While considering the possibilities of adding an eSATA port to my iMac, I am also investigating eSATA solutions for my MacBook Pro. Since I have an ExpressCard slot, the logical choice is to pick up one of the many ExpressCard eSATA adapters. But it looks like the options aren’t all that great: The SiliconImage chipset used in many is full-featured, but the drivers and hardware implementations are buggy, while the older JMicron controller is cheap and simple but lacks many desirable features.
You might also be interested in my post, ExpressCard: A Sure Thing That Failed
The Contenders: JMicron and Silicon Image
In my review of the eSATA ExpressCard market, I noted that every offering included one of three PCI Express eSATA controller chipsets:
- The JMicron JMB360 is the older and more basic, supporting a single SATA port. It is well-supported by Mac OS X (including 64-bit), with no drivers to install, and supports NCQ but does not allow for SATA port multipliers. Buyer complaints suggest it is not well-supported by Windows 7 or Vista.
- The Silicon Image SiI3132 boasts “server-class features” including port multipliers, BIOS expansion, and more. But OEM drivers are required and stability is a real question. Mac OS X drivers are marked “beta” and are 32-bit only.
- A few options include the JMicron JMB362, which supports two SATA ports and port multipliers. These are rare, however, and it is unclear how good the drivers are.
The choice is less than clear: Do you opt for a basic and simple solution using a JMicron controller or a full-featured but complex option using Silicon Image?
Windows users have only one choice: Judging by the negative comments from Windows 7 and Vista users, Silicon Image seems like the better option. Mac users must decide to take a gamble on SI or stick with the JMicron option.
Typically for PC hardware, there are many confusing brand and model options for ExpressCard eSATA adapters. More-familiar names like Siig, IOGear, and Lacie vie with less-familiar brands like Syba, Best Connectivity, and the rest. The smaller companies often mention which controller they use, while the name brands usually skip it, re-branding everything for themselves.
Generally, any device with a single port is likely to use the JMicron 360 chipset, while any two-port or “RAID” solution is probably Silicon Image-based. There are a few 2-port JMB362 devices, however. Some single-port devices have dual-purpose ports, allowing connection of USB peripherals as well, and there are mega-adapters with multiple USB, FireWire, and eSATA ports available.
Dual-purpose devices concern me, since they leave more opportunity for vendors to cut corners or fail to properly integrate hardware and software, so I decided to stick to a single-purpose device. I wasn’t ready to spend over a hundred dollars on a name brand “Pro” device, regardless of their support. The prospect of messing with “beta” drivers for Silicon Image products (and the lack of 64-bit OS X support) meant these cards were right out, too.
After reviewing the options, I decided to go for a JMicron-based single-port device from OWC for my MacBook Pro. They are reportedly somewhat more stable, and many choices are available for under $20. But honestly, none of these devices seems all that stable and reliable. I really can’t recommend any ExpressCard eSATA adapter based on what I’ve read!
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