Mac storage specialist, CalDigit, recently introduced a new combination storage card for Mac Pro users. The CalDigit FASTA-6GU3 combines two eSATA ports and two USB 3.0 ports on a single PCI Express card. This makes it a veritable Swiss Army knife of storage connectivity, but only if you own a Mac Pro desktop!
A Tale of Two USB 3.0 Cards
There are currently two companies offering USB 3.0 interfaces for Apple computers: LaCie and CalDigit. Although both offer similar products (an ExpressCard for certain MacBook Pro laptops and PCI Express adapter for Mac Pro desktops), the two companies’ approaches could not be any more different:
- The LaCie cards only function with LaCie’s own storage devices, and no other USB 3.0 device will connect at full speed. This is a conscious limitation of the LaCie drivers, and is done to limit their exposure to support claims, since Apple does not officially support USB 3.0 at all.
- The CalDigit cards, in contrast, work with any and all USB 3.0 devices. While some may not be entirely compatible, and CalDigit will not support other vendors peripherals, my testing has shown it to be widely functional.
For this reason, I can only recommend buying the CalDigit adapter. It works well, is reasonably (if not inexpensively) priced, and the company has put in much development effort to support Apple’s operating system updates.
Side note: The vicious and angry reviews at sites like B&H Photo and Amazon indicate that I’m not the only one to hold this opinion. LaCie should reconsider this decision or make it very clear on the product packaging that only their devices are supported.
All For One, One For Few
The CalDigit FASTA-6GU3 card is compelling for Mac Pro users who frequently encounter a variety of external storage devices.
- The eSATA ports function at full 6 Gb speed and are backward compatible with slower eSATA devices
- The USB 3.0 ports support full 5 Gb SuperSpeed transfer, along with all other USB 2.0 and 1.0 peripherals
Combining both of these interfaces onto a single PCI Express card saves cost and space for the Mac Pro user. The product will reportedly list for $139, somewhat expensive but within reach for Mac Pro users who need it.
I remain impressed by CalDigit’s USB 3.0 products. My own tests show that these cards are fast and compatible, and I was pleased to see that CalDigit recently updated their driver for Mac OS 10.6.7, which changed some of the core features used by the previous driver. This is the kind of commitment I expect, both in terms of interoperability and support.
But it’s disappointing that these cards can’t be used more widely. Only the Mac Pro desktop and 17″ MacBook Pro laptop offer any sort of expansion slots, leaving most Mac users out in the cold when it comes to USB 3.0 and eSATA. Or course, there are certain homebrew options, but until Thunderbolt becomes more widespread and a Thunderbolt USB 3.0 interface is delivered, these solid products sadly have a limited audience.