Monday, January 18, 2021

Moving from Eve to Lutron Caseta Smart Switches

 My wife and I are preparing our previous home for the rental market. So, we are making practically every improvement we always wanted but never got around to, except this is all for a yet to be chosen renter. Quirks of the house, like having no light switch next to the entry door to the converted garage, which I tolerated for the 14 years I lived in the house, are finally being dealt with. 

As I mentioned in my previous post, I installed Lutron Caseta switches and remotes throughout my new house. This was mainly because I was replacing dimmers and Lutron is well regarded for its dimmers, but I came to appreciate other features of the system. And this appreciation brought with it a certain distain for the Eve switches I had filled my old house with. And even though it was a fair expense, I pulled the trigger and ordered many dimmers, switches, remotes and a hub from eBay sellers. This blog post is about why.

Eve Smart Switches Ripped From My Walls


Reason #1, the Pico Remote

Of the 3 entrances into the house, only one has a handy light switch within arms length of the doorway. For the other two I'd spent all those years either stumbling through the dark, or when I did install Eve smart switches taking out my iPhone or Apple Watch and asking Siri to turn on the light; and it may or may not have worked, the system was only OK with reliability. The brick walls of the house prevented any reasonable chance of just installing an old fashioned 3 pole switch.

With Caseta Pico remotes, I can mount virtual switches wherever is convenient. They are extremely reliable, in my experience. If a dimmer remote is paired with a dimmer switch, I can even have a preset dimmed light level. I can even control multiple groups of lights at once. 

In the case of the basement lights, I can now turn off the basement light from the top of the stairs and the stairs light from the basement. What a magical time we live in. 

No more stumbling around in the dark. 

Reason #2, Dimming

As part of the refurbishment, the contractor installed new ceiling lights: dimmable LED disks. My Eve switches were simple on-offs. So, I can dim, use preset dimming on the remote, and when turning off there is a pleasant smooth dimming shutoff. 

Lutron dimmers also have the magical ability to function without a neutral wire. Not a problem in my new house, but a constant struggle with the haphazard wiring in my old house. 

Reason #3,  the Buttons

Tapping on the Eve is just tapping on a hard sheet of solid plastic. The Lutrons have a smalll amount of travel, but it has recognizable buttons. My wife, for one, is not a fan of the non-clicky buttons, but at least they move. 

Reason #4, Reliability

I can't say that I've ever had a Pico remote not do its job, and the switches and dimmers work every time. HomeKit is about as reliable as it ever gets. I will say that there are issues with certain LEDs. Some low wattage LEDs will never truly turn off with a Caseta switch as the current used to power the status light is enough to maintain a ghost light on the bulbs. Regardless, they work. On the other hand, HomeKit is hit or miss with the Eve switches; either taking several seconds to trigger or not at all. 

Reason #5, Build Quality

The Lutrons are nicely made with metal fins, and high quality, easy to manipulate wires. The Eves are more plastic, and the stranded wires are annoying to deal with when using wire caps (another reason to use Wagos).

Reason #6, Homekit

When I have to add an Eve switch, I add it directly in HomeKit which would be fine except the contractors installed one I'd given them and then threw out the frame and the box, so I couldn't add it to HomeKit weeks later. The Lutron I add in the Lutron app, and it tends to be more streamlined in pairing, and I don't feel compelled to save the HomeKit code for each and every switch. Just the Lutron hub. For either system, I have the nice features like Siri integration and remote management. It's been extremely convenient making sure all the lights are off at a house 20 miles away. 

Cost didn't Help

Lutron is not cheap. The switches are not cheap, the remotes are not cheap, even the plastic brackets to mount a remote on the wall is not cheap. But neither is the Eve switch. In fact, you can get Caseta switches on eBay for less than you can get Eve switches on Amazon. Of course, I ended up spending much more because I purchased Pico remotes, often 2 or 3 remotes for each actual switch. 

In Conclusion

I'm happy with how the system ended up, and I think it'll be much more accessible and functional for my renters. I'm not happy at ripping out working smart switches and I wouldn't have done so without a belief the resulting house would be greatly improved. Which it was.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Bringing a 2000 Home Up to Modern Tech

 My family recently moved to a home built in the year 2000, from our smaller, built in 1964, home I'd spent 15 years making convenient and comfortable. While the new home is beautiful and well made, it doesn't seem as if the previous owners thought much about technology. 

Door Locks

I don't believe my children have ever had cause to use a mechanical door key. We've always had keypad locks, and love the security and convenience. The new house had a huge, ornate, front door lock which was broken when we purchased the house and was going to cost me $600 to fix, for a lock I didn't even want. Instead, a locksmith put in a keypad based Schlage lock to match the one I installed in the side entrance—including matching the mechanical keys, which got tossed in the big bucket of keys, never to be used again. This is not a smart lock, I've never needed to open my doors remotely. 

The old lock was a bit larger

Networking

At the closing, I mentioned to the seller I'd be putting in Ethernet everywhere. He didn't think much of the idea, as he'd been blasting WiFi from the central office on the 2nd floor. But for me, wired networking is reliable networking, bringing uniform WiFi coverage throughout the house, from the basement guest room to the sunroom tucked on the far side of the garage. Indeed, our family had a horrible experience the first week, pre-network install getting by with a pair of ancient Airport Expresses. 

When, a few weeks in, roofers were replacing the roof—see below—they gave me half an hour to enter the inaccessible portion of the attic over the general purpose room over the garage. A place no-one had seen for 20 years. Time to pull Ethernet and antenna coax from the main attic and into the wall behind the TV and place speaker wires. Later, a handy man came in to cut a hole in the ceiling allowing me to pull  security camera cables, tidy up the speaker wires, add one last Ethernet port, and double up the insulation before sealing it for another 20 years. 

I did untangle this

The final setup is 100% Ubiquiti hardware with an overkill number of in-wall WiFi access points powered by Power Over Ethernet (POE). It has been reliable, except when played with—don't plug non-POE devices into the POE out port of an access point. A 24 port POE switch went in the main network closet, and an 8-port POE switch to handle the legacy Cat 5 in the basement. The 8-port is really a 10 port as you can buy non-POE SFP adaptors to add 2 extra RJ-45 ports.

I'm done pulling for now, because after I removed the blown in insulation in the attic, pulled as many wires as I could think of uses for, and replaced the blown-in insulation, adding anything more via the attic would be a several thousand dollar journey to the network closet. More could be added via the basement, and there are a couple of unused wires I pulled and decided not to use, but my wife is starting to make comments.

My biggest annoyance with Ubiquiti is the rack mounted router whose loud fan which can easily be heard well down the hall from the network closet because the closet has a half door to let sunlight through in the evening. 

I learned through experience that if a cable isn't getting gigabit, as likely as not, it is a mis-punched wire, not the other end. So, check your punch-down connections. It's enlightening having a system which clearly lets me know when there is a problem with a connection.

Also, if you are going to be cutting dozens of openings in drywall for single gang box keystone plates, then invest in a box hole cutter for your oscillating saw. The cut will be fast, the holes will be cleaner, and if you have to patch them you'll have a perfectly sized bit of drywall scrap.

My Network Closet

A Single Box Drywall Saw

Washlets

Ever since the day my wife changed planes in Tokyo, we've used Japanese washlet bidet seats. Unfortunately, the toilets in my old house have round bowls, while all the bowls in the new house have an oblong shape, so the expense of new seats for the family. Also, most of the toilets were too far from a convenient power outlet requiring a bit of wall cutting and wiring. 

If you've never used a washlet, I highly recommend it for cleanliness and the luxury of a warm seat in winter. Costco is a good source. 

Sound

The inaccessible attic over the general purpose room gave me a narrow window to pull speaker wire for height effect ceiling speakers and my rear surrounds. Atmos might not be a must have, but it is a nice to have. The recent release of the Lord of the Rings with Dolby Atmos tracks made me very glad to have my ceiling speakers and good surrounds, although the odd shape of the room didn't allow for the absolute most accurate placement of the surrounds. I only installed 2 ceiling speakers, but I left wire in the ceiling in case I ever upgrade to 4.

The one piece of tech the previous owner left me was some abandoned and non-obvious how to drive Sonos speakers mounted over the deck and in the sunroom, probably left just because it was too much trouble to patch the resulting holes. Much prefer the HomePod. Oh, not to forget the whole house vacuum cleaner, which we have used once; letting my robot vacuum free every day works better and takes less effort.
Aperion Novus Slim Satellites as Surrounds

Cameras

I went with Ubiquiti Protect cameras, and doorbells. I like wired cameras, which makes it sad the doorbells aren't POE like the rest of Ubiquiti's line. Still, my uniform WiFi coverage make the connection to the doorbells almost reliable. Powering them involved putting a transformer into a 2 gang box inside the wall shared by the doorbell, and powering it with electrical wire brought in from the adjacent light switch box—I hope this does not violate some obscure building code. A great thing about this house is that all the light switch boxes contain neutral wires—what luxury; half the light switches in my previous house couldn't be upgraded to smart because of the lack of a neutral. (Although by some black magic Lutron dimmers work without a neutral.) The opening of the transformer boxes, I covered with Lutron Pico remotes instead of ugly double gang blanks; two birds, one stone.

The other cameras are wired with Ethernet strung through the attic and powered by POE. They've been fairly reliable although it seems like every few days one will go offline for a few minutes. I have not been happy with the G3 bullet, even with its optional infrared accessory, it has not shown anywhere near the night performance of the other cameras.

Protect is hosted on a Gen 2 Cloud Key upgraded to the max 5TB of storage. Five cameras have not stressed it as it chugs through the video streams.

While they do have a security component, on property cameras are just generally useful, keeping track of deliveries, and scrolling through the day on Ubiquiti Protect on my Apple TV has turned into one of my favorite diversions. I've a lovely view of my backyard for which I splurged on a G4 Pro, and it's pleasant listening to bird song my double pane windows block. On the negative side, my G4 Protect doorbell camera crashes the Protect Apple TV app every time. 

With HomeBridge integration to HomeKit, a doorbell ring buzzes my Apple Watch, shows a live video feed of the visitor, and chimes the HomePods. For this, I installed HomeBridge and the appropriate extension on the Mac Mini in the network closet. I put a HomePod Mini in my wife's office to act as a doorbell, as she refuses to wear an Apple Watch and the near constant torrent of notifications she gets on her phone mask doorbell notification. Still, I can't say that we notice all rings, and delivery men have an aversion against pressing the button.

Ubiquiti G4 Doorbell

 Broken Doorbell

Smart Switches

At my previous house, I had installed a smattering of Eve smart switches, mainly because I'd been erroneously avoiding hub based devices. But because the current house has many dimmable lights, I went with 100% Lutron Caseta and could hardly be happier. They have been nearly flawless in working, and the Pico remotes have allowed me to combine separate switches into groups. For instance, the remote mounted at the garage entrance, will not only turn on the overhead light at that door, but also, the light over the adjacent hall, and the stairs leading upstairs. I found I could put all the real switches in central positions, and put the remotes around the edges making grouped lighting convenient. 

I can turn on the backyard lights from a variety of places throughout the house, or just use Siri from a convenient device. My wife has a Pico remote in her car to turn on the garage adjacent lights as she arrives. Unfortunately, we are bumping up against the 75 device limit to the Caseta system, maybe fortunate to my bank account.

A smattering of switches and Pico remotes
Lutron Caseta vs Old Switches
Pulled so many switches


All the common lights in the house are automated through HomeKit to turn off after midnight, and the driveway post lights are set to turn on at sunset and turn off after 10. 

I ran into the odd condition where low power LED lamps—a 3 LED, 12W total, chandelier—wouldn't go completely black as the current used to power the switch's internal status LED was enough to emit some light. Solution: a single 6W LED mixed in with 2 lower powered ones keeps it dark. Yes, Lutron will sell you a very expensive dimmer for low power LEDs, but bumping up the wattage is a lot cheaper. 

Speaking of LEDs, the house was filled with energy hog incandescent lights, which I methodically eradicated in favor of LEDs. Thankfully, as an Amazon Vine reviewer, LEDs are virtually free for me. I've a preference for 3000K lights in most rooms, and am happy with the LED replacements for fluorescent tubes. 

If you are going to be installing dozens of switches, you will find Wagos much easier than twist caps for connecting wires. I certainly lack the skill to reliably twist together and recap 5 neutral wires, but I can easily trim the wires and insert them into a 5 conductor Wago. You probably won't need the 10 guage version (like 221-613), I erroneously bought some and they are too big.

Wagos are so easy

Smart Thermostats

There are 2 cooling zones and 5 heating zones in this house. And each had an old school mercury switched bimetal coil thermometer—not even the mercury free kind with a magnet. The heating thermostat for the entire second floor was in my son's room; great for him, not so good for anybody else.

Every single thermostat was wired with the minimum number of wires needed—2 for heating. I spent a couple weeks figuring out how to get new wires from one end of the house to the other and into the fortress which is my boiler room. I had spools of 5 and 7 conductor wire, and I finally got them there. An HVAC guy wired it into the boiler controller and AC air handlers. He insisted on wiring the smart thermostats: my favorite ecobee 3 Lite model himself. We coalesced each AC thermostats with one of the heating thermostats: thus there is now only 1 thermostat in the basement, and 1 on the second floor. He disposed of the mercury thermostats for me, thankfully. 

I've added many ecobee temperature sensors. For example, second floor temperature during sleep hours is determined exclusively by the temperature in my children's rooms and not the temperature at the thermostat in the hall which tends to be 3°F cooler than the bedrooms. Without the sensors, my kid's rooms would be unnecessarily hot during winter. 

This house is going to be exorbitant to heat and cool as it is. Missing the natural gas furnace and mini-split inverters from the old house, but oil heat and central air is how it's done in my new area. 

Ecobee
Box of Mercury Thermostats vs Ecobee 3 Lite

A Roof

By far, the biggest expense was installing an Owens Corning shingled roof to replace the disintegrating original. Roof technology has improved markedly since 2000, what with improved ice shields, better airflow through the ridge vent, advances in durability. Regardless, I'd like to put in solar panels soon, and a new roof was step number 1 on that journey. I looked at Tesla tile roofs, but it seemed like it couldn't be done on any kind of reliable schedule, and this place needed a roof before winter set in. And it was expensive when compared to an asphalt shingle roof as opposed to a fancy tile roof. 

Broadcast TV

I had the roofers put a large J mount high up, under the eves, to which I attached a largish UHF/VHF antenna (a CM-5018) in hopes of pulling in my local PBS affiliate which took the FCC repack money and moved to the garbage channel which is digital 5. Surprisingly, due to my clean line of sight and a good hundred feet of elevation I get much better signal quality, with less effort here than my old house despite being farther away from the local antenna farm. Didn't even find the need for a pre-amp as the new antenna is maybe 18 feet directly above the TV stand where I keep my HDHomerun and Tablo. Short coax runs help. I'd been looking forward to making use of my own Signal GH app, but I was getting 100% signal quality on the first pointing. 

This house had been wired for an era where media was distributed by individual coax cables to cable boxes in every plausible room. When I got here, the cable modem was fed via a huge power amplifier feeding 8 coax lines in the house—doing who knows what damage to data throughput. My first act as a Xfinity data subscriber was to ask the technician to disconnect the booster and directly feed the single coax line to the room with my cable modem. In my house, we use iPads and Apple TVs via WiFI or Ethernet, there are no cable boxes, just steaming subscriptions. 

Still missing the purity of fiber optic service I had at my old house.
CM-5018 Antenna



Somebody Really Liked Cable TV

Finally

I can stop with the constant DIY upgrading and get back to maintaining my apps. I may put a sensor here or there, and I might get an electrician to install a dedicated circuit to the network closet, but for now I can rest.

Finally Done










Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Thank You Bell Atlantic for the Ethernet in My Walls

 I've recently moved into a year 2000 vintage house filled with such trendy tech as phone jacks and coax cable in most every room. Being me, I set to pulling Cat 7 Ethernet to every corner I could reach. But there were many corners I couldn't reach, and I despaired of getting the coverage I wanted. 

Then I took notice of the one Ethernet jack in the house—in a basement media room, and that its cable ended up terminating in a grey box under the stairs. 

Bell Atlantic Network Interface Device

and there were many grey wires, printed with "Cat5,"  ending up at the same box. But where were they going, there were no more Ethernet jacks in the house. I'd searched. And then understanding came, I unscrewed all the phone jacks in the house. And with the exception of one, they were all wired to use a single pair out of a standard four pair Cat 5 Ethernet cable. 20 years back someone had seen the future and pre-stocked my house with the makings of fast wired networking. 

Out went the phone jacks and in went Ethernet jacks or Ubiquiti in wall access points. 

My Collection of Phone Ports

At the other end, I neatly punched each cable and attached it to a managed Ubiquiti switch.

Repurposed Phone Lines

Now you might think that Cat 5 would be slow, but for short lengths, in non-challenging environments it works fine without the shielding enhancements of later standards. My managed switch lists all but one as working at 1000 megabit full duplex, and the other one at 100 megabit full duplex. Even 100 megabit is adequate for streaming 4K iTunes video. I pulled Cat 7 in the attic because I never want to do it again, not because my current needs wouldn't be met by Cat 5e—or in a pinch by this existing Cat 5.

I found the ends of most of the cables near the Bell Atlantic box, but couldn't find the one to the kitchen, whose central location would make a great place for a WiFi access point. Then I came across a walkthrough video of my house pre-kitchen remodel, and right there was a long gone desk and on the desk was a phone and behind the phone was a phone jack. Ah ha.

Detective Work finding the lost Phone Line

I cut a hole in that wall, and neatly stapled to a stud was the last lost Cat 5 in a perfect place for an access point, and a great central location for a Lutron smart switch hub. It would have been unacceptable wall butchery to get an Ethernet cable there through finished ceiling and walls, but 20 years ago somebody left me a present.

Ubiquiti in-wall access point
+
Lutron Caseta Hub

I was able to wire all of the second floor with new cable via crawling the attic before it became inaccessible with a new layer of blown insulation. There had been two phone jacks in the second floor office, so I was able to join my new network into the Cat 5 legacy network. I will admit to a little overkill with the networking as Ubiquiti hardware is not cheap—what with the gateway, switches, and controller, but it was so easy to use Power over Ethernet (POE) in wall access points wherever I could get an Ethernet cable giving me a robust mesh network. If you have the means, I recommend the system. 

This was also the first time I had used a punch down tool, and I'm proud of my professional looking network with the dedicated upstairs network closet with its rack of equipment and punched down cables. 




Tuesday, May 26, 2020

TV Towers USA for Apple Watch

The Series 5 Apple Watch includes a compass. Which necessitated me selling my otherwise nearly identical Series 4 watch, because I knew it was time to write a watchOS app. Also to write something using the SwiftUI framework, and Combine. And get my 14 year old son to write code.

TV Towers USA for Watch

I decided to embed it in the existing TV Towers USA iPhone app and sell it via an in-app unlock method. This is a bet on my reasonably large installed base of happy users being a better source of revenue (all of of which will be going to my son) than the unlikeliness of being found on the Watch App Store. But, like all my other personal App Store projects, the major point is skill sharpening for the future of my day job. There will come a day when I'll have to pull SwiftUI or Combine out of my bag of tricks. 

And we ended up with this gratifying, smooth, simple, useful app, just what an antenna installer needs for getting a quick bead on the local antenna farm. I can only imagine the number of iPhones that have slid off roofs. Or would be antenna installers, so be careful out there and wear a harness or leave it to the pros, or put the antenna in your attic. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Why The Corolla Hatchback Won My CarPlay with Manual Transmission Battle

For several years, I've been pondering replacing my 2003 Civic LX 5 speed sedan—with aftermarket CarPlay receiver. I was certain I was getting a Mazda 3, then I was equally sure I was getting a Subaru Impreza. I might have even gotten a Civic Si, my pondering went on so long. But, in the end, it was the Toyota Corolla XSE 6 speed manual that earned my money.

CarPlay

I was concerned with the non-standard, non-touch interface Mazda uses for their infotainment system. Toyota's implementation is standard, and I'd say nicer for a CarPlay user than Honda's as it has a lot of real buttons, including push buttons on the steering wheel to adjust volume. I've used the Honda system in my wife's CR-V many times, and it is awkward and doesn't make good use of space; consumers were glad to get so much as a real volume knob, and the swipe volume control on the steering wheel is touchy. I don't have any experience with the Subaru implementation, but it is probably fine. 

I did see an oddity, where much of the CarPlay interface was cut off,  making me have to plug and replug it. Still, it has been reasonably performant. 

Power Train

I'm convinced in the value of a simple power train. A turbo is just something easy to break that gets a few more horsepower I'm unlikely to use in practice. The 168 HP my Corolla generates is a little lower than a comparable Civic, and it's zero to sixty time might be half second less, but I get quick throttle response and I can use non-premium gas. This is similar to my avoidance of a CVT, which gets a noticeable better fuel economy, but seems mechanically complicated and easy to fail. I will say that living in New England, I would love to get an all wheel drive Impreza, but it would be mechanically more complicated and may be a little less peppy. Also, I'll be putting winter tires on this car and that's most of the battle against winter roads. I like the idea of the Mazda 3's engine, but I wasn't all that impressed with the gearing when I test drove a manual; and it was always prompting me to shift into a ridiculously—if fuel efficient—high gear. 

The boxer engine in the Subaru just seems to be an obsolete technology despite its advantages in smoothness and maintenance. 

The Corolla shifter is longer than I'd like, and it's taken be a while to get used to the grab point on the clutch, but it is in general a joy to use. Particularly liking the hold feature which makes uphill starts trivial; I'm likely to lose my ability to balance the clutch to the throttle. Also, rev matching is easy. So, even for a manual, it makes life easy. 

I don't want an auto-engine stop feature for that last smidge of gas mileage; talk about something that will kill a starter. 

Reliability

Everyone I've ever read highly rates Toyota has the king of reliability. I've dealt with oil leaks/burning for years on my otherwise beloved 7th generation Civic and I could use some reliability. In the end, this and the bad reputation of the local Mazda dealer, eliminated the Mazda 3.  I don't know if it makes a difference, but the Corolla is still made in Japan in factories with a long history. (Having said that, the door edge protecting plastic fell off the rear passenger door the first time my kids opened it, so that's worrying.)

Safety Tech

The Corolla gives a very complete set of safety features. The lane warnings are a bit annoying, but at least it doesn't bother with driver attention spying. I chose the higher XSE trim in large part because I often have shoulder problems making blind spot monitoring a life saver. It seems to be very comparable to the Honda safety features on the CR-V. Adaptive cruise control seems less touchy than the Honda. 

There are a wide variety of settings on the headlights. They are literally the only things I had to look up so far in the manual, I guess I'll just set them on auto with auto high beams. Regardless, they are plenty illuminating, but for some odd reason the adaptive headlights were only available with the Blue Flame paint color. 

Appearance

I think the Corolla Hatchback is the best looking of all the current Japanese Hatchbacks. The Mazda 3 sedan looks great, but the backend of the hatchback is a balloon. The Civic is just too angular for me. The Impreza is pretty nice, actually. 

Mine is in Galactic Aqua Mica, which is a lovely and varied color; sometimes it looks almost black, sometimes blue, and sometimes green. 

Value

As I bought it when the dealers were clearing out 2019 stock, and being the niche market of a manual, I got a pretty good deal of $19.4K which is way, way under MSRP. For me, this is an amazing value what with all the safety tech, the excellent fuel economy and how fun it is to drive. Nice value adds include: heated seats, fully automatic windows, two map pockets, rear center arm rest, driver lumbar support, telescoping steering wheel, electric mirrors, 2 years of maintenance, partial leather seats, and auto release parking brake. My particular car even came with all weather floor mats, wheel locks, and body side moldings. 

On the other hand, the cargo area is small, but I have a CR-V to use as a hauler. Center console storage is small. There is no standard tow package, so I can't easily add a hitch receiver bike rack. Nor are there available roof rails. Heated steering wheels are apparently only available in Canada. It's unclear if the 2019 models will get upgraded firmware to support Android Auto—not important to me, obviously. 

Things That Don't Matter

There is a lot of tech in the infotainment system that doesn't matter. It has a WiFi hub that you can subscribe to Verizon through: our phones and tablets all have unlimited data. It has SeriusXM: I have an account, and it is much easier to listen to content using the app, where I can skip over most of the commercials in FoxSports and listen to other non-live content.  Who is going to buy a Toyota navigation package when I have Apple Maps, Google Maps and Waze? For that matter, why would I bother with a bunch of soon to be stale Toyota versions of apps for services that already have well maintained CarPlay/iOS versions?

 I'd have been fine with 16" tires but wanted the other things in the XSE package so 18" wheels it is. People like to make fun of the fake exhaust tips, but they don't matter. 

Summary

I'm happy with my purchase. It took a lot of saving and a lot of pondering, but I finally got a car that is a happy successor to my dying Civic. 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Thunderbolt Display Life Extension: An Environmental Proposal for Apple

I recently replaced the power supply and data cable on my Thunderbolt Display to keep it working with its 5th Mac.  I know from experience that the original cables go bad, especially from MacBook Air users having to put too much stress on the cable being plugged into both sides of that laptop.  I personally wore out 2 Apple original cables when the strain relief around the data cable failed. So time for a replacement. Although I could have just used the auxiliary Thunderbolt 2 port on the display, I was in refurbish mode, and was opening the display up anyway.

Here's the cable I found on Amazon. Like the original it has a MagSafe 1 power connector and a Thunderbolt via Mini DisplayPort data connector. Which would be great, if I still used a 2015 MacBook Pro.
Thunderbolt Display Cable Replacement
But I have a 2018 MacBook Pro which has no MagSafe and has 4 Thunderbolt over USB-C ports. So, I purchased a separate Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3 adaptor from Apple for $49: 
Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2
Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 Adaptor

And I had to provide my own $79 power supply, despite the fact that I now have a new 250W power supply in my Thunderbolt Display which would be perfectly capable (I would think) of driving both the display and my laptop. 

I could have ripped the whole cable out and replaced. it with a Thunderbolt 2 cable, as the inside connector is just a Mini DisplayPort jack, just like the other end. I could have even put a short Thunderbolt 2 cable inside the case, attached to the adaptor and brought out a Thunderbolt 3 cable through the opening in the case, but I wouldn't have power over that cable. What I want is a one cable solution. 

Here is my proposal to Apple. Create a replacement cable assembly that ends up with a powered Thunderbolt 3 USB-C port embedded in the opening currently occupied by the MagSafe/Thunderbolt 2 cable. Enough with embedded cables that go bad with inadequate strain relief. Put a port in the back of the display to make it easy to replace future cables. Charge $129 for it, and I will buy one, I promise. 

Apple is always claiming to lead the way environmentally, but they are allowing 100's of thousands of otherwise functional monitors to go out of use before their they have to. They don't even sell a monitor in this price region anymore.  They brag about using "recycled" aluminum in their lower end products, but have this golden opportunity to keep equipment working and not being recycled and landfilled.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Chirping Thunderbolt Display, Time for a New Power Supply

My Thunderbolt Display started chirping when attached to a computer a few months ago, and then a few weeks ago, it out and out died.

Now, I am fully aware that this monitor is extremely obsolete with its USB 2 ports, moderate resolution and Thunderbolt 2 connectivity. But, it is still an attractive, accurate monitor with lots of connectivity. So, I deemed it worth it to spend $139 on a replacement power supply. Also needed some suction cups to pull the front glass off. It was a good task to assign my son, although we nearly broke the internal cable connecting the motherboard to the LCD panel.

Also bought a replacement power+data cable as the strain relief had failed a long while ago, leading me to use the passthrough Thunderbolt 2 port to connect to the monitor. I could probably have gone without this expense.

It would be great if someone manufactured a replacement cable that incorporated USB-C + Power + Thunderbolt 2 to Thunderbolt 3. There are a lot of these monitors out there. Where I work, these legacy monitors are coveted by anyone assigned a normal corporate purchase monitor. A swap in cable replacement would make them practically perfect.

Everything worked although I did manage to snap the screw holding the grounding wire to the external cable, so I had to do a bit of a solder hack. And now, I have my beautiful Thunderbolt Display back on my desk.