Macbook Pro ExpressCard is useless, Bootcamp bugged

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by Timur, Oct 16, 2009.

  1. Timur macrumors 6502a


    Oct 14, 2008
    The ExpressCard (EC) slot of the 15" Unibody Macbook Pros is completely useless in its current state! I do not know about the 17" models, but given the revision of the Firewire chipset which makes it finally working properly I have some hope that it may work better.

    It does not seem possible to send data at sustained high bandwidth over the EC without either data corruption, Kernel Panics or system freezes. That mostly affects eSATA cards, but others like Firewire and Audio adapters are affected just as much.

    Because of the erratic and somewhat random nature of the issues it may appear to some that their port is working properly, but probably it is not. I had my Logic Board (mainboard) exchanged, I am using freshly formated OS installations and many other people on the net report similiar problems.

    1. Cloning via Disk Utility/CCC or backing up via Time Machine leads to the destination partition being corrupted beyond repair (or outright Kernel Panics/freezes).

    When using Windows XP on the other hand I was not able to produce a single error via eSATA, even copying a multiple of the data that caused 100% reproducable errors on OS X.

    I suspect this to be based on some kind of error correction in Windows rather than the EC working properly though.

    That suspision is based on the fact that the EC eSATA successfully cloned 9 out of 10 tries on OS X *while the adjacent USB port was unusable*. After connecting a monitor to the adjacent display-port the USB port worked again, but the EC port produced errors again, too.

    2. Trying to flash the firmware of a RME HDSPe fails at least 44% of the time (22 of 50 tries).

    On Windows XP I could not produce any errors when flashing (50 out of 50 tries successful).

    3. Hot-plugging EC devices easily leads to the Mac freezing completely.

    This happens on OS X as much as on any installation of Windows.

    4. The EC cannot be used on Vista / Windows 7 at all.

    Apple exclaims that "Microsoft has to provide a driver", taking no responsibility for the apparent failure of their own hardware while advertising "lets you run Windows natively — as if your Mac were a PC".

    I suspect EFI/BIOS problem to be the culprit that keep Windows from properly setting up system resources. In fact the same RME HDSPe uses the same IRQ 5 and adress-range on Vista like on XP, but still Vista claims that these resources are not available.

    „This device cannot find enough free resources that it can use. (Code 12).
    If you want to use this device, you will need to disable one of the other devices on this system.”

    5. Another hint to a bad EFI/BIOS implementation is a recurring AHCI (harddrive controller) error that makes Windows randomly freeze every few days (sorry, only german log entries):

    „ACPI: ACPI-BIOS versucht, in einen ungültigen PCI-Operationsbereich (0x41c) zu schreiben. Wenden Sie sich an den Systemhersteller, um technische Unterstützung zu erhalten.
    IRQARB: ACPI-BIOS hat einen mehrdeutigen Eintrag in der PCI-Routingtabelle (_PRT.) erstellt. Der ungültige _PRT-Eintrag hat folgende Form: 0x00.“

    On XP you get this on a regular basis (like with every boot-up and just in between) without the computer necessarily freezing. On Vista I recognized that when the computer froze I found this entry in the system log just the moment before the freezing.

    6. The Bootcamp drivers coming from Apple are very badly implemented, they keep other drivers from accessing the CPU (high DPC latencies). This mostly shows as audio-dropouts with videos, games and professional audio applications.

    Ironically it is Microsoft's own "Update Catalog" that offers better drivers for Apple WLAN module (Broadcom) for both XP and Vista. These fix the DPC issues, the Vista driver even allows upto 300 mbit (N standard) while OS X only allows 130 mbit with my router. Unfortunately the XP drivers only seem to run at 54 mbit though.

    The NVidia graphic drivers cause serious DPCs whenever it clocks down to energy-saving 2D mode (most of the time). Well, on XP there seems to be a bug that keeps them running at full power/heat Performance 3D mode all the time, but that's not so much better an issue. The only workaround is to *force* them into constand "Low-Power 3D" or "Performance 3D" (I prefer Low-Power) via Rivatuner, but that needs a reboot everytime you want to change the power-state.

    But the worst of all drivers in that package is Apple's own KBDMGR.EXE (was renamed in Bootcamp 3) that is responsible for the special F-Keys function, turning on backlight and regulating screen brightness.

    While there is a workaround that by turning CPU "Affinity" to CPU1 (not CPU0!) the DPCs lower considerably, you still need to completely kill that process if you want to do any serious professional audio work!

    But Apple doesn't want you use workarounds to make your expensive Mac tool working properly! The KBDMGR tool/driver cannot be started manually, it only works if it is started from the RUN registry entry at Windows startup. Fortunately there is a workaround for that as well, you can fool it by a dummy entry (+dummy file, else it wont work neither).


    Most of these things are somewhat already known to more or less degree, that includes Apple to know about them. I'm in direct contact to a german Apple technician now, but given how Apple got rid of EC in their 15" "Pro" models in place of a SD card reader :)confused:) and how Apple ignored any problems about Firewire and Windows compatibility I doubt there will be a solution anytime soon. :apple:
  2. Relznuk macrumors 6502


    Sep 27, 2009
    UT, USA
    Evidence? Supporting facts?

    I have a hard time believing your story. I owned a late-07 MBP for a year and a half, and was able to use my expresscard in Vista (and commonly did for eSata purposes.

    Furthermore, I never had a problem with EC failing, never had reason to flash firmware, etc. I also never had problems with hot-plugging, freezing, hard drive problems, or data corruption.

    It is possible that this is a very rare issue that affects only a small number of people.

    But personally, I do not think your comments are true across the board, and probably aren't true in the majority of cases.
  3. Timur thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Oct 14, 2008
    Well, like you wrote, you uses a pre Unibody model.

    Point me to one person using his Unibody ExpressCard slot in Vista and I gladly ask him how he managed to do that. I only know about people who did *not* manage to.

    Concerning eSATA there are whole threads and a website dedicated to only that problem. I'm using a JMicron based card myself that comes with inbuild support by EFI (can be booted from) and OS X (no third-party drivers needed/available).

    I will upload evidence later (exceed the filesize limit slightly).
  4. HenriQ macrumors newbie

    Oct 19, 2009
    MacBook Pro Unibody EC-slot

    Hi, I found this thread while searching the web for help with a similar issue.

    I had a pre-unibody (2007) MacBook Pro, and I used a PCMCIA audio card (RME Multiface) with an EC to PCMCIA adapter (the Duel adapter). I never had a single problem with it, either on OS 10.5, or on XP with bootcamp, and used it quite often for live music performances.

    Unfortunately, I dropped that computer on the floor, and had to replace it with a unibody MBP, a 2,4GHz 4 GB with EC. I was never able to get the card working properly again.

    First, it won't boot if the EC card is plugged in. Then, if I plug it after booting, the computer does see it, and loads its software, but the sound is heavily distorted.

    RME support suggested that it could be because of the adapter, and that I could be better off using an Express card interface directly, instead of the PCMCIA, but I have some trouble believing this. The adapter has always worked perfectly on my old machine, and is still working on other PCs running XP and Vista. The PCMCIA is also working perfectly, as I tried it on an old Compaq I have... Besides, I have already found a few others who seem to be having the same problem with EC cards as I am - which is unfortunate, as I went for an older model because I need the EC slot... And I fear that, if I should buy the Express card interface, I'll just confirm the fact that, on these Macs, the EC slot doesn't work properly.

    I don't have bootcamp installed on this machine, so I haven't tried that, but I read somewhere that this sort of problem happens mainly on MBPs with 4Gb of RAM (yup, I paid extra for that too), so tonight I'll just remove 2 GB and see how it goes.

    But if that doesn't work, I will be faced with a tough decision: either buy a PC with a working EC slot (seeing that Macs don't have it anymore), or buy all new audio hardware. Obviously, I don't look forward to any of these...
  5. HenriQ macrumors newbie

    Oct 19, 2009
    A rotten Apple?

    Well, I went and took out one of the 2Gb Ram sticks: now the computer boots up with the Express card plugged in, which it didn't with 4Gb, but it still doesn't work properly: the sound is terribly distorted, and unusable.

    It does seem that the EC slot on this mac is useless... I'll contact the shop and see what they have to say about it, but I doubt they'll replace or refund...

    Anyway, it seems that this is really a flawed series. While trying to figure out what to do, I found this page on the RME site, where they test the performance of their USB sound card on several laptops:

    Of all MacBook Pros tested, this 2,4GHz is the only one that isn't "fully compatible", but has "limited performance"... And this is on the USB.

    So, the EC doesn't work, and the USB has limited performance... A rotten Apple?

    Maybe there is a fix, but I can't find it anywhere. I am really disappointed.
  6. Timur thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Oct 14, 2008

    what I can tell you is that the RME HDSPe aka ExpressCard version at least is usable for audio on both OS X and XP (not Vista/W7) on my 4gb Macbook Pro. On OS X I send audio through all I/Os at once at 32 samples for several minutes without a single hicup.

    I can also boot up with the card inside. In fact you *have* to boot up with the card inside in order to be able to use it on XP (this is true for all EC cards in combination with this MBP).

    What I can offer you is to write me a PM via the RME forum (that will reach me as an email) and maybe send me your card+adapter for testing. It will only take a day and that way you will know whether your own Macbook model is flawed or whether it happens with other models as well (where the HDSPe works somewhat fine).

    The Apple technician that I'm in contact with forwarded my results to their engineers now. The dealer refuses to refund me for the time being, but if it turns out to be a non-solvable problem he will have no other choice (european/german jurisdiction).
  7. HenriQ macrumors newbie

    Oct 19, 2009
    Hello Timur,

    Thank you for your reply. I will try to contact you via the RME forum as you suggested.

    In the meantime, what I did was get a hold of an older MacBook Pro (pre-unibody, 2Gb RAM), and swapped the HD with the new one. As expected, everything works as it should straight away. It boots, starts the HDSP software and Totalmix, and the performance is excellent.

    I have tried the PCMCIA on an old XP laptop (works), and have also tried it with the Duel on a newer EC equipped PC, running XP (also works). And I have just realized that, by swapping the hard drives, I now have bootcamp installed on the unibody, so I'll try that as well (probably will have to update the XP drivers, though, so it might take a while...)

    I know there is a compatibility issue with OS 10.6 (snow leopard) and the Duel adapter, and so I am using the 10.5 version.

    Anyway, I'll discuss all RME - related issues with you on the RME forum. There is one other audio-mac-related issue with this MBP, though.

    As you know, Core audio enables you to merge the inputs and outputs of different sound cards and use them as a single unit (aggregated driver). When I had the old MBP, I once forgot the RME's power adapter at home, and only found that out when I got to the venue I was supposed to play. A bit in panic, and since I would only need 2 stereo outs for that particular performance, I went to the nearest supermarket and bought a cheap Creative USB Audigy, which I hastily installed and aggregated the driver to the internal card. To my surprise, it worked straight away and, although the sound quality wasn't top, I managed to pull it off with decent latency settings.

    Not being able to use the RME on the unibody, I tried the same trick, but the outcome was completely different. Although I can aggregate the devices, as soon as I plug the USB soundcard, I start getting the classic "earth loop" noise on both outputs (USB and headphones), even when working off the battery. Not only that, but, even at high latency values, the performance of the USB soundcard is lousy, and it's totally unusable, even for domestic listening, as the noise is quite high. I tried two different USB audio cards, one USB powered, and another powered by mains, and they both have the same issues- noise and skipping. Plus, the noise is present on the USB even if I don't use the onboard output - just to clear that it's not a classic "earth loop" issue.

    Definitely something fishy with this computer.

    I'll give it a try with bootcamp, see how it does, and let you know. Mind you, if I wanted to use XP, I could have bought a much cheaper PC... But, all in the sake of knowledge :)

  8. pknoot macrumors newbie


    Apr 7, 2009
    Northern California
  9. HenriQ macrumors newbie

    Oct 19, 2009
    After spending a couple of hours installing and configuring bootcamp with Windows XP SP3, I can now confirm that it does not recognize the Duel adapter, let alone the RME...
  10. Timur thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Oct 14, 2008
    Next week I will get a current 17" Unibody with ExpressCard slot. Let's hope that the new models work better than the old ones. I'll report back on that.
  11. Heavenly macrumors member


    Sep 16, 2009
    Northwestern University
    I have a Sonnet Tempo eSATA ExpressCard and it doesn't work under Windows 7 in boot camp; the "new hardware found" icon doesn't even pop up to recognize it at all :(
  12. Timur thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Oct 14, 2008
    Neither the 17" model nor Snow Leopard bring any improvements here. Still the only way to reliably use the ExpressCard slot on an unibody Macbook Pro is to use an 8 year old competitor's OS (Windows XP).

    And because of the bad build quality of the model I received (lid doesn't close properly) I will have to return it again.

    RME changed the flashing algorithm of its HDSPe cards. It is effectively slower now (caching of registers was tricked to turn off), but seems to work 100% reliably. Since you ain't flashing often anyway (if ever) this is a good thing. One should mention that RME developers never experienced any such problems with pre-unibody models themself.
  13. BretM05 macrumors newbie

    Dec 10, 2009
    I dont suppose there is ANY way to get around this annoying problem (other than going to XP) until Apple releases some sort of update is there?
  14. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I doubt very much you'll see any update to the firmware/drivers for the expresscard slot. Apple dropped that from the design so I suspect any future developments on the firmware/drivers has all but ceased.

    They never, AFAIK, acknowledged any issue and I'm sure they'll be happy to watch the expresscard slot quietly disappear.
  15. santos79 macrumors regular

    Feb 25, 2009
    No, they did NOT drop the expresscard slot. They replaced it with an SD on the 15-inch model. It's still a feature of the 17" model.
  16. Timur thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Oct 14, 2008
    At the current state of things it's more of a non-feature for anything but low-bandwidth cards. :apple:

Share This Page