About rsts11

Big data integrator/evangelist I suppose. Formerly a deep generalist sysadmin and team lead, still a coffee guru, and who knows what else...

Good news on the USB-C to Lightning front… maybe…

There are a few power units I’ve been using, testing, and documenting over the last many months. It’s easy to get 5V 2.4A charging, and Qualcomm Quick Charge standards (or Anker’s analogue to them) are pretty easy too. But there’s a somewhat new charging consideration that’s lighting up even more this year, with a possible catch.

When Apple released the iPad Pro (12.9″ 1st generation) in 2015, it was an amazing media consumption and even creation device. Support for the new Apple Pencil for creative types, a huge beautiful screen, and a huge 10Ah 38Whr battery… what’s not to like?

How about charging that huge battery?

Aye, there’s the rub. The iPad Pro came with a 12 watt USB-A charger like iPhones did, and a USB-A to Lightning cable like iPhones did. It’s what Apple had available, and it would probably recharge your iPad Pro in 4-6 hours. (As you can see on the right, mine hasn’t left the box in about 3 years.)

Soon, though, Apple released a USB-C to Lightning cable, which would allow you to charge at about 28 watts (that’s 2.3x as fast on a good day). This cable also opened the door to directly connecting to the new USB-C Macbooks, and with the 30W or better Apple chargers, you could get that 28 watt charge going. Most USB Power Delivery chargers and battery packs at 29 watts or higher can also rapid charge your iPad Pro.

When the iPhone 8 generation came out, Apple started supporting a rapid charge at 18 watts for those devices, and newer iPad non-Pro models (in the last year) have also taken on the faster charge rates.

The catch was, Apple did not sell or license their USB-C rapid charge chips for third party manufacturers. So while some overseas companies made USB-C to Lightning cables, they couldn’t charge faster than the standard USB-A cable, and wouldn’t be MFI-certified. So $19-35 went to Apple for each of those cables, and you got your rapid charging.

You also got typical Apple cable sturdiness (such as it is), which left many people replacing cables and grumbling.

But then, it all changed

Anker USB-C to Lightning Cable

Now that Apple is moving to USB-C for charging their devices, they’re also allowing third party USB-C to Lightning cables by licensing the C89 and similar connectors/chips.

Anker announced one last month at CES, pre-orderable now on their website and shipping later this month, and a crowdfunding project from a company called Cascade Cables is also promising such a cable coming in April.

These new cables are sturdier, potentially more aesthetically pleasing, and the Anker cable is priced lower than the Apple version by a couple of bucks. Now the question is whether these cables will support the full range of charging rates that those of us with larger devices will need.

Cascade USB-C to Lightning Cable

Anker responded to an inquiry on Facebook about the iPad Pro charge rate by telling me that my iPad had USB-C and I could use USB-C to USB-C cabling. Alas, the 2015 iPad Pro doesn’t have USB-C, and they didn’t follow up on the question. However, their pre-order page says it uses USB Power Delivery, which has me feeling optimistic.

I’ve inquired with Cascade Cables as to whether they’ve tested with 28W devices. I’ll update this post if I hear back from them.

It takes more than a cable

With the higher power cabling, whether from Apple or a third party, you’ll need a USB-C Power Delivery charger to negotiate the higher power level.

The easy option is to pick up an Apple USB-C Macbook charger.

If you already have one for your Macbook, you can use it to rapid-charge your iOS devices as well. And note that if you have another USB-C charged laptop (like a Dell XPS 13 or XPS 15, a newer Lenovo, and so forth), you can use the Apple chargers as long as they feed enough wattage to charge your device.

For the third party side, I’ve had very good experiences with Anker, so it’s worth considering a charger from them that provides at least 29 watts on USB-C, like the Powerport II ($30) or Powerport Speed+ Duo ($26). The Powerport II offers up to 19.5 watts on USB-A, which is good for quick-charge devices or iPhone 8 or later; the Speed+ Duo is limited to 12 watts on USB-A.

If you’re patient, Anker has also announced their entry into the GaN (gallium nitride) charging field, the Powerport Atom PD1 charger which gives 30 watts of juice in a tiny form factor. It’s listed on their website for pre-order on Amazon, but Amazon is currently offering email alerts for when it’s available to order. I’ll update when that comes out of unobtanium as well. I have the RavPower 45W GaN charger in house, and will be writing that up soon too.

And if you want to see what power profile your charger is negotiating, regardless of which charger or cable you use, I’ve used the Plugable ($20) and Satechi ($30, right) USB-C power meters with good results. You don’t need a power meter to just charge your devices, but it can be useful to troubleshoot slow charging, flaky cables, or power profile mismatches (like the ones we’ve experienced with the Dell XPS 13 9370).

Where do we go from here?

As the newer cables come out, I’ll be acquiring and testing them. Same goes for the new PD1 charger from Anker. With an iPhone 8 Plus, a 2017 iPad Pro 10.5, and a 2015 iPad Pro 12.9 in the house, rapid charging is an important topic.

I’ll also have some updated coverage on battery packs to rapid charge your iOS devices, and even charge your USB-C Power Delivery laptops. The new HyperJuice “World’s Most Powerful USB-C Battery Pack” and Omni Ultimate battery packs are in house and ready to test, when work lets up a bit.

What are your charging concerns, and what interesting solutions have you found to keep your devices up and running? Share in the comments, or ask any questions you may have.

As always, if you buy through our links above, we get a small commission, which then goes back into buying more stuff to review here and on rsts11travel. We appreciate your support.

 

 

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Happy 8th Birthday to rsts11

rsts11 turns 8 today. Not the operating system, which is older than your host, of course.

Eight years ago today, inspired in part by Stephen Foskett and the Tech Field Day crew, I started what was probably my third attempt at blogging. Two weeks later I wrote a post loosely based on Tech Field Day 5 (which I attended a small part of–mostly the party), and a happy post about getting a 48 port 3COM switch and going back to Windows XP to upgrade its firmware.

Today I’m back to attending the TFD parties only; after 5 stints as a full delegate and 7 of what’s now called TFD Extra, I went over to the dark side in 2014, working for a vendor, and my delegate page progress is on hold for now.

As you may know, I branched out into the royal plural on the travel blog just over two years ago; rsts11travel still hasn’t found a better name, and I haven’t gone Sinclair on rsts11 itself either.

I have a modest backlog of posts for rsts11 this year, as well as a couple of recent eBay acquisitions to write about (including a whole new home network infrastructure), so despite working for a Fortune 50 company that makes a lot of the hardware I would have written about in the past, there’s still a lot to cover.

Stay tuned in 2019 for more coverage of tech new and old, continuation of the POHO (Psycho Overkill Home Office) theme that’s driven the blog for eight years now, and some more quick takes and soft topics to push us along into what may be the Year of VDI, the Year of the Linux Desktop, or the Year that Marketing Listens To Tech.

Quick Take: Setting up a blogroll on WordPress-hosted blogs

I seem to have volunteered to share this documentation… if I run out of other things to do, I might do a video or animation of the process. But in short, here’s how I would go about setting up and managing a blogroll (list of blogs to share) on a wordpress.com-hosted WP blog.

Note that you have to have administrative privileges to the account (as far as I know) to make this sort of changes. Also note that I’m not responsible for any damage you do to your blog, your home, your horse, or your hometown while following these steps.

First: Create a link category

Log into your admin portal for WordPress. It’s either going to be <yourblog>.wordpress.com/wp-admin or <yourblogdomain>/wp-admin

If you’re already in the <yourblogdomain>/admin interface, look on the bottom left of the screen for “WP Admin” which will take you to the same place.

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Upgrading the HPE Microserver Gen 8 and putting it into service

A year and a half after my original write-up of the Ivy Bridge-based Gen8 Microserver, I’m finally doing a last round of pre-launch updates and documenting the upgrades I made.

You can read the original write-up (as updated to December 2018) here: Warming up the HP Microserver Gen8 and PS1810-8G switch

More links at the end of this post. Pricing has been updated as of 2019-08-15, but is still subject to change without notice.

Where do we start?

The HPE Microserver Gen8 as I received it had the Intel Pentium G2020T processor, a dual core, dual thread, 2.5 GHz processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics. For an ultra-low-end workgroup or SOHO server, that’s not too bad, and it’s better than the Celeron G1610T option.

gen8-cpus

Stock processor options for the HP Microserver Gen8

But since we’re not worried about the warranty and do want a bit more power, we looked at the following options for a CPU upgrade.

Xeon Processor CPU speed C/T TDP Integrated graphics? eBay price/link
August 2019 (December 2018)
E3-1230 v2 3.30 – 3.70 4/8 69 No 49.00 (was 75.00)
E3-1260L (v1) 2.40 – 3.30 4/8 45 HD2000 34.30 (was 57.00)
E3-1265L v2 2.50 – 3.50 4/8 45 HD2500 99.00 (was 100.00)

Since we didn’t have a use case in mind for this, we went for the E3-1265L v2 processor. CPU speed is reasonable, power is within the envelope for this system’s cooling capacity, and the price didn’t turn out too bad (although it was almost twice as much a year and a half ago).

The system arrived with 16GB of memory, which is the maximum supported with this generation of processor and a two-DIMM-slot motherboard (the CPU will handle 32GB but no more than 8GB per DIMM, and the Memphis Electronics 16GB DDR3 DIMMs require a newer generation of CPU).

The system also shipped with a single 500GB SATA drive and three empty trays for expansion, connected to the onboard B120i storage controller. There’s a low profile slot at the top suitable for an optical drive, or a hard drive carrier. According to the specs, the first two bays are 6gbit SATA and the last two bays are 3gbit SATA. You can add a P222 Smart Controller to provide battery-backed cache and expanded RAID options; these can be had for as low as $25 on eBay.

I installed a 32GB Micro-SD card for OS boot. Like the previous Microservers, the Gen8 offers an internal USB port, but Gen8 adds a MicroSD slot which may be less likely to snap off during maintenance. If I were running a heavy duty Windows or Linux server on this machine, I’d probably either put an SSD on a PCIe carrier card or use the optical drive SATA connector on the board to mount a boot drive in the optical bay. But for VMware or appliance-type platforms, or for light use Linux, the MicroSD should be enough.

Bringing the Microserver Gen8 up to date

One of the first things I do when building or populating a system is to upgrade any applicable firmware on the system. This could include the lights-out management, the system BIOS itself, drive controllers, optical drives, etc.

This gets complicated with HPE gear, as they decided to restrict all but “critical” BIOS update to customers with active support contracts or warranties. There are dubious workarounds, but it’s more of a pain than for any other mainstream vendor. Luckily (and I say that sadly), some of the critical vulnerabilities around Intel microcode in the past year led to the most recent Microserver Gen8 BIOS being considered critical.

So I gathered the latest BIOS, the ILO 4 firmware for out-of-band management, and the latest firmware for the PS1810-8G switch that this system will be connected to. (Unlike the computer systems, HPE’s networking gear carries a lifetime limited warranty and free access to firmware updates.)

With the switch connected to our upstream POE switch and the Microserver’s three network ports (two gigabit LAN, one ILO) connected to the switch, I upgraded the firmware on all three components and installed CentOS 7 from the latest ISO image via external USB flash drive. Additionally, I got a free 60-day trial license for ILO 4 Advanced from HPE.

One quirk I ran into was with regard to the .NET-based remote console and Chrome browser. In short, it doesn’t work unless you install a plugin to handle the .NET launching. I didn’t want to bother with Java either, so I accessed ILO from Microsoft Edge and used the .NET option from there.

Where do we go from here?

In the near term, I’m planning to install the Aquantia AQN-107 10GBase-T/NBase-T adapter and use it to test a couple of new devices in the home lab. Linux with iPerf or the like should be a good endpoint, and with a Thunderbolt 3-to-NBase-T adapter and an economical NBase-T/10G switch to work with, it should be compact and functional.

Longer term, with the former VMware “$25 server” being converted to EdgeLinux (from the makers of the Antsle servers we wrote about here and here), I will probably have this box serve as my in-home vSphere / ESXi system.

There’s a very small chance that I’ll break down and get the new Gen10 machine, but with as many spare computers as I have in the home lab now, it’s not a high priority.

What have you done with your Microserver recently? Share in the comments, or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.

For more information on the Microserver Gen 8 (especially around expandability):

HomeServerShow.com has an exhaustive page on Gen8 upgrades and other features and functions.

ServeTheHome has their release-time update on the Gen8 system here: HP ProLiant Microserver Gen8 Updated Specs and Pricing

And if you want the latest and greatest, the Microserver Gen10 came out a year ago with AMD Opteron X3000 processors.

Looking ahead into 2019 with rsts11

This is becoming somewhat of a tradition… I’ll point you toward a Tom Hollingsworth post and then figure out what I want to look back on a year from now. As long as Tom’s okay with that, I am too.

This year, Tom’s New Year’s post is about content. He seems to think 2019 is the King of Content. I’m not really sure what that means, but seeing as my blogs seem to be alternately seasonal (with most rsts11 content in the winter/spring and rsts11travel in the summer/fall), I’m hoping to get a more balanced content load out there for you this year on both blogs.

You can see the new year’s post for rsts11travel, my travel-themed blog, over on rsts11travel of course.

Looking back on 2018

Looking back on rsts11 for 2018, our top-viewed posts were a bit surprising to me.

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