Dangerous minds / Thunderbolt PCIe card Upgrade for MP 5.1 ?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by AlexMaximus, Sep 15, 2018.

  1. AlexMaximus macrumors 6502a


    Aug 15, 2006
    A400M Base
    Hi folks,

    The title says it all. I wanted to ask someone with an advanced mac driver experience if this theory could be done?

    1. Check out the PCI upgrade card from Sonnet for Thunderbolt 3 functionality:


    (its in german, but you should find the US version as well)

    2. Assuming PCI standards are real standards, the PCIe card should fit into a Mac Pro 5.1 slot just fine.

    3. Copy existing Apple driver for Thunderbolt 1/2/3 from an iMac

    4. Use Apple iMac driver package with slight modification for Mac Pro 5.1

    5. Would this be feasible, or am I delusional here?

    6. If so, (with a minor effort) - Could we start a small MRumors fundraising to develop driver package for 5.1 ??


    I thought, this question would be worth contemplating ..
  2. chrfr macrumors 604

    Jul 11, 2009
    The chipset in the computer needs to support Thunderbolt for something like this to work. The Mac Pro does not.
  3. AlexMaximus thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Aug 15, 2006
    A400M Base
    Yes, I know this vatican myth. You are telling me that the holy grail chip of thunderbolt sits on the el cheapo pcie china backplane, inside of the Echo Express III-D box and not on the card? I absolutely don't believe that. This chip must be on the upgrade card, hence there should be a way to use it. The PCI backplane is not special, the music plays on the upgrade card. Anyone else here??
  4. bookemdano macrumors 65816

    Jul 29, 2011
    Myth? Go ahead and buy it and let us know how it goes.
  5. saulinpa macrumors 6502a

    Jun 15, 2008
    The cards that add TB to a motherboard have an extra cable that connects to a connector on the motherboard. So TB needs more than the PCIe bus can provide.
  6. handheldgames macrumors 65816


    Apr 4, 2009
    Pacific NW, USA
    Beyond the missing GPIO port/interface on the logic board, the EFI firmware would also need to initialize the hardware for the OS.

    AFAIK... No one has been able to add thunderbolt to an Intel x58 based system. Mac, PC or otherwise. Although I could be wrong.
  7. SneakyTLoD, Sep 15, 2018
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2018

    SneakyTLoD macrumors member

    Apr 6, 2018
    Hmm...... I shouldn't drink and get on forums. Sorry for being rude.
  8. deconstruct60 macrumors 604

    Mar 10, 2009
    Not sure why pointing folks off to Germany ( except for page view click bait).

    "... Sonnet designed Echo Express Thunderbolt 2-to-PCIe card expansion systems (and select Thunderbolt 2 adapters) to be easily upgraded to 40Gbps Thunderbolt 3(1). Simply replace the existing Thunderbolt interface board with the upgrade board, and then your chassis will instantly support higher performance, and connect to your Thunderbolt 3-equipped computer(2) without needing an adapter. .."

    It is abundantly plain that these cards are solely for Sonnets own expansion boxes. They don't necessarily work in others

    Thunderbolt isn't just an arbitrary veneer placed on top of PCI-e.

    The standard Thunderbolt host computer interface needs three inputs (GPIO, DisplayPort, and PCI-e ). End points ( expansion boxes are different.

    Host versus endpoint diagram.


    Thunderbolt version 3 adds some USB integration overhead but the baseline of Thunderbolt above is still the same. The "NHI" ( native host interface) takes a GPIO connection from the motherboard. The firmware of the host system needs to be able to integrate with that interface ( it isn't OS level drivers isssue). The system has to designed from the beginning to host Thunderbolt. It isn't a "slap on after you're done" design issue.

    Endpoints/peripherals are not hosts (that don't initialize the bus) . They are simpler to connect which is primarily what makes what Sonnet is doing viable. For a Mac Pro it isn't.

    So far, the Thunderbolt controller used in hosts has been the same chip used in endpoints. However, those are two different modes. Can't just point to a TB controller chip being on a card and say it is viable as a host version at all.

    Going forward some vendor that isn't Intel might make an endpoint only version . So example a USB or SATA or x4 PCI-e NVMe combo controller with Thunderbolt to make it easier to create a more inexpensive "couple chip solution" external device. So far that hasn't happened. Even it does that will not help out pre-2010 x86 systems get Thunderbolt.

    Standard PCI-e slots is not the 100% universal panacea that more than few folks will try to sales pitch.
  9. AlexMaximus thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Aug 15, 2006
    A400M Base
    Thank you very much for your detailed answer! So then this settles it. Its not a myth. This is very sad to say the least.
    It would have been nice to escape this locked in situation for the MP 5.1 crowd. My original thought on this was to check how
    complicated / possible a thunderbolt home-brew expansion for the 5.1 crowd would be. I guess only a company like Amfeltec could pull something like this off. Thanks again to all of you! I guess it was a nice pipe dream.
  10. Pressure macrumors 68040


    May 30, 2006
    Well, at least you have actual PCIe slots.
  11. orph macrumors 68000


    Dec 12, 2005
    or a mac min if you need thunderbolt for cheep

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