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More on FireWire to IDE
The ADS Pyro Drive Kit


Update: This review covers the original Pryo case kit - the current models have 2 firewire ports (not 3) and have the faster Oxford 911 bridge board. Some 24x-40x CDRW owners (including me) have seen problems with 24x to 40x rated IDE CDRW drives (esp. Lite-On drives) with the Pyro case. See this article for more info.-Mike

The ADS Pyro Drive Kit - includes Mac-specific installation and set-up instructions, a regular FireWire cable and a short cable to jumper to another FireWire peripheral. The floppy contains El Gato native drivers and the Pyro Mode Selector utility but no formatting or partitioning software. If you don't have a floppy, the latest versions of the supplied software can be downloaded from ADS's site.
[Note: the current Pyro case kits come with a CD, not floppy. The CD has windows software as well as Mac Intech Speedtools (v3.4 as of early 2002) driver software and their drive mode selector utility (which didn't work with the later 2 port case I had - at least v1.0 of the Mac mode utility on the v3.3 ADS CD. I suspect it was for the older bridge board in the original cases).-Mike]

Description

The Box - The ADS enclosure is dark gray plastic [dark purple in current versions-Mike], a little darker and browner than Apple's Graphite color. The enclosure itself is of noticeably high quality, and it is a little more expensive than the MacAlly box. ADS's kit includes a metal lid for the drive compartment, which is useful. The top of the MacAlly enclosure got noticeably warm to the touch without a metal lid. The kit also includes a plastic bezel to close off the front opening. The bezel does not have mounting holes for cooling fans like the MacAlly, but the front opening of ADS's enclosure is sized perfectly for standard 5.25 drives or cooling assemblies, as shown below.

As mentioned, the kit is available with a PCI FireWire card. [NOTE: this is note true anymore - as of late 2001/early 2002 the ADS case kit does not include a PCI card-Mike.] ADS is one of the top sellers of PCI FireWire cards in the Wintel world. The kit does include printed, Mac-specific installation and set-up instructions, which are clearly written and easy to follow.

A Just-Cooler type fan assembly installed into the front opening of the ADS enclosure. The assembly is not included, but is readily available on the web at merchants like Hyper Microsystems.

Price - (Current List price of the ADS Pyro Drive Kit is $99.xx.)

OS Compatibility - ADS recommends not attempting to use the enclosure with any OS version earlier than OS 9. [Note: If using a supported CDRW drive or Apple drivers on the Hard Drive, it's also compatible with OS X.-Mike]

Compatible CDs and Hard Drives - ADS maintains a good FAQ for the Pyro kit on their site. According to the FAQ, "any IDE ATA/33 or ATA/66 hard drive is supported". Because the kit does not include drivers for optical devices, they do not list compatibility for these devices. The FAQ says "If you do purchase software like ADAPTEC'S TOAST SOFTWARE and CHARISMAC'S DESCRIBE SOFTWARE, then these applications have Enablers that allow you to mount an OPTICAL device that you plug into the drive kit."

The Bridge Board - The ADS bridge board uses a bridge chip from Oxford Semiconductor and, of course, different firmware than the MacAlly enclosure. The firmware is where the real differences between the bridge boards show up, but we'll cover that in the software section below. Maximum read and write performance of either bridge board is pretty much the same, topping out at about 15 MBps [for the original Pyro case kit bridge board - later models are faster since they use the Oxford911 bridge-Mike]. (Your FireWire interface and Mac processor speed will affect maximum performance.) The ADS bridge does offer 3 FireWire ports, which is really an insignificant difference. ADS also offers a "micro slot" (on the far right side of the backplane) that would allow you to install a security device.
[Note: the current Pyro case kits come with the faster Oxford911 bridge board, which is mounted vertically and requires the IDE cable to be twisted 180 degrees to mate properly (pin one/red stripe on the PS side of the HD or CDRW, unlike the original 3 FW port models shown in this review.-Mike]


(original 3 Firewire port version shown)

Above - The ADS backplane shows the bridge board offers 3 FireWire ports. [Note: current models have only 2 FW ports as noted on the latest retail boxes.-Mike] Below - Unlike the MacAlly box, the ADS bridge board does not include jumpers for a drive activity LED.

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The Software - The Pyro kit does not include software to format or partition an installed hard drive. [The later models did include Intechusa.com's Speedtools - however as noted in my later Firewire case kit build guides here, I prefer to not use 3rd party drivers - formatting the drive in the Finder or using the onboard IDE bus of a Mac, then moving the drive into the FW case.-Mike]
It does include native FireWire drivers, which ADS calls "enablers". The enablers in my kit were two extensions, FireWire Disk Support and FireWire RBC Support. These were part of El Gato's Disk Control v.1.1, so ClubMac would seem to provide a more complete package, since it includes the Disk Control formatting and partitioning utility (on the Indigita CD) and ADS provides a later version of the FireWire drivers but without the utility.
[Note: with OS 9.1 and later you do not normally need to use any non-apple Firewire extensions for hard drives to mount. El Gato is not included in the current Pyro case kits, replaced by Intech's speedtools drivers if you need a 3rd party formatter/driver. For CDRWs, the drive may be natively supported by Apple's extensions - if not using Toast's extensions is the best choice.-Mike]

The biggest difference between the MacAlly and ADS enclosures is how the firmware works. Unlike the MacAlly box, whose bridge must be factory set-up to work with either HDDs or CDRWs, the ADS enclosure's firmware can be configured to work with either type of device using a small program called the "Pyro Drive Mode Selector." (shown below)
[Note: the later/faster oxford 911 bridge based Pyro cases default to auto-detecting the drive type. I won't keep cluttering this article up with updated comments, but be aware that this review was written in 2000 using the original Pyro case kit, not the later models.-Mike]

Pyro Drive Mode Selector Utility - reveals the date of the ADS enclosure's firmware, lists the serial number of your enclosure, which you'll need for registration, and allows you to configure the bridge board firmware for hard drive, optical, or auto-select mode.

The Mode Selector is not a true flasher, it does not load new firmware onto the bridge board. It simply sets some software switches that enable the bridge to work with different classes of FireWire peripherals. The Mode Selector also allows the bridge board to be configured to automatically recognize the type of device you have installed. There are always some tradeoffs in designing an automatic system, so it is probably best to set the mode manually.

To use a CDRW you will need to buy a program that provides native drivers for that type of device, like Toast 4.1. The Pyro kit has always had the ability to work with either HDD or CDRW, but some units that shipped early in 2000 were labeled "Mac Support Hard Drive Only" because CD burning software with native FireWire drivers had not yet been released.

As the Mode Selector window shows, the firmware version in my enclosure was March, 2000, which is supposed to be free of bugs that plagued earlier versions. But note that ADS has different versions of firmware for different enclosures. If you bought an ADS FireWire Orb, for example, you will have a different firmware version. The Orb enclosure allows the user to toggle some data verification and error correction functions to improve video capture rates.

When Problems Occur - ADS describes the following reset procedure which I found very helpful:

  • While the drive kit is ON and connected to the computer, turn the kit off
  • Wait for 10 second, then disconnect the FireWire cable from your computer
  • Turn the drive kit power back on
  • Wait for 10 seconds, then connect the FireWire cable back to the computer

My Testing Observations - Both the ADS and the MacAlly enclosure worked flawlessly on a PowerMac G4. The same was not true on my 8500. The operations that caused problems were copying a 750 MB DV file from the drive in the enclosure or attempting to playback that file from the drive in the enclosure. Without going into the details of the 100+ hours I spent testing, I did try disabling all USB and third party extensions, ran the FireWire card in slot 1 (with a Miles2 in slot 2 and ATI Rage Orion in slot 3), disconnected the monitor attached to the Rage, ran my system bus at 50 MHz with a 450 MHz upgrade card (instead of its usual 44.7 MHz as reported by Gauge Pro), and tried various combinations of FireWire driver and disk driver software.

The symptom I saw was that the MacAlly box would cause my system to slow down so much it would appear to be frozen, and the drive activity LED on the enclosure would go dark, indicating communications between my OM card and the enclosure's bridge board had shut down. The ADS box would not normally cause a freeze. Instead, as shown below, artifacts appeared on playback of the DV file. When trying to copy a DV file, these artifacts also showed up in the file copied from the drive in the enclosure, though they were not present in the original file. Clearly, the ADS box handles error checking and correction in a way that causes it to drop bits rather than shut down the FireWire interface.

75/85/9500 machines were the first generation of PCI machines and have only PCI 2.0 compliant buses. All Mac desktops shipped with G3 or higher processors are PCI 2.1 compliant. There are timing differences between these two specs - PCI 2.1 runs the PCI bus at 66 MHz versus PCI 2.0's 33 MHz [Note: This is not true for standard PCI slots in any Mac or PC in general. *Only* the B&W G3 and G4/PCI Yikes model had *one* 66mhz PCI slot -all the other PCI slots were standard 33Mhz PCI clock rate slots. PCI 2.1 spec does not mean all PCI slots run at 66mhz - in fact all but the B&W G3/Yikes are standard 33Mhz.-Mike] - that are significant enough to cause Adaptec to reengineer its RAIDport product. PCI 2.1 is backwards compatible in the sense that a 2.0 card installed in a 2.1 bus will slow the bus down to 33 MHz, but at least video card makers in the Wintel world warned their customers that 2.1 cards may not work in 2.0 buses. [Note: The PCI slot card speed is not the issue - and again PCI 2.1 standard slots are not normally 66Mhz except the one 66Mhz slot in the B&W G3/Yike G4/PCI models I noted above. (Many modern PCI cards are keyed for 3.3v/66Mhz slots as well as 5v/33Mhz slots however - the ATI graphics cards, Formac Proformance3, etc. are 66mhz slot compatible but the fact is that all PCI slots in any PC or Mac are 33Mhz clock rates except for the B&W G3/Yikes's one slot. What makes the later macs better as far as PCI performance is the a) the faster bus speeds/SDRAM based memory bus and b) more modern PCI/Memory controllers compared to older Macs with much slower system/memory bus speeds and older PCI controllers.-Mike. I can only speculate that these timing differences throw off the multiple serial/parallel data translations and error checking that must occur when using an enclosure with a PCI FireWire card rather than built-in FireWire. Again, though, other 75/85/9500 users have reported not only using an enclosure successfully for DV, but also simulataneously capturing video through their FireWire card to the drive in the enclosure.

Video Artifacts - The ADS enclosure worked fine on a G4, but consistently displayed video artifacts (like those shown above) on playback of DV files or after copying a DV file from the FireWire drive to a different drive on my 8500.

On to Page 4, HD SpeedTools

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Page 1, Introduction | Page 2, the MacAlly Enclosure | Page 4, HD SpeedTools


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