I’m working on a new Hacintosh and I’ll have more info about that shortly. But one of steps in building it probably applies to more than just the Hac and was enough of a challenge that I’ll write about it separately here. I wanted to add some internal SATA ports and some external eSATA ports and I wanted to do that all in one card so that I wouldn’t waste card slots. That seemed like a simple enough task at first but it turned into a bigger challenge than I expected it would.
First, I got the Dell Optiplex 9020 back in the summer of 2014. I had done some research then and found a well-rated SATA/eSATA card. It’s a SYBA SD-PEX40054. It is a “4-channel” SATA card with 6 ports – that means that it has 2 internal ports that are always on, and 2 pairs of internal and external ports that can be configured as either internal or external. Seemed ideal to me so I bought that and installed it in my Dell 9020. It worked fine in Windows and I tested out MacOS 10.9 with my hardware. Again, more on the details of this testing in another post, but as far as the SATA card goes, I was able to create a DSDT that used it and the Mac used the two always-on internal ports just fine. I didn’t get as far as testing the additional external/internal port pairs then. But I felt like I had enough that I could proceed with Mac OS X 10.10 when it came out – which was imminent at the time.
It took longer for Mac OS X 10.10 to be released than I expected, it took longer for the Hacintosh community to get rolling with 10.10 than expected, and at the same time, things got busy for me at home so the new Hacintosh sat collecting dust for months waiting for the 10.10 build.
I’ve resumed the project now and the build is going well (again more info later), but the SATA card was proving problematic. Even in Windows, I couldn’t get the eSATA ports to work at all. And it isn’t just that they wouldn’t work. When my external drive was plugged in, I couldn’t even boot the computer. The SATA card’s BIOS would hang on start-up. The SATA card’s chip is from Marvell and when you boot, the Marvell chip would insert a step into the BIOS boot up. Without the external drive connected, it showed the Marvell screen with an option to press Ctrl-M and get into the Marvell setup. But when the drive was connected, instead of the screen to say press Ctrl-M, the screen just stayed black. I thought I would be clever and enter into the Marvell setup and then plug in the drive but doing so hung the Marvell setup. Must be something wrong with my card, right?
I worked on this for days. I submitted a support request to SYBA. (Note: to submit a question to SYBA, you would go to the product page and then click on the Question tab. Be sure not to enter any single quote into your question or you’ll get a MySQL error!) And then I kept Googling. The winner Google search for me was “mybook esata marvell“. The top hit was a page at “creativecow” describing the same problem I was having. But rather than contacting their SATA card manufacturer, they had contacted Western Digital who makes the MyBook. And changing the search slightly to have mybook with a space in it led me to a page at Western Digital that describes my exact issue. From that page: “This issue is caused by an incompatibility of the Marvell eSATA controller and the chipset on the external hard drive.” And the only solution is to not use eSATA with a MyBook and a Marvell. In other words, the thing I had been trying to work through was just never going to work! On the one hand, it was good to know it wasn’t my fault and I could stop pursuing that. On the other hand, now what!?
Well, the link above to creativecow had a link to a WD page showing a list of supported cards. The list was extremely short which is really disappointing. Why bother including an eSATA port on the drive if it works with only a few eSATA cards? I suspect that the list is only a list of cards that have been tested, though – that it is not a comprehensive list of the only ones that will work. So I figured I’d look into the Addonics hardware. Well, it doesn’t offer 2 internal and 2 external ports on one card so that’s a dealbreaker. But the chip used was a Silicon Image 3132, where the “2” means 2-channel. And fortunately, Silicon Image makes a 4-channel chip with the Silicon Image 3124. It isn’t the same line (“312” instead of “313”) but hopefully it is similar enough to workable for Western Digital? And that’s probably good that it is a different line because the creativecow post said that the problem they had with was a 3132.
Back to Googling to figure out if the 3124 was going to work. I found a helpful discussion thread at MacRumors with some experts weighing in with options about which chipsets would be good for a Mac. And one post in particular (the one linked above) indicated that the “Sil3114” would not work with MacOS X but that the “Sil3124” would. That means that I have identified a chip that will work on a Mac and that should also (hopefully) work with the Western Digital MyBook. (Note that I had earlier found a thread at MacRumors which talked about various SYBA cards that worked well on Mac but all of them seemed to be Marvell based cards so while that helped confirm that my SYBA card would work well on my Hacintosh, it didn’t help me with Western Digital’s MyBook.)
The next challenge was to find a SIL3124 based card that had two internal SATA ports and 2 external ones. Most of the ones that I could find for sale at my typical sources were either 4 internal SATA ports or 4 external eSATA ports. Eventually some Google-Fu paid off. Instead of web searching, I switched to image searching on “sil 3124 esata” and the 4th image is the thing I wanted! Awesome! Well, almost – it was from AliExpress and was $120 shipped from China. But we are “on the board” now. And as it turned out, there were a number of these boards available from China. I actually managed to find it as cheap as $60 shipped from China taking possibly a month. But I eventually found a matching board from “Cool Drives“. And to make me feel even better, the title of the card included “MAC”. Armed with this info, I tried to go back to Amazon, NewEgg, and eBay to see if I could get what I wanted from a trusted seller who also would be more likely to deliver quickly. But even with knowledge about what I was looking for, no luck on the trusted sellers. So I bought the card from Cool Drives and paid extra for tracked shipping.
I should also note that I tried to get my hands on a SYBA SD-PEX40031. It was one of the other items that turned up in my image search and it seemed perfect with 2 internal SATA, 2 external eSATA and even power over eSATA with a power connector on the card. I did find some reviews saying that the card only put out 5V on eSATA and not 12V so it wouldn’t drive a 3.5 inch drive but would probably drive a 2.5 inch drive just fine. And I thought that it would be pretty cool that if I wanted to do any laptop drive cloning or backing up, it would be nice to not have to open my case and disconnect some things to connect others. But this particular card wasn’t available anywhere I looked. Also, I was a little worried about the statement on the SYBA site that it was a “Pericom PI7C9X111 + Silicone [sic] Image Sil3124”. The typo wasn’t the concern! Rather the concern was about whether the Mac OS or the MyBook would be confused by the introduction of a second chip in what I assume is the path of the eSATA signals. So if I do use the eSATA port for any disk cloning, I’ll need to use a cable like this instead of my eSATAp cable.
After the card arrived, I realized I hadn’t read the description of the card carefully enough. The card was a PCI-X card, not a PCI-e card! After all, “X” is frequently the shorthand for words that have an “X” in them. But fortunately, I was still okay because I had a PCI slot in my computer and the card would work for either PCI or PCI-X. (See the separate post for my full story on my realization and subsequent analysis!) All I needed to make this PCI-X card work in my PCI slot was a couple of jumpers that I scrounged from something in the stash.
I’m very please to report that this card is doing exactly the right thing. It’s almost perfect. the MacOS works fine with it after installing the driver. You need to get the driver from Silicon Image (page || driver download link), despite their protestation that you should get it from the hardware manufacturer. I say it’s only “almost perfect” because the devices hooked in to the native SATA ports on the motherboard are considered internal drives by MacOS while the two internal SATA ports on the Sil3124 card end up as external drives in MacOS. I found stability issues when I had the optical drives hooked in to the Sil3124 card’s internal SATA ports – the optical drives would sort of disconnect arbitrarily. So I have them hooked in to the motherboard’s SATA ports and have the Time Machine and Media (music, pictures, etc.) drives hooked in to the Sil3124’s internal SATA ports. The only downside I can see is that the icons present as removable disks rather than internal disks.
(Note that I’m using a custom DSDT file for this Hacintosh and I created that file after installing the Sil3124 card, so it’s possible that there is something in the DSDT for that card. I didn’t do anything special when creating the DSDT other than just ask for the analysis of the computer so if there is something special in there, it’s detectable by the process that makes the DSDT.)