USB-C hubs and my slack descent into madness

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USB-C hubs and my slack descent into madness
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2021-04-25
2021-04-26
electronics, hardware

Precise to initiate this off on a fun uncover: this article is now now not a evaluation. This truth will became clear in a while, nonetheless I figured it’s price highlighting that valid in case any individual finds this article by strategy of their search engine of least distrust.

I no doubt have a ramification of laptops lacking loads of accent ports. In actuality, I’m writing this on an Apple MacBook Genuine, and all I obtained used to be four lousy USB-C ports. If I must join beautiful powerful anything else, I need some kind of adapter or some kind of hub. USB-C hubs are a colossal opinion: now now not handiest stop they assuredly provide a vitality provide pass-thru, nonetheless in addition they permit you to meander in some USB gadgets, an ethernet cable, and even maybe a video show. Some even have cherish stuff love an SD card reader or a secondary audio output! And all of that over a single USB-C connection, which makes all the pieces wise elated whilst you assuredly lift your notebook computer around your home, nonetheless you in truth have a desk with fixed gadgets space Up.

Sadly, since 2018, I’ve labored thru three USB-C hubs, they assuredly’re all kinda awful. To vent my frustration, I must share rather1 rant with y’all! So let’s initiate.

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Satechi Multiport Adapter V2

So, the first hub in my possession used to be a “Satechi” branded one. I purchased two of them; one for my desk and one for my cable pouch for cell utilize. Mid 2018, I paid around 90 euros each and each on Amazon. Now now not specifically low-price, nonetheless Satechi is a trace that used to be and nonetheless is offered on the official Apple.com accent store. Interestingly, Apple nonetheless sells one Satechi USB-C hub, nonetheless handiest one mannequin without Ethernet. You’ll learn in a chunk why I gain that considerable. But anyway, completely, if I take one thing that expensive from a trace even offered by Apple, I’ll catch one thing valid?

Here’s a photograph.

Photo of all sides of the Satechi hub from the outside.
[full resolution]

It labored colossal for roughly a twelve months or so. Ultimately, I experienced frequent HDMI slice back-outs, the Ethernet connection used to be unreliable, and indirectly, both hubs valid… died. The Ethernet elements were specifically demanding since the hub assuredly decided to downgrade its Gigabit connection to 100baseTX. I didn’t compare that too powerful while having a look, nonetheless backups to my NAS, in-home streaming of video games, … those applications no doubt suffered. It didn’t even expose you that, even if I compelled it to 1000baseT in the macOS community preferences, it handiest ever negotiated 100baseTX. I was in a neighborhood to note that by strategy of my switches’ LEDs and its support an eye fixed on panel, nonetheless there used to be no indication to the operating system.

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I examined the identical hub on my House windows desktop machine, and it assuredly had the identical elements there, so I figured it doubtlessly used to be valid a hardware project. One in all those hubs landed in a rubbish can in some hotel in some tremendous metropolis in the united states, and the diversified one ended Up in a drawer.

For causes that will became a chunk clearer in a while, I… I destructively took it apart. Here’s the PCB.

Photo the Satechi PCB from both sides.
[full resolution]

To the system, the USB hub in it acknowledged as dealer 0x2109 (VIA Labs, Inc.), product 0x0817, which is the USB 3.0 hub ragged for the three USB ports and the Ethernet interface. There’s also a 2nd USB hub, nonetheless handiest a 2.0 one, identical dealer, nonetheless 0x2817 as the product ID. That slower hub used to be ragged for the SD and microSD card reader.

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The Ethernet portion is attention-grabbing. Its dealer ID is 0x0bda (Realtek Semiconductor Corp.), and the product ID 0x8153. Ah, so it’s a Realtek RTL8153! I repeatedly chanced on Intel NICs to be plan extra official and valid, nonetheless ok, that’s a pretty smartly-liked chip.

Essential ingredients on the board:

  • Genesys Logic GL3224 – a card reader chip, doing the SD and microSD make stronger.
  • Heling MT24-S1T1 – an “RJ45 transformer” it sounds as if, converting the inner good judgment ranges to one thing in line with the Ethernet specs.
  • Parade PS176HDM – a DisplayPort to HDMI converter, ragged to convert the DisplayPort indicators to HDMI2.
  • Realtek RTL8153B – we already knew that one.
  • Realtek RTS5411 – a “USB 3.0 HUB Controller”, looks love right here is attached to the SD cards, so that’s doubtlessly the chip identifying as a By strategy of Labs VL820 right here?! I’m a little bit perplexed because there might be now not any VL820 on the board. I don’t see this Realtek controller showing Up anywhere in the operating system.
  • VIA Labs VL102-Q4 – a USB-C DisplayPort alt-mode controller (ragged to catch video indicators out of the USB-C port).
  • VIA Labs VL817-Q7 – a 4-port USB 3.0 hub. Is wise; three ports are exposed, one is ragged for the Ethernet port.
  • A pair of Boyamicro flash chips.

Attention-grabbing part different. Even extra attention-grabbing, even if: the MAC handle! It’s 48: 65:ee:1a:1b: 60, and whilst you throw that into an OUI lookup database, you’ll catch… Gopod Community Shrimp. Wait what? That’s neither Satechi nor Realtek! So I threw that name into Google. Essentially based on their online internet page, Gopod is a company

Specializing in ODM/OEM personalized-made cell & tablets accessories

… oh. If we watch around, it’s easy to compare that the Satechi hub is valid a rebranded model of a product nonetheless readily accessible on their online internet page. That’s no doubt no doubt disappointing, to be suited. Browsing on Aliexpress, I chanced on various USB-C hubs with the identical case, identical specs, and doubtlessly the identical ingredients… for 10 euros a share. Paying 90 euros valid because some company printed their logo on it feels… atrocious. Ah, no topic.

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As I acknowledged, both of those hubs died, so I had to seize new ones. This time, I went for the…

ICY BOX USB-C Dock

“Chilly Box” is a trace of the German RaidSonic Know-how GmbH, and I figured purchasing for one thing offered from a German company is on the least a value that I might well perhaps perhaps catch some worthwhile make stronger if one thing goes atrocious. So, in early 2020, I purchased two of those hubs for 70 euros each and each on Amazon.

Photos!

Photo of all sides of the Icy Box hub from the outside.
[full resolution]

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It’s very comparable to the first one, nonetheless this time with a headphone jack and an additional VGA port, I wager whilst you have got to meander in an dilapidated beamer or one thing? The headphone jack is just not any doubt a headset jack, at the side of a line-in – I handiest chanced on that having a search for the datasheets of its ingredients, even if.

Sadly… it did now now not work too properly. I indicate, the video show output and the vitality pass-thru labored gorgeous the total time. On the different hand, the Ethernet port led to some elements. Occasionally, the port degraded to 100baseTX and simply refused to total Gigabit ethernet in any admire, without a indication. Oh no, I’ve heard that earlier than… Having a have a look on the Ethernet USB interface, this one acknowledged with dealer ID 0x0bda (Realtek Semiconductor Corp.) and product ID 0x8153… yikes, one more Realtek RTL8153, with precisely the identical project as my Satechi hubs… this isn’t colossal.

This time, I made a decision to contact the make stronger. I even obtained a immediate response from a RaidSonic staff member with the initials AS. Sadly, that’s the total obvious issues I no doubt must state. In my preliminary label, I explained in powerful detail that the hub claims it’s operating Gigabit while the switch and the explicit connection flee disagree. I’ve also mentioned that I’ve changed the Ethernet cable, tried diversified switch ports, examined the hub on one more machine with House windows where the sphere assuredly reproduced, … and the first response I obtained used to be asking me to interchange my cables, strive a diversified switch port, and to reboot my notebook computer! Oh properly, I spoke back that I already did that. Sadly, the dialog didn’t no doubt give a enhance to in a while. The make stronger staff seemed to valid brute-power the total macOS hardware troubleshooting guides (at the side of “reset your SMC”), fully ignoring the truth that the project reproduces on a pair of machines…

They eventually stopped responding, and I executed pinging them because … the hub wasn’t expensive ample to utilize beyond regular time on that. Since I had two of them, I might well perhaps perhaps valid switch out the hub, as the diversified one beautiful powerful repeatedly labored after it had a pair of days of downtime (hey, without resetting my SMC or resetting all my community preferences).

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Supreme week, that little hub might well perhaps have attempted to abolish my MacBook and burn down my home. I’m now now not even joking! While I was dwell-streaming and chatting to just a few guests, my MacBook valid took down all its USB ports and displayed the “because a USB application used to be drawing too powerful vitality, USB gadgets have been disabled” message. I had nothing else plugged in on the 2nd, so… it used to be clear what’s causing it. I re-plugged the hub, rebooted my macOS, unplugged the gadgets attached to the hub, … nothing labored. Finally, I made a decision to switch out the hub with the 2nd one, and on touching it, I nearly burned my hand. At that level, doubtlessly 10mins after turning it off, it used to be nonetheless finding out 75 degrees on the outside. So as that’s fun. Clearly, one thing broke.

In an offended twist, I threw the hub into the bin and acquired a brand new one (extra about that later). Luckily, I nonetheless had a 2nd one to temporarily utilize, that methodology… right here are some PCB photographs!

Photo the Icy Box PCB from both sides.
[full resolution]

Let’s catch a have a examine what’s on the board!

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  • C S FS240800005 1944J – I couldn’t no doubt gain anything else on that chip, nonetheless given its placement and connection, that’s the RJ45 transformer.
  • FE1.1S – a USB 2.0 hub controller, looks exclusively for the audio application.
  • Genesys Logic GL3224 – identical card reader chip as viewed in the Satechi.
  • ITE Tech IT6564FN – that’s a DisplayPort to HDMI and VGA converter.
  • Realtek RTL8153 – yeahhh, I knew.
  • Solid Enlighten Map SSS1629A5 – the audio controller.
  • VIA Labs VL102-Q4 – ah yeah, that’s also in the Satechi – it’s the USB DisplayPort alt mode controller.
  • VIA Labs VL817-Q7 – we’ve also viewed that one earlier than. It’s the identical USB 3.0 hub.
  • A pair of Boyamicro flash chips.

So… other than for the few aspects wanted for the hardware variations (the further VGA port and the headset jack), it’s… roughly the identical board. In actuality, even supposing the board layout is diversified, the connections are now now not no doubt. Almost looks love it’s in accordance with the identical reference make.

You realize what’s coming subsequent… the MAC handle. This time, it’s 34: 29:8f:7c:ec: 00, and whilst you throw that into an OUI database, you catch… Dongguan Kingtron Electronics Tech Co., Ltd. That’s… that’s now now not Chilly Box or RaidSonic, is it?

K, let’s google that one all over again, and superb ample, in line with their online internet page, they are one more company building all kinds of rebrand’in a neighborhood computer accessories… urgh. Browsing their online internet page a chunk, I chanced on this hub, which has the identical ports, and just a few diversified hubs love this one with a identical case to the Chilly Box one. Browsing the product name printed on the PCB returned no results, so it’s that you just will most definitely be in a neighborhood to take into consideration that RaidSonic personalized the hub a chunk (“catch this product and put it in this diversified case you have already got”), nonetheless that’s … nonetheless kinda crap?

As soon as more, I chanced on a pair of identical-having a look products on Aliexpress for 10 to 15 euros. I seem to be paying loads of cash for products that I might well perhaps perhaps take for low-price on random internet sites is starting Up to piss me off a chunk at this level. I don’t no doubt care about paying too powerful – I’d be perfectly gorgeous with that if the product did its job. Sadly, it doesn’t stop that.

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Also, failing in a mode that causing some inner short circuit and overheating to just a few extent where it might maybe well perhaps don’t have any doubt began a fireplace is kinda uncool. But maybe that’s valid me.

Small excursion: The project with Realtek RTL8153

I’ve now had two forms of hubs from (maybe) diversified manufactures and diversified corporations selling the stuff. Both had the identical networking chip, and unfortunately, the identical field.

As it seems to be, I’m now now not the handiest one with such elements. Even attend in 2019, folks have complained about problems with RTL8153s on macOS randomly disappearing, shedding 50% of all visitors, shedding down to 100mbit. Browsing the apple discussion forums for that chip yields various folks having elements, from as early as 2017 to valid a pair of days ago. There is even a realtek-rtl-8153-driver-osx-info.md on GitHub Gist which contains some debugging info and, on the time of writing this, 60 feedback from folks having all kinds of abnormal elements.

Occasionally, these problems slide away by installing Realtek’s maintain drivers. On the different hand, having a have a examine Realtek’s official driver catch set of dwelling, macOS customers will compare that there no doubt are no drivers for macOS 11, aka Mountainous Sur. Now, macOS 11 changed a pair of issues around how Kernel Extensions work and the plan they must be signed, and it’s easy responsible Apple for that. On the different hand, whilst you is seemingly to be – in line with Wikipedia – a two-billion-dollar company love Realtek, then I inquire of of you to catch your shit together. There are precisely zero excuses for Realtek to now now not have a driver release ready nearly a twelve months after Mountainous Sur has been launched. Zero.

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Now, I don’t know precisely what’s going on there. It is that you just will most definitely be in a neighborhood to take into consideration that by hook or by crook macOS’ constructed-in driver is surroundings a flag that the RTL8153 no doubt doesn’t love after which semi-completely downgrades to 100mbit unless it’s been out of vitality for a while. It’s that you just will most definitely be in a neighborhood to take into consideration that the driver isn’t even responsible, and it’s valid a hardware project. You’ll be in a neighborhood to set Up the 10.15 macOS drivers on Mountainous Sur whilst you disable kext signing (which you have got to total by disabling the Map Integrity Security, so you should always entirely now now not stop that), nonetheless even that didn’t at the moment fix my project. I was handiest attempting out in a lab atmosphere and didn’t have a “new” hub to take a look at. Who is conscious of what’s no doubt going on.

Finally, I haven’t got to care. In case you market your application with “meander-and-play make stronger for macOS 11 and below”, then … it might maybe well perhaps well work. I suspect, nonetheless, these elements might well perhaps be why Apple is just not any longer selling any ethernet dongles besides their very maintain on Apple.com – nonetheless clearly, we’ll by no methodology know what Apple does.

As a result of 1 in all my Chilly Box hubs failed spectacularly and my 2nd one wasn’t suited anymore ensuing from that, I had to seize a brand new hub. This time, I went with…

Anker PowerExpand 8-in-1

I handiest bought one this time… that you just can state that I’ve been… burned earlier than. Hahaha. Oh god. This one has been comparatively low-price at 55 euros on Amazon. It also handiest has two USB ports, nonetheless to assemble Up for it, there are two HDMI ports. Given I no doubt have a pair of video show on my desk, that’s valid about finest. I’ve handiest had valid experiences with Anker’s vitality banks, so that felt love a valid seize total.

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Listed below are some photographs!

Photo of all sides of the Anker hub from the outside.
[full resolution]

And right here, this post ends. All the pieces is pleasant. There is nothing to bitch about this hub. I’m elated!

Yeah, ok, I do know that no one believed that.

The first time plugging all the pieces in, the hub labored gorgeous. The monitors were working, the Ethernet port managed to send 988mbit, and the SD card reader labored valid gorgeous. Sadly, having a have a look on the hardware info, … it’s one more Realtek RTL8153 … and having a have a look on the MAC handle, one thing deep in my head popped very audibly and pushed me into writing this post. Sadly, I made a decision now now not to catch this one apart, as I wanted to send it attend to Amazon, and I knew that there might be now not any technique to catch it apart without negative the case. So no PCB photographs and no section list this time, I’m unnerved.

Who am I kidding. Let’s throw all reasonability out the window and ruin one extra application For Science(tm). Here is the PCB.

Photo the Anker PCB from both sides.
[full resolution]

Disassembling this one no doubt severely greatly surprised me a chunk. At the starting Up, I managed to catch it out of the case without lowering the cable. Even the case is nonetheless alive, even if it’s a chunk scratched Up and a little bit deformed, so no plan for me to advance attend this. But most apparently, the case is fabricated from plastic, nonetheless your total PCB assembly is encased in a steel case. I didn’t catch a valid photograph of it, nonetheless you will most definitely be in a neighborhood to see what I’m talking about in the glamor-shot affiliation I posted for social media. The case used to be connected to many of the simpler ICs by strategy of those blue heatsink pad glue sponge thingies. Also, the solder conceal is green, which is amazing 3.

We already know that there’s an RTL8153 on the board, nonetheless let’s watch on the diversified ingredients. It’s price noting that all the pieces used to be wise arduous to read. It nearly felt love they’d a lousy strive at lasering off the labels (they every so often stop that for amusing causes), nonetheless it completely’s doubtlessly valid led to by the heatsink pads. Here’s what’s on the board:

  • AppS G2401CG – while I couldn’t no doubt gain the “AppS” company, that chip is one more RJ45 transformer.
  • Genesys Logic GL3224 – the cardboard reader chip we’ve viewed twice already.
  • Realtek RTL8153 – oh properly.
  • Southchip SC8903QDHR – a buck converter, nonetheless with four MOSFETs embedded to enforce some overall vitality administration.
  • Synaptics VMM5200 – the DisplayPort to twin-HDMI converter. In fact, a valid one, because it supports 4K 60fps on both channels, now now not valid on one. Also, fun truth: “firmware upgradeable over I2C”.
  • VIA Labs VL103-Q4 – we’ve viewed the VL102-Q4 in the diversified hubs, and the VL103 is also a USB alt-mode controller.
  • VIA Labs VL817-Q7 – our pale friend, the USB 3 hub.
  • A pair of flash chips from Fudan Micro, Macronix, and Puya.

This one is attention-grabbing. We’ll have the capacity to see a pair of our pale guests, nonetheless also a pair of most modern ingredients. Though I haven’t got any opinion if/how vitality administration is just not any doubt implemented, the buck converter is attention-grabbing. Also, the Synaptics video interface seems to be to be reasonably properly picked right here and delivers ample performance. The case make is uncommon; I don’t know the plan high-quality their thermal administration is that if they enclose the steel physique in plastic, nonetheless hey.

You kinda already know what occurs if I verify the MAC handle. This time, it’s a0:ce:c8:e4:4d:d4, which resolves to Ce Link Shrimp. On their online internet page, they name themselves the “leading producer with tough R&D crew” they assuredly sell, properly, rebrand’in a neighborhood computer accessories. Now now not handiest USB-C hubs, even if, nonetheless also a total bunch vitality banks that watch suspiciously love Anker’s total product lineup4. I might well perhaps perhaps now now not gain the explicit mannequin on CE-Link’s online internet page, nonetheless it completely seems to be love the Anker hub is the handle-baby of this and this hub. And all over all over again, you will detect practically identical products on Aliexpress for no doubt low-price.

Ugh.

Conclusion

At this level, I don’t no doubt know what to state. It honestly feels love no topic what you’re taking, you catch roughly the identical hardware, and you’re in all chance getting a carefully overpriced product valid because some company printed their logo on it.

Outsourcing your manufacturing to China and even outsourcing/shifting your R&D to local folks with a total bunch expertise in section sourcing and manufacturing is one ingredient. There are loads of colossal arguments for it, and I’m on the total supportive of that. On the different hand, I’m in a position to’t serve nonetheless feel rather bit cheated by corporations valid purchasing for off-the-shelf products, a little bit modifying the case layout, after which quadruple the value because it’s “from a respected company”.

I’m a little bit eager with the truth that just some of the products utilize electrolytic capacitors. These hubs catch beautiful warm, even whilst you’re now now not routing your notebook computer’s vitality thru the hub, and electrolytic capacitors don’t love warm environments, and that’ll greatly shorten their life. On the different hand, that’s doubtlessly negligible, since a total bunch resistors are also designed valid barely around their load rankings, the total chips flee amazingly sizzling, … it valid feels love one more product household supposed to be ragged barely one twelve months unless it dies, valid to cease Up in the landfill.

The truth that most USB-C hubs are inclined to utilize the identical RTL8153 networking stack will most definitely be very demanding, specifically since right here is famous to ruin on macOS, and it looks love Realtek valid doesn’t care. That’s now now not no doubt colossal whilst you’re promoting your hub basically to MacBook house owners. And the truth that most of those quirks (specifically the tranquil community downgrade) are issues that most folk received’t even compare, those corporations seem to be getting away with it valid gorgeous – it’s now now not love one demanding blog post and a pair of nerds complaining on-line is going to change anything else.

In my thought, I’ve now purchased the Elgato Thunderbolt 3 Genuine hub, a now now not-cell Thunderbolt hub. The generous info is that it’s an staunch Thunderbolt application; it comes with its maintain stout vitality provide that might well perhaps even fee my vitality-hungry notebook computer, the NIC in it seems to be to be an Intel NIC, they assuredly on the least afflicted to catch their very maintain MAC OUI. I’ve viewed a pair of those desktop Thunderbolt hubs on the OEMs internet sites, so I wouldn’t be severely greatly surprised if the Elgato hub will most definitely be valid one more off-the-shelf product, nonetheless on the least they cared ample to assemble it less evident. In addition they provide a “mini” hub, which will most definitely be moral for traveling – nonetheless at around 100 euros, I valid don’t feel love purchasing for (and destroying while opening) one more share of hardware5. So I’ll doubtlessly valid support the utilize of the Anker hub unless it dies.

In case you is seemingly to be in the marketplace for a brand new USB-C hub, then… properly, I’m sorry. I’m in a position to’t expose you what to seize. It’s doubtlessly now now not the worst opinion valid to seize a pair of low-price hubs on eBay and Aliexpress, see which one works the handiest, and support the others around as backups. Likelihood is high you’ll catch the identical hardware as the one in the “expensive” hubs anyway. If you’re taking the “branded” model of those off-the-shelf products, that you just can catch gadgets that have handed extra quality support an eye fixed on measurements. You are going to have a neater time returning them or stepping into contact with the make stronger folks if one thing goes atrocious, nonetheless in my humble notion, it’s arduous to state if that’s price the gigantic markup. I’d also state “steer clear of the RTL8153 in any admire costs”, nonetheless on condition that chip seems to be to be in every single set… valid success with that!

K, I vented ample.

Amendments

  • 2021-04-26: Added a uncover about extra Quality Control and make stronger capabilities for branded white-value products.

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WRITEN BY

Vanic

“Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.”
― Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
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