SIIG Ultra ATA 133 Pro for Mac

and

Sonnet Tempo ATA 133 PCI IDE cards

March 8, 2004

One of the things that has bothered me about the G4 PowerMac line is the outdated ATA interfaces that came with the machines. Now, that might be as big a deal as you might think. Most experts on this subject concede that there is almost no noticeable performance difference between ATA 66 and 100 and very little between them and 133. Still, on my Mirror Door PowerMac, I experienced some problems with capturing with disks on the ATA 66 interface. I wanted to see if I could eliminate that problem and perhaps get a speed boost. I also wanted to expand my QuickSilver 2002 Powermac's hard disk capacity from 2 to 4 without going to SCSI. The way to acheive those aims was to add ATA 133 PCI cards to both machines. So, I decided to buy a SIIG Ultra ATA 133 Pro PCI card from Other World Computing and bought a Sonnet Tempo ATA 133 PCI card at a local Fry's.

For the purposes of this review, I'm going to concentrate on what I learned about both cards and add some notes about installing 4 hard disks in the QuickSilver. When I have more time, I'll run some performance tests between the cards and each Mac's native interface.

The SIIG Ultra ATA 133 Pro for Mac

I picked the SIIG Ultra ATA 133 Pro because I'm running several SIIG USB 2.0 PCI cards in the PowerMacs, and I've been very happy with their performance. At a price of $72, it was also slightly cheaper at Other World Computing than the $99 Sonnet Tempo ATA 133 card. (As I write this, OWC has lowered the price on the Sonnet Tempo card to $82.) In the box was the card, one 80 pin IDE cable (about 24 inches long), a Y-type power splitter, and a manual.

I was surprised that the card only included one IDE cable. I realize the manufacturer wants to keep costs low but leaving out a second IDE cable just irritates the customer. They'd do better to raise the cost a few bucks and include a second.

No drivers for the card are needed. However, you may have problems with your system going to sleep after you install this card. Luckily, there are downloads that fix this problem for various versions of OS X at the SIIG website.

Installing the card was a simple as removing one screw and a backplate behind a PCI slot, popping the card into place, and then attaching the IDE cables. One thing to keep in mind is that one must use Master/Slave set ups with this card, just like on a PC. Most hard disks have the proper jumper settings iconized on them anymore; if not, go to the hard disk manufacturer's website and get the settings for your hard disks. Then, be sure you connect the colored end of the IDE cable (blue or green) to the controller card, the next connector up to the Slave drive, and the one on the end to the Master.

In my Quicksilver 2002 PowerMac, I discovered I could only mount one two-drive bracket (cage). Trying to place a second one beside the factory original and filling it with two hard disks prevented the QuickSilver's side door from closing. (The power connector to the motherboard impacts the highest hard drive.) The only way I could see to mount four hard disks, then, was to put two in the original factory cage and one each on the two floor spots reserved for SCSI drives. This required me to buy a 36 inch 80 pin IDE cable I used to stretch from IDE 1 (the IDE connector on the end toward the front of the case) to first the Slave drive and then the Master (boot) drive. A 24 inch cable worked to hook up the two drive stack to IDE 2, and a smaller 18 inch cable probably would have worked, though I'm not totally sure of that.

Once I had the drives hooked up, on the first boot, the Mac displayed a folder with a flashing question mark as it hunted for the start-up volume. Sometime within about 30 seconds, it found it and booted up into Panther. (My start-up drive runs Panther and OS 9 on one partition and Jaguar on another.) Once there, I entered System Preferences, re-selected Panther as the start-up volume, and rebooted. On this and all subsequent starts, the Mac booted right into the start-up volume without hunting.

That's when I noticed something totally unexpected. In Panther's Finder, every volume except the start-up volume now had an "Eject" icon next to it. Just for grins, I clicked on one of the icons and, sure enough, Panther unmounted the disk. The good news is that a reboot recovered it. Booting into Jaguar confirmed that Jaguar also exhibited the same behavior. This is not catastrophic since I suspect if you're actively using the disk, OS X will not let you eject it. Still, I found it a bit disconcerting and later confirmed that the problem is realate to this acard by using the Sonnet card in this machine.

Supposedly, this card overcomes the large hard disk restriction of earlier ATA interfaces. I say "supposedly" because when I tried to test this card in my dual 1.25 GHz G4 Mirror Door PowerMac using Maxtor 160GB hard dives, the boot hard drive stuttered like it was a machine gun and OS X loading slowed to a crawl. I'm not sure whether the card has a problem with 160 GB hard drives, only that 160GB hard drive, or with the firmware in the PowerMac. In my QuickSilver PowerMac sporting two Western Digtal and two Maxtor 120 GB hard drives, it works like a champ. Since I don't have another Mac to test in or time to move a 160 GB hard disk to my QuickSilver for testing, I'd say be cautious with this card. I do believe it has worked for other folks, though, so maybe I've got some kind of problem with mine. Search Google before buying the card just to be on the safe side.

So far, the card has operated my Quicksilver PowerMac flawlessly. Have I gained any speed? Well, since the only way I can judge it is qualitatively, I'd have to say "maybe". In any case, I do have 4 hard disks in the machine, now. But the funnies with "ejectable" fixed drives and the card's suspect performance in my MDD PowerMac mean I can only give it a rating of 3 CD's out of 5.

SIIG Ultra ATA 133 Pro for Mac PCI Card

. GOOD

The Sonnet Tempo ATA 133 PCI IDE Card

The box contains the ATA 133 PCI card, one 80 pin IDE cable, some extra screws for mounting hard disks, and an installation pamphlet.

I picked up the Sonnet card at a Fry's Electronics for $99. (Other World Computing as of this date has it for $82.) Like the SIIG card, the Sonnet card has two IDE controllers on top of it, and two drives can be hooked into each one. Also, like the SIIG card, IDE 2 is on the connector closest to the bracket (rear of your Mac) and IDE 1 is the controller closest to the front of the machine. The card is physically taller than the SIIG card, a feature you'll really appreciate if you're trying to straddle an IDE cable across the top of a Radeon 9000 AGP card and the CPU radiator in a MDD PowerMac. I used two 36 inch 80 pin IDE cables to connect the Sonnet card to two stacks of two Maxtor 160 GB hard drives. (Total cost of the cables was $16 + tax at Fry's.) Other World Computing sells a special cable set that costs $30 but I'm sure fits a little better than the ones I used. It took strategic placement of the cables to not only allow the MDD's side to close up but to get it to do and power up. Strangely, the machine would power up every time with this setup with the door open; but at first, after I closed it, I'd hit the power button on my Apple Cinema Display, it would glow for a second and then go out without my PowerMac doing anything. I finally arranged the cables so that it all worked, but I'm still not sure what was causing that problem.

No drivers are needed to run with card with OS X.

On first boot, the machine could not find the boot drive. That was my fault; I had not changed the jumpers from the MDD PowerMac's preferred setting of "cable select". Once I figured out which was the boot drive and set it up as a Master, the system did the initial 30 second hunt before finding the boot drive but then started up. Re-selecting the Start Up drive in System Preferences cured that problem.

Loading of OS X (Panther) appeared to be as fast if not slightly faster than the native ATA 100 interface. Unlike the SIIG card, Panther's Finder did not show any "Eject" icons next to any hard drive attached to the Sonnet card. To further troubleshoot, I moved the Sonnet card over to my QuickSilver PowerMac and Panther again did not display any "Eject" icons. I must conclude that OS X's "ejectable" behavior is either a bug in my card or the card and not a typical response of the OS to ATA cards.

The only downsides I saw with this card were that it also only included one IDE cable and it contained a note that said you might have to download and install an older version of the card's firmware if you're running Mac OS 10.0 to 10.1.5. When you do that, you also lose the capability to mount hard drives bigger than 137GB; so the only reason to buy the card is to install more hard disks than you've currently got.

Sonnet includes some extra screws for mounting hard disks (vice SIIG's inclusion of a Y-power cable), and the Sonnet is priced a bit higher than the SIIG card. In this case, you get what you pay for. In fact, I'm trying to work a swap with Other World Computing and get a Sonnet card as a replacement for my SIIG. It'll cost me a few bucks; but it will be worth it not to have to worry about accidentally ejecting a fixed disk and to know I've got something I could also use in my MDD with big hard disks. (I always like having back-ups). Based on what I've seen so far, I'm giving the Sonnet card a 4 out of 5 CD rating.

Sonnet Tempo ATA 133 PCI IDE card. VERY GOOD.

Update: 03/14/03004

Quirks of both cards

After using both these cards in my dual 1 GHz Quicksilver 2002, I’ve found that neither card operates absolutely trouble-free. There are minor quirks with both of these cards that, in the end, leave you with a “pick your poison” choice. The happy news, though, is that they both operate under OS 10.2 (Jaguar) and 10.3 (Panther) well enough so you can be fairly sure one will work for you.

As I stated earlier in the article, the SIIG card works seamlessly under Jaguar but exhibits what I call “the removable drive quirk” under Panther. (I would write that off to a problem with this particular card, but I did find at least one other user in Apple’s discussion groups who also had this problem.) To reiterate, all hard disks except the start up volume show up in Jaguar as removable with an “Eject” icon next to them in Finder’s Sidebar. This has the unfortunate side effect of displaying every hard drive on your desktop if you have “Show CD’s, DVD’s and iPod’s” selected in Finder’s Preferences even if "Show Hard Drives" is off. The only way to get rid of that problem was to deselect the "display CD, DVD, and iPod" preference, which means that CD’s or other removable media will no longer mount on the Desktop. (You have to look inside Finder to see them.) Jaguar did not exhibit that behavior, though both operating systems would let me eject every drive but the start-up volume with a right-click (Control-Click) selection. On the plus side, drive operation under both operating systems was otherwise normal. I even booted the system on Micromat’s Drive 10 and Tech Tool Pro 4.01 CD’s, and both applications treated the drives as if they were mounted on internal IDE interfaces, i.e., they were all available for testing and repair.

Putting the Sonnet ATA 133 Tempo PCI card in the Quicksilver swung the pendulum to the other side. In both Jaguar and Panther, Finder recognized the hard disks as fixed, at least to the degree that it did not put the “Eject” icon next to any drive in Finder's Sidebar. CD and DVD mounting on the Desktop was therefore normal. Drive performance appeared to be good, and the system operated as it does on the internal IDE ports, at least until I tried to boot it off of Micromat’s Drive 10 CD. Drive 10 logged the hard drives as unavailable for any hardware testing or repair. Tech Tool Pro 4.01 seemed to fair much better and would run tests and optimize drives normally, as would Norton Disk Doctor and Speed Doctor from Norton Utilities 8.0.

In the end, I decided I preferred the Sonnet card for inclusion in the QuickSilver, so I bought another one locally. (I would have swapped out the SIIG for a Sonnet from Other World Computing, but their customer service was very slow to respond and not very helpful; so I decided to press ahead with a local purchase and sell the SIIG for about two thirds of what I paid for it. I’ll think twice about ordering anything else from OWC.) If you’re running Jaguar, I’d vote for the SIIG card just as easily; it’s usually a bit cheaper and works just as well. For those of you running Panther, I’d pay the extra money for the Sonnet card; it seemed to work a bit more seamlessly.