2018 Mac mini: Thunderbolt 3 Disconnects Drives Due to RF Inteference from WiFI Antenna Placement—OWC Tech Support Solves User’s Issue
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Christian B writes:
I thought you would appreciate a summary of the conclusion from a recent conversation with Joe (tech support) at OWC.
I contacted OWC after days of significant issues mounting my Drobo 5 and Time Machine volumes to my new Mac mini 2018. The Drobo's thunderbolt (TB) 2 cable was connected to the mini TB3 port using an adapter. Within minutes, both volumes would eject. The Drobo Dashboard could not find the Drobo even when I could see the volume on my monitor (before it would spontaneously eject for no apparent reason).
This was completely unexpected since the Drobo was working perfectly just minutes before on my 2013 27” iMac with High Sierra (and had been since 2013). After several failed attempts to fix the problem, I contacted Drobo support for help with what was then ‘obviously’ a software compatibility issue with Mojave (a conclusion drawn in part from the internet). Drobo support was NOT HELPFUL. They wouldn’t talk with me until after I signed up for ‘Drobo-Care.'
It seemed time to ditch the Drobo in favor of OWC’s Thunderbay system. I decided to speak with tech support before sales in order to understand the options before purchasing something.
Joe was very HELPFUL! He made clear that the problem was an Apple design flaw — the Thunderbolt 3 ports were too close to the WiFi antenna and the RF signal caused communication instability, leading to ejection. My only option was to move the point of connection of the Drobo's TB 2 cable to the mini.
After moving the TB2 connection to the TB3 port farthest away from the power input (and location of the wifi antenna) the Drobo mounted and I now have access to all of my photos (~ 6 TB). An important lesson learned after falling into the rabbit hole described above is that it was false economy on my part to rely on a single system for my photo storage and backups (Time Machine only).
A summary of your current recommendations for the configuration of the Thunderbay 4 system would be appreciated for the enthusiast, like me, with a lot of memories and a few prized photos. This assumes you may now have some comments in addition to what you have already posted on your MPG blog.
MPG: Kudos to OWC tech support (USA based) for taking the call and solving the issue for a competing product! I have recommended the OWC Thunderbay 4 as the best product of its kind* out there for some years now—I have five of them plus the OWC Thunderbay 6.
I have not seen this issue perhaps because I disable WiFi on my 2018 Mac mini, gigabit ethernet being a far superior solution. But it looks like my solution might be a better one than as noted above (plugging into a different port), since presumably with WiFi off, there is no RF interference. Plug a Cat 5 or Cat 6 ethernet cable into your WiFi router or a gigabit ethernet switch and enjoy the reliable and faster speed.
The design of the 2018 Mac mini is apparently flawed. I see it as another form-before-function design error (why does it have to be quit that small and tight?!). I am unhapy that as a buyer that I’m stuck with a Lemon. But at least for me, disabling WiFi and using gigabit ethernet is just fine as I currently use it. If it were moved where it is not near ethernet, then it becomes a problem.
* A product is the combination of hardware, software and support—OWC’s support is always free of charge.
Brian M writes:
I can’t thank you enough for posting this. I have been having issues with my 2018 Mac mini with GTechnology G-Drive Mobile Pro SSDs disconnecting constantly!
I contacted GTechnology support, and zero troubleshooting, just an email back saying, “we need to do a Return Merchandise for a defective drive”.
After reading this article, I bought a new Switch and hardwired the Mac Mini - viola no more random disconnects! I have to admit though, I’m rather, actually VERY disappointed in Apple for not catching such a huge issue in QA testing prior to release of the hardware.
MPG: it is indeed *amazing* that Apple apparently does NOT test a fully loaded Thunderbolt 3 bus (6 external devices) with every new machine for weeks at a time. Amazing for reasons of poor product testing, but also because getting a Thunderbolt 3 device certified is a demanding process for companies selling them.