2012 MacBooks and USB 3.0 Issues

I recently switched from a decked out Mac Pro to a new 2012 13″ MacBook Air. I’ve documented the switch and will be posting my full thoughts and review soon. Meanwhile, I’m very happy with the new MacBook Air, except for one thing: USB 3.0 seems to have a lot of issues. And this is a big problem, because one of the reasons I could justify the switch to a MacBook Air was the USB 3.0. I need lots of high speed storage for my code, audio and video projects, media and backups.

Apple updated their line of portables with USB 3.0 across the board, but it seems this new feature may not yet be ready for prime time. A quick search online reveals that many people are having issues with USB 3.0:

1. The drive(s) are not mounting on the desktop properly (but they do mount every time with a USB 2.0 cable or plugged into a USB 2.0 hub).

2. When they do mount, sometimes they eject randomly, even in the middle of a file transfer. Other times they become inaccessible and give an error  (-50). At this point you must eject all drives and re-mount them.

3. USB 3.0 is not giving us the speeds we expect.

4. Drives are being forcibly ejected when the laptop is put to sleep (and consequently do not re-mount without much fiddling, due to issue #1).

I have personally experienced all of these issues. My drives are not mounting unless I unplug and plug in the USB 3.0 cord multiple times (sometimes 10-20 times!). When they do mount, my speeds aren’t much better than 30-60MB/sec (which is USB 2.0-ish speeds). USB 3.0 promises more like 200-400MB/sec, but I’m not getting anywhere close to that.

I’ve been working with two enclosure manufacturers over the past few days and posting on forums with other 2012 MacBook owners having issues with their USB 3.0 drives. Even the flagship Retina Display MacBooks are having these problems. I don’t know how wide-spread the problem is, but as of right now I can say that USB 3.0 drive enclosures are not working as they should be on many Apple laptops sporting USB 3.0 busses.

Firmware updates from manufacturers promise to correct the issue soon, but we are still waiting. I’m also hoping that the Mountain Lion update will bring some USB 3.0 fixes as well later this week. Apple claims it is an issue with the drive manufacturers, and they say updated firmware will be needed to enable full compatibility. They may be right. I know the drive manufacturers are working hard on this, but they seem to think Apple shares some of the blame. For now, I will continue to monitor the situation from both sides in hopes of finding a fix quickly. As soon as I find something, I will let you know.

Meanwhile I’m forced to plug my new 4 bay USB 3.0 enclosure into a USB 2.0 hub. This alleviates most of the USB 3.0 issues (although the drives still randomly eject or become unaccessible), but it is slow slow slowwww.