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Thunderbolt Bug: Drives Disconnect at Random and Intermittent Times

Get Thunderbolt 2 cables and Thunderbolt 3 cables at MacSales.com.

See also: Thunderbolt on OS X: Spontaneous Drive Disconnect and 2013 Apple Mac Pro: Cables and Rotating Chassis.

It is bad enough that poor Apple hardware design can toast a $700 optical Thunderbolt 2 cable.

Back in 2016 in Thunderbolt on OS X: Spontaneous Drive Disconnect, I wrote about a frustrating problem of drives going AWOL at random times. Well, it seems that this issue persists with Thunderbolt 3 as well, a situation I’ve been monitoring and investigating for months. I’ve held off to be certain, but it is now time to discuss it, since I am certain it is a real and disturbing low-level bug (hardware or software I cannot say).

Here is what I know:

  • Occurs on 2017 iMac 5K and 2017 iMac Pro. I have no other Thunderbolt 3 Macs to test and since it is so intemittent, testing would require weeks to make sense of things. But since I saw similar issues on Thunderbolt 2 on a 2013 Mac Pro, I very much doubt that it is machine specific—I think it is a fundamental Thunderbolt bug, or (perhaps) yet one more Apple Core Rot bug.
  • I have 'intel' (I can say no more here) that says that this is a real issue that has nothing to do with my machines or my Thunderbolt 3 enclosures. Moreover, it happened with both Thunderbolt 2 and Thunderbolt 3 devices on different machines., and probably a hardware one.
  • Apple and Intel are mum on the issue. It feels like a cover-up to me, perhaps some intractable hardware bug. But maybe not, and maybe it is fixable in software, if Apple can ever get its quality mojo back, when it’s not busy damaging minds of every age with iPhones.
  • It is intermittent. I’ve had no trouble for a week, then it might happen 3 times in a day.
  • It can happen coming out of sleep, or it can happen spontaneously while working actively at the computer.
  • The drives disconnect then immediately reconnect. But the damage is done—this can screw up all sorts of things.

I’m not happy about this at all. I’ve been putting up with it for years, and now it persists with Thunderbolt 3 with all-new hardware and it has been an ongoing problem. I am not the only one seeing this sort of issue.

Drives/disks disappear due to some intermittent Thunderbolt bug
Drives/disks disappear due to some intermittent Thunderbolt bug

Kobi E writes:

Aha, so it wasn't just me. The transition to the 2013 MacPro was almost uniformly bad -- don't get me started on just how poorly the Trash Can served my needs. But what pushed over the brink was having my external SSD and RAID arrays go offline at random times.

I gave up trying to diagnose the issue, and wondered vaguely if the weight of the Thunderbolt cable was pulling it out of the socket enough to cause a glitch. I sold the thing and spent the money on a badass Hackintosh with room to house all my spinners.

I honestly can't say I'm particularly happy with running macOS on unsanctioned hardware, and it's a huge pain to upgrade the software, but my RAID arrays never disappear. I should be grateful for that little mercy, I guess.

MPG: Apple can fix this, but will it happen or not? All great companies decline (have their been any exceptions?!) and suck at some point. Apple started to suck in 2013, notwithstanding the addiction of the iPhone which is making Apple untold billions in profit.

Joshua H writes:

I have the same problem on thunderbolt 3 on a windows laptop for music production. With brand new hardware and brand new cables. Every updated. The computer manufacturer thinks the thunderbolt firmware is to blame. Who knows if he’s right!

MPG: “firmware to blame” seems consistent with the issue.

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