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  • Satechi X3 Slim Keyboard review: A fantastic alternative to Apple's Magic Keyboard

    I appreciate that the Satechi X3 has the Fn key in the same place as the full-size Apple keyboards do. What I don't appreciate is how they replaced the Exposé and Launchpad shortcuts on F3 and F4 with App Switcher and Spotlight. I already instinctively use the Cmd+Tab and Cmd+Space shortcuts for those functions, I would never reach up to F4 to switch between apps. I missed the Exposé shortcut and there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to remap the shortcut keys on the Satechi. I think the Spotlight shortcut key literally sends Cmd+Space to the OS. 

    I bought the Satechi X3 but I had to return it because it didn’t work well with older Macs. On my Mac Pro 2012 I was not able to see or pair it over bluetooth, probably because it only has BT2.1. (It may be possible to upgrade an older Mac with a newer Bluetooth USB dongle, I didn’t try that.)

    I maybe could have lived with that if it worked well in wired mode, however the Satechi X3 was not recognized by the Mac Pro at all until after the OS had finished loading. So I couldn’t hold down the Option key to choose a boot disk on startup, for example, which is something I do often. Or reset the PRAM, or enter Recovery Mode, or any other startup keyboard shortcuts.

    When booted into Mac OS High Sierra with the X3 in wired mode, the OS said it didn’t recognize the keyboard layout and I had to type a few keys to correctly identify the keyboard. After that it worked fine.

    Also the backlight bleed around the edges of the keys was much brighter than the actual key label that’s supposed to be the thing that’s lit up. I also didn’t love the squishier key feel compared to my wired silver and white Apple keyboard. I did have some instances of repeated or missed letters. And the X3 had slightly larger and more spread out keys which felt a little less natural for my smallish hands.

    The incompatibility with older Macs was the main reason I had to return mine. On the other hand I got a used (discontinued) space gray Magic Keyboard which does work perfectly with my Mac Pro 2012, and solves all those other problems too. Although it lacks the multi-device and backlight features, it’s fundamentally a better Mac keyboard. Too bad, I wanted to like the Satechi. On first impression its build quality is very good and Apple-like.

  • The birth, life, death, and possible resurrection of the Thunderbolt eGPU in macOS

    I completely agree that it seems most likely that Apple Silicon Mac Pro will re-introduce AMD GPU support. 

    The reason for the Mac Pro’s existence is to offer totally mind-blowing capabilities at the highest possible tiers of performance. Money is no object, and neither is power consumption. The Mac Pro in its current form has to be WAY more powerful than both the current Intel Mac Pro and the next best M1 Mac, the Mac Studio, or else it can’t justify its existence. Mac Pro is not for consumers or prosumers - they are already covered with the current M1 lineup. None of Apple’s Mac Pro customers want to see the Mac Pro change from the familiar, supported, stable Intel + AMD architecture unless Apple Silicon offers them dramatic, undeniable benefits.

    The rumored 40-core dual-M1 Ultra CPU seems like it ticks that box on the CPU front, that should offer way better performance than the current Xeons. But on the GPU front, 128-core dual M1 Ultra GPUs would be pretty good, but definitely not equivalent or superior than the current Mac Pro’s highest possible GPU configs - two W6800X Duo MPX modules (4 GPUs!) or two W6900X GPUs. Two M1 Ultra GPUs might match one W6900X, but it wouldn’t beat TWO W6900X or FOUR W6800X. The new Mac Pro GPU story has to be at least as good, if not significantly better than what’s already available in the Intel Mac Pro.

    It’s possible Apple might have a trick up their sleeve with a “Lifuka” proprietary GPU that offers the mind-melting performance the current M1 Ultra GPU doesn’t quite offer. But given all the work Apple put into designing the MPX module system in 2018 and the ridiculously over-engineered MPX-sized Mac Pro chassis, when they knew M1 was right around the corner, I’d bet the GPU story will be that Mac Pro customers can recoup their investment in expensive MPX GPUs and simply move them into their new Apple Silicon Mac Pros. They’ll get to enjoy their current level of highest-end GPU power plus the added benefit of the built-in Afterburner encoders/decoders of M1 Ultra, and the 128-core dual M1 Ultra GPU augmenting the AMD MPX GPU. It’ll be like getting an additional W6900X worth of GPU power “for free.” And surely the base level Mac Pro configs will be fine with the M1 Ultra’s GPU alone, but I think they simply need to keep offering the MPX expansion option for those who truly need to max out GPU power. (As well as likely adding an expandable RAM option to match the current Pro’s 1.5TB capacity.)

    And yes, if that happens then eGPU support for the rest of us would be great too! Although I do wonder if Apple’s less robust Thunderbolt implementation on M1 is entirely up to the task…
  • Crucial X6 4TB Portable SSD review: Decent speed, good price to performance

    BEWARE! Not for media pro use. Write speed plummets after drive is only 20% full! The Crucial X6 4TB drive is not suitable for anyone who wants to fill up the drive with large file transfers, say anyone working in video / audio media for example. It uses a "dynamic cache" which means the size of the write cache shrinks as the drive fills up. It's the SLC write cache that can copy files at 800MB/sec. The true QLC write speed of the drive is around 80MB/sec - slower than most old school spinning HDDs. When the drive is new and empty, the SLC write cache size is about 800GB. So the first 800GB of data you copy onto the drive will go fast. If you do a Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, that's what you'll measure, the fast SLC cache. But as soon as you've copied 800GB of data, that SLC cache almost completely disappears. Instead of 800GB of cache, it quickly drops down to like 27GB of fast write cache. When I heard the drive had an 800GB write cache, I thought that would be fine, that I could copy 800GB of data, wait a bit for the cache to empty, then copy another 800GB at the same fast speed. But no, once you've filled the drive just 20%, the write cache drops to 27GB. (It might drop even further, but I didn't have the patience to continue filling the drive past 1TB at the 80MB/s QLC crawl!) So really the 4TB X6 drive has a small 27GB write cache, plus a ~775GB bonus cache that disappears after first use. The craziest part is - the dynamic cache never grows back, after first use you'll never get that 800GB cache back again! Even if you delete all the files you've ever copied onto the drive, and the drive looks empty in your OS, the write cache stays at 27GB, it never goes back up to the full 800GB. The only way I found to get the full original write cache size back was to do a complete secure erase format of the drive writing zeros across the entire capacity. As I wanted to use this drive for video editing, I wanted to quickly fill up the whole capacity with large file transfers. Not possible with this slow-writing QLC drive. The only good uses for this drive are say Time Machine backups, where you do a large initial backup then small incremental backups afterward. It would be okay for anyone who never plans to copy any files larger than 27GB at one time. The fact that I can't get the full cache size back even after deleting all the files makes me very suspicious of this drive. I say stay away. (I formatted my drive in APFS. I actually got an error message when I first connected my drive that it had unfixable partition errors with the factory exFAT formatting, and it would only mount ready-only in MacOS, so I had to format it. It's possible that the drive might behave a little differently with other disk formats, I don't know. Personally I need it to work with APFS. And I did try running the 'trimforce' command in MacOS Mojave, I did not see a difference in the drive performance.)