TREBLEET Super Thunderbolt 3 Dock: First Impressions

TREBLEET Super Thunderbolt 3 Dock at Amazon

https://www.trebleet.com/product-page/mac-mini-thunderbolt-3-dock-with-nvme-sata-slot-cfexpress-card-slot-gray

I received this on August 25, 2022. I immediately installed a Samsung 980 Pro 1TB NVMe, then plugged the dock into AC power via the included power supply brick and into the Mac Studio M1 Ultra via the included Thunderbolt 3 cable. The performance to/from the Samsung 980 Pro 1TB NVMe is what I had hoped.

This is more than 3X faster than any other dock in this form factor available today. Sure, it’s not PCIe 4.0 NVMe speeds, but given that all other docks available in this form factor max out at 770 MB/s, and that Thunderbolt 3/4 is 5 GB/s, this is great.

I also checked some of the data in system report. All looks OK.

My first impression: this is the only dock to buy if you want NVMe in this form factor. Nothing else comes close speed-wise. Yes it’s pricey. Yes, it’s not a big brand name in North America. But they did the right thing with PCIe lane allocation, which hasn’t happened with OWC, Satechi or anyone else.

There’s really no point in buying a dock with NVMe if it won’t ever be able to run much faster than a good SATA SSD (I hope OWC, Satechi, Hagibis, AGPTEK, Qwizlab and others are paying attention). Buy this dock if you need NVMe storage. I can’t speak to longevity yet, but my initial rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Mac Studio M1 Ultra: Thanks, Apple!

I finally have a computer I LIKE to place on my desk. I’m speaking of the Mac Studio M1 Ultra.

Apple finally created a desktop that mostly fits my needs. My only wishlist item: upgradeable internal storage (DIY or at Apple Store, I don’t care).

This was partly coincidence. The Mac Studio with M1 Ultra ticks the boxes I care about for my primary desktop. Faster than my Threadripper 3960X for compiling my C++ projects while small, aesthetically pleasing, quiet and cool. 10G ethernet? Check. 128G RAM? Check. Enough CPU cores for my work? Check. Fast internal storage? Check. Low power consumption? Check.

I’m serious: thanks, Apple!

This machine won’t be for everyone. News flash: no machine is for everyone. But for my current and foreseeable primary desktop needs, it’s great. And it’ll remain that way as long as we still have accessories for Thunderbolt available that are designed for the Mac Mini or Mac Studio. This isn’t a substitute for the Mac Pro; I can’t put PCIe cards in it, nor 1.5TB of RAM (or any beyond the 128G that came with mine). It’s also way more than a current Mac Mini. But that’s the point: it fills a spot that was empty in Apple’s lineup for a decade, which happens to be the sweet spot for people like me. Time is money, but I don’t need GPUs. I don’t need 1.5TB of RAM. I don’t need 100G ethernet (though I do need 10G ethernet). I’m not a video editor nor photographer; my ideal display is 21:9 at around 38 inches, for productivity (many Terminal windows), not for media. Hence the Studio Display and the Pro XDR are not good fits for me. But the Mac Studio M1 Ultra does what I need, really well.

Some people at Apple did their homework. Some championed what was done. Some did some really fine work putting it all together, from design to manufacturing. Some probably argued that it was a stopgap until the Apple silicon Mac Pro, and that’s true.

That last part doesn’t make it temporary product. Apple, please please please keep this tier alive. There are many of us out here that can’t work effectively with a Mac Mini, iMac or MacBook Pro but find it impossible to cost-justify a Mac Pro. And post-COVID there are many of us with multiple offices, one of which is at home. At home I don’t need a Mac Pro, nor do I really want one in my living space. I need just enough oomph to do real work efficiently, but don’t want a tower on my desk or the floor or even a rack-mounted machine (my home office racks are full).

I don’t care what machine occupies this space. But I’ll buy in this space, again and again, whereas I don’t see myself ever buying a Mac Pro for home with the current pricing structure.

Mac Studio M1 Ultra: The First Drive

Given that my new Mac Studio M1 Ultra is an ‘open box’ unit, I needed to fire it up and make sure that it works properly. One of the things I needed to check: that it works fine with my Dell U3818DW via USB-C for display. I have seen many reports of problems with ultra wide displays and M1 Macs, and I do not have a new display on my shopping list.

So on Sunday I left my hackintosh plugged in to the DisplayPort on the U3818DW, and plugged the Mac Studio into the USB-C port. It looks to me like it works just fine. I get native resolution, 3840×1600, with no fuss.

I am using a new Apple Magic Trackpad 2, and an old WASD CODE keyboard just to set things up. I don’t really need the new trackpad, since eventually I’ll decommission my hackintosh and take the trackpad from there. But I need one during the transition, and it was on sale at B&H.

With just a 30 minute spin… wow. I honestly can’t believe how zippy this machine is, right out of the box. Therein lies the beauty of using the same desktop computer for 10 years; when you finally upgrade, the odds are very good that you’re going to notice a significant improvement. In some cases, some of it will just be “less accumulated cruft launched at startup and login”. But in 10 years, the hardware is going to be much faster.

Compiling libDwm on the Mac Studio M1 Ultra with ‘make -j20' takes 32 seconds. Compiling it on my Threadripper 3960X machine with 256G of RAM with ‘make -j24‘ takes 40 seconds. You read that correctly… the M1 Ultra soundly beats my Threadripper 3960X for my most common ‘oomph’ activity (compiling C++ code), despite having a slower base clock and only having 16 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores. While using a fraction of the electricity. Bravo!

“Moore’s Law is dead.”. In the strictest sense, just on transistor density, this is mostly true. Process shrink has slowed down, etc. But the rules changed for many computing domains long before we were talking about TSMC 5nm. See Herb Sutter’s “The Free Lunch is Over“. Dies have grown (more transistors), core counts have grown, clock speed has increased but very slowly when compared to the olden days. Cache is, well, something you really need to look at when buying a CPU for a given workload.

This last point is something I haven’t had time to research, in terms of analysis. If you need performant software on a general purpose computer, cache friendliness is likely to matter. Up until recently, reaching out to RAM versus on-chip or on-die cache came with a severe penalty. That of course remains true on our common platforms (including Apple silicon). However, Apple put the RAM in the SoC. For the M1 Ultra, the bandwidth is 800 GB/sec. DDR4 3200 is 25.6GB/sec if you have 8 channels. DDR5 4800 with 8 channels is 76.8GB/sec. Let that sink in for a moment… the memory bandwidth of the M1 Ultra is more than a decimal order of magnitude higher than what we see in Intel and AMD machines. My question: how significant has this been for the benchmarks and real work loads? If significant, does this mean we’re going to see the industry follow Apple here? AMD and Intel releasing SoCs with CPU and RAM?

I know there are tinkerers that bemoan this future. But we bemoan the loss of many things in computing. I’m going to remain optimistic. Do I personally really care if today’s CPU + RAM purchase turns into an SoC purchase? To be honest, not really. But that’s just me; computing needs are very diverse. Those of us who tinker, well, we might just wind up tinkering with fewer parts. I don’t see the whole PC industry reversing any time soon in a manner that creates a walled garden any more than what we have today. It’s not like the current industry hasn’t been good for Intel and AMD. Yes, computing needs have diversified and we’ve put ‘enough’ power into smaller devices to meet the needs of many more consumers. And Intel and AMD have largely been absent in mobile. But they’ve maintained a solid foothold in the server market, cloud infrastructure, HPC, etc. As a consumer I appreciate the diversity of options in the current marketplace. We speak with our wallets. If we’re a market, I trust we’ll be served.

Apple turned heads here. For some computing needs (including my primary desktop), it appears the M1 Mac Studio is a winner. It doesn’t replace my Linux and Windows workstation, nor any of my servers, nor any of my Raspberry Pis. But for what I (and some others) need from a desktop computer, the M1 Mac Studio is the best thing Apple has done in quite some time. It hits the right points for some of us, in a price tier that’s been empty since the original cheese grater Mac Pro (2006 to way-too-late 2013). It also happens to be a nice jolt of competition. This is good for us, the consumers. Even if I never desired an Apple product, I’d celebrate. Kudos to Apple. And thanks!

Mac Studio M1 Ultra: The Decision

I’ve needed a macOS desktop for many years. My hackintosh, built when Apple had no current hardware to do what I needed to do, is more than 10 years of age. It’s my primary desktop. It’s behind on OS updates (WAY behind). It’s old. To be honest, I’m quite surprised it still runs at all. Especially the AIO CPU cooler.

The urgency was amplified when Apple silicon for macOS hit the streets. Apple is in transition, and at some point in the future, there will be no support for macOS on Intel. They’ve replaced Intel in the laptops, there’s an M1 iMac and an M1 mini, and now the Mac Studio. We’ve yet to see an Apple silicon Mac Pro, and while I’m sure it’s coming, I can’t say when nor anything about the pricing. If I assume roughly 2X multicore performance versus the M1 Ultra SOC, plus reasonable PCIe expansion, it’ll likely be out of my price range.

Fortunately, for today and the foreseeable future, the Mac Studio fits my needs. In terms of time == money, my main use is compiling C++ and C code. While single-core performance helps, so does multi-core for any build that has many units that can be compiled in parallel. So, for example, the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra has 20 CPU cores. Meaning my builds can compile 20 compilation units in parallel. Obviously there are points in my builds where I need to invoke the archiver or the linker on the result of many compiles. Meaning that for parts of the build, we’ll be single-core for a short period unless the tool itself (archiver, linker, etc.) uses multiple threads.

It’s important to note that a modern C++ compiler is, in general, a memory hog. It’s pretty common for me to see clang using 1G of RAM (resident!). Run 20 instances, that’s 20G of RAM. In other words, the 20 cores need at least 1G each to run without swapping. Add on all the apps I normally have running, and 32G is not enough RAM for me to make really effective use of the 20 cores, day in and day out.

So 64G would my target. And given that the CPU and GPU share that memory, that’s a good target for me. However…

Availability of Mac Studios with the exact configuration I wanted has been abysmal since… well… introduction. I wanted M1 Ultra with 64-core GPU, 64G RAM, 2TB storage. Apple’s lead time for this or anything close: 12 weeks. I’m assuming that a lot of this is the ongoing supply chain issues, COVID and possibly yield issues for the M1 Ultra. Apple is missing out on revenue here, so it’s not some sort of intentional move on their part, as near as I can tell. While I think there are M2 Pro and M2 Max on the horizon for the MacBook Pro (I dunno, 1H2023?), I think it’ll be a year before I see something clearly better for my use than the M1 Ultra. I can’t wait a year, unfortunately. I also can’t wait 3 months.

In fact, since I’m closing in on finishing the den, and need to move my office there, this is now urgent just from a space and aesthetics perspective. I intentionally designed the desk overbridges in the den to comfortably accommodate a Mac Studio (or Mac Mini) underneath either side. I DON’T want my hackintosh in this room! I want quiet, aesthetically pleasing, small, inconspicuous, efficient, and not a major source of heat. I need 10G ethernet. Fortunately, the Mac Studio ticks all of the boxes.

Today I picked up what was available, not exactly what I wanted. It’s an open box and hence $500 off: a Mac Studio with M1 Ultra, 64-core GPU, 128G of RAM and 1TB storage. The only thing from my wishlist not met here: 2TB storage. However, I’m only using 45% of the space on my 1TB drive in my hackintosh, and I haven’t tried to clean up much. I don’t keep music and movies on my desktop machine, but if I wanted to with the Mac Studio, I could plug in Thunderbolt 4 storage.

I’m much more excited about moving into the den than I am about the new computer. That’s unlikely to change, since the den remodeling is the culmination of a lot of work. And I know that I’m going to have to fiddle to make the new Mac Studio work well with my Dell U3818DW display. Assuming that goes well, I’m sure I’ll have a positive reaction to the Mac Studio. The Geekbench single-core scores are double that of my hackintosh. The multi-core scores are 7 times higher. This just gives me confidence that I’ll notice the speed when using it for my work. Especially since the storage is roughly a decimal order of magnitude faster. The 2TB is faster, but the jump will be huge from SATA to NVMe for my desktop. I notice this in my Threadripper machine and I’ll notice it here.

My main concern long-term is the cooling system. Being a custom solution from Apple, I don’t have options when the blower fans fail. Hopefully Apple will extend repairability beyond my first 3 years of AppleCare+. I like keeping my main desktop for more than 3 years. While in some ways it’s the easiest one to replace since it’s not rackmounted and isn’t critical to other infrastructure, it’s also my primary interface to all of my other machines: the Threadripper workstation for Linux and Windows development, my network storage machine, my web server, my gateway, and of course the web, Messages, email, Teams, Discord, etc. It saves me time and money if it lasts awhile.