Because I spend too much money and time upgrading computer systems, I try to get the most bang for the buck by buying components that will allow me to cascade an upgrade on one system into an upgrade on the other. My latest adventure involved upgrading the storage on my dual 1 Ghz G4 Quicksilver PowerMac. Natively, it would support only two IDE drives using an ATA 66 interface. Since I wanted to make it into a mean video editing machine, I needed more space in it than that. I also wanted to upgrade two of the storage disks on my dual 1.25 Ghz G4 to 160GB capacity. So, I ordered two Maxtor 160 GB hard drives from Multiwave, placed them into the dual 1.25Ghz MDD, and then moved the two 120GB hard drives they replaced, one Maxtor and one Western Digital, over to the Quicksilver. To do that, of course, I had to add an ATA PCI card to the machine; so, I ordered a SIIG Ultra ATA 133 Pro card from Other World Computing to cover that base.
Once I had all the pieces, I easily installed the new 160 GB hard drives in my MDD PowerMac. I had thought about putting the SIIG card there and getting another one for the Quicksilver but decided against that when I saw that the IDE cable supplied and another I had sitting around would not reach the drive interfaces. (The SIIG card only supplies one IDE cable, by the way, so you need to have or buy another one if you’re hoping to hook it up to more than two drives. Even those have to be in a Master/Slave vertical stack.) In the Quicksilver, there simply wasn’t enough room to put two vertical stacks of two drives in the case; the door wouldn’t close. The only way to get four drives into the thing was to use the original drive bracket that holds two droves and put the each of the other two beside it on the floor (where SCSI drives were designed to go). While that gets all four drives into the case, a single IDE cable would not reach both single drives mounted on the floor. After examining the possibilities, I decided that the best I was going to do was put three drives on the IDE card and one on the Quicksilver’s native ATA 66 interface. But what drives did I hook to which interface to get the best performance? I conducted some tests with the boot drive connected to the native ATA interface and the new IDE card. Concluding that it seemed to make little difference where it was, I put the boot disk on the native ATA interface and the three data (video) storage disks on the ATA 133 IDE card. I rigged the boot drive as a Master and placed it farthest away in one of the SCSI bays, hooked it up to the ATA 66 interface using a spare IDE cable (yes, 80 pin); placed Hard Drive 2 in the SCSI bay next to it and hooked it up to the IDE 1 port (the closest) on the SIIG card (ATA 133), put Hard Drives 3 and 4 in the original two disk bracket and hooked them both up to a single IDE cable on IDE 2 of the SIIG card. Later, after I bought a 36” IDE cable, I hooked up all drives to the ATA 133 interface even with that physical layout.
It seems to be working like a champ, but there are a couple of things I learned about OS X and extra IDE cards and drives.
When I booted into Panther, I noticed that the hard drives located on the ATA card all had an “eject” icon next to them in Finder! I surmised that the OS was seeing the drives as “removable”, and I clicked on the Eject icon to see what it would do. Sure enough, the hard disk unmounted, disappearing from view. I had to reboot to recover the drive. While I have enough self-discipline not to do click on an Eject icon and presume the system won’t let me do that when using the drive for capture (or anything else), I don’t care much for the implementation. I don’t understand why the OS can’t tell that the drives are fixed. This case of mistaken identity holds true for every volume except the start-up volume, inclduign other partitions on the boot disk. The operating system will obviously not let you eject the start-up volume, even if it is located on an ATA card.
Secondly, on the first boot after hooking up the start-up drive to the card, the Mac displayed a folder icon overwritten with a flashing question mark and spent some time hunting for the start-up volume, even though I had not changed it in System Preferences since the last start. A trip to the Apple Support site suggested I reselect the start-up drive, which I did; and the problem did go away. All starts after that were normal.
I had seen some information telling me I would need to reinitialize any drives attached to the card. I did reinitialize two of my storage disks but did not reinitialize the third or the boot disk. Still, everything appears to be working fine.
Can I see much of a performance difference? Not really. In fact, there are quite a few experts out on the web who will tell you there is no real performance difference between ATA66 and ATA 100 speed-wise. My hard disks are all ATA 133, but this was worth what I went through because I know I can use hard disks bigger than 137GB and I have 4 hard disks in my Quicksilver where before I only had two. Speed gain or no, that makes it worth it.
If there’s anyone out there who put one of these SIIG cards in a MDD PowerMac and is using it to capture video, I’d appreciate it if you’d drop me a line and let me know whether it made a difference for you. I’m going to capture footage using the PowerMac’s native ATA100 and 66 interfaces and see how they do. If I have problems, I may try out the SIIG card in that machine and order another, unless someone has tried the Sonnet card, too, and can tell me it’s better.