macOS 10.13 High Sierra Significantly Improves DisplayLink Performance & Stability

Here at Plugable, one of the most important aspects of our jobs is testing and documenting compatibility of our products with various individual laptop and desktop models and Operating Systems. This testing and documentation is even more critical when a new Operating System update arrives which impacts the behavior of our products (for better or worse). On Windows 10 systems, the Anniversary Update fundamentally changed what our DisplayLink-based USB Docks and Graphics adapters are capable of by adding native OS support for virtual graphics.

Summary: We’re happy to report with the release of 10.13 High Sierra, Apple has made changes which have resulted in significant performance and stability improvements when using our DisplayLink-based Docks and Graphics Adapters. The vast majority of these improvements are because for the first time, virtual graphics devices like ours can leverage the power of the system’s built-in graphics processor (“GPU”), via Apple’s new Metal 2 API, which is supported by most Late 2013 Macs and later. The result is performance that is rapidly approaching native-GPU attached displays for most applications, and a drastic reduction in bugs and workarounds.

To use DisplayLink devices on High Sierra, you’ll need to make sure you’re running DisplayLink for Mac driver version 4.0 or later, and the improved performance requires a Metal 2-compatible Mac from 2012 or 2013 or later, depending on the model. The DisplayLink driver can be downloaded below where you’ll also find step-by-step instructions for uninstalling your previous version if needed:

For those interested in additional information and examples of how things have changed pre- and post-High Sierra, keep reading!

Background

We have been following a number of performance issues and undesirable behaviors related to macOS and DisplayLink devices/drivers starting with OS X 10.9, and we have been documenting this information, known issues, and information from DisplayLink over the years in the following posts:

Plugable suggests DisplayLink Users Wait on MacOS Sierra Upgrade

Multiple Monitor Issues with OS X 10.9/Mavericks

Plugable products on 10.10/Yosemite

Notes on DisplayLink’s previous Mac beta driver
 
Due to these performance and stability issues, we stopped recommending the majority of our DisplayLink-based products on Mac (with a few of specific exceptions). The bugs that were present were significant enough when attempting to use USB graphics as a primary display that they wouldn’t product acceptable results in many use-cases.

Issues Resolved in High Sierra

On September 25, 2017, Apple released the newest version of the macOS operating system, 10.13 High Sierra, that included a series of performance upgrades and fixes for bugs which were present in earlier versions of MacOS versions when utilizing DisplayLink-based devices.  (For additional details see our “Mac OS Sierra Upgrade” blog, located here.)

Over the years since 10.9 was released, Apple has fixed some of the more impactful bugs, and DisplayLink has worked around others in their drivers when possible. Even still, there are several issues still present on macOS 10.9-10.12 when using our DisplayLink-based products (with Apple’s Bug ID noted where applicable):
 

  • Corrupted window title bar and widgets.
  • Screen corruption in Finder when “Displays have separate Spaces” is disabled in the Mission Control system preference. (29825934)
  • A few applications can show corruption and/or missing contents while updating windows contents. Examples are Maps, iBooks and the Dock (15319693, 19090583)
  • Corruption around window borders for Carbon applications, for example Microsoft Office 2011 (18552488)
  • Black menu bar on DisplayLink screens while mirroring (17703682)
  • Apple menu icon misplaced on DisplayLink screens

 

High Sierra “Known Issue” with DisplayLink

There is one new key issue to call attention to, which is a bug in macOS High Sierra that prevents ‘mirroring’ displays with a DisplayLink adapter. Attempting to mirror a virtual display will cause the Window Server to crash and logs the user out, so it’s an unpleasant bug which we hope will be fixed in an upcoming High Sierra patch. To increase its priority, DisplayLink recommends reporting the bug to Apple.

DisplayLink’s own bug is tracked under ID 33650324. Apple’s internal defect number for this issue is ID 26394372.

DisplayLink has additional detail about the issue in their knowledge base. It also speaks to instances where the OS will default to mirroring when a display is plugged in (rather then extending) causing a frustrating crash due to the bug mentioned above. DisplayLink has a utility available that can reset the layout persistence settings in the OS that can help workaround this behavior.
http://support.displaylink.com/knowledgebase/articles/1812676-macos-high-sierra-mirror-issues

New Drivers for a New Era

Please note that existing DisplayLink drivers (3.1 and below) are not compatible with High Sierra. DisplayLink version 4.0 or higher must be installed. If the older drivers are present on your system when upgrading from Sierra to High Sierra, the DisplayLink displays will not work, though the monitor LED that indicates a connection may still be lit, and the OS will not produce any error message or give any indication something is wrong. To resolve this issue, uninstall the previous DisplayLink drivers, reboot, and then install the latest 4.0 version of the driver.

For a step-by-step guide on removing and reinstalling the DisplayLink drivers, please visit our page below:

Performance Testing with High Sierra and Plugable Docks

The Main products that we wanted to address when running through several testing scenarios were our UD-ULTCDL and UD-6950. We’ll be updating this post with screenshots and videos in an attempt to showcase the improved performance and general behavior of USB graphics in High Sierra.

The UD-ULTCDL (www.plugable.com/products/ud-ultcdl)Triple Display Docking Station provides up to three additional display outputs on USB-C Macs via a combination of USB-C DisplayPort Alternate Mode (“Alt Mode”) and DisplayLink USB graphics. The dock provides up to 60W of power via USB-C Power Delivery (“PD”) standard to charge your host computer while adding Gigabit Ethernet, audio input/output, and expanded USB device connectivity with 4 USB 3.0 Type-A ports and a single USB 3.0 USB-C port.

The UD-6950 (www.plugable.com/products/ud-6950)USB 3.0 Dual DisplayPort 4K Docking Station supports two DisplayPort displays at resolutions up to 4K@60Hz per display (3840×2160@60Hz) or one single 5K@60Hz display. Displays and cables must support the desired resolution. It has six USB 3.0 ports for peripherals, Audio input and output ports that allow connection of external speakers, headphones or a microphone. It also supports audio pass through via DisplayPort cable to a monitor or TV with built-in speakers. It has a Gigabit Ethernet port for hard-wired network connectivity, and is packaged with a USB 3.0 Type-B to Type-A cable and a USB 3.0 Type-B to Type-C cable to provide flexible host connectivity.

Testing Information

 
Inside of our testing department, we decided to run a couple of different scenarios to see how well the updated drivers and the newly released MacOs High Sierra were utilizing some of our popular DisplayLink based docking stations, and how well the performance is with displays that are connected via the DisplayLink chipset.
 
The first system we tested our products with was a Macbook 12” with these specifications:
 

    Macbook Retina 12-inch, Early 2015

  • 1.1 GHz Intel Core M
  • 8GB 1600 MHz DDR3
  • Intel HD Graphics 5300 1536MB
  • 250GB SSD

 
The second system we tested our products with was a Macbook Pro 13” without Touchbar with these specifications:
 

    Macbook Pro 13-inch 2016 with Two Thunderbolt 3 ports

  • 2 GHz Intel Core i5
  • 8GB 1867 MHz LPDDR3
  • Intel Irs Graphics 540 1536 MB
  • 250GB SSD

 

Performance

 
Earlier in the post, we laid out various performance related issues that we have been following closely, located here.With these individual issues in mind, we then decided to perform some basic interactions with 3 connected displays on our UD-ULTCDL Triple Display Docking Station. In our testing, we walked through individual clicking, dragging and opening of windows and applications on multiple displays. We connected 3 displays:

  • One connected to the 2K HDMI port on the UD-ULTCDL
  • One connected to the DVI port on the UD-ULTCDL
  • One connected to the 4K HDMI port on the UD-ULTCDL

As before, we encountered the same previous issues that were highlighted in our previous posts, as well as in our compatibility information for the UD-ULTCDL. The individual issues we experienced were:

  • Window corruption when moving a Safari or Application window from the main display to the connected 2K or DVI based displays
  • Application corruption, blurriness and black bars when attempting to mirror or utilize an external display as a primary display
  • Overall performance issues when attempting to utilize video content, or perform multiple window usage with multiple applications

Use of the 4K HDMI port went very well, as this specific port utilizes VESA Alt-Mode via USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 to output video to the connected display. Previously, we were advising customers that when utilizing the UD-ULTCDL on MacOs based systems, the 4K port would be the best available display output port for performance, and individual displays connected via the 2K HDMI and DVI port would run into various performance related issues.

 

With the more performance enhanced and higher specification system, the Macbook Pro, we experienced almost identical issues as the smaller, less hardware powerful Macbook 12″:

  • Window corruption when moving a Safari or Application window from the main display to the connected 2K or DVI based displays
  • Application corruption, blurriness and black bars when attempting to mirror or utilize an external display as a primary display
  • Overall performance issues when attempting to utilize video content, or perform multiple window usage with multiple applications

We did notice that the occurrence of the corruption, and the overall performance of dragging applications and playing videos, was slightly better, though still not optimal for a main display.

The Upgrade

We then removed the installed DisplayLink driver, and upgraded the system from 10.12.6 Sierra  to 10.13 High Sierra and installed the latest available DisplayLink driver. We then replicated the same testing procedures to see if the performance issues were alleviated.
 
The first system we took a look at was the MacBook pro to see if utilizing the great features of the UD-6950, and output to two 4K displays at the same time resulted in reduced performance.

This was an important test, as the ability to utilize dual DisplayPort 4K displays over USB is something many of our Mac customers have been requesting. There were significant performance increases in this configuration, mostly as a result of the ability to leverage Apple’s Metal 2 API. The UD-6950 does not provide charging power to the system, but we were able to successfully handle multiple 4K displays, dragging and dropping, HD videos, and multiple applications with much better performance than we’d seen previously. This specific model of MacBook did not have the higher-end graphics chip, but the performance experience when utilizing the UD-6950 was still performing quite well.
 
Some of the main items that we noticed were:

  • The windows corruption was not occurring when dragging from external display to other external displays, or even to the main Macbook Pro screen
  • The “Apple Logo” disappearing act was no longer occurring, and was available on all connected displays
  • Scrolling, video and media usage showed a much better performance capability, and a noticeable system resource decline occurred, even with the higher resolution displays connected

 
We then tested our best-selling UD-ULTCDL with macOs High Sierra. The important features of this particular docking station are its ability to provide Power Delivery (charging) to the connected host system, as well as enable 3 connected displays — 1 via “DisplayPort Alternate Mode” at up to 4K@30Hz, and 2 1080P outputs via DisplayLink. To show some realtime utilization, here is a video outlining the performance of both the 12” MacBook and 13” MacBook pro when utilizing the docking station:

As always, the individual 4K port performed very well (since it utilizes the system’s graphics chip directly), but there was another hugely noticeable improvement multitasking. Viewing 4K trailers via VLC while at the same time performing automated key inputs inside of Pages and keynote helped demonstrate how well multitasking abilities were handled. We noticed the same improvements in speed, clarity, and reduced graphical corruption as we did on the UD-6950 with the monitors connected to the DisplayLink DVI and 2K HDMI ports.

With the information that we gathered with the higher performing MacBook Pro, we then reverted back to the MacBook 12” to see how each of the individual docking stations we were previously looking at performed in real time, with multiple displays connected.

First, we connected the UD-ULTCDL docking station, with 3 connected displays and recorded the performance to see if any of the previous errors popped up. Again, the performance of the DisplayLink based devices was greatly improved, with smooth scrolling, multi-monitor usage, and without the previous corruption when opening or utilizing applications.

Then we switched back over to the we connected two 4K based displays, and attempted to replicate any of the original issues we were experiencing with 10.12.6 and previous versions on the newly installed 10.13, Some of the main items that we noticed were:

  • The windows corruption was not occurring, and we were able to click and drag multiple images, applications and 4K videos without corruption
  • The “Apple Logo” disappearing act was no longer occurring, and was available on all connected displays, much like the Macbook Pro tests from earlier
  • Decreased resource usage, with system monitor showing a 17% decrease in usage when powering the 4K displays, and viewing 4K content

 

Conclusion

macOS 10.13 High Sierra shows great performance increases when utilizing two of our most popular DisplayLink-based docking stations, and is rapidly closing the performance gap with Windows systems. It’s now clear that a number of the key issues that we have been tracking were entirely resolved or minimized compared to earlier versions of OS X/macOS.

While there is still room for some improvement, if things continue to go well, we’ll consider revising our DisplayLink+Mac messaging to reflect the better experience.

Please note we will also be adding some real time videos and images to this post outlining the bug behavior of 10.12.6 Sierra, and the major improvements we have seen in 10.13 High Sierra.

If you have any additional questions or concerns, or feedback about how well things are working with your Plugable DisplayLink device in High Sierra, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us directly at support@plugable.com!

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