High Sierra out the door with serious limitations, and that almost certainly means uncorrected bugs that users are supposed to find by painful experience.

Don H writes:

Another data point on the limitations of High Sierra upon release: I installed the High Sierra Golden Master on a test machine (which took about an hour to convert the internal SSD from HFS+ to APFS) and so far no problems in regards to that process. However, one of the first things I tried was to format a bare external HDD to APFS and then use it for a Time Machine backup. One might think that APFS would be ideal for incremental backups because of its snapshot capability.

When I selected the external disk in the Time Machine preference I got a panel telling me the disk format (APFS) was not compatible and it would ‘erase’ the disk if I proceeded. Since it was a blank disk anyway I accepted and then after an hour it completed the first Time Machine backup. When I then checked Disk Utility I discovered that it had been re-formatted back to HFS+ before performing the backup. To confirm this I tried again with a second disk, being very careful at each step from initial format to APFS (and verifying the format) to selecting the disk in the Time Machine prefs, and sure enough it too was reformatted back to HFS+. So we’ve been waiting all these years for a new file system (which doesn’t even include user data integrity checks) for this?

I assume Apple will eventually implement Time Machine using APFS, and *maybe* add data integrity later if they haven’t painted themselves into a corner at the foundational design, but for now there doesn’t seem to be much benefit for the user with High Sierra. But at least we’ll get animated poop emojis!

MPG: this is the half-baked situation I more or less expected—ship by calendar, not by quality. A lot of bugs might pop up in APFS, and there might be data loss scenarios if history is any guide.

Which Camera System / Lenses Should Are Best?
✓ Get the ideal system for your needs: diglloyd photographic consulting.

OWC USB-C Mini Travel Dock for Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C Macs such as 2016/2017 MacBook Pro, 2017 iMac 5K

2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro users now have a solution for reducing the number of dongles to carry to just one device for common needs in the about $50 OWC USB-C Mini Travel Dock.

  • 2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 (Standard-A) Ports
  • USB-C Auxiliary Power Port (up to 60W)
  • SD Card Reader (UHS-II)
  • HDMI 2.0 Port Supports 4K display resolution – up to 4096 x 2160 at 30Hz
  • vailable in 4 colors
  • 2 Year OWC Limited Warranty
  • Any type C power adapter up to 100 watts can be connected to the Mini Travel Dock.

Fitting easily into a small purse or back or moderate-size pocket, the OWC USB-C Travel Dock solves two key needs that I have when working in the field: USB-A port support (for a backup drive), and an SD card slot (for downloading image). Although I am still using a 2015 MacBook Pro, when I ultimately move to newer model, this will be a critical accessory.

See also OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock and OWC USB-C Dock for Apple MacBook.

OWC USB-C Mini Travel Dock

Greg H writes:

Love OWC products, and have been buying from them for years. You won’t get anything but praise from me for them.

But I did want to share an alternative dock option that is sleeker and more portable: https://www.hypershop.com/collections/usb-type-c/products/hyperdrive-hub-for-usb-c-macbook-pro-13-and-15-2016-2017

I have the single port and double port versions for both my laptops. They work exceedingly well. Just another choice.

MPG: at first it looks like a nice product, but according to my sources it is not a certified Thunderbolt 3 product for Thunderbolt 3 pass-through. Certifying Thunderbolt is an expensive and time consuming process for any conforming product; it is a condition of licensing Thunderbolt.

First issue I see is a dubious claim on 100 watt power pass through. One can try, I suppose. But with no certification, one might have no joy if really intending to use it.

The key issue I see is no strain relief—direct attachment could damage the ports on the MacBook Pro if any torque is applied (such as a modest bump downards or upwards), as well as a too-wide form factor for use in some situations. I'd rather see some cable arrangement for strain relief, rather than a make-pretty direct-attach. If sitting at a desk is always the use case, then AC power is available, and the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock is a far more robust solution. When I have traveled over the years, I never worked at a desk, although that will change now with my photography adventure van. But in prior use, I'm pretty sure I'd damage my ports quickly by inadvertant pressure; even just inserting regular USB plugs weakened the ports and made them sloppy over time.

To which Greg responds:

You hit the nail on the head. Strain relief anywhere but a desk is, I think, the #1 issue. I have used the dock primarily at my hotel desk when traveling. Sometimes on a airplane tray, but I try not to work in planes any more. I don’t take it in the field.

In effect, it is just a super portable dock that takes up as little space and weight as possible. Here at home, I use mostly iMacs, and will be adding the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock [just ordered], for when the new iMac Pro arrives this December. I don’t see these little plug-in docks as effective for an iMac, though, because in an odd way, they are “too big” to just hang off the back. I plan to finally cave and add the NEC, but I want to wait and see just how good—or bad—the display is on the iMac.

MPG:

See also:

B&H Deal ZoneDeals by Brand/Category/Savings
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$3297 SAVE $800 = 19.0% Nikon D810 DSLR with 24-120mm in Cameras: DSLR

iPhone Camera bug

The only way I could get the iPhone camera to work again was to reboot the phone.

I’ve seen camera bugs before; this one makes it completely unusable. The controls do not work, nor can one switch to another shooting mode, presumably because one has to press someplace completely different than the offset controls which are drawn in the wrong place.

Reliability bugs like this are troubling and I’m not keen on the cross pollination of iOS and macOS, which can only make things worse.

Apple iPhone 7 Plus camera bug
Apple iPhone 7 Plus camera bug

 

Which Camera System / Lenses Should Are Best?
✓ Get the ideal system for your needs: diglloyd photographic consulting.

macOS High Sierra: Caution Advised

MPG has long advised that professionals delay by at least 3 months the adoption of any new Apple operating system. In the case of macOS High Sierra, the major change is Apple File System (APFS). Without APFS, the release would be little more than a minor revision of macOS Sierra. So it is all about APFS.

With macOS High Sierra on the horizon, rumblings abound of issues.

Accordingly, MPG hereby raises that 3 month 'wait' recommendation to a full six months from here on in. That’s because (a) a change in file system is a major change with repercussions and (b) Apple cannot be trusted to respect users or their data or their workflow, with poor judgment seem repeatedly many times over in recent years. The name for this macOS release is apt.

Remember, Apple ships on a calendar basis. Not when requisite software quality is achieved—if the bar is too high, the bar is lowered and the software ships on schedule. This has been going on for years and now with iOS and macOS tied together with APFS and iCloud, it won’t stop—the iPhone drives all.

APFS and High Sierra in trouble captures in a nutshell my concerns about macOS High Sierra, capturing multiple disturbing lapses in judgment at Apple.

Introducing a new file system is a very major undertaking, not something to be breezed away in a couple of press releases and fatuous PR claims. It is comparable in scale and effect to introducing Mac OS X itself – something which Apple left in public beta for more than six months. APFS has instead had just two months in public beta, over a period when many people around the world take their major annual holiday.

Even before those public betas, some of Apple’s decisions about APFS have proved to be misjudgments. Most obvious was the design feature that the new file system would not perform any Unicode normalisation of file and folder names – which was still a feature of APFS when it was released to hundreds of millions of iOS devices back in March.

...

MPG: see Malcom C’s comments below about compatibility. The source above may have been mistaken about APFS being unreadable with Sierra.

See also Apple Core Rot.

Martin D writes:

FWIW, iOS 11 is atypically flaky and unstable this late in development. Perhaps the GM will surprise us, but the latest developer beta is just plain buggy. The bugs I’m hearing about are worse on the iPhone than the iPad, but I’m also seeing plenty of oddities on the iPad Pro I’m testing on.

MPG: iOS uses APFS, so this does not bode well for macOS using APFS. It should all end well, but it might be a year before that is achieved.

Malcom C writes:

Like you I am very interested/concerned about moving to High Sierra and APFS. So I have installed the latest Beta on a 100 GB partition of a Samsung SSD on my 2011 iMac.

The main partition running 10.12.6 can read the APFS partition without problems. So my next check was to format a rotational drive in a USB case as APFS from the 10.13 OS.

According to the ECLECTIC LIGHT CO article dated 10 Sept. an APFS partition is ONLY readable from 10.13 NOT 10.12. However on my iMac the USB drive formatted as APFS is readable by 10.12.6 without any problems.

Also as a very rough test the Blackmagic Disk Speed software reports that the USB rotational drive data transfer speeds are about 2x faster under APFS.

I realise that APFS is a big step but if articles are written during a beta test period nothing can be treated as final until the GM version is available.

My quick and dirty test indicates that Sierra can read and write APFS I copied the Sierra Install file and it would read as expected. I was able today to check that Yosemite and El Capitan however cannot even see the drive.

MPG: taking the last point first, the golden master (GM) won’t have any meaningful changes at this point; the public beta is in effect the GM already. This has been true for every release for the many years this close to final release, which is nearly at hand.

My key source indicates speed issues with hard drives. Let’s hope one expert is wrong. APFS is optimized for SSDs.

4TB Internal SSD
for 2013 Mac Pro
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Will the iMac Pro Be Worth The Cost?

In theory the Apple iMac Pro will be out about 3 months from now.

See also Assessing the Dec 2017 Apple iMac Pro.

Right now, the best 2017 iMac 5K with 1TB SSD is $200 off at B&H Photo at about half the price of the most basic iMac Pro (see all the deals on Apple desktop Macs). That “best” presumes an upgrade to 32GB or 64GB of memory. Even better (and also $200 off) is the best 2017 iMac 5K with 2TB SSD.

What do you get for the extra $2200 of an iMac Pro over the 2017 iMac 5K, and does it matter to most users?

  • Choice of 8 or 10 or 18 core CPU. Even for my work, 8 cores is going to do little to speed up my work unless there are other jobs running at the same time. And the lower clock speed might actually make it inferior to the 2017 iMac 5K since the most time wasting part of my work usually does not hit more then 3 cores due to Photoshop limitations. My instinct on this for *my* workflow is that 8 cores will be enough. But there is reduced bandwidth (apparently) for the 8 core CPU, so that pushes me to the 10 core, and that will probably be another $500 or $1000.
  • Up to 128GB of ECC memory. ECC memory is important in some cases, but for most users it offers no benefit. For my uses 64GB is enough and the 2017 iMac 5K already offers that. So the ECC memory is the advantage for me, but not a compelling one.
  • Faster GPU. This is a win for Photoshop presumably, but quite possibly the real world Photoshop performance gains will be fractional for my work, so it’s no clear win until I actually see what actually happens in real world work.
  • Display is apparently no better. What a pity it isn’t at least a 6K display in a 30" form factor.
  • Support for external 4K or 5K displays is a clear win for the iMac Pro, and it might even be able to support an 8K display by using both Thunderbolt 3 busses via Multi Stream Transport. Now that is something that gets exciting, but such displays might be 1-2 years off.
  • Dual Thunderbolt 3 busses. This is a win, but maybe makes no difference in my everyday workflow and imparts hassles like not being able to directly connect a Mini DisplayPort display like my NEC PA302W.

There you have it—no clear win that I can see. To add a small insult to injury, Apple has discontinued the full size keyboard and changed the position of the control keys on the toy wireless keyboard, breaking years of “finger training” for me.

All that said, I might actually consider the iMac Pro rather than wait for the new Mac Pro, which is still vaporware on the distant horizon. Also, dual Thunderbolt 3 busses are something very helpful for testing coming high performance peripherals.

Martin D writes:

I’m pretty sure the iMac Pro is 95% for 3D (games, video effects and VR development), and for (a rather pitiful and short-lived form of) bragging rights.

Of course, you can build a cheaper, more powerful 3D system, today, if you’re willing to use Windows, which, of course, is where most of the 3D software is anyway. The other 5% would be Xcode programmers who think it will be a comparatively helpful architecture to speed compiling.

MPG: I'll stay open to being 'sold' if 8K support is possible and when I test one and see if it outperforms for my actual real-world tasks. I’d also like a design that makes it easy to clean out dust, which the iMac Pro looks to not have, making it a non-pro machine from the outset.

NuGard KX Case for iPhones and iPads
Outstanding protection against drops and impact!
Excellent grip for wet hands, cycling, etc!

Travel Bag for iMac 5K

Get iMac 5K at B&H Photo and see my Mac wishlist.

Since I am considering using an iMac 5K for my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van project, protecting the iMac 5K becomes important, particularly on rough dirt roads; it cannot sit on a desk while driving or it will end up smashed on the floor.

I’m still investigating a VESA mount iMac 5K including products like the Tether Tools Rock Solid VESA iMac Stand Adapter so as to not stow/unstow, but those solutions still will subject it to harsh shock and vibration and so I think they might not be viable.

So I looked around and the best case that suits my needs is the handsomely made about $199 Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote. A big plus is that it is possible to use the iMac without actually taking it tout of the bag—just unzip the front; it has holes for cables to go through as well. I have one to evaluate and will try it out on my next mountain outing.

Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote

My Sprinter Photography Adventure Van Project: Which Mac?

Mercedes Sprinter cargo van,
before modifications

See also:

Most (maybe all) Apple computers have a limited operating range. For example, the specifications for the late 2015 iMac 5K have temperature and humidity and altitude limits, two of which are serious concerns for me with my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van, at least on paper: operating temperature (cold, mainly) and altitude—the picture below is at 11,500' elevation!

Electrical and Operating Requirements

  • Line voltage: 100–240V AC Frequency: 50Hz to 60Hz, single phase
  • Operating temperature: 50° to 95° F (10° to 35° C)
  • Relative humidity: 5% to 95% noncondensing
  • Operating altitude: tested up to 10,000 feet

I’ve already tested the 2015 MacBook Pro at 11,500' and it works fine at that altitude for extended periods. However, I know from past experience that the screen is problematic below about 40°F and this is probably true of an iMac as well (or any LCD display), but once it warms up, it will probably be just fine. Besides, I will have to warm up the van as my hands get too cold below about 55°F.

The NEC PA302W also works fine at 11,500' and has no problem at 90°F to 95°F (also tested), though the MacBook Pro becomes unusable.

See Reasons To Like the NEC PA302W Wide Gamut Professional Display.

Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van at 11,500' elevation

 

There is an open question as to whether a 2015 MacBook Pro would be viable for my work. The short answer is “viable but problematic. Problematic because the 16GB memory limit slows me down regularly, and because the 2015 MacBook Pro does not tolerate heat well at all. Still, I might stick with it until the iMac Pro comes out, because it is now autumn and temperatures in the mountains are dropping.

I have been considering three options:

  • 2015 MacBook Pro with 16GB memory, top end model (already own).
  • 2015 iMac 5K with 64GB, top-end model (already own).
  • 2017 iMac 5K with 64GB top-end model, would have to purchase. Makes no sense with iMac Pro coming in 4 months. Also Thunderbolt 3 creates headaches, thus requiring adapters or more hardware like the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock just to hook up the 2nd display. So as much as I like its outstanding performance, I’ve rejected the 2017 iMac 5K out of hand for cost and hassle reasons.
  • 2017 iMac Pro has the same issues as the 2017 iMac 5K, but because I might end up getting one, I might go this way for travel. Or I might just use the 2015 iMac 5K so as not to risk the iMac Pro.
  • 2013 Mac Pro with 64GB is problematic given my requirement for two displays; I’d have to buy one whereas an iMac 5K counts as one display.
Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote

I am going to try the 2015 iMac 5K soon now that I have solved the packing issue with the Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote. The 2015 iMac 5K may be just the ticket, since I can avoid the extra power draw and setup/teardown hassle of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock — it would be needed to connect a Mini DisplayPort display like the the NEC PA302W to a Thunderbolt 3 Mac.

Other items I’d want along:

  • At least one OWC Envoy Pro EX 1TB SSD for backups (2TB would be better, but 1TB is max as of summer 2017). The elegance of this device is that I can put it in my daypack when hiking all day as a safeguard against losing all my work disappear, should the van be broken into and computer gear stolen.
  • OWC Viper for big storage (preferably 4TB so I can carry a bunch of other stuff from home that can be used on the road also). But that presumes a Thunderbolt 3 Mac, so that means an 2017 iMac 5K or an iMac Pro (since the MacBook Pro is unacceptable for my work).
  • BatPower USB charger for iPhone and iPad and other stuff. And for MacBook Pro, which I’d take along as a backup/spare computer.
  • Fast camera card reader for both SDXC and Compact Flash and XQD cards.
  • External drive for Time Machine backup while I work, like the OWC Elite Pro Dual Mini 2TB. Assuming a Thunderbolt 3 Mac, the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual Mini USB-C would be a rocking fast choice.
Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van: temporary work setup with 2015 MacBook Pro and NEC PA302W
Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

iPhone 7s and 8: End of the Line for Value was with iPhone 6?

See my computers wishlist.

NewerTech NuGuard KX case for iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Last year I upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus, a key reason being the 2X camera. The 2X camera has proved to be a deep disappointment with its godawful image quality which is poor in sunlight and crap in darker conditions, with mutilated pixel quality reminiscent of the bargain-bin point and shoots of 5 years ago.

Last fall in Apple iPhone 7: New Features I Like, I discussed new features that I thought were worth upgrading for. Below is brief recap along with my conclusion on each.

  • Dual cameras and 2X lens: FAIL. The 2X camera has very poor quality.
  • Wide Color support: FAIL—no meaningful value that I could discern when using the phone. The DCI-P3 color space is occassionally helpful for images, but the screen makes no difference to me. See iPhone 7 Sports Retina HD Screen with DCI-P3 Color Gamut and “Wide” Color Capture.
  • More powerful speakers: DOUBLE FAIL. No useful increase in volume over my 6s Plus, plus the speakers emphasize and low-level hissing on my audio books; this the 6s Plus never did.
  • Splash and water resistance: good, but it has never mattered as my iPhone 7 Plus has not gone swimming.

There you have it: for my reasons, the iPhone 7 Plus was an abject failure and a waste of $1100. I would gladly turn it in for a refund and make the 6s Plus my primary phone again.

So now we have the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus and rumored 8 coming, with a few more technology demonstrations. OMG, I cannot wait to save $1100 by not buying one—I want new value that distinctly improves useful things versus the prior model. And maybe that is there so I’ll wait and see but fool me once and shame on Apple, fool me twice, shame on me.

Sure, an OLED screen that is full width might be nice, facial recognition is an anti-feature (for me), and so on. For the most part, these new goodies are technology demonstrations that offer no real value to me. I’m sure millions will disagree* and happily fork over $800 to $1100 (which for anyone who can afford one really means earning $1600 to $2500 to have those after-tax dollars). And maybe there will be one 'killer feature' that will add real value and thus persuade me—I’d be delighted if that occurs and would then reconsider.

Hardware aside, Apple has not earned my business by doing more important things, like decluttering iOS and letting me customize my phone; the current experience is a nightmare with land mines and anti-productive behaviors and preferences buried so deep that it would have been a case study in bad design back in the days of the Apple Human Interface Guidelines.

I’m not going to play this treadmill game of buying a $1000 phone anymore.

* The earth is a big round ball, even if all but one person thought it was flat for millennia.

Blazing-fast PCIe storage for Mac Pro Tower

Deals on Apple MacBook Pro: My Thoughts on Deeply Discounted 2016 Model vs 2017 Model

See my computers wishlist.

Apple IMO released the 2016 MacBook Pro too early and should have stuck with the prior model until June 2017, when the 2017 MacBook Pro was released.

I still use the 2015 Macbook Pro for my travel needs. But I might move to the iMac 5K for my Mercedes Sprinter photographer adventure van for field work, now that the Gator Cases Creative Pro 27" iMac Carry Tote makes it practical to stow safely and conveniently—it is a handsome and very nicely made case.

Apple often moves to new tech before supporting things are ready, and the 4 USB-C ports are no exception. Even today there is no equivalent convenience, it being awkward to hook up a Mini DisplayPort display or download an SD card or attach any USB-A peripheral (adapter required for all these things). The port hassles are a nuisance in many situations, and if one forgets adapters, it’s game over for USB-A peripherals.

While the OWC Thunderbolt-3 Dock solves all these issues, it requires A/C wall power and is thus not a solution for an airplane or car or just unplugged from A/C anywhere.See my review of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock as well as Connecting a Dual-Link DVI-D Display to new Macs with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C.

But many users don’t attach anything at all except perhaps an external drive—so one simple adapter does that. Buy several and stick 'em in the bag.

The 2017 MacBook Pro *is* a better machine, but it’s a modest gain that won’t matter to most users. See my reviews of the Apple 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pro to see how it stacks up, including against an iMac 5K and 2015 MacBook Pro (which I still use).

The discounts on the late 2016 MacBook Pro are highly attractive, and for any student or traveler, the differences are so modest that saving the money or instead getting a larger SSD or faster CPU just make a ton of sense. For photographers who must have the fastest, pay the premium for the 2017 model, though I still prefer the 2015 MacBook Pro for its port convenience.

I strongly recommend 16GB memory for any power user, but for basic usage for web and email, 8GB suffices. Ditto for 1TB vs 512GB or 256GB, but there I advise at least 512GB as it is too much of a hassle to use an external drive except for backups.

See all top deals on Apple MacBook Pro and all top deals on Apple desktop Macs. Those lists are updated daily, so they are excellent for bookmarking in your web browser.

The 2016 MacBook Pro 2.7 GHz / 16GB / 512GB offers a whopping discount and it is a very capable machine.

I’m more of a fan of the 2017 iMac 5K (don't have one yet, waiting for iMac Pro). This is the 2017 iMac 5K model I highly recommend, but add 64GB OWC memory to it.

Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

Reasons that ECC Memory Matters

Get ECC memory for the Mac Pro at MacSales.com.

ECC (Error Correcting Code) memory is used in servers and advanced workstations like the 2013 Mac Pro in order to forestall data corruption. ECC memory will also be used in the iMac Pro which is due out late this year.

16GB ECC memory modules at 1866 MHz for 2013 Mac Pro

Single bit flips can be detected and corrected by ECC memory. Two bit flips in the same 64-bit word of memory and a kernel panic results, so I know that did not happen.

Heat and ECC memory errors

Recently we saw record-breaking heat in my area with even San Francisco hitting 105°F. I have no air conditioning and with outside temperatures around 110°F, my office was around 95°F and maybe warmer—oppressive but I’ll take it over 4 feet of rain any day.

A lot of cold drinks over ice bring down core body temperature, but a computer cannot do that: the problem is that all Macs have limits as to what ambient temperature is acceptable for cooling—things can start breaking down beyond that limit. That is why my 2015 MacBook Pro temporarily ceased to operate properly a few weeks ago. The 2013 Mac Pro is robust, but its operating range tops out at 95°F. If the machine is dusty inside, heat can build up and that would lower the operating temperature dramatically and thus increase the chances for ECC memory errors—clean the dust off the innards of the machine. My Mac Pro might just be due for another cleaning.

See also The Thermal Conductivity of Moist Air.

Near the operating limit, that is what I saw happening: ECC errors began cropping up as shown below. Rebooting clears ECC errors and all is well again. Since the ECC memory corrected the bit flips, no data in memory was corrupted, hence files on disk written from memory are not corrupted due to bit flips. This is the core benefit of ECC memory (besides not crashing). No ECC errors showed up from morning till mid-day (we close up our house and that keeps internal temperatures down until early afternoon). That pattern repeated each day.

At first I thought that the ECC errors indicated a bad module, since it was/is always the same module. Indeed, that module must be “weak” somehow if none of the others show errors; maybe it is cooled a little less well or has a little more dust, or just variances that are always there.

What I discovered is that this ECC error only occurs on extremely hot days. So if ECC errors are observed under conditions at 90°F or warmer, don’t panic—reboot and keep working unless the errors keep cropping up—in that case shut the machine down and defer using it. And clean out the dust (which is not viable on an iMac, but is easy on a Mac Pro).

Memory status on 2013 Mac Pro: ECC memory error with one module
Memory status on 2013 Mac Pro — all good

Altitude and ECC memory

The chance of bit flips is far higher at high altitude than near sea level (even higher in an airplane), due to cosmic rays and high energy neutrons (yes, this is a real issue!). Which is one reason that laptops for air travel are a bad combination, but Apple never has offered ECC memory in a laptop.

Today it's widely recognized that neutron radiation is a major factor limiting the reliability of advanced electronics. Chipmakers and users have been learning the hard way that they need to measure neutron-induced effects in advance to avoid dangerous, costly failures

Those studies are presumably not at over two miles in altitude where I do work.

I don’t know if my concern is realistic or not—probably it a legitimate concern for a laptop since I tend to sleep it, not shut it down (rebooting clears ECC errors).

See my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van publication.

Since I now expect to do a fair amount of work in the field at extreme altitude (up to 11,500' elevation), I am now pondering whether I should be doing that work on the iMac Pro when it comes out. Thing is, how would I know that there is an issue unless I use a computer with ECC memory? The 2013 Mac Pro would be fine, but I need dual displays to work effectively and one of those has to be Retina for screen shots.

Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

OWC Raising Money for Red Cross

OWC aka MacSales.com is raising money for hurricane relief efforts via the Red Cross, matching donations up to $50,000. Or text HARVEY to make a $10 donation.

iPhone: Made in China Gets Interesting

The thermonuclear situation with North Korea is an existential threat, EMP or otherwise.

Just taking what is being said at face value (taking no political side whatsoever), is China included in the countries whose trade would be sanctioned with the USA? That would put Apple in a world of hurt. As well as many other US businesses. From the Sept 2 Wall Street Journal:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he has spoken to the president about further isolating North Korea economically.

“It is clear that this behavior is completely unacceptable,” said Mr. Mnuchin on Fox News Sunday. “We’ve already started with sanctions… but I am going to draft a sanctions package to send to the president for his strong consideration that anybody that wants to do trade or business with them would be prevented from doing trade or business with us.”

The world economy is so interlinked with China that this interesting idea has little credibility—the world economy would pretty much shut down as huge numbers of products and parts would be affected. So I deem this threat as having little credibility and thus giving the USA little real leverage.

Still, years ago I was thinking just how risky it was for Apple to rely so heavily on one country to build its products, particularly the iPhone. That risk has now emerged as not so far fetched. Then there is the national security risk of having China being almost the sole supplier of rare earth elements (vital to the military as well as iPhones).

OWC End of Summer Deals
Deals Updated Daily at B&H Photo

OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock Now Available for Ordering

See also Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C Infographic and OWC Now Has Thunderbolt 3 Cables.

The about $299 OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock has five USB 3.1 gen 1 ports, and all the others.

See my review of the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock as well as Connecting a Dual-Link DVI-D Display to new Macs with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C.

Also, its 135-watt power supply can charge the 2016 MacBook Pro at 60 watts even if there is full power draw on all its ports while charging. The Apple charger brick can be set aside as a spare.

Have a display that needs connecting? See Reader Question: Connecting a Dual-Link DVI-D Display to new Macs with Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C.

...

Separately, OWC has some good end of summer deals.

OWC End of Summer Deals
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, rear
OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, rear
OWC Thunderbolt 2 Dock
Review of Thunderbolt 2 Dock

SoftRAID Warns on Serious High Sierra Bug

MPG has long recommended SoftRAID not just for RAID, but for general usage anytime automation of drive health is warranted (which is to say, most of the time).

MPG has also strongly suggested for years now to NOT upgrade to the latest macOS until it has proven itself for several months—let first adopters have all the 'fun'.

With increasingly poor Apple quality control and a major new file system change, the advice to NOT upgrade right away is more important than ever. Professionals whose work relies on the Mac especially with specialized software or hardware should exercise extreme caution going forward.

The foregoing is driven home in that High Sierra, now very late in its development process*, has a serious bug that can result in data corruption. Re-read the previous paragraph!

We've discovered a bug in High Sierra, which causes kernel panics when used with SoftRAID 5.6.1. The team at SoftRAID have isolated the bug and are working with Apple to fix it.

Meanwhile we have a beta version of SoftRAID that is safe to use with High Sierra. Please contact support@softraid.com to obtain this beta version.

  • THUNDERBOLT USERS: Disks ejecting while in use
  • THUNDERBOLT USERS: SoftRAID Monitor shows problem with your Mac
  • SoftRAID 5.0.5 USERS: Data corruption bug

MPG is not inclined to grant Apple any benefit of the doubt given its grievously sloppy quality control problems* over the past 4 years, its failure to respond to bugs in a timely manner, and ongoing Apple Core Rot. MPG of course refers to Apple as an organization, not to any individual engineer.

* All evidence over the past 5+ years strongly suggests that Apple ships by a rigid calendar timeline, not by quality metric. Marketing/PR claims by high level executives to the contrary do not qualify as facts.

Great Deal on 13" MacBook Pro for Student

Got a high-schooler or similar going back to school?

It’s hard to beat this deal for a very nice laptop: $300 off Apple 13.3" MacBook Pro (Space Gray, Late 2016).

See more deals.

Gator Cases Creative Pro Series Nylon Carry Tote Bag for Apple 27" iMac Desktop Computer (G-CPR-IM27)
Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

Padded Case for iMac 5K

I’m considering taking the iMac 5K as the computer for my Mercedes Sprinter Photography Adventure Van, but that requires a padded case to protect it while driving; it cannot stay in place on a table on bumpy roads or even paved roads with curves.

I’ve looked around for a case for iMac 5K, and there is quite a variety offering varying levels of protection:

I specifically do not want wheels; these can roll around in a van, an anti-feature for that use.

The case that most appeals to me is the Gator Cases Creative Pro Series Nylon Carry Tote Bag for Apple 27" iMac Desktop Computer (G-CPR-IM27), because the iMac 5K can be used without having to remove it from the case. This is a big deal in terms for stow/unstow for vehicle use.

  • Padded nylon creative professional Tote Bag designed to fit the 27” iMac
  • Adjustable interior padding and foam block cradle for perfect, secure fit
  • Hard panel reinforcement in front flap for extra screen protection
  • iMac can be used in the case with two side ports along with a Folding sun and dust Shield Built-in Rain cover with strap and handle cutouts.

The Gator case is not inexpensive, but the ability to use it without unpacking it from the case is a big plus for travel in a van. That’s assuming that heat buildup is not an issue, and perhaps it could be on hot days.

Gator Cases Creative Pro Series Nylon Carry Tote Bag for Apple 27" iMac Desktop Computer (G-CPR-IM27)
Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

SoftRAID Saves the Day

MPG has long recommended SoftRAID not just for RAID, but for general usage anytime automation of drive health is warranted (which is to say, most of the time.

See also Even ”Enterprise Grade” Drives Fail.

This SoftRAID user story is worth reading, because it points out grievous user errors—but SoftRAID saved the day.

Specifically in this case, hardware goes bad or just wears out over time. While a car might start making noises or fail to start, computers tend to fail catastrophically (in terms of data loss).

Fast forward to July 9, 2017: three and a half years after initial setup, SoftRAID 4 popped up a dialog box, saying: “Disk predicted to fail” even though the system appeared to be running fine.

Futureproof President Phil Legg was concerned. He was advised by SoftRAID’s online help to generate a technical support file and send it to SoftRAID tech support. When he launched SoftRAID to create the file, he discovered that one of the disks had a “Failure Predicted” alert -- a much more critical issue. Disk sectors were being reallocated at an alarming rate. Legg immediately emailed SoftRAID for a solution.

...

 

OWC Used Macs Mega Sale

The OWC used Mac Mega Sale is on now. Some models have AppleCare still in effect.

OWC Used Mac Mega Sale
Deals Updated Daily at B&H Photo
Rigorously lab tested and OWC certified.

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