New SB MBP eSATA: OWC JMB360-based, Sonnet SiI3132-based, neither?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Makosuke, Feb 26, 2011.

  1. Makosuke macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    I'm waiting for my new Sandy Bridge 17" MBP to arrive, and shopping for add-ons. Being that I've got a few drive docks/cases with eSATA built-in, and it's going to be a while before Thunderbolt has any affordable peripherals, I figured I'd order a not-too-expensive eSATA ExpressCard to have on hand, just in case/for extra speed when I feel the need.

    Except I've been reading various threads and fine print, and discovering that there are apparently problems with certain brands of bridge board. Most of these are a little older, though, so I'm wondering if anybody has experience with a recent combination of these specific components working or not working.

    What I've gathered from a long thread here and XLR8YourMac's coverage, plus some others, is that there are basically two options:

    1) Cards based on the JMicron JMB360; these usually have only one port and don't support port multiplier enclosures, but are VERY cheap and don't require any drivers on recent versions of OSX. In particular, I'm looking at one that OWC sells under their own brand for $20, although there are lots of off-brand options.

    2) Cards based on the Silicon Image Sil3132; these usually have two ports, do support port multiplier enclosures, are somewhat more expensive, and require drivers to be installed, although there ARE OSX drivers available from the chipset manufacturer. Specifically I'm looking at the Sonnet Tempo SATA-on-the-Go that runs about $50, although there are a lot of off-brand options for maybe $20 less.

    Now, from what I've been reading, the issue is thus: While earlier versions of the Sil3132 drivers had all kinds of issues, the current (late 2010) release is pretty good with current versions of Snow Leopard. It's compatible with most eSATA devices, EXCEPT USB/eSATA combos based on the OXU931DS, which will sometimes quietly corrupt files you copy to them. Sonnet is very specific about this, and it presumably applies to all Sil3132-based cards.

    The JMicron JMB360, in contrast, needs no drivers and doesn't explicitly list any compatibility issues, but there were scattered reports of all KINDS of problems with them, including quiet data corruption and kernel panics. I found a lot of people saying that they'd never trust the thing with their data.

    Based on these reports, and the fact that of the three enclosures I currently own none use the OXU931 (one uses a Sunplus optical controller that one report said was fine with the Sonnet card, one is JMicron 20336-based which also apparently was ok, and a third uses an Oxford quad interface, which Sonnet explicitly says is fine), I'm thinking that the Sonnet card is a better idea. While I don't like to install 3rd party drivers, I like the option of having two ports, I like that they're very specific about what does and doesn't work, I like the port multiplier option, I like that Sonnet has their own branded (if identical) version of the Mac drivers, implying they'll continue to support it (plus they know Macs), and I generally have had good luck with Sonnet products in the past. Between the Sonnet and another brand of probably-identical hardware, it seems like it's worth the $20 for a company that I recognize and trust to follow-through on their warranty, plus a reasonable chance of continuing to maintain compatibility in the future with OS updates.

    Any opinions on this? Anybody own this card, and tried it? Any lucky in-person Sandy Bridge purchasers tried a Sil3132 card yet?

    I also kind of want a USB 3 card, but since LaCie's card only works with their hardware and the CalDigit card is rather spendy ($90) for something I don't even have a peripheral for yet, I figure I'll hold off for now. I am going to grab a Sonnet flush-fit multi-card reader to leave in the slot, though (funny that Sonnet's site says it supports SDXC under later MacOS versions, but NONE of the stores selling the same part list SDXC compatibility).
  2. rdpx macrumors newbie

    May 26, 2011
    Hey Makosuke

    Interesting to read your thread as this is almost exactly the same issue I have been trying to resolve before spending a load of money on a set-up that might not even work !

    I am guessing that by now you have everything up and running ?

    I have been told by a tech at Sonnet that their Tempo cards work and have been using the Sil3132 v1.2.5 driver for almost a year.

    Finding out what card would support Port Multiplication has been hardest for me, though I now believe that the Sonnet one will and would be very interested to hear your experiences with it.

    As I will be using it with a StarTech duplicating dock, I was kind of hoping that I could buy a StarTech adapter - not only is it half the price of the Sonnet, but it is available from the same retailer that I will be buying the dock from, which saves on time and postage fees [the Sonnet one is a special order item here in UK] !

    On the face of it the two cards look exactly the same bar the different logos... and they both use the Sil 3132 chipset. I am still tempted to go for the Startech one for ease - does anyone know of any reason why with the same chip it would be an inferior product ?

  3. CFoss macrumors 6502

    Feb 26, 2011
    Unfortunately, I lack an answer... because I'M having the same issue too! XD

    So, does anyone here have an answer for all three of us? I will give you an Internet Cookie! ;)
  4. Makosuke thread starter macrumors 603

    Aug 15, 2001
    The Cool Part of CA, USA
    I'm no help either--I had settled on the Sonnet card, but ran into some money problems before ordering it, and since I didn't desperately need an eSATA card, I put the purchase on hold.

    There is, however, now a third option: The SeriTek/6G. It's spendy at $120, but given that it supports 6G speeds (and, indeed, BareFeats benchmarked it at over 370MB/s) it must use a different chipset.

    Since it's bootable in the 2011 MBPs, I'd think it used the same chipset as their internal SATA bus, except the MBP is using Intel's 6 Series chipset, which I thought came as a package with the Sandy Bridge CPUs. SeriTek also mentions a driver, though, so maybe they're loading it on the fly or something.

    Regardless, BareFeats didn't mention anything about compatibility problems, and SeriTek's reputation is pretty good (I've certainly been happy with all the products I've bought from them in the past), so I'd feel pretty safe with this card. Providing, of course, you're willing to fork out almost three times what Sonnet's card costs, which seems like a pretty hard sell unless you're a pro who needs the extra speed for video capture or something.

    Incidentally, SeriTek also has an older model, non-6G eSATA Expresscard; no idea what chipset it uses (based on the features I'm guessing the SiI3132), but since it's exactly the same price there's not really any advantage over the newer one.

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