I own a 2008 eight-core Mac Pro that’s becoming long in the tooth.  It came equipped with SATAII internal buses and USB 2.0 and Firewire 400 and 800 connections for use with external peripherals.  That was fine for the days when hard disks were no larger than a couple of hundred gigabytes, but now my main user disk is a terabyte in size. If I want to move its data to a larger hard disk or to have one whole backup, I have to be willing to dedicate not hours but days to the process.  With some spare PCIe 2.0 slots lounging in the Mac pro’s rear, I decided it was time to see what newer technologies I might be able to use to make data transfers a lot less time consuming.

The two newer technologies that came to mind were USB 3.0 and 6G eSata.  A little hunting established that I could get both technologies in one PCIe card, so I ordered Caldigit’s FASTA-6GU3 card and a Vantec USB 3.0 and eSata disk enclosure case from Amazon.com.  The Caldigit card hosted two USB 3 and two 6G eSATA slots and supposedly worked under both OS X and Windows 7 and would boot into OS X.  I am running Mac OS 10.7.2 (Lion) as my Mac’s primary operating system but also run Windows 7 on its hard disk via boot camp, so I wanted my set up to work under either operating system.

Installing the Caldigit card was easy.  I just popped off the bracket that holds the PCIe slot cards in place, popped the card carefully into a slot, and then reinstalled the bracket.  Unfortunately, the fit of the Caldigit card in the slot was very loose; and I was unable to fasten down the card enough to keep it from moving.  That said, the fault is really with Apple’s design of the bracket and not a fault of the card.

I installed a USB 3 driver downloaded from the Caldigit website into both my OS X and Windows set-ups and plugged in the Vantec case first using an eSATA cable alone. The hard disk inside the case was seen by Windows 7 disk management tools but was not seen by OS X’s Disk Utility.  The Vantec case was seen by both operating systems when plugged in using its USB 3 cables.  I initially thought I had a fault with the eSATA portion of the Caldigit card but later discovered that the eSATA bus does not power a drive inside an eSATA case like a Firewire or USB case does.  eSATA enclosures must be powered by an external power source or pull power from another internal bus like USB.  Indeed, for both the Vantec case and a small case by Acomdata that used both USB 2.0 and eSATA, their drives were being powered by their USB connections.

Since I thought the Caldigit card was bad, I replaced it with two separate USB 3 and 6G eSATA PCIe cards from OWC.  Both cards provided very high speed data transfers.  Copying a 22GB file went from taking many hours to only a little over 20 minutes.   Unfortunately, the 6G eSATA card will not boot OSX, so I’m going to have to move back to a Caldigit card at some point if I want to use 6G eSATA to boot my Mac Pro from a future 6G SSD. In the interim, I plan on moving my Time Machine disk from its Firewire 400/USB 2 case to a USB 3 case to greatly aid in data recovery.  After all, it’s simply a matter of time before some disk inside my Mac Pro fails.  This time, though, when it does, I’ll have USB 3 or eSATA available to help me recover it, reducing the time I have to watch the colored beach ball spin and spin and spin.