Category Archives: USB3-SATA-U3

HDDs OMG

Plugable Tech Tips: How to Partition and Format a New Hard Drive (or SSD)

HDDs OMG

As we all progress further into the digital age, our need for additional storage space keeps growing. Digital photos, music, and movies take up large amounts of space, and adding an external hard drive to store additional media or for backup purposes is an ever-popular PC upgrade. While some tout the benefits of cloud-based storage, adding local storage capacity has many benefits including substantially better speeds as well as being vastly more secure. This introductory installment of Plugable Tech Tips will guide you through the necessary steps of setting up your new drive for use.

This guide outlines the process in Windows 8/8.1, though the steps are nearly identical for Windows XP, Vista, and 7. Each step covers a bit of explanation and context. If the “why” aspect of the process is not of interest, look for the bold text in the post which covers just the basic necessary steps.

This article also proceeds with the assumption that you’re using one of our Plugable hard drive docks (good choice!) such as the U3 or the UASP1. However, the instructions are the same if you’re using a non-Plugable dock.

Why do I need to do this? Don’t hard drives already come formatted for me?

Before a new hard drive can be used, it must be initialized, partitioned, and formatted. Pre-assembled external drives and enclosures from Western Digital, Seagate, and others generally come pre-formatted for Windows or Mac. These solutions are not without their drawbacks, however. Aside from often being more expensive than a DIY external drive, the hard drives inside these enclosures are also often accessed in a proprietary way. This means that if the enclosure itself ever fails, the data on the drive inside it may not be accessible without expensive data recovery services.

When you purchase a “bare” (also known as an “OEM”) hard drive, it does not come pre-formatted. The reason for this is that there are various operating systems in use, and they all have their own types of formatting which are often times incompatible with the formatting used in other operating systems.

Are there any precautions to take before proceeding?

Before covering the steps necessary to initialize and format the drive, a brief word of caution. Initializing and formatting a hard drive will erase *all* information on that drive. In the case of a new drive, that’s not a matter for concern – it doesn’t have anything on it to worry about. However, if there are already existing drives in use on the system, it’s absolutely critical to make sure that close attention is paid so that the wrong drive isn’t erased. If you have multiple external hard drives connected, we recommend disconnecting them prior to initializing your new drive, just as a precaution.

Okay, let’s get started!

  1. Insert the hard drive into the USB enclosure. Connect the power cable to your enclosure, and attach the USB cable between your enclosure and your PC. Use the power button or rocker switch to turn on the dock.
  2. Now we’ll want to head to Disk Management. In Windows 8.1, the most straightforward way to get there is to right-click on the “Start” button (aka the Windows logo where the Start button used to be) and select “Disk Management”. (For Windows XP, Vista, and 7, Disk Management can be accessed by right-clicking on “Computer”, selecting “Manage”, then opening Disk Management in the left side of the Computer Management window that opens.)

  3. 1

  4. When you open Disk Management, it should automatically detect a new, non-initialized drive and display a pop-up window asking if you’d like to initialize the drive. Again, please be sure that the drive in question contains no existing data before proceeding!There will be two options for how to initialize the drive, MBR or GPT. MBR is the older legacy method of initializing drives, and is only necessary if the drive will need to be accessed on a Windows XP system (XP is incompatible with GPT). GPT *must* be selected for drives over 2TB in size. If MBR is selected on a drive larger than 2TB, you will only be able to access the first 2TB of the drive, regardless of what the drive’s capacity is. GPT disks should be accessible on Windows systems running Vista and later.

  5. 2_Disk_Init

    (If you’re interested in much, much more information about MBR vs. GPT, Microsoft has a very thorough post here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/windows/hardware/dn640535%28v=vs.85%29.aspx )

  6. Once you’ve made your selection and clicked on “OK” to initialize the drive, it’s time to partition and format. If desired, multiple partitions can be created, but this guide assumes that, like most people, you want the entire drive to be accessed through a single drive letter/partition.Each Disk that Windows recognizes is given a number and has a horizontal bar representing the space of the disk any any partitions that exist. Since we’re working with a drive that contains no data, it should be listed as “Unallocated” space. It’s also a good idea to check that the drive size is what you’d expect it to be. In the following example, we’re working with a 1TB drive, which Windows reports as 931.39 GB.

    3_Unallocated_1

    Right-click the unallocated space, and select “New Simple Volume”.

    4_SimpleVol

    You will be guided through a series of steps. For the vast majority of users, just accepting the defaults and clicking “Next” will be fine. The two items that you may wish to change are the “Assign the following drive letter” if you’d like your drive to have a specific letter assigned, and the “Volume label”, which will be the name you see associated with the drive letter in Windows File Explorer.

    steps

After these few quick steps, you’re all done and your new drive should be ready for use!

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usb3-sata-u3_128

Understanding Large SATA Drive Compatibility

This post is intended to offer detailed technical information for troubleshooting issues affecting new “Advanced Format” 512e SATA disk drives.

Plugable’s full-size 3.5″ hard drive docks, the USB3-SATA-UASP1, and USB3-SATA-U3, both feature support for these new 512e Advanced Format drives. Our Plugable Storage System “PSS” products also support 512e large volumes (as soon as 2.5″ drive capacities increase and these drives become available in smaller sizes than 3.5″).

Currently two firmware “tracks” exist for Plugable’s USB 3.0 SATA docks:

1. 32 bit Windows ONLY firmware version for the USB3-SATA-U3, 12092681f600.
This firmware has a special feature enabling use of more than 2.19 TB of space on “Advanced Format” or 512e drives under 32 bit Windows operating systems. See chart under “evolution” below for maximum capacity supported by your OS version.

2. 32/64bit interoperable firmware versions USB3-SATA-UASP1 130107917d00 and USB3-SATA-U3 13022081f602.
These firmware versions are recommended for most consumers. Anyone using a modern 64 bit OS is should use one of these newer versions. Other, newer, operating systems WILL be able to access the full capacity of larger volumes natively, eliminating the need for any special firmware in the drive dock.

The feature that enables using capacities above 4TB on Windows XP 32 bit requires that drives initialized and formatted using the unit NOT be used with other SATA controllers in desktop PC’s or other drive docking stations, unless those units also have a matching firmware version and support for this feature.

To summarize, for customers needing support for volumes over 2.19TB on Windows XP 32 bit systems, U3 units currently shipping with firmware 12092681f600 are recommended, while customers on all newer OS versions are advised to update to the latest firmware for your model listed below in order to minimize the chance for errors where drives cannot be detected when moved to another dock or SATA controller.

For the USB3-SATA-U3, refer to our USB3-SATA-U3 Firmware Update post if you are interested in resolving compatibility issues specific to the U3 Communicator drive docking station units with serial numbers beginning in 991 or 112 where drives formatted and initialized in other devices are not recognized by the U3.

For the USB3-SATA-UASP1, shipping units should NOT require update. To confirm your unit has the latest firmware and apply the update if needed please refer to the USB3-SATA-UASP1 Sleep and Large Volume Firmware Update post for details on how to resolve issues where the UASP1 may not spin down hard drives during periods of inactivity, or recognize newer Advanced Format drives only under Windows XP 32 bit.

Background

The storage model used by disk makers for the last 10+ years is changing, and this post is an effort to explain how these changes work in detail. In case of issues moving drives between different systems, or when encountering issues using USB attached drives to host enterprise application data, the details here can help understand what factors are at play.

Data is stored fundamentally in bits (bits with a little b). Busses like USB often measure throughput in bits, like USB 2.0′s 480 Megabits per second (480 Mbps) or SATA III’s Gigabits per second (6 Gbp/s). Eight of these individual bits of data make up one of the capital-B “Bytes” that we usually measure data in, be it kilobytes (KB) in a document, MegaBytes (MB) in an MP3, or GigaBytes (GB) of data on a storage volume like a hard drive or SSD. Generally speaking, transfer rates industry-wide are measured in bits so transfer rates appear higher than if they were measured the same way the data is actually stored, in Bytes.

On modern solid state drives and traditional hard or even floppy disks, these bytes are grouped into sectors for actual read/write operations. Over the last decades, almost all storage drives used 512 Bytes per sector to store data since addressing individual bits and Bytes would be impractical.

Having all drives at 512 bytes per sector was nice, as there were few compatibility issues to think about when moving drives between systems or SATA docks, or when cloning them.

Evolution

512 byte sectors present problems with larger capacity drives (3TB+)- to make way for larger drives, sector sizes had to grow. This presents challenges throughout the “software stack” from the SATA hardware controllers and their firmware, their drivers, the operating system, and even to how applications may sometimes assume certain sector sizes or where sectors will start. Resulting issues are numerous and will take time for the industry to fully work out.

Over the past few years, Advanced Format Drives (512e, AF) drives reporting 512 Bytes/”logical” sector while actually using physical sectors of 4096 Bytes/”physical” sector have gained in popularity due to their higher data density potential, and resulting larger capacities. For more on how these drives work and why the industry switched, read this great ZD net post. Soon, we’ll be seeing drives that use 4096B logical and physical sectors.

Drive type Support/functionality
4K native (4K logical sector size) Supported on the following operating systems:

  • Windows 8
  • Windows Server 2012
Advanced Format or 512E (4K physical and 512-byte logical sector size) Supported on the following operating systems:
  • Windows Vista
  • Windows 7
  • Windows Server 2008*
  • Windows Server 2008 R2*
  • Windows Server 2012
  • Windows 8

*Except for Hyper-V. See the “Application support requirements for large-sector drives” section.

Specific requirements are listed in the following section. Run only applications and hardware that support these drives.

512-byte native (512-byte physical and logical sector size) Supported on all platforms.

*from Microsoft support policy for 4K sector hard drives in Windows

As you can see from the table above, determining whether you have a 512n (drive with reported and physical sectors of 512 bytes), 512e (the 512 emulation 4096 “Advanced Format” drives with physical 4096B clusters), or 4Kn (drive with both reported and physical sectors of 4096B) is crucial to determine which Windows operating systems will be able to recognize the drive.

On OS X, large volume support is somewhat better, with effectively no limits on volume size in modern OS X versions:

Maximum number of volumes (all Mac OS X versions)

no limit

Maximum number of files (or files and folders) in a folder (all Mac OS X versions)

up to 2.1 billion (2)

Maximum volume size and file size (Mac OS X v10.0 – 10.1.5)

2 TB (1)

Maximum volume size and file size (Mac OS X v10.2 – 10.2.8)

8 TB (1)

Maximum volume size and file size (Mac OS X v10.3 – 10.3.9)

16 TB (1)

Maximum volume size and file size (Mac OS X v10.4 or later)

close to 8 EB (1,3)

*From Mac OS X: Mac OS Extended format (HFS Plus) volume and file limits

How to check your drive’s sector size

To determine if you have an 512e Advanced Format Drive, open an administrative command prompt and run the following command on the NTFS formatted volume:

fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo [your drive]

[your drive] will be the letter of the disk you’re testing, so c: or d: etc.

The output will look like this, with the bold portion below being the relevant information. Bytes per Sector of 512 and bytes per Physical Sector of 4096 indicate a 512e drive:

C:\Windows\system32>fsutil fsinfo ntfsinfo h:
NTFS Volume Serial Number : 0x8a0c5e820c5e68e9
NTFS Version : 3.1
LFS Version : 1.1
Number Sectors : 0x00000001d1bcafff
Total Clusters : 0x000000003a3795ff
Free Clusters : 0x000000003a3671d7
Total Reserved : 0×0000000000000000
Bytes Per Sector : 512
Bytes Per Physical Sector : 4096

Bytes Per Cluster : 4096
Bytes Per FileRecord Segment : 1024
Clusters Per FileRecord Segment : 0
Mft Valid Data Length : 0×0000000000040000
Mft Start Lcn : 0x00000000000c0000
Mft2 Start Lcn : 0×0000000000000002
Mft Zone Start : 0x00000000000c0000
Mft Zone End : 0x00000000000cc820
Resource Manager Identifier : DB59D441-7AD6-11E2-BEE8-00027232D73D’

If your drive reports:
Bytes Per Sector : 512
Bytes Per Physical Sector : 512

This one of the 512n volumes commonly used over the last decade. Support for these drives is universal.

If your drive reports:
Bytes Per Sector : 512
Bytes Per Physical Sector : 4096

The volume is operating in 512e mode, and should be recognized by most Windows Vista (SP1 and later) systems, as well as by newer Windows 7 and 8 PC’s. Windows 7 and Server 2008 users who do not have Service Pack 1 installed need a system update for 512e compatibility.

Macs should also be able to see the volume with no issue, however do not have native NTFS write capabilities, so they may only be able to read the drive.

If your drive reports:
Bytes Per Sector : 4096
Bytes Per Physical Sector : 4096

A special feature of the U3 firmware v12092681f600 that re-emulates a larger 4096B logical sector to enable Windows XP to address volumes larger than 2TB was used to partition the volume. This is a convenient way to enable access to capacities beyond 2TB on 512e large volumes under Windows XP, by increasing the sector size, we are able to overcome the 2.19TB limitation for NTFS volume sizes that 32 bit systems inherently were limited to.

Other storage controllers (besides the ASMedia controllers and firmwares combination below) will not be able recognize the drive without re-initialization and formatting- which would destroy all the data on the volume. The drive will remain accessible in U3 docks with firmware v12092681f600, or in UASP1 docks with firmware v121026910000. If using the drive with other storage controllers is important, make sure to backup all data before updating the dock firmware to v13022081f602 for the U3, or v130107917d00 for the UASP1.

How to clean and re-initialize a volume

Moving volumes initialized with 4096B sector re-emulation to other SATA controllers (other drive docks or PC SATA connections) may result in drives that are visible in disk manager but with no partitions, and no option to re-format the drive since the “new” (non U3) SATA controller doesn’t support the 4096B sector re-emulation. In this case, wiping the drive is necessary to use it on the new controller.

Customers seeking to use a 512e drive initialized on another storage controller not also offering 4096 sector re-emulation mode (most docks fit this description) will also be affected by this issue. This is because of a work around implemented in the U3′s firmware for Windows XP’s 2tb volume limitation.

Customers with a U3 who are more interested in interoperability than in large volume support on 32 bit Windows XP are invited to contact support@plugable.com for options. In short, applying firmware version 13022081f602, will disable the 4096B sector re-emulation feature of the U3. Cleaning and re-initializing the volume after applying firmware update 13022081f602 will allow the volume to be used interchangeably on the widest variety of platforms possible.

Wiping a misaligned drive’s partition table will allow the volume to be re-initialized as though it were new, and a new partition table may be written when the disk is re-formatted.

Performing the following steps will destroy all data on the disk selected, so these steps must be performed with extreme caution.

To check for all attached volumes, open an administrative command prompt and enter diskpart, then enter the list disk command as shown below, and select the disk of your choice to clean. After selecting whichever disk number you want to wipe, the clean command will destroy the partition table and allow you to re-initialize the volume.

C:\Windows\system32>diskpart

Microsoft DiskPart version 6.2.9200

Copyright (C) 1999-2012 Microsoft Corporation.
On computer: GRANDCENTRAL

DISKPART> list disk

Disk ### Status Size Free Dyn Gpt
——– ————- ——- ——- — —
Disk 0 Online 111 GB 1024 KB
Disk 1 Online 1863 GB 0 B
Disk 2 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 3 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 4 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 5 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 6 Online 1862 GB 0 B
Disk 7 No Media 0 B 0 B
Disk 8 Online 465 GB 0 B

DISKPART> select disk 8

Disk 8 is now the selected disk.

DISKPART> clean

DiskPart succeeded in cleaning the disk.

DISKPART>

From here the disk is blank and can be re-initialized and formatted with whatever partitions are desired. Most consumers will not need to be aware of the other issues that can arise with Advanced Format volumes in enterprise applications.

Partition Alignment

If the performance of your 512e large volume has degraded when being moved from system to system, partition alignment issues may be the cause. Issues with non-bootable cloned volumes may also be due to improperly aligned partitions. Western Digital and Hitachi offer drive alignment utilities for affected operating systems. Seagate drives should not require alignment. Customers with other brands of drives will need to check with the manufacturer of their drive to determine if an alignment tool is available and/or necessary. Partition alignment issues often affect older Windows Vista and Windows XP systems where drives are frequently accessed on other operating systems.

Before initializing a new drive, using a large volume with Windows XP, or especially before cloning an Advanced Format Western Digital drive, please check the chart below to determine if aligning your drive is necessary for maximum performance and compatibility with your software environment.

Using your WD Advanced Format Hard Drive with a Windows Operating System may require you to run the WD Align Windows software utility after you install your operating system or partition and format the drive as a secondary drive. The WD Align software aligns existing partitions on the Advanced Format drive to ensure it provides full performance for certain configurations. (Please see table for configuration details)

Running Hitachi’s “HGST Align” tool may be necessary for Windows XP or Windows Vista users. Windows 7 and Windows 8 users should not need to use this utility.

Windows support in the enterprise

Most end-users won’t need to worry about drive sector sizes, partition alignment, or any of the details above. Due to the specific issues documented by Microsoft with some of their enterprise applications, thorough planning for drive purchasing and migration is crucial in enterprise environments leveraging the following technologies:

*from “Microsoft support policy for 4K sector hard drives in Windows.

For more details on 512e and 4Kn Advanced Format support across Windows versions, application specific issues, other known issues, and unsupported scenarios, read Microsoft support policy for 4K sector hard drives in Windows.

Further details on the evolution from 512n to 512e and 4Kn drives are available in this presentation from IDEMA (International Disk Drive Equipment and Materials Association).

Deeper technical details for driver developers are available in Microsoft’s “Advanced format (4K) disk compatibility update (Windows)” article.

[usb3-sata-uasp1-post][usb3-sata-u3-post]

USB3-SATA-U3 (ASMedia 1051e) Firmware Update

Plugable is pleased to announce that a firmware update for our USB3-SATA-U3 adding the following features is now available:

  1. Improved support for 512e “Advanced Format” drives.
  2. Spin down disks after 10 minutes of inactivity, resume on access.
  3. Spin down disks on system sleep, resume on system wake.

Please Note: Updating from version 12092681f600 to 13022081f602 will cause the unit to not be able to read any hard drive data written to by the old version without reformatting them first!

Any customers who have a USB3-SATA-U3 in roughly March-August 2012 who are NOT using 32 Bit PC and wishing to access volumes above 2.19TB should apply this update. To be clear, this update is recommended for most users with docks beginning with serial numbers 991 101, or 102.

For customers with older docks with serial numbers beginning with an 8 or lower, these docks used a different chip set, and this update is not relevant. Issues with these older docks are more likely due to outdated USB 3.0 host controller drivers. For customers with newer docks beginning with serial numbers 103 or higher, this update should have already been applied and should not be necessary- feel free to use the firmware check utility below to confirm, and proceed with update as needed.

Checking firmware version

All units with serial numbers beginning with 991, 101, or 102 are expected to have firmware version 12092681f600.

A utility to verify firmware version on Windows is available here.

Mac users can open system information (open the Apple Menu, hold the alt/option key, and select system information). From the USB section of System Information, click to highlight the USB3-SATA-U3, and then verify the serial number as shown here:

serial 101

serial991

If your serial number in system profiler begins with 991, 101, or 102, this firmware update is recommended.

After update, docks will report a serial number matching the one shown below, 1051E121005010000:
firmware 121

Updating Firmware

Updating firmware on the USB3-SATA-U3 is only possible on Windows, however nearly any Windows PC with USB will do, as this update can be completed over USB 2.0. Mac users may wish to borrow a friend or neighbor’s Windows PC to complete this update, however for Mac users can also use virtual machine options like Parallels or VirtualBox to complete this update by assigning the USB3-SATA-U3 device to the virtual machine, and using it to complete the update. Mac users who cannot get access to a USB 2.0 capable Windows PC can instead contact support@plugable.com to make other arrangements.

To update your USB3-SATA-U3, first download the firmware update utility here, and follow the steps below.

  1. Double click the“U3_FW_Updater_130220.exe” update utility.
  2. If prompted by User Account Controls, select yes. User Account Control Approval
  3. Check to see that your U3 is listed by the update utility as pictured here, and press start:
    ASMedia FW Update
  4. After upgrading verify that firmware version 13022081f602 is reported by the update utility.

Please Note: Updating from version 12092681f600 to 13022081f602 will cause the unit to not be able to read any hard drive data written to by the old version without reformatting them first!

For deeper technical details, read our post on understanding large SATA volume compatibility.

Please let us know if you have questions or run into issues by posting below, or shoot an email to support@plugable.com.

[usb3-sata-u3-post]

OS X Mid-2012 MacBook USB and Graphics update

Good news Mac owners! Apple has released a graphics and USB focused update just for late model, Mid 2012 MacBook models including “all Mac notebooks released in June 2012.” This update “includes graphics performance and reliability enhancements and improves compatibility with some USB devices.”

As with any OS X update, simply choose updates in the App Store or choose Software Update from the Apple menu. Once all prerequisites are installed (which include 10.8.2), the update will appear.

Details on the update are rather sparse at the moment, however initial findings on the 11 inch Air I use as a primary work laptop are positive. After installing the update, some U3 Communicator HD docks which I had previously identified as defective actually worked consistently and at normal speeds.

I’ve also noticed better reliability on the arrangement of the quad display panel I use with the tiny Air and a set of our DisplayLink-based UGA-165 adapters. Previously I could virtually never reboot and have my display arrangement persist, but now that seems to have been corrected- however this probably has more to do with the unusual number of hubs and devices I go through in day to day equipment testing and the constant swapping of ports that comes with it.

One frustrating issue that persists is when an USB storage volume unexpectedly disconnects, finder will freeze- immediately if you instruct it to eject the improperly disconnected volume. Forcing a reboot corrects the issue, however the system is largely unresponsive until the reboot which of course could result in data loss.

We’d love to hear your input on how this update is affecting your Plugable devices on those shiny new MacBooks!

MacRumors of course has a thread on the topic with very active discussion: http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1486234

The Windows RT and Surface USB Device Compatibility Story

[Updated 11/20/2012]

Microsoft’s official statement is “Windows RT uses class drivers and in-box drivers exclusively, departing from a common driver added scenario on the x64 or x86 architectures.” (see Microsoft policies). There is no DDK. Officially, installing drivers on Windows RT is not supported.

That said, it turns out there is at least oneWindows ARM driver that exists (probably built and extracted from a full Windows RT platform development kit), and as a user you can install those drivers on a normal, unmodified Microsoft Surface device at least.

Whether Microsoft will close this mechanism in the future is unclear.

But for now, these steps show how to install a driver on the Surface to get wired ethernet support for particular devices like ours.

Below is a more complete list of all the Plugable devices which can and can’t be made to work with the surface today. Most use the drivers already built into the RT, so none of the above is a concern — but Windows RT is “special” so check for compatibility before assuming a device will work!

What devices work out of the box with ARM-based Windows RT (without a 3rd party driver install)?

USB hubs, including

USB extension cables, including

USB storage devices, including

USB keyboards and mice, including

What needs a driver package, but don’t have one for ARM-based Windows RT devices

Anything with a USB graphics function, including

Quite a few other devices with driver installs required, such as

What needs a driver package and has one available for ARM-based Windows RT devices

Feel free to add additional information in the comments, if you discover anything new or find any errors.

New USB 3.0 Support Built-In to Windows 8

Microsoft is formally launching Windows 8 today. With all the talk about Windows 8 being focused on the UI, it’s easy to overlook developments that have been happening under the hood. Some important changes include the addition of a native USB 3.0 stack, UASP or USB Attached SCSI Protocol support as well as support for function suspend and remote wake-up. The new driver stack supporting USB 3.0 is loaded whenever a USB 3.0 device is attached to an xHCI host controller and is based on Microsoft’s Kernel Mode Driver Framework (KMDF). New features available to developers include:

  • Static streams for bulk endpoints — allows a client driver to open up to 255 streams in a bulk endpoint
  • Chained MDLs — can boost performance by avoiding buffering
  • Function suspend and remote wake-up for composite devices

With USB 3.0 users can expect the fastest performance for external USB drives to date, and if their hardware is UASP capable — the improvement can be even greater. UASP allows hardware that supports it to use command queing which enables the device to perform transfers in parallel. Function suspend and remote wake-up allow the operating system to utilize advanced power management features that are defined in the USB 3.0 spec. With the growing array of USB 3.0 devices available and backward compatibility with USB 2.0 and 1.1, USB 3.0 is bringing much better performance to what is probably the most ubiquitous hardware interface around.

Many Windows 8 systems are thin-and-light with room for only 1 or 2 USB ports. Most people have a lot more devices than that. Fortunately, one of the wonderful features of USB is a great architecture for supporting hubs which enable many devices to share one port. So a USB 3.0 hub like our Plugable USB 3.0 7 Port Hub with 4A Power Adapter is a great companion.

The increased throughput also allows a better user experience when connecting one of our USB 3.0 graphics adapters like our USB3-HDMI-DVI graphics adapter or our USB3-VGA graphics adapter. Another great match is our USB 3.0 Universal Docking Station. Featuring graphics, audio, and networking all managed by single DisplayLink DL-3700 chipset the UD-3000 also provides a 4 port USB 2.0 hub and a 2 port USB 3.0 hub. The added bandwidth greatly improves the performance of USB docking stations, and the UD-3000 performs accordingly with network intensive and video tasks.

Each USB 3.0 device such as the DisplayLink graphics solutions still requires specific device drivers, but with the underlying USB 3.0 host controller stack built in to Windows 8 there won’t be much difference to the user from USB 2.0 — except speed. Prior to Windows 8, different USB 3.0 host chipset vendors shipped updates to drivers for their host controllers that fixed bugs and added features. Thanks to Microsoft’s efforts, this function has been moved into Windows 8 so users will have one less thing to do when trying to get the maximum performance possible from their equipment.

You can get a lot more background on what’s new for USB in Windows 8 from the Windows USB Core Team Blog.

Any questions about Windows 8 and any Plugable products? We’d be happy to help. Post below, or email support@plugable.com anytime. As always, we’re here to help!

Troubleshooting the Plugable USB3-SATA-U3 Hard Drive Docking Station

The Plugable USB 3.0 SATA Hard Drive Docking Station is a convenient way to connect SATA hard drives to any computer with a USB port. It’s compatible with both USB 2.0 and 3.0 and either 2.5″ or 3.5″ drives. Becuase the drivers are included in all major operating systems it’s as simple as plug and play so there’s nothing to install.

If you do have problems, there are many different issues that can cause your SATA Dock to misbehave – among them are drive format, disk failures, and permissions issues. This troubleshooting guide will help you through the process of getting your USB3-SATA-U3 up and running at USB 3.0 speed.

Initial Setup –

The first step is to connect your SATA Dock to AC power and to an active USB port. With no drive inserted you should see the green light illuminated like this:

The Plugable USB3-SATA-U3 dock will light up green when power is connected.

Make sure the green light is on before connecting to the computer.

If your dock is not indicating power with the green light, stop here, contact us at support@plugable.com. We’ll be happy to help.

Choosing your cable —

Your Docking Station comes with both USB 2.0 cable and USB 3.0 cables. The USB 3.0 cable has blue plastic inside the connectors.



USB 2.0 connectors

The ‘A’ and ‘B’ ends of a USB 2.0 cable.

USB 3 connectors

The ‘A’ and ‘B’ ends of a USB 3.0 cable.

We’ll start with the USB 2.0 cable. Once we have everything working on USB 2.0 we’ll move up to USB 3.0 – if it’s available on the host computer. Connect the USB 2.0 cable to the docking station and to a known good USB port on your computer. To verify that the port is working, test with a simple device like a wired USB mouse.

Windows troubleshooting steps — click for Mac.

First power off the dock and insert the drive. The Plugable USB3-SATA-U3 Hard Drive Docking Station is compatible with both 2.5″ laptop sized drives and 3.5″ desktop sized drives. Be sure to line up the connectors inside the slot with the connectors on the drive and push the drive into the slot firmly until it seats on the connector.

Once your drive is installed, power on the dock with the switch on the back. After a minute or so, you’ll see an “installing new hardware” message and if the drive is recognized and mounted successfully you’ll see this:

Win 7 Sata Dock Installed

The Windows 7 message alerting you that the dock is ready for use.


Windows Auto Play dialog

Select Open folder to view files to access your disk.



If the drive is formatted and working properly, you’ll be presented with the Windows Auto Play dialog. You can click on “Open folder to view files” to access your drive.

If not, we’ll need to start the Windows Disk Management Utility so we can initialize our disk.

Open the Start Menu and type Disk Management in the search box (for XP type drvmgmt.msc) and press enter. This will start the Windows Disk Management Utility.

Windows Disk Manager

click on image to enlarge.

You should see the disk listed, probably as unallocated space. Right click on it and choose “New Simple Volume”. Follow the wizard to format and initialize your new disk. Once the wizard finishes, your disk will be available to Windows.

Simply open Windows Explorer, it will be listed under “Computer” in the list of available drives.


If your machine is equipped with USB 3.0, we can now safely eject the drive and reconnect it with the USB 3.0 cable to a USB 3.0 port on your computer. To do this click on the USB icon in the lower right of the screen and select “Eject MassStorage Device”. Using the USB 3.0 cable that came with your USB3-SATA-U3 Hard Drive Docking Station, connect your dock to a USB 3.0 port on your computer. Your USB3-SATA-U3 dock should now be operating at USB 3.0 speed. If you are having problems getting your docking station working on USB 3.0, first make sure it’s working on USB 2.0. This will verify that the drive is properly formatted and functional, the power supply is good and the USB 2.0 cable and port are both good. Contact us at support@plugable.com if you have any trouble.



Mac troubleshooting steps —

Drive listed in Finder on Mac

Click on image to enlarge.

First, connect the dock to AC power and verify that the green light is on. Next, connect the dock to your Mac with the USB 2.0 cable. See the image above for the difference between the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 cables. Insert your drive being careful it seats fully, and power on the dock. If the drive is formatted for Mac and working properly, it will show up in finder under devices. In this example the new drive is labeled “New Volume”.




Click image to enlarge.

If your drive is not detected, use Disk Utility to investigate. First check that the disk is showing up, then click verify. If the system is able to verify the disk it should be accessible to finder. If not, select Partition. Be aware that this action will erase any data that is currently on the disk. Choose a partition layout and select apply. Your new disk should now be available.

If your Mac has USB 3.0 ports available, you can now connect your dock with the USB 3.0 cable.

If you are having trouble getting your SATA dock running, contact us at support@plugable.com. Please feel free to comment with your thoughts, suggestions or experiences, thanks!

[usb3-sata-u3-post]

UPDATED: Plugable Products on Mac OS X 10.8 (aka Mountain Lion)

Listed below are our latest updates about how to make your Plugable products work on Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion with all the caveats shared by customers. If you read this post before and notice changes, it’s because we’ve revised our advice based on differences between our test results and what many customers were reporting. For now, in all cases we are recommending the solutions that have worked for everyone.

Any Plugable products not listed below have not yet been tested or have no Mac support (USB 3.0 graphics adapters, USB 3.0 docking station, Windows Easy Transfer cable).

Product
Type
Products
Tested
Drivers
Needed
Download Site/
Setup Notes
10/100 Ethernet Adapter USB2-E100 N Uninstall previously installed third-party ASIX AX88772 driver before upgrading 10.7 or 10.8, to use Apple’s built-in drivers.
Gigabit Ethernet Adapter USB2-E1000 Y Leave the Gigabit adapter unplugged. Go to network settings and delete any existing USB Gigabit Ethernet interfaces by highlighting and clicking the minus button.

Download and install drivers from:
plugable.com/products/usb2-e1000/drivers

After installation and reboot, plug in the adapter.

Go to network settings. If a new USB Gigabit interface hasn’t been created, then click the plus button, and add a new interface for the USB Gigabit Ethernet adapter.

Click the gear button, choose to set the service order, and drag the Gigabit Ethernet interface to the top of the list to make it your primary network connection. Approve the change to return to the main network settings screen.

Click Apply in network settings.

If the status in network settings goes green with a good IP address (not 169.x.x.x), the adapter is working properly.
USB 2.0 Graphics Adapters UGA-2K-A,UGA-165,
USB-VGA-165,
UGA-125
Y Uninstall any old DisplayLink drivers before upgrading from 10.7.x.After upgrade, download and install the production version of DisplayLink’s v1.8 driver (or later) for OS X at DisplayLink’s Mac driver page.

Note that the performance of USB graphics on Mac is not yet at the same level as Windows. And some customers have reported crashes and hangs after installing DisplayLink drivers on Mountain Lion. See DisplayLink’s Mac user forum for the latest details. There is a specific thread on possible causes of Kernel panics.

We are filing bugs with DisplayLink based on Plugable customer feedback. If your system is not performing properly once you have installed the latest DisplayLink drivers, please contact us at support@plugable.com for assistance.
USB 2.0 Universal Docking Stations UD-160-A, DC-125 See Notes Follow the instructions above for the 10/100 Ethernet adapter and the USB 2.0 graphics adapters.
Hard Drive Dock USB3-SATA-U3 N
Serial Adapter PL2303-DB9 Y http://plugable.com/drivers/prolific/ (Mac security settings must allow installation of executable files from anywhere)
Hubs, Switches, Extension Cables N 10.8 has a regression where USB Hard Drives attached to a Mac through a USB hub may report “drive wasn’t ejected properly” on return from sleep. We have customer reports of this issue in particular with USB 3.0 hubs like USB3-HUB4

Please feel free to comment here or e-mail us at support@plugable.com with your findings, questions, or problems. We’re here to help.

[usb2-e1000-post]

USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0 SATA Dock Performance

The theoretical speed of a bus like USB is different from what devices are able to achieve in practice. USB 2.0′s theoretical max is 480Mbps, while USB 3.0 jumps that up to 4.8Gbps.

Today we’re benchmarking the Plugable USB 3.0 HDD Docking Station, which is capable of running on either USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 systems, to show what to expect in terms of performance.

While the low-level Windows drivers are different for USB 2.0 (Microsoft EHCI) and USB 3.0 (NEC/Renesas XHCI), above that layer, everything is common, using the drivers already present in Windows. This includes the existing Microsoft USB Mass Storage class driver that does much of the heavy lifting for USB-attached disks.

About the test platform:

Programs used:

HDTune (USB 2.0)

HDTune (USB 2.0)

HDTune (USB 3.0)

HDTune (USB 3.0)

CrystalDiskMark (USB 2.0)

CrystalDiskMark (USB 2.0)

CrystalDiskMark (USB 3.0)

CrystalDiskMark (USB 3.0)

ATTO Disk Benchmark (USB 2.0)

ATTO Disk Benchmark (USB 2.0)

ATTO Disk Benchmark (USB 3.0)

ATTO Disk Benchmark (USB 3.0)

Conclusion:

HDTune reports an Average Transfer Rate increase from 36.4MB/sec to 97.9MB/sec. This is about 168% faster than USB 2.0

CrystalDiskMark reports a sequential Read increase from 38.43MB/s to 107.6MB/s and a Write increase from 36.61MB/s to 88.75MB/s. That’s a 179.9% increase for Reading and a 149.2% increase for Writing.

ATTO Disk Benchmark reports a Read increase from 38402 to 105268 (KBytes/sec) and a Write increase from 35696 to 85762 (KBytes/sec) . Those are  174.12% increases for Reading and 140.25% increases for Writing accordingly.

Summary of Results

Summary of Results

If we were to get the average of the 3 tests we would get an average speed increase of 162.2%. A transfer that would take about 5 minutes on USB 2.0, would complete in roughly 2 minutes on USB 3.0.

These numbers may increase slightly in the future with USB-attached SCSI support, USB 3.0 streams, and other driver/firmware updates. But 2-3 times faster in practice is a good baseline for expectations.

We welcome any comments, corrections, or your own benchmark results.

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