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|ACARD ARS-2000UB SCSI to IDE Case Review:||Return to News Page|
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for IDE Drives, for PC and Mac
By Phil Lefebvre 3/12/2001
(Updated 7/24/2002 for Firmware update notes)
Update: Rick sent a link to the 3.2 Firmware updater for ACard IDE-SCSI Bridges. Direct download link is http://184.108.40.206/download/mac/driver/scside/update_scside_ver3.2m.sit. (This link may not be valid in the future if they move or update the file.)
*Update* (July 2002) - there's now a v3.6 firmware update for the 2000FW model at http://www.acard.com/eng/support/mac.html but I do not see the 2000UB model listed there. (It may use the same bridge but ask Acard before applying any firmware updates.) The acard support page lists the following changes for 3.6m:
I've been doing home video editing for about four years with my venerable Apple PowerMac 8500/180, now w/ 400 MHz G3 upgrade. I'd been using a pair of Seagate Barracuda ST118273N drives in a RAID 0 with Hard Disk Toolkit v3.0.2. This setup has worked great for me for both analog and digital video work under Mac OS 8.x and now 9.0.4.
34 GB has generally been an adequate size for one or two iMovie projects, but I've been wanting to add more capacity to do some 8mm film->DV conversion. The huge 75-80 GB ATA/100 drives looked like a nice inexpensive way to do it, but I didn't want to go through the hassle of swapping my SCSI PCI card for an IDE PCI card, then find out my 8500 can't do AV with it because of the well known PCI timing issue. I thought about FireWire drives, such as the Maxtor external 80 GB FireWire drive. However, since I've not had success exporting DV from my ClubMac FireWire case, I didn't think the Maxtor case would do any better, given the limitations of my OrangeMicro FireWire/USB PCI card, which uses the slow NEC FireWire chipset.
I saw the review here by Rick Pepper detailing his success using an ACARD UWSCSI->IDE converter (and a Narrow->Wide adapter) inside his Power Computing PowerCurve 120, and some NuBus machines. (See <http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/IDE/IDE_to_SCSI/ide_to_scsi_adapter.html>.) Since Rick had good success with this converter and audio work, I decided to give it a try. I wanted to use the narrow UltraSCSI converter, so I could put the drive on the reportedly more reliable (for DV work in "G2" machines) internal FastSCSI bus. Unfortunately, the board is designed for CD-ROMs, and it is too big to fit in the 8500's tight drive bays. (Or most Mac 3.5" drive bays for that matter; it wouldn't fit in the Beige desktop cases I tried either e.g. 72/73/75/7600/Beige G3.) Thus, I chose the ACARD external narrow UltraSCSI case, to use it with my Adaptec PowerDomain 2930U PCI and Adaptec SlimSCSI 1480 PCMCIA narrow UltraSCSI cards, in my 8500 and 2000 PowerBook, respectively.
I (like Rick) bought the device from Microland USA. They were upfront about their lack of Mac knowledge, but they were otherwise quite friendly and helpful. They sell several other ACARD products (including a similar case with the UltraWide SCSI converter), but not the Mac IDE PCI card. For more information see <http://www.acard.com/> and <http://www.microlandusa.com/> (See the manufacturer list for ACARD. Be patient, their site seems to be down a lot.)
Figure 1. External View:
A. Front - Power button is in upper right corner.
B. Rear - SCSI ID and termination jumpers in upper left corner.
The kit arrived nicely packaged. Basically it is the ACARD AEC7720U internal narrow UltraSCSI->IDE adapter pre-attached to the internal SCSI ribbon in a SCSI case. The adapter card itself draws power to run the adapter's RISC-based SCSI controller, but that is all taken care of inside the case. As the picture shows, it is a plastic case in the now all too common translucent "Ice" look, with a dark Bondi blue (ironic, since the iMac lacks SCSI) front and removable bezel (for CD-ROM-type devices).
Overall it is a well constructed case. In fact, remove the adapter card (easily done), and you have a very nice 5.25" SCSI case. There is a power button and LED on the front, and an LED drive activity light on the bezel that comes pre-installed on the case. The external SCSI ports are the more PC-friendly HD50M, common on most narrow PCI SCSI cards. There is a poorly labeled jumper panel on the back for setting termination and SCSI IDs. There are also RCA audio output ports in back for use with a CD-ROM.
The kit came with a minimal manual and setup guide (and no software). People without much experience or skill in this area might feel a little lost relying on it, but Microland and ACARD would provide adequate support if you needed help. A three foot HD50M-HD50M SCSI cable is provided. While it is difficult to find DB25M-HD50M SCSI cable to use this box with the built-in SCSI port on Macs, there are DB25->HD50 adapters available from most computer parts/cable vendors. Also, the SCSI port holes have cutouts for easily swapping the HD50 connector/ribbon assembly with a C50 connector/ribbon assembly.
ASSEMBLING THE KIT
I installed a 3.5" wide, 1/3 height, Maxtor DiamondMax 81.9 GB, 2 MB cache, 5400 rpm drive, model #98196H8. Inside the case there are drive mounting holes for 3.5" and 5.25" devices. Unfortunately, because of the size of the converter board, a 3.5" hard drive will not fit correctly. The converter board bumps into the metal divider separating the drive bay area from the power supply when trying to line up the drive it is attached to with the 3.5" mounting holes. The manual shows that there should have been a pair of rails supplied with the kit to attach to the drive and adapt it to the 5.25" mounting holes, but they were missing from the case. Standard 5.25" bay->3.5" drive adapter rails didn't work either. Microland suggested removing the divider by undoing one small screw and sliding it out. That was easier to do than it might appear, and worked fine.
Figure 2: Inside View of Case. The UltraSCSI adapter is attached to the internal SCSI ribbon. The circuit board is covered with a plastic sheet on one side, ostensibly to protect it from any contact with the metal hard drive. Notice the metal plate next to the power supply (under the plastic sheet). This will need to be removed to allow the adapter and hard drive to fit straight in the mounting holes.
Figure 3: The Installed Drive. With the metal divider removed the drive fits fine in the 3.5" drive mounting holes. Notice how much the adapter hangs over the top and right side of the drive. It also adds about one inch (~25 mm) of length to the back of the drive. That is why it will not fit in most standard Mac 3.5" drive bays (or 3.5" hard drive cases).
Setting the SCSI ID number is done by setting the jumpers on the back of the box. The built-in termination works fine. I put the kit together, powered everything up, and the first thing I noticed was ... nothing. The drive and case are incredibly quiet, comparable in noise level to my PowerBook, and far, far quieter than my ClubMac FireWire case and Maxtor 17.2 GB 5400 rpm drive. Compared to the noise of my screaming dual Barracudas plus fans, this alone was worth the effort. I literally cannot hear the kit over the (not very loud) background noise in my study. (Yes, the fan was working.)
PREPARING THE DRIVE
The WideSCSI->IDE adapter previously reviewed by Rick Pepper worked with Apple Drive Setup. I, unfortunately, got an earlier model with older firmware, and Drive Setup won't support it, not even v2.0.3 from Mac OS 9.1. I will need to send it back to Microland, or try to flash it myself in a PC with bootable SCSI, to update the firmware for the promised Drive Setup support. In the meantime I was able to get my two 3rd party drivers to recognize it, with varying success.
(Update: I just want to let you know that I got the firmware flasher from Microland today and flashed the case on a PC. It can now be initialized using Drive Setup 1.5, 1.8.1, and 2.0.3. The flasher didn't even affect the data that I had left on the drive. I'll be interested to see if it benchmarks any slower with Drive Setup versus FWB HDT. My old Seagate Barracudas were drives that were significantly slower when initialized with Drive Setup, but few newer drives show much difference. Microland assures me that future devices will be shipped with the newer, Mac-compatible firmware.)
I used FWB Hard Disk Toolkit v3.0.2 (HDT) and APS PowerTools v4.1 (PT; OEM version of Anubis CharisMac). Either way, I had to set the drive as a slave (no jumpers set) rather than as a master, as the manual recommends, to get the full capacity of the drive to be recognized. Microland told me they had problems with drives over 75 GB (obviously meaning this Maxtor drive), but it might be because they had it set as a master, or there may be something unique to Maxtor, or maybe the firmware upgrade will fix it. Regardless, removing all jumpers allowed the drive to format as the HFS+ 76.3 GB drive I expected.
Using HDT the drive was bootable on my 8500 attached to my Adaptec PowerDomain 2930U UltraSCSI PCI card. However, according to FWB, v3 of HDT has issues with Mac OS 9 and the SCSI-free ROM-in-RAM Macs like my 2000 PowerBook. In my case, when the kit was formatted with HDT v3 and attached to the PowerBook via the Adaptec SlimSCSI 1480 PCMCIA card, the list of devices showed two drives in the case (!?!). I was actually able to mount two different versions of the same drive, and even copy different file sets to each "drive." Weird. PT did not have this problem.
However, I had problems with PT not being able to mount the drive at startup under Mac OS 8.6 or 9.x on either machine (though SCSIProbe 5.2 handled that) and the drive was not bootable with PT on the 8500. All of these issues could be related to the fact that I'm using older, non-OS 9 compliant driver versions (HDT is now up to v4 and PT is up to v6.1). However, since both drivers work for video capture, and the firmware upgrade should give me Drive Setup support, I haven't bought any upgrades yet.
StorageReview.com found that the Maxtor 98196H8 can sustain close to 30 MB/s on the outside tracks, far faster than the narrow UltraSCSI speed limit. Benchmarking an empty, freshly formatted drive (using a minimal Mac OS 9.0.4 system on both Macs and booting from a different bus), the HDT driver was able to sustain close to 18 MB/s, pretty much the real world limit of the 20 MB/s max UltraSCSI busses on both the 8500 and PowerBook. The PowerTools driver peaked at around 14 MB/s, which is still more than fast enough for DV editing. The measured seek and access times were slower than the Maxtor drive's listed speeds (around 9 ms), indicating there is some transactional overhead. This might be worrisome in editing complex, fragmented movies, but I do mostly simple cuts and transitions. ACARD and Microland claim much closer to native seek/access times using 7200 rpm IBM ATA/100 drives. The random read/write curves were pretty smooth except for a big dip at about 16k writes seen on every benchmark test I performed. I don't know what that was from, but I've seen native SCSI drives with the similar anomolies, so I won't automatically blame the converter.
FIGURE 4: Benchmark. Used FWB Hard Disk Toolkit v3.0.2 under Mac OS 9.0.4. Booted from SCSI Bus 0 in my 8500. Test file was 8,192 Kb. Results are representative of 3 tests, and comparable to results obtained with my PowerBook and SCSI PCMCIA card.
In real world use, I tested it by capturing about 20 minutes of DV, doing some fierce editing to really thrash the drive (I assembled the clips in reverse order from capture and put demanding transitions between each one), then printed about 5 minutes of it to video, all with iMovie 2. As I said, after slowing down the SCSI card to 10 MHz, output was flawless. I also captured a few minutes of analog video, and it was also flawless. I've also done several short projects with perfect results. Next, I burned a 640 MB CD at 2x (Sorry, that's as fast as my burner goes!) from the kit without a glitch, using Adaptec Toast Deluxe v4.1.2. Finally, I installed a full Mac OS 9.1 system on the drive from the Apple CD. As I mentioned, the drive was bootable on my 8500 when formatted with HDT v3, and I found it very smooth and responsive in normal everyday use. The only thing I can say is I'd love to try an IBM 7200 rpm drive and the UltraWide SCSI converter on an UltraWide bus!
Microland assured me that these adapters behave in every way like a native SCSI drive (e.g. in a RAID), and I agree (SCSI voodoo and all!). I'm pleased to now have a high performance external 76+ GB UltraSCSI drive, suitable for DV, for a total cost of US$360 (US$99 for the case, US$245 for the drive, plus shipping). If you need a drive for a SCSI-only Mac, for lower capacities it still makes more sense to get a native narrow SCSI drive. The adapter alone costs US$70 (and won't fit in most Apple-made Macs), while the external kit is US$99. You can still find 9 GB SCSI drives for similar cost. 18 GB narrow SCSI drives will cost about the same as the adapter plus a new 20 GB IDE drive. However, once you get to 30 GB or more, you can start saving hundreds of dollars with the SCSI->IDE adapters and not notice any difference. For instance, 72 GB SCSI drives cost US$700 or more! Also, there are almost no new narrow SCSI drives being made anymore (and none over 18 GB), so you will most likely need some form of adapter anyway.
FireWire drive kits use the same general
principal (convert a cheap IDE drive) and cheap kits cost about
the same as (or a little more than) the SCSI->IDE solution.
However, FireWire has yet to prove more reliable than SCSI on
older Macs, especially for AV work (my ClubMac case certainly
isn't), and the best FireWire drives cost as much as native SCSI.
Also, if you have a NuBus Mac, FireWire is not even an option,
as there are no NuBus FireWire cards. Finally, the SCSI adapter
is bootable, while FireWire PCI cards are not. While FireWire
may be the wave of the future, I expect my 8500 and my SCSI devices
to serve me for a long time to come. If you have an older Mac
and a need for huge, cheap storage, the SCSI->IDE adapter may
be your best bet.
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