Double the number of 3.5-inch drives in a Mac Pro (May 19th, 2013)
Product Manufacturer: MaxUpgrades
Price: $129 as reviewed
- Up to 32TB of storage in a Mac Pro
- No interference with air flow
- Drives can use existing PATA interface
- At first glance, pricey
- Brackets could use some labeling
- Tight cable fit, requiring rerouting
Nobody outside of Cupertino's privileged bunch knows the future of the Mac Pro line for sure. Despite Apple's reluctance to tell us what the line holds, there are a large number of machines in service all getting a bit long in the tooth, relatively speaking. As production Mac Pros have been replaced with new iMacs and even the Mac mini, IT departments are looking for creative ways to repurpose some of the older machines to preserve dwindling budgets and continued expansion of needs. Regardless of generation, the Mac Pro makes an excellent server for the home or business, limited only by the drive capacity. Macintosh upgrade purveyors Max Upgrades has a one-of-a-kind custom engineered solution for the 2006 through 2008 Mac Pro optical bay called the MaxConnect for Mac Pro Optical Bay. Using it, up to four 3.5-inch drives can be installed in the bay, in lieu of lightly-used opticals. Whether or not cramming all these drives in the space is a good idea remains to be seen.
The kit itself is simple. As received it contains a pair of very long, thin wired SATA cables, a baseplate assembly, a T-bracket for either the optical drive or a pair of drives mounted where the optical drive goes, molex adapters to SATA power adapters, and an assortment of screws of varying length. Documentation for install is provided in PDF form on an included DVD.
The kit as ordered is intended to use the pair of motherboard SATA ports unused on the 2006-2008 Mac Pro. Other kits exist for newer Mac Pros. The thin-wired SATA cables included in the review kit are intended to be threaded through the very small channel behind the optical drive bay. In our experience, the cables heads just wouldn't fit through this hole with the ATA cables already through the penetration, without complete disassembly of the fan assembly and optical bay.
Given well-documented issues in the Mac Pro tower with screws either stripping out upon attempted removal from factory-over torque on the assembly screws, or too much loctite on same, we don't recommend total disassembly of the computer to route the cables through the gap in the case. What we have done, however, is carefully routed the cables across the side of the power supply and down across the drive bay casing. It is a tight fit, but with three weeks of use, we have seen no cable cuts or insulation damage, even with frequent door removal and reassembly. Ultimately, this is a choice for the user to make.
Regardless of installation, the existing optical carriage must be removed from the interior of the Mac Pro case. Two drives are mounted on the MaxConnect base, with the T-shaped bracket mounted to the bottom of the optical drive. The T-bracket is then screwed into the MaxConnect base, and the entire assembly is inserted into the Mac Pro case. This was not our chosen option, but the flexibility of the assembly does allow for it, and we did test to ensure the fit and alignment were the same as Apple-factory.
The T-bracket also has screw holes drilled for a pair of 3.5-inch drives for a total of four drives in the optical bay. Our chosen assembly was a pair of 500GB ATA drives to utilize the extant bus, and a pair of 2TB SATA drives. After some fumbling with orientation of the drives on the non-symmetrical T-bracket, the base and T-bracket were attached in the same fashion as if we used the optical.
Conversation with our testing panel initially generated some concern for temperatures of drives mounted in the MaxConnect. For comparison, we use a pair of Western Digital 500GB SATA drives in RAID 0 format, mounted in the bay after removal of the optical drive using a pair of $4 5.25 to 3.5-inch bay adapters, found in any computer store and measured temperatures for two weeks during normal and artificially heavy usage. After moving 400GB of data to the drives with ambient temperature of 20.5C (69F), mostly in 6-10MB MP3 files, drive temperatures peaked at 44C (111F), well below the manufacturer maximum recommended temperature of 60C (140F). Idle or low-load temperatures never exceeded 38C.
Temperatures with the MaxConnect were a bit lower under the same 400GB copy. Peak temperature hit 41C (106F), with idle temperatures around 35C (95F). The same drives mounted in bays 2 and 3 inside the case after the same data transfer peaked at 42C (108F) with idle temperatures around 32C (90F). We repeated the test with ambient temperature as high as 25C (77F) with no change in internal temperatures worth noting, but a slight fan speed increase in all cases. The higher ambient temperature slowed recovery to idle temperatures somewhat, but not grossly.
At first glance, two pieces of machined aluminum, about a dozen screws, and two cables for $100 seems a bit steep, and it is, if you're just looking at raw materials. There are competing products -- OWC has a bracket that holds a 2.5-inch and 3.5 inch drive in the lower optical bay, but that's the closest that any other vendor has come to this product that we could find. In theory, some PC-style accessories could be shoehorned into the space, but not without sacrificing ventilation, the vaunted Mac Pro silence, or other engineering compromises. The MaxConnect is an extreme product, cramming up to 32TB of space in a single Mac Pro assuming that all drives are 4TB drives in conjuction with a PCI-E SATA card. Frankly, there is a very narrow market for this assembly but despite that, the MacConnect for the Mac Pro Optical Bay is a product with Apple-level engineering and attention to detail with few compromises or flaws associated with it, besides its price.