Steve Jobs isn’t too keen on USB 3.0, apparently, but other vendors are stepping in to fill the void. CalDigit was first with a USB 3.o driver, but it was tied to the pricey PCI Express and ExpressCards they sell. Now LaCie is out with a free driver for just about any USB 3.0 card, but it’s locked to LaCie’s storage products. Let’s hope we get an unlocked driver soon!
Now You LaCie It
LaCie seems awfully proud to be bringing USB 3.0 to the Mac, and they expound about the virtues of this new bus. They claim on their USB 3.0 page that their 2big USB 3.0 drive could hit 220 MB/s in “burst transfer” using their cards and driver.
I’ve been testing USB 3.0 for the past week using a Seagate GoFlex drive and Keydex USB 3.0 ExpressCard adapter. But I could only work with the combo in Windows, since Mac OS X lacked a driver for it. Pleased that LaCie released their driver to the world, I was anxious to try it out for myself.
I downloaded the tiny driver package and installed the “MacOS106” package it included. I noted that the installer specifically claims that “this driver may work on USB 3.0 Host controllers base (sic) on the NEC 720200 chipset.” This is great news, since every current USB 3.0 host controller is based on this chipset!
I popped in my cheapie Keydex USB 3.0 ExpressCard adapter and sure enough, an entry for “USB Super-Speed Bus” appeared in System Profiler. Now we’re cooking!
Now You Don’t
My next step was plugging in the Seagate GoFlex drive with its USB 3.0 cable. Although the ExpressCard slot lacks full USB 3.0 power, and I was using a 7200 rpm “GoFlex Pro” drive, mine had plenty of juice. The drive spun up, the lights came on, but nothing else happened.
After refreshing System Profiler and Disk Utility a few times, I jumped over to the Terminal to see if there were any error messages. Then I spotted the error message: “Super Speed device other than LaCie is not supported – Vendor ID[bc2]”
That’s right: This free driver wouldn’t allow me to connect a device from Vendor “bc2”. This is Seagate’s USB Vendor ID, so the driver is presumably locked to LaCie’s ID (which I believe is “59f” for whatever that’s worth). Although it supports any USB 3.0 adapter card, it will only allow LaCie storage devices to be connected.
I looked through the driver and plist files and couldn’t see any obvious way to change the driver to work with non-LaCie storage. So I’ll uninstall it and wait for someone else to release a real open driver.
Note: The LaCie driver doesn’t interfere with the ability of Mac OS X to access USB 2.0 devices through the NEC chip’s backwards-compatibility. But this works fine without the driver installed, too!
I can’t really be mad at LaCie. They built this driver for their own products, not so folks (like me) with other companies’ hardware can use it. They have every right to lock it down, but the way they did it is foolish.
See, LaCie sells USB 3.0 controller cards, too. And these controllers will presumably only work with LaCie USB 3.0 storage as well! They’re likely to have some seriously angry customers on their hands once the promise of device interoperability is broken. Sooner or later they’ll have to open the driver up for other devices.
Despite this setback, I consider it a good sign that there are now two USB 3.0 driver sets available for Mac OS X. No matter what Steve Jobs thinks of USB 3.0, it is coming to the Mac and soon. CalDigit and LaCie didn’t write these drivers, they’re just repackaging them. I imagine other companies (Belkin? Iomega?) will soon introduce Mac OS X drivers of their own and someone, sometime will leave them unlocked. Then we’ll all be able to enjoy “super speed” on our Macs!
Disclosure: Seagate provided the GoFlex drive and USB 3.0 interface for testing at no charge. I purchased everything else mentioned.