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Review:Promax's TurboMax IDE Controller
Plug and Play PCI Card Brings Hi-Perf/Low Cost IDE Hard Drives to Older Macs
(with some Caveats such as Audio Playback)
(updated 5/26/99 for U2 SCSI Comparisons)
Updates: Just a reminder as noted by Promax when this card was first released (and in the comments below), PCI IDE cards in Macs made before the Apple Beige G3 series are not recommended for Audio/Video use. Stuttering audio will usually occur when playing back audio or movie files from the IDE drive. This is noted here in the Frequently Asked Questions (this page) as well as in some entries in the Drive Compatibility Database. Not all older Macs have the problem, but most do. In some cases ATA/66 cards with later firmware may be immune, but there's no guarantee.
As of spring 2000, the Turbomax original card (ATA/33 version) is no longer made by Promax but may still be in some dealer's stock. (Note: The Sonnet Tempo, another Acard ATA/66 based card, has a street price of $99.) As with the original Turbomax card, the base card is made by Acard.
Also, in November of 1999 the Turbomax ATA/33 card had a firmware update to v1.7.4. Cards bought after that time may already have the latest firmware, but for other owners the update is available at ftp://ftp.blol.com/pub/TurboMax/ (link may change over time - if so check the IDE controllers section of the FAQ here.) Note this update *is not* compatible with the ATA/66 cards or any PC version IDE controller cards.
For comparisons of the ATA/33 card to ATA/66 versions, see the many articles on the IDE articles page here. In some cases the results are surprising.
Reader Comment on Support: One reader wrote to say that he was returning the card to CDW due to the fact he could not get firmware updates from Promax. He said he was told that for sales from other than direct (Promax), the dealer provided support (and of course CDW does not have firmware updates for the card). Not sure if this is typical but it would be worth asking about before you buy. I'm still running my Turbomax with the original firmware (v1.5) it shipped with in spring of 1999.
OS 9 Update: I've had several reports that after upgrading to OS 9, some Turbomax users can't boot. There were mixed reports, some booted fine and never had a problem, others did. Not sure why. My Turbomax (firmware v1.5) card in my 9600/350 seems ok in OS 9 so far. See my IDE RAID feedback page for more info and sample reader reports.
The purpose of this review is:
Update: Although there been reports of problems burning CDRs after installing the Turbomax card, as noted in the recent news I burned a 550MB CDROM at 4X from an ORB IDE drive connected to the turbomax in my 9600/350 with no problems using my SCSI external Yamaha 4416S as the sole device on the external SCSI bus. I used Toast 3.5.6 set to 8MB cache. Note that Toast does not support IDE CDRom recorders (only Charismac's Discribe). I've asked if those reporting problems are using an onboard SCSI drive as the data source and a SCSI CDR burner. Officially Promax does not support CDROMs with the TurboMax.
Also note that like many PCI SCSI cards in pre-Beige G3 Macs, audio playback (including audio in movies) from connected drives is reported to stutter (in pre-Beige G3 macs at least). The fix for PCI SCSI cards was to disable ultra-SCSI mode (as noted many times over the last year in the main site news). There is no solution that I know of for the Turbomax card however. Promax says the Turbomax is not for video capture in pre-G3 macs.
Some may cry 'foul' over the fact I tested the TurboMax with one of the fastest IDE drives on the market as of spring 1999, the Western Digital 18GB Expert (7200 RPM, 2MB Cache) against the 9600's stock OEM 4GB drive and onboard SCSI. I did this intentionally as I consider this scenario as a common one; an older SCSI based Mac owner looking to take advantage of large, fast IDE drives. The latest update includes comparisons to an Ultra2 SCSI card (ATTO - since the Miles U2 review card had a 10% faster clock than standard) and 4.5GB Cheetah Ultra2 SCSI drive (10,000 RPM) to illustrate what a higher cost U2 SCSI option would buy you. As I commented originally, for the most part the WD Expert/TurboMax combo is the equal of U2 SCSI with the exception of a higher rates in the ATTO benchmark where the Cheetah's 28% higher rotational speed (10,000 RPM) really shines. IDE does not have the flexibility (external drives, large number of devices) of SCSI and is far more limited for RAID arrays but most consumers will be more than pleased with the package reviewed here. As a bonus, the WD Expert drive was much quieter as well.
Based on what I've seen Finder level tests will show little difference between the fastest IDE drives and a fast U2 SCSI drive (this is proven in the updated results below). The 9600/350's Kansas motherboard lower memory speed may have played a factor but since both setups were tested in the same machine the comparisons are valid. Again value is what we're after (bang for the buck) and the combination tested here delivers it in spades.
The $129 (SRP) TurboMax comes with one IDE UltraATA cable (one drive connector, 24" long) and an anti-static wrist strap. The card has two IDE channels each supporting a Master and Slave drive (4 drives total). Promax supplies a manual with installation instructions for their officially supported systems (see below for list). The card has a two-year limited warranty (repair or replacement). Note: Returns for refund are only honored when the card is ordered with a drive. Card-only orders still have the two-year repair/replacement warranty but cannot be returned for a refund.
Note, PCI IDE cards in Macs appear as SCSI to the MacOS (as do the attached drives of course), so when running Apple drive setup remember the unformatted drives attached to the card will be shown as SCSI, not IDE.
Also note that becuase of this, drives formatted with an onboard IDE controller (IDE driver) will require reformatting if moved to the PCI IDE card (and vice versa). (Unless the drive was originally formatted with a 3rd party utility that supports swapping driver types).
The fact the PCI IDE card (and drives) appear as SCSI is why SoftRAID (SCSI RAID drivers/software) will install to PCI IDE card connected IDE drives, but not to drives connected to native onboard IDE controllers. (See the IDE articles page for more on IDE RAID.)
All disk benchmark tests (MacBench 5 & ATTO Tools Benchmark) were performed on a blank, HFS+ formatted disk with Apple Drive Setup 1.7.2.
Finder tests were ran with only a system folder and Photoshop 5 folder.
This was done to prevent the stock drive's almost full state when the upgrade arrived from further degrading its performance. I copied all files
from one drive to the other, formatted the disk, ran the tests on that drive, and then reversed the procedure. This took a lot of time but was worth it to
show a more accurate indication of drive performance unaffected by fragmentation or amount of used space. Restart times were clocked with a stopwatch from the startup tone until the finder was fully loaded.
Note: For the Ultra2 SCSI test update I used an ATTO Ultra2 SCSI card in the same slot as the TurboMax was used. U2 SCSI drive was a Cheetah LVD 4.5GB, 10,000 RPM model.
I also ran a short test in my PowerCenter Pro, installing the card with the WD drive (already bootable) and had no problems booting from the drive or copying files back and forth between the PowerCenter Pro's stock 2930 SCSI card connected drive. I will be buying another TurboMax cards for use in this system. With IDE drives falling in price it's a very cost effective way to add storage.
The TurboMax card requires no software, its totally plug and play. I opened up the Mac, inserted the card in a free PCI slot (bottom slot in my 9600) and attached the supplied cable to a properly jumpered IDE drive. I used the latest Apple Drive Setup available (1.7.2) to format the Western Digital IDE drive.
IDE Drive Jumper Settings:
One note on jumper settings. Normally if you are connecting only one IDE drive on the cable it would be set to Master (a Slave setting requires that a Master drive be present normally). The WD Expert came jumpered as shown in the image below and I suggest you not change it if you do not have a Slave drive on the same cable. Setting the drive to Master resulted in the drive not being recognized by Apple Drive Setup. The Promax card 'looks' like another SCSI interface to the Mac.
(To see the other Jumper settings listed on the label click here)
Unlike the Maxtor drive I used for previous IDE articles, the WD uses two jumpers. Maxtor drives have only one jumper, normally set to Master or Slave position. (See my Beige G3 IDE Upgrade article for an illustration.)
After connecting the Power Supply and IDE cable to the drive, you simply boot up and run Apple Drive Setup, select the new drive (shown as a higher SCSI bus ID and uninitialized) and format it. For this test I used a single volume, although it may be better to partition a disk this size into several partitions. Remember the 1st partition is always the fastest as it is on the outer tracks. I used HFS+ format for maximum space efficiency. See my tests in the Ultra2 SCSI cards review (see related links list below) that show there is no performance penalty I could find in normal use from HFS+ vs HFS, despite the larger volume bitmap and what should be more file I/O overhead. For dedicated video capture use I'd still recommend a separate HFS partition however. I did not low level format the drive - it's not needed and does nothing but zero out data anyway according to Apple's latest info.
Love it or Hate it, Macbench 5.0 is the standard benchmark and everyone expects to see it. The results as expected show the TurboMax/WD Expert was generally capable of approximately twice the transfer rates of the stock OEM 4GB SCSI drive attached to the onboard SCSI (10MB/sec Fast SCSI II interface). In the 9600/350 (604e CPU overclocked to 400MHz) with a 4MB Disk Cache set in the Memory Control Panel the WD Expert delivered a higher MB disk score than the U2 Cheetah. (In the B&W G3/400 the Cheetah delivered scores of about 2000.) To see if the random tests would improved with a smaller partition, I repartitioned the Expert drive so that the first volume as 4.2GB in size (identical to the Cheetah), but scores were identical.
Would a PCI SCSI Card Help the Stock Drive? You may have wondered if a PCI UW SCSI Card would have helped the OEM SCSI disk - the answer is no as noted in an 9600 onboard vs PCI SCSI article, a PCI Card actually resulted in lower performance with this drive (and most narrow SCSI drives). (Frank Bernier later followed up with his own tests with faster narrow SCSI drives and came to the same conclusion.) The onboard SCSI seems to run higher IOs/sec than the PCI Card and when used with drives that are not capable of exceeding its 10MB/sec limit, it is faster than a PCI Card. In Finder level tests I performed awhile back I saw little difference between *finder copy performance* with a B&W G3 IDE drive and a 10K RPM U2 Cheetah and U2 SCSI card. See my U2 SCSI Cards review for more info.
The table below lists comparison times for startup, launching Photoshop 5 and opening a 4.41MB (disk file size) sample image. Note that with 320MB of RAM, the memory test takes most of the startup time and is not affected by a change of drive controllers. As I saw in tests on the B&W G3 with IDE vs U2 SCSI drives, there is not a lot of difference in finder level performance. I did not perform copies between the two drives as the SCSI drive (slower) would be a bottleneck each way. Copying 14,000+ files (3.5MB) took an extremely long time to copy to the OEM 4GB SCSI drive (I'd guess close to 1/2 hour). The WD Expert/TurboMax combination 'felt' much snappier in use.
ATTO Tools Benchmark Tests:
The following are results of tests using ATTO Tool's builtin (menu item) benchmark. Although some may consider this benchmark optimistic, I like it for the graphing of rates as file size increases and the fact, unlike MacBench, by defauly it does not use the Memory Control Panel disk cache - testing the controller/drive only. As most owners know and shown in last year's Disk Cache Size Study, Macbench scores are highly influenced by larger disk cache settings.
(The Cheetah's 10,000 RPM really shows here)
As I expected, the 10,000 RPM Cheetah delivered higher sustained rates in this test. However the TurboMax/WD bundle results are almost as impressive for a lot less money.
I was surprised at these rates since my tests in the 9600/350 last year showed that PCI graphics cards performed about 25% below that of other Mac models due to the Kansas motherboard (known to have slower memory performance than other Mac models). What is even more amazing is the U2 SCSI rates are a bit higher than my original tests with the same card/disk in my B&W G3 (before the firmware update).
Note: Promax does not recommend and readers confirm the Turbomax card is not for Video capture/playback use with other than Apple G3 systems. (Audio during video playback will stutter as well on older Macs according to reader reports). Also note this applies to MP3 audio playback as well (verified by a reader report).
Officially Supported Systems:
I'm very pleased with the TurboMax card's compatibility and performance and will be buying this card and at least one other for my PowerCenter Pro. As noted previously, I was impressed with the Western Digital 18GB Expert drive, it ran cool and very quiet. Personally, I'm not bothered by the sound generated by most hard drives (you should hear my loaded Genesis), but the Expert was literally silent, even during constant R/W tests. I've never been a fan of WD drives, but this one is a keeper.
As noted in the update above on B&W G3 data corruption with some IDE drives (including the WD Expert), the TurboMax is a solution that allows the WD Expert to run without errors in the B&W according to my tests. Performance was excellent with the combo as well. It's almost ironic that the most compatible IDE solution for the B&W G3 turns out to be a card that makes the drives look like a SCSI version to the operating system.
The bottom line is that with IDE drives increasing in performance and storage capacity while also dropping in price, I consider the ProMax card an excellent value. It's not for audio or video capture/playback in older macs for reasons noted above, but for data storage it opens up a new era of low cost/high performance IDE drives to older mac owners.
Package Includes: The TurboMax comes with one IDE UltraATA cable (one drive connector, 24" long) and an anti-static wrist strap. The card has two IDE channels each supporting a Master and Slave drive (4 drives total).
The TurboMax card is available direct from ProMax for $129. They also offer several other packages that include one or two IDE drives and brackets. Of special note is there dual drive kit for the B&W G3, which allows mounting two IDE drives over the existing CDROM. (Note: Proline makes a one drive bracket for this area of the B&W G3 - see my installation article.)
For the most up-to-date list of storage related articles, check the main site storage topics page.
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