macOS 11.2.2 Protects MacBook Pro and MacBook Air from Non-Compliant USB-C Hubs and Docs

Originally published at: macOS 11.2.2 Protects MacBook Pro and MacBook Air from Non-Compliant USB-C Hubs and Docs - TidBITS

Some third-party, non-compliant, powered USB-C hubs and docks are bricking recent MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models. Apple has updated Big Sur to prevent the problem; the question is if Macs running Catalina or Mojave might still be at risk.

Does Apple consider PD passthrough “powered” here? I’ll assume so.

I have one such device I use with my 2020 MBP. It’s been fine since I got this MBP back in May so I’ll continue to use it without worrying. As usual, I’ll give it a few days before I dare install this update.

These macOS updates are very large and they have started coming in at an alarming rate. I’m not at all ready to consider “normal” that I should install several GB size updates that require reboots (and seem to take forever) on an almost weekly schedule. Just yesterday Howard Oakley put it this way:

Quite why Apple is wasting so much bandwidth and the time of so many millions of Mac users to do the square root of diddly-squat, I have absolutely no idea. Maybe they need to get out more often?

Indeed. We probably all should.

I bought my M1 MacBook Air on launch day. (Apple Princes street was still open, but not for long!) Wonderful computer. Love it to bits! Such a step up from my 2013 MacBook Pro. Best Mac I’ve ever owned. But yes the M1 Air could use a few more ports.

So I’ve been considering a dock for a while. The first one I tried was the Brydge Stone Pro thunderbolt dock. Let’s just say it was a bad experience, though not as bad as toasting my Mac!

Here’s my Amazon review, written when I returned it.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/review/B08DH65MDS/R1CFPBTX673HDZ?ref=pf_ov_at_pdctrvw_srp

Since then, I’ve just been procrastinating. The USB C hubs all look so cheap and dodgy to me. So I’ve never actually pulled the trigger on one. Probably a good thing! I’d hate to kill my Mac.

Oddly enough, I’m in the habit of charging my Air with a weak 12 watt iPad charger as I already had it installed by my bed. It takes a few hours to charge the Mac but I’m fine with that overnight. It’s about the same length of time my iPhone 12 Max takes to charge by Qi. I wonder if 12 watt / 5 volt USB chargers are safer to use with Power Delivery USB C hubs than even Apple’s bundled 30 watt charger? Do they even work? I don’t need to charge the Mac in a hurry, I really just want to stop it from fighting me when I close the screen! (Even Amphetamine has trouble in keeping Macs running in clamshell when on battery.) I’m just hooking it up to my 4K Dell P2415Q display, which has no USB C. (Or adequate 60hz over HDMi for that matter! So I have to run it via DisplayPort, which takes a USB C port by itself.)

So here’s my parting questions:

Has anyone had experience with Anker’s USB C hub with power delivery and a Mac? Especially M1?

Any other recommendations for someone looking for USB A ports and ideally DisplayPort output? Ethernet and audio out are also nice to have but quite optional.

Anyone tried using old school 5 volt / 12 watt chargers with PD USB C hubs?

I suspect this is related to the Thunderbolt component of the USB-c system and perhaps the higher power requirements of Thunderbolt. I have been using a powered (pass through) Satechi USB-c hub for several years with a Retina Macbook. That computer has a basic USB-c port without Thunderbolt.
The only issue that I have experienced is a need to do an SMC reset from time to time but this occurs with other docks (eg Apple HMDI) as well as the Satechi dock.
The irony is that Thunderbolt USB-c docks are much more expensive than older USB or Thunderbolt docks and now it looks like some cannot be used with Macs.

This is the Wirecutter #1 pick for a USB-C dock. Unfortunately, it comes with HDMI instead of DP as you (and I) prefer, but that is just one cable. This dock is $21 so an extra $10 for a DP-HDMI cable shouldn’t break the bank.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B084ZDPNTT

Thanks Simon. The Vava 7-in-1 you linked is £29 = $40 over here. So a little less of an impulse buy:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B084ZDPNTT

Also, I believe all these low end hubs are limited to 4K @ 30 Hz on HDMI, which is no good to me at all. Surely that remains the case with an HDMI > DP adapter.

I’ve been looking at these and weighing the permutations of disadvantages for quite some time!

DId anyone ever fry an M1 with a Thunderbolt hub? My bad experience with Brydge put me off trying more of them, but that was just the big dumb noisy power supply. Which, apart from all that, did actually work just fine with my M1 Air.

I applied the update to my 2019 MBP16 though I don’t use hubs/docks with it. Oddly the update was also offered for my iMac Pro. I installed it - the install seemed very slow with multiple pauses and reboots. Both systems fine after the update.

David

I recently got me two 1=>3 OWC TB4 hubs, one for each laptop. Nr1 laptop is an ageing 2016 Touch Bar MBP15". Nr2 is a brand spanking new M1 MBP13". Nr1 has three Large HDD’s for off-cloud backups, Nr2 will become my new workhorse with a 5*2K LG 34" Thunderbolt monitor.

These OWC TB4 hubs come with 110W power bricks(*) for powering whatever is connected to them, mainly laptops. I had of course a slight scare off this news, but I figured that OWC is a reputable company, known for quality gear and my M1 MBP hadn’t blown up yet. So I have updated both laptops and am using them on the hubs again. Actually, you can’t not charge the connected laptop as the power brick is needed to power the hub itself and so the laptop is powered too.

I’m curious about what we may learn later on about this issue. I’d like to know more background than is available right now.

Side note: I wondered about the slowness of the update. The download was slow on my school’s very fast network, but that could be congestion on Apple’s side. The installation was equally slow on both my laptops. I had expected the M1 to be faster, but it wasn’t.

(*) The power brick was initially a much lower capacity, but OWC upped it to 110W due to customer feedback. I made sure I got the latest 110W version.

USB-C docks can do 4K 60Hz but that takes so much bandwidth you aren’t left with much for USB or Ethernet. This is the best discussion I have found on why 4K 60Hz is unusual and links to some docks that do work.

https://www.bigmessowires.com/2019/05/19/explaining-4k-60hz-video-through-usb-c-hub/

What I am finding is there is little to no information about driving a 2560 x 1440 WQHD screen at 60Hz. That is the resolution of the old Thunderbolt display and at 27" is a reasonable resolution at 1x. Sometimes this resolution is called “2K”, sometimes 1440p but it is very rarely mentioned in specs on USB-C hubs.

i don’t have any peripherals, third-party or not, connected to a 2019 macbook pro 16in. it’s been “installing” osx16.2.2 now for over two hours, fans running full tilt, the status bar crawler stuck at about 80%.

so impressed!

fortunately, this machine isn’t personal property and corporate i/t didn’t block this particular update, so … of course, it’s going to be a trick to get any work done with it.

even better: the update failed and dropped the machine into recovery mode. best is this is a managed machine …

Nice link. My take from the article is USB C is not really up to handling high speed USB and high res video output (even just a single monitor) on the same wire, certainly not with my 2014 era Dell display. Throw the worries about power delivery into the mix and I’m being put off a USB C hub entirely!

I really want solid USB 3 performance as that’s how I attach my Drobo 5D to the Mac as well. (It was being a real nightmare with Big Sur on M1 or Intel, and indeed on Thunderbolt 2 or USB. Drobo’s new beta drivers fixed that.)

Thunderbolt hubs / docks are pricey everywhere, and even more so over here. My first experience with one was… middling. My only reason to return it was the horrible noise coming out of the power brick. Hopefully other Thunderbolt docks are better behaved when tasked with a lightweight little M1 Air like mine! I did like the idea of using my Air’s bundled 30 watt power supply, which I know is silent, as a Power Delivery source for a USB C hub. Thunderbolt hubs all need their own beefy power supplies. Which, yes, can be noisy as I discovered.

Given how much the OWC and Caldigit Thunderbolt docks cost over here, I’m tempted to try this Elgato Thunderbolt dock first:

As it’s sold by Amazon themselves, I should be able to easily return it if disappoints like the Brydge did.

So many swings and roundabouts!

USB-C docks IMHO are clearly inferior if you’re interested in bandwidth. If you have a large screen you want to drive at high refresh or you have lots of storage attached (you later mentioned a Drobo), you almost certainly want TB and not USB-C for your dock. That goes well of topic here, but there are several other threads about good TB docks.

This updated version claims 60Hz

https://www.amazon.com/VAVA-Adapter-Delivery-Headphone-MacBook-dp-B08RZ3XG52/dp/B08RZ3XG52/

I was offered a 30% discount coupon which takes it down to <$30 in MA.

f

My take from the article is USB C is not really up to handling high speed USB and high res video output (even just a single monitor) on the same wire, certainly not with my 2014 era Dell display. Throw the worries about power delivery into the mix and I’m being put off a USB C hub entirely!

My USB-C ports on the M1 Mac have topped out at about 900 MB/s (file copy) with a USB 3.1 or 3.2 2x2x SSD. I have a VAVA 8-1 hub with PD that easily handles a 2K monitor via HDMI, ethernet, and two external SSD drives. For sure it’s much slower than a Thunderbolt dock having to push the other ports with far less bandwidth but it’s certainly performing to expectations.

the update failed and dropped the machine into recovery mode. best is this is a managed machine …

That happened on my M1 Mac too. Thankfully a full install from recover mode fixed it without having to erase the drive. The install was really long and involved several restarts. The odd thing is that the 11.2.2 installer was 10GB for me and I got the impression the computer performed a firmware update.

What I am finding is there is little to no information about driving a 2560 x 1440 WQHD screen at 60Hz.

I have a 8-in-1 VAVA USB-C dock and it drives 2560 x 1440 WQHD screen at 60Hz on my 27" HP monitor with no issue, while supporting ethernet and an SSD drive that maxes out at about 150 GB/s with all that attached (the SSD geta 900 MB/s when directly attached to my M1).

Here are the bandwidth requirements for HMDI. At max the monitor appears to suck up about 80% of the USB-C 10Gbps bandwidth, which explains the SSD drive speed being capped. I find it acceptable for a portable USB-C dock but it’s certainly better to have 4-ports instead of two.

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Indeed. I did search TidBits for Thunderbolt docks recommendations but couldn’t find anything in the last year or two. Resigning myself to another Thunderbolt experiment, I just ordered one of these widely praised and pricey CalDigit TS3+ Thunderbolt Docks.

Price: £229.95 so a wee bit more than Fearghas’s tip! But hopefully this one’s what I really need, given my 4K Dell (which is capped at 30 Hz on HDMI, it’s the original version of the P2415Q) and Drobo 5D. I used to run the Drobo via Thunderbolt 2 to my 2013 Mac, a costly option now with Apple’s one and only Thunderbolt 3 to 2 adapter. Fortunately the Drobo also has a USB 3 port which works just as well.

Let’s see how this goes.

I just ordered one of these widely praised and pricey [CalDigit TS3+ Thunderbolt Docks].

It worked fine after a long series of updates for my 2020 Mac but the monitor would sometime not be recognized. Then after my switch to a M1 Mac the monitor had the same problem over display port. The CalDigit is ok but with TB3 and mostly USB 3.0 ports is a bit dated now. The OWC TB4 dock is more ideal but they botched it with a froward side USB 2.0 port that is useless for those of use who are forward thinking.

This one? It’s unavailable right now, apparently.

Perhaps it’s the next one I’ll try, if the CalDigit annoys me like it annoyed you! I should know quite soon: it’s supposed to arrive today.