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MacBook Pro eSATA options with ExpressCard/34 Slot

Last updated 2010-05-18 - Send Feedback
Related: eSATA, MacBook, MacBook Pro

MacBook users looking to add storage have limited options, but those lucky enough to have a MacBook Pro with an ExpressCard/34 slot have a high performance option: eSATA or external SATA. Other users will have to be content with Firewire 800, or go the ultra high performance dual internal drive route as with an MPG Pro Laptop.

This report analyzes with eSATA performance (external SATA) via several add-on cards that fit the ExpressCard/34 slot on the 17" MacBook Pro and certain other earlier-generation models. Sadly, Apple eliminated the ExpressCard/34 slot on the current 13" and 15" models, and users of those models will have to be content with Firewire 800, which is also covered in this report.

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Three eSATA options

OWC Slim ExpressCard to eSATA Adapter

OWC Slim eSATA ExpressCard/34

This single-port OWC Slim ExpressCard fits flush to the MacBook pro, so you can leave it inserted and it’s there when you need it, as if it were built-in.

It uses the JMicron JMB360 chipset , and is plug-and-play— no driver needed for Mac OS X 10.5 and 10.6, a big plus (no issues with 64-bit or sleep problems, etc). It also works on Windows and Linux.

As an added bonus, it is bootable (verified), and since eSATA is much faster than Firewire 800, this is a big plus when you want to free up all the internal space for data.

At a rock-bottom introductory price of about $28, this card is a no-brainer purchase for most users.

The OWC Slim card is semi-compatible with port multiplied enclosures: with dual drives in the FirmTek SeriTek/5PM, the card could only “see” the first drive, and I could hot-swap drives into the first slot, so it is still a very useful card even with a PM enclosure. It’s of course fully compatible with self-enclosed RAID boxes like the OWC QX2.

To prove the point of good compatibility (though lacking full PM support), I even booted the MacBook Pro off the port-multipled FirmTek SeriTek/5PM.

Sonnet Tempo SATA Pro,

Sonnet Tempo SATA Pro ExpressCard/34

The two-port Sonnet Tempo SATA Pro has been around for a couple of years, and has generally offered the highest performance (still true).

At about $198, it's many times the price of the two other cards tested here. That’s the premium you pay for two ports and its somewhat higher performance.

This card was not bootable in my testing.

The form factor of the Tempo Pro is awkward because the ports are provided in a protruding bulge outside the MacBook Pro case. Not sleek, and not so great for fitting the MBP into a carrying case, which means you’ll often want to remove the card for travel.

A driver is required for operation with the Tempo SATA Pro. As I’ve had way too many headaches with driver software, that requirement is a negative. In fact, I had trouble getting the Tempo Pro to work at first (read errors), though the problems did resolve themselves and I was able to test and use it quite successfully.

Sonnet Tempo SATA Edge

Sonnet Tempo Edge eSATA ExpressCard/34

The single-port Sonnet Tempo SATA Edge fits flush to the MacBook pro, so you can leave it inserted and it’s there when you need it, as if it were built-in.

At about $50, it's nearly twice the price of the OWC Slim ExpressCard.

This card was not bootable in my testing.

A driver is required for installation, which I prefer to avoid , because I’ve had way too many headaches with driver software. However, the SATA Edge card operated without a hitch in all my testing.

According to Sonnet, this card works with port multiplied enclosures, and I tested and verified this claim using the FirmTek SeriTek/5PM. I inserted two drives and was able to “see” them both in Disk Utility, and to format both of them independently.

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Flush fit

The OWC Slim and Sonnet Edge both plug into the MacBook Pro and can effectively be treated as if they are built-in.

Flush fit for 2 of the cards

By comparison, the Sonnet Tempo SATA Pro protrudes substantially, a nuisance for a form-fitting case or sleeve, with a bulge that could catch or provoke torque on the case. It’s best to remove the Tempo SATA Pro for travel.

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