ExpressCards on Santa Rosa MacBook Pro

Preamble

My 15″ Santa Rosa (2.4 GHz) MacBook Pro is seriously limited with its two USB 2.0 ports. So I thought about:

  • Daisy chaining USB 3.0 passport disks – not possible due to them not having two USB ports (see Is there a way to daisy chain USB3 external hard drives?) and I don’t have a hub, although…
  • … one option is to use a Seagate Backup Plus hub, big (at up to 10 TB) but noisy, or at least noisier that passport external disks). Also, according to this cnet review, if the drive is plugged into a USB 2.0 port then the built-in USB 3.0 hub does not work correctly, and may not detect what is connected to it. Also the price is about the same as two “fat” 5 TB passport drives.
  • Another option is an actual USB hub, although I tried that (see Lexma) which was a powered hub and I ended up with a broken inaccessible partition
  • Using a Firewire to USB adapter in the (unused) Firewire port ( see Is there any usb to firewire adaptor?)
  • Adding an ExpressCard to provide more USB ports…

This article is about the latter option,  USB ExpressCards, principally the NanoTech brand…

Warning: If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen!

Important note

Current draw vs current supplied

Larger disk drives may require external power supplies, even the larger Seagate Passport drives, i.e. the 5 TB drive. The maximum current draw is at spinup and is 1.2 A. see this answer to What is typical power consumption of 2.5″ Laptop external Hard Drive connected to USB socket?

Typical power measurements are based on an average of drives tested,
    under nominal conditions, at 25°C ambient temperature. These power
    measurements are done with DIPM enabled.

    • Spinup current is measured from the time of power-on to the time
      that the drive spindle reaches operating speed.

    • Read/Write current is measured with the heads on track, based on
      three 64 sector read or write operations every 100 ms.

    • The drive supports two idle modes: Active Idle mode and Low Power Idle mode.

┌────────────┬─────────────┐
│ Power Dissipation      │ 5TB, 4TB & 3TB models    │
│                        │ +5V input average (25° C)│
├────────────┼─────────────┤
│ Spinup (max)           │     1.2A (6W)            │
├────────────┼─────────────┤
│ Write average          │     2.10W                │
├────────────┼─────────────┤
│ Read average           │     1.90W                │
├────────────┼─────────────┤
│ Idle, low power mode   │     0.85W                │
├────────────┼─────────────┤
│ Standby/sleep          │     0.18W                │
└────────────┴─────────────┘
Standby power is measured at steady state (after 200ms from transition)

Some ExpressPort cards (i.e. NanoTech) can provide 900 mA per port, apparently.

To add an external power supply to a passport drive, you could use Y-splitter cables, such as these:

See also

Links

Stack Exchange

Driver Links

NanoTech

  • Links provided by eBay supplier, local338 (links expire end Jan 2021):
  • NanoTech USB 3.0 ExpressCard non-native driverUSB 3.0 ExpressCard 34 OS X Software Pack.zip
  • NanoTech USB 3.0 ExpressCard native driver – for Lion (and Mountain Lion?): FL USB 3.0 ExpressCard 34 OSX software 2.2.7 for 10.7.5 - 10.8.x.zip. It is interesting to note that the “native” card, that is supposed to support Mountain Lion, also has a driver for Mountain Lion! However, native support was only introduced in 10.8.2, so the last version Mountain Lion (10.8.5) will work natively. However, 10.8.0 and 10.8.1 will require the driver.

Shopping about and research

There is a shop in Fortune Town that has many ExpressCards, but at 700 baht and 890 baht respectively for the two and four port USB 2.0 they are a bit pricey (seeing as they are only about B$180 on Lazada and Shopee for two port USB 3.0). Also, I read that there may be issues with Macs and some Expresscards (but I can’t find the link).

This link is useful, but it is not the link that I read that hinted at issues, expresscard-34-port-not-working-after-macos-high-sierra-update. This thread also recommends the NanoTech PC Express Cards.

Other useful links:

Method#1

Using a GMYLE card (BC628), from Install 3 years old! GMYLE USB 3.0 express card 34 / How to MacBook Pro 17 Installation (Sierra)

Don’t do this on High Sierra! Read the comments, there are many lock up issues.

Make sure you download the correct version of MultiBeast for your version OS X

  1. Insert card
  2. Reboot into recovery mode (hold option key)
  3. Open terminal
  4. Type csrutil disable
  5. Restart
  6. Install Multibeast
  7.  Open
  8. Select Legacy boot mode
  9. Drivers tab
  10. Select USB
  11. Check 3rd Party USB 3.0
  12. Finish the install
  13. Restart
  14. It should now work
  15. Reboot into recovery mode (hold option key)
  16. Open terminal
  17. Type csrutil enable
  18. Restart
  19. Finished

Cards

The ExpressCards available on AliExpress seem to be mostly Kebidumei (cheap, but may not be compatible with Mac): Hot Sale PCI Express To USB 3.0 Dual 2 Ports PCI-E Card Adapter For NEC Chipset 34 MM Slot ExpressCard Converter 5 Gbps For PC, $8.47

BC628 Express Card ExpressCard 34 54mm to 2 Ports Hidden Inside USB 3.0 Adapter Converter USB3.0 expansion Card, $8.98 (cheap)

Compatibility would depend on the chipset.

NanoTech – on eBay

NanoTech: 2 Port SuperSpeed USB 3.0 (macOS Native) ExpressCard|34 Adapter

Other cards

Chips sets?

It would be good to know the VendorID (or some system determinable ID) to determine which chipset is used.

  • Broadcom – the GMYLE branded card is a BC628 (is that a Broadcom chipset?)
  • NEC 720202
  • NEC Renesas (i-Tec cards, like this) – supported (this post)
  • Silicon Image SI 3132 driver (This post)
  • Freesco Logic FL1000 (this post, quoted below) found in AKE cards
  • Freesco Logic FL1009
  • ASMedia (ASM1042) (as found in NanoTech “native” ExpressCards) (this post contains the reply from the eBay seller Local338 who sold me my card), also found in the BCM628 GYMLE card (see below). From the screenshots of this card inserted in my MBP it seems that VendorID = 0x1b73, Device ID = 0x1100
  • Renesas (NEC) or VIA are the chipsets in the NanoTech “non-native” ExpressCards, according to the vendor Local338

From this post on Which USB3 Express Card to buy?

OSX 10.8 added native USB 3 support for Intel controllers and some newer Fresco chipsets (I think FL1009 and FL1100).

Our AKE USB 3 express cards use the Fresco FL1000 chipset. I could imagine that the native Apple driver tries to initialize our express cards which fails because of the unsupported chipset. Other USB cards (e.g. NEC based) are left in piece because the device ID is unknown. From what I’ve read, some people complain that 10.8 killed their USB3 card (mostly FL1000-based), but no one has come up with a solution, so I think currently there’s nothing we could do.

As mentioned above, there are some PCI Express based USB3 expansions that are supported natively (FL1009 and FL1100). The problem is, I couldn’t seem to find any express cards using these chipsets at all, so there’s currently no native USB for older MacBook Pros.

Drivers

  • SI 3132 driver
  • LaCie
  • CalDigit
  • Sonnet

OS X Compatible Brands

  • Sonnet Tech
  • NanoTech
  • CalDigit
  • AKE (worked up to 10.7) see this post

Getting the BC628 to work

All from the reviews of GMYLE ExpressCard, 34mm to USB 3.0 Dual Port Adapter, Not Support Mac OS

From Great for older Macbook Pro’s with no USB 3.0. Very cheap, but time consuming prep & driver install.

Since the Win7/XP drivers (1.16.2.0) found at station-drivers.com have been reviewed by others, this review will be a Mac centric guide. FYI, I’m running a MacbookPro4,1 w/ Snow Leopard 10.6.8. Overall, this generic USB3 ExpressCard for MacOSX is awesome! Just be sure the one you receive has the ASMedia ASM1042 chipset inside it. The price is extremely cheap, and the speed is blazing, (I’ve yet to actually benchmark the transfer rate). However, there is a big downside… The one-time firmware and driver hassle for OSX.

The ASM1042 chipset has known bugs, which may cause devices to disconnect/connect randomly. Thankfully, this issue has been solved, but it requires a firmware update. Now don’t go looking for an official firmware source… ASMedia provides these only to their OEM partners. As of this writing, the latest firmware revision for the ASM1042 is 120816-02-02-06D. Fortunately, station-drivers.com has this at the following link:

[…]

Steps to update the firmware:
1. First verify that your card is an ASMedia chipset. Check in your System Profiler under PCI. You should see a line item with a VendorID of 0x1B21. If it is not an ASMedia chip, then you are SOL. Sorry.
2. Download both “Asus USB 3.0 FW Update Tool v2.0.exe”, and “asmedia_asm104x_12220E.exe” files from station-drivers.
3. Both these files are gzip/7z self-executing archives. Unarchive both files with a program like 7-Zip ([…]
4. From the first archive, pull out “xHCI_v120816_02_02_6D.bin” and copy it to the content from the second archive.
5. Create a bootable DOS USB stick. Google “FreeDOS USB” to find an easy to burn image file.
6. Copy the content from the second archive, plus that one extra .bin file to the FreeDOS USB stick.
7. Boot off the USB stick, and execute the following: 104xfwdl.exe /d
8. You will see the current firmware of your ASM1042 chip displayed. This also verifies that the firmware tool “sees” the chipset. If it can’t find it, then you have not seated the ExpressCard correctly or you don’t have an ASMedia chipset.
10. Assuming you are good up to this point, execute the following: 104xfwdl.exe /u xHCI_v120816_02_02_6D.bin
11. Wait for a success prompt, then reboot. Congrats, your firmware is now up to date.

Now, we’ll need the drivers. As with the firmware, ASMedia is not very forthcoming. So we need to find an OSX driver created by one of their OEM partners. Most of these vendors cripple the driver to only work with their product. However, this protection can be bypassed with a hex editor. Fortunately, the Hackintosh folks have been doing this for quite some time, and we can leverage their hard work.

Steps to install the driver:
1. Go to […] and register an account, (you’ll need an account to download files).
2. Download the ASMedia USB 3.0 Package from this link: […]
3. Unarchive the file, launch the package installer, and then reboot.
4. You should now have a working USB 3.0 card in Snow Leopard. If you are on 10.7 or 10.8 and having sleep issues with the card, try this link: […]
You’ll need to overwrite the two installed CalDigit kext’s with the corrected one’s above. How to do this is beyond the scope of this guide. Google is your friend.

I do hope this guide has been helpful. Happy USB’ing!

From It works!

I have no choice but to give this five stars because it works with my 17″ mid 2010 Macbook Pro running Lion. I didn’t actually think that I would be able to achieve USB 3.0 speeds, but I do, and I now feel justified in buying two USB 3.0 portable drives. As posted in previous reviews, simply download the “NDS USB 3.0 Driver for Mac” (google it), install, and restart BEFORE you put in the card. Don’t try to insert the mini disk that comes with it in your optical drive slot. Once that’s done, the card is instantly recognized and your drives will mount.

I have also experienced issues with it coming out too easily and also recommend holding it in as you pull out a cable or better yet, getting an extension cable. The fact that it pops out too easily is usually not a problem, but sometimes the card won’t be recognized or power your drives without a restart, so be careful. Also be careful to not push a cable too hard into the card as it may cause the card to disengage. Although this may seem obvious, I would suggest to not plug in more than one portable drive at a time because there just isn’t enough power for two as I’ve found out. I have also observed power spikes, especially where the computer will decide not to power the drive at all. For this, I’d recommend a powered USB 3.0 hub, like a USpeed for instance, which saves you from having to pull out cables from the card altogether.

I tested transfer speeds by writing a 1 GB disk image to a 1 TB Hitachi portable drive and it only took 11.8 seconds using USB 3.0 as opposed to 35.2 seconds using a USB 2.0 port with the same drive. It’s a slow drive but the write speed averaged at about 91 MB per second using 3.0 compared to about 27 MB per second. This is also much faster than my LaCie firewire 800 drive that clocked in at 28.6 seconds for a transfer of the same image at a write speed of about 35 MB/s, and the LaCie is a much better drive with a faster rotational rate.

All in all, I highly recommend this for Mac users that have laptops equipped with a PCI ExpressCard slot because this legitimately brings USB 3.0 connectivity to your lappy at a bargain price. I ordered mine from Patazon and it got to me very quickly. I personally can’t wait to test it out on an SSD!

From Breathes new life into older Macbook Pro

Much faster than the built in USB 2.0 connection. Shows up in System Information under “PCI” with Link Speed 2.5 GT/s! Loads the GenericUSBXHCI.kext via KextBeast after you’ve disabled macOS SIP. Works with external drives found on Amazon  WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive – USB 3.0 – WDBU6Y0020BBK-WESN . Results are with MacBook Pro 15″ Early 2008 with El Capitan.

From WORKS with OSX El Capitan, MacBook Pro, 5.2, Intel Core 2 Duo, 2.93 MHz, (17-inch, Early 2009)

WORKS with OSX El Capitan, MacBook Pro, 5.2, Intel Core 2 Duo, 2.93 MHz, (17-inch, Early 2009)
I took these steps (mostly, I followed “derbaff” feedback review):
1) Browse the web and download
-KextBeast (I had to register for their forum).
-USB driver (RehabMan-Generic-USB3-2015-1215) [Edited 8/22/2019]
2) Make sure your laptop is plugged in to an AC outlet.
3) Browse the web to find out how to disable SIP, and follow those directions
-In the middle of those directions, you have to run the terminal application
-Here is how to find it: point/click the top your screen (a menu bar appears),
-Click utilities, click terminal. Now you can continue to disable SIP.
-once the SIP is disabled, restart the computer
4) Unzip KextBeast and move the .pkg file to your desktop.
5) Unzip the USB dirver and move the .kext file to your desktop.
6) Run KextBeast. There are 2 installation folders to choose from.
I also chose “/Library/Extensions”, the user’s Library
The other option is the Library for the entire system.
7) Select /Library/Extensions as your installation folder.
8) Shut down the computer.
9) Install the ExpressCard.
10) Plugged in a USB3 device (I plugged in a Toshiba, 2TB HD).
11) Boot the computer.
12) Run “Disk Utility.” Click on your hard drive and run “First Aid” to validate the changes you made.
13) I prefer having SIP enabled; so, I re-enabled it.

If all the above steps went smoothly, your USB3 ports should be fully functional.

MY RESULTS:
– Using USB3, I transferred 9.356GB of data to a 2T Toshiba HD at 60MB/s!!!
– Using USB2, same data and HD, my usual 20MB/s is now too slow.

Thanks to the buyers that took time to write in their reviews their success story, like derbaff, john gadgets, nxtkitt, citizenVern and many others. Their valuable reviews help significantly in many ways.

My success, as described above, enabled me to the give the following review on the purchase of the “GMYLE ExpressCard 34mm to USB 3.0 Adapter (Dual Port)”

The product:
– Great card, it does what it’s supposed to do.
– Backs up data 3 times faster
– Perfect fit in the allocated 34mm ExpressCard slot
– Excellent aesthetic appearance.

From OSX Sierra (10.12) works!

Got it working with OSX Sierra (10.12) even when others said it wouldn’t.

Steps:

1. Download ‘Kext Utility’ (in my case version 2.6.4);
2. Download ‘RehabMan-Generic-USB3-2015-1215’; (Or latest)

(Do a search for both on the Internet).

How to install kext for USB 3.0:

1. Unzip ‘Kext_Utility.app.v2.6.4.zip’;
2. Unzip ‘RehabMan-Generic-USB3-2015-1215.zip’;
3. RUN ‘Kext Utility’;
4. Let ‘Kext Utility’ finish all its processes;
5. Drag ‘GenericUSBXHCI.kext’ from the Universal folder into ‘Kext Utility’ window;
6. Wait till ‘Kext Utility’ finishes;
7. Quit ‘Kext Utility’;
8. Restart MBP with USB 3.0 card inserted in slot.
9. Reboot into recovery mode (command+r) and open a terminal. Run csrutil disable (to turn off driver checking) and reboot.
9. All set and done!

There are a few disappointments for me:

– When inserting an USB 3.0 device into one of the ports, the Express card pops out of the Macbook. So, you need to insert a device carefully and lightly. Otherwise you have to restart the Macbook with the Express Card inserted. Same goes for ejecting a device out of the port.

– One port does not work, until you plug a device in the other. Meaning, when inserting a device in the upper port (that is me facing the laptop screen) it does not recognise the device. So, I have to insert a device in the lower port first, then eject it and insert it in the upper port.

Sleep issues

From this post on GenericUSBXHCI USB 3.0 driver for OS X with source

I’m using a macbook 8,3 2011 (sandy bridge, 17″ with expresscard) and 10.8.3. Expresscards with asmedia 1042, nec 720202 and fresco logic 1000, and 1009 all work, mount usb 2 and usb 3 drives but none of them resume after sleep. I get the disconnected drive error message and then the drives remount. I suspect its something to do with how the macbook initialises the expresscards – modified PXHCD and oyen’s MXHCD kexts do resume after sleep, I find pxhcd prone to disconnects, and while they both mount drives under ‘superspeed’ in system information, they list the max speed as 480mbps instead of 5gbps like your driver or apple’s kext when patched. I don’t know if sleep will ever work for me anyway, but thanks for all your work, I do run hackintoshes too.

Conclusion

I purchased one 2 Port Super-Speed USB 3.0 ExpressCard 34 Adapter For Apple MacBook Pro *5Gbps, on eBay.com for $26.98 (non-native OS X support):

The specifications of the non-native card:

I also purchased two 2 Port USB 3.0 Upgrade For Apple MacBook Pro 15″/17″ ** ExpressCard 34 Adapter for $31.99 each (native OS X support):

The specifications of the native card:

Regarding the mention of the tight fit, in the “Buyer Notice”, the supplier, Local338, had this to say:

some mac may tight fit, but some just fit , no you can still eject it when need to , no worry

For some reason –  it is cheaper than the corresponding item on ebay.co.uk, which were $32.38 and $39.58 respectively (apparently it is the UK VAT (value added tax which is added automatically by eBay).

I plan to use the ExpressCards with my USB 3.0 M.2 SATA drives, see M.2 adapters.

Both cards support 5V @ 900 mA per port.

The cards arrived at my Bangkok address very promptly (maybe 5-7 days after ordering.

Both cards, the native and non-native, do look exactly the same – as confirmed by the seller – so it is important to mark the non-native ExpressCard in some way (with a permanent marker pen or a scratched “X”). See below:

Non-native support card:

Rear of non-native ExpressCard:

Native Support ExpressCard:

Rear of native ExpressCard:

Packaging Native ExpressCard:

Packaging Native ExpressCard (rear):

The cards arrived very quickly, in a matter of days (5 or so). The ExpressCard with native support worked sans problème with a 2008 15” MBP 2.4 GHz 6 GB running OS X 10.8.5. I put the card through an immediate long soak test by moving about 200 GB+ of films via µTorrent lasting over 16 hours. The card suffered no issues, with maybe only a slight heat increase, due to additional processor demand, if at all. The write speeds were quite impressive, using Amorphus Disk Mark (see M.2 adapters).

The logic set was quoted by the seller as ASMedia (ASM1042) (see Chipsets? above), although the seller lists the device as having Freesco logic:

When inserted into the 17″ i7 2010 MBP, the System profiler shows:

ExpressCard:

  Type:	USB eXtensible Host Controller
  Driver Installed:	Yes
  MSI:	Yes
  Bus:	PCI
  Slot:	ExpressCard
  Vendor ID:	0x1b73
  Device ID:	0x1100
  Subsystem Vendor ID:	0x1b73
  Subsystem ID:	0x1100
  Revision ID:	0x0010
  Link Width:	x1
  Link Speed:	2.5 GT/s

I have not yet tested the non-native ExpressCard.

Other niggles/notes/points

On 17” MBP 2010 17″ 2.66 GHz i7

Tests on a MacBook Pro 15″ “Core i7” 2.66 Mid-2010

I found that it was possible to inadvertently physically pull the card out if tugging on a tight usb plug. There was no crash though. and then possible to re-insert and the cards recognised. This seems to be a feature as there is no other way of removing the card.

The cards are hot swappable, i.e. they can be inserted and removed whilst the MBP is up and running.

There is a fast benchmark results comparison USB2 vs USB 3. Twice the speed using the USB 3.0 ExpressCard (around 90 MB/s vs 200 MB/s).

You can not boot from a bootable drive connected to the ExpressCard, which is a shame. However, this article, Boot some MacBook Pros via an ExpressCard solid state drive, suggests that you can (but not 2006 models), if using an SSD ExpressCard. However, again, there may be heat issues associated with using a SSD ExpressCard, and they tend to die after a while, see these Amazon reviews and here and here. Here is a Uber Rare: Filemate 128GB SolidGO Wintec PCIe ExpressCard 34 SSD Unobtainium, not worth the risk, nor the money (a fool and his money, etc.).

I found that the card gets rather hot, in a 17” 2010 2.66 GHz MBP, running 10.13.6, adding to the heat generated by the hard disk, above which the ExpressCard is inserted and sits. This could shorten the life of the hard drive. Note that the ExpressCard doesn’t seem to get hot if there isn’t a disk connected (which is as one might expect).

I also found that if the MBP is put to sleep, then any connected disk is reported as being incorrectly removed, upon awakening on the MBP (as seen in the quote, under Sleep Issues (above), from this post on GenericUSBXHCI USB 3.0 driver for OS X with source). This really is bad design, as it means that you have to manually unmount any disks connected via the ExpressCard, before putting the MBP to sleep. I don’t know if this happens when the MBP sleeps automatically, due to the Power Saving setting feature, if enabled. However, when the MBP is woken, then the disk is automatically re-mounted.

On 15” MBP, running 10.8.5

Tests on a MacBook Pro 15″ “Core 2 Duo” 2.4 (SR)

I discovered that powering off a card with a disk connected and mounted will result in the “disk not removed correctly error” message. This is a bit of a poor UI as it should check for a mounted disk first, and gracefully unmount it, but power off – or a t the very least, give the user some “Are you sure?” warning. Because of this, you should always eject the disk first then power off card.

Card doesn’t self eject, upon power off, nor is there a UI option. To remove, you may be able to simply pull it out, see above. However, there is a spring loaded eject, push in slightly and then it will pop out. There is a slight click when inserted however.

It is not clear how to re-enable powered off card, short of a reboot (or ejecting and then re-inserting the card)? Once the ExpressCard powered off, the ExpressCard menu disappears, so it is not possible to power on via the menu.

If inserting the ExpressCard, always use a USB A plug to push the ExpressCard in. I tried inserting it by only pressing, with my finger nail, on the metal divider across the middle and ended up denting it, whilst trying to fully insert it (until I heard the click of the latch). It is best to use a USB cable (which doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to a drive, or device).

As I had noticed that, on the 17″ MBP, the ExpressCard doesn’t get hot if there isn’t a drive connected to it, I thought I would leave a card plugged in over night to see if the Wi-Fi issue (see below) re-occurred. It didn’t seem to affect the Wi-Fi at all. So maybe a workaround is to remove any connected drive whilst using the Wi-Fi (or power the card off – after un-mounting any disks mounted via the ExpressCard).

In fact, after testing for over a week now, I can confirm that there are not any Wi-Fi heat issues, even with a 5 TB Seagate Backup Plus Portable connected. Admittedly, the top cover of my MBP is now unscrewed and loose, so maybe the additional ventilation helps. I will update when I had screwed the MBP back together again.

Wi-Fi issues (possibly related to the ExpressCard)

Note: After further testing, I think this was an unrelated, coincidental Wi-Fi issue in my building, and not related to the ExpressCards. [Edit: I’m not convinced that the ExpressCard is faultless]


The only niggle is that (maybe) the 15″ Santa Rosa 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro, into which I inserted the ExpressCard, was sharing its Wi-Fi via Ethernet (i.e. configured as a Wi-Fi to Ethernet bridge), and that the shared internet access became very very flakey and intermittent.

It is unclear whether this is due to the card, or the Wi-Fi itself, or some other reason, as I haven’t removed the card yet to check this. The Wi-Fi connection also appears to drop (twice after 6 hours or so), which it never did before. However, again, this could be a random coincidence.

On the 15” MBP, the Wi-Fi was continually slow, and turning itself off, or rather drop the connection to the ISP. Torrents would slow to less than 1 kb/s combined. The shared internet connection via the Ethernet was virtually non-existent. After a reboot, the Wi-Fi would function correctly (for a while (15-30 minutes?) and then slow down. However, when I removed the ExpressCard then the Wi-Fi appeared to start working again. It seemed as if the extra heat generated by the card affects the Wi-Fi.

There are two main issues:

  • The Wifi turns itself off after some time.
  • Turning it back on will give Wi-Fi access at full speed for a while (sometimes 5  minutes, sometimes one hour or more) and then it is back to limited access (slow <10kB/s and intermittent).

Note that prior to the use of the ExpressCard the Wi-Fi did not suffer these issues. Another MBP using the same Wi-Fi functions perfectly, so the slow down seems unrelated.

After doing a final check, where I removed the rather hot ExpressCard, rebooted and performed the exact same operations (µTorrent and Chrome, with Wi-Fi to Ethernet bridge) the Wi-Fi and internet access was once again fast and consistently constant.

So, the heat generated from the ExpressCard seems to kill the Wi-Fi access.


Note: After further testing, I think this was an unrelated, coincidental Wi-Fi issue in my building, and not related to the ExpressCards.

My MBPs (in Bangkok) work in a very hot room without any air conditioning, so any additional heat generated may cause issues, in my case. If used in a cooler climate, or with AC, then any heat generated issues should not be a concern.

Main downsides

  • Use in a 2008 15″ MacBook Pro causes the Wi-Fi to fail – possibly heat related (?);
  • You can not boot from a disk connected to the ExpressCard.

Other issues:

  • Must insert using a USB plug as a “lever”, or “push grip”;
  • Disks (connected via the ExpressCard) do not un-mount gracefully, when the MBP is put to sleep;
  • General heat issues. The card does get hot (sometimes very hot) though.
  • I noted that if a 2 TB Seagate Backup Slim was plugged in, when there was already a M.2 SATA 512 GB WD Blue (via USB 3.0 caddy) connected, then the Seagate disk failed to start: Beeping was heard from the disk and it failed to spin up (due to a lack of current/power?). When the Seagate Backup Slim was reconnected via a built-in USB 2.0 port, it worked without a problem. This was on the 17″ i7 MBP

System Info

“Native” NanoTech ExpressCard on 2010 17″ 2.66 GHz i7 (OS X 10.13.6)

Update

Date: Mid September 2021

So I had purchased the NanoTech ExpressCard  end of January 2021 and since then it has been on constantly in the SR 15″ MBP running Mountain Lion, with one 5TB Seagate Backup Plus connected to it, along with another 5 TB Seagate Backup Plus connected via the built in USB port – µtorrent has been running constantly during all of this time.

While most of the time it has been trouble free, although consistently running hot, from time to time (in particular during heavy 1MB/s downloads), µtorrent would slow to a crawl – not the ISP limiting to 10 kb/s but even less, like 0.1 kB/s. I had previously attributed this slow down to the ExpressCard overheating and affecting the Wi-Fi (see above). This had happened since the first time I used the ExpressCard. However, it seems now more like a disk sub-system issue, with write/read access being blocked – not only on the disk attached to  the ExpressCard, but also on the disk attached to the built in USB as well.

Whilst µtorrent would not exactly die, the MBP would seem to require a reboot, and a disk First Aid, before re-opening µTorrent. If I didn’t run a disk first aid, and sometimes even if I did, then when I opened uTorrent, certain partial downloads would have a file location error – I can’t remember exactly what the error was, either:

  • “Error: The System Cannot Find The Path Specified. (WriteToDisk) ” or
  • “Files missing from Job Error” or
  • “Error: write to disk”
  • “Error: Invalid Download state, try resuming” – actually I think that it was this

The files were actually there, and I would have to do a Force Recheck, (maybe after a Advanced>Set File location, but usually the forced recheck was sufficient).

Other side effects included:

  • upon restarting µTorrent, some files would appear to have been “Force started” and;
  • Finder errors “Disk not ejected properly”, with the disk connected to (you’ve guess it) the ExpressCard USB port.

Recently it got a lot worse, with the slow down occurring twice (or more) a day and sometimes µTorrent wouldn’t quit nicely. The “Quitting” message would appear across the icon in the dock, but then once the application appeared to quit (with the application menus disappearing), the icon would remain in the dock (without the “Quitting” message), with the pale blue dot beneath it – In my experience, it was normal that the pale blue dot remained for some time (up to 20 seconds) after the application had said that it had quit (while final disk tidying is performance, I presume). However, in these worst case scenarios, the pale blue dot would remain for over ten minutes, implying some sort of disk blocking issue. It should be noted that I have the µTorrent icon locked in the dock, so the icon will not disappear after the application has quit.

To actually remove the pale blue dot, a Force Quit was required. This, then, would cause the Mac not to shutdown, and a forced shutdown was also required. Then upon reboots and first aid, there would be orphaned blocks or Volume bitmap miscounts, etc.

Note that I would run disk first aid upon both the disk connected via the ExpressCard USB and the disk connected via the built in USB. However, then it seem to dawn upon me that it mostly, the 5TB via the ExpressCard that was having the most issues.

After one particularly large (25 GB) file move (from within uTorrent – actually it was three moves each of 25 GB, which became corrupted for an unknown reason – from the “ExpressCard disk” to the disk connected to the builtin USB) the ExpressCard seemed to just hang and the disk reads were not happening. The ExpressCard itself was really really hot. I had to shutdown the MBP and eject the ExpressCard and let it cool, before reconnecting everything and then another lengthly disk first aid after the reboot.

After that particular incident things got a lot worse with the slow downs and disk issues happening on a daily basis.

Finally, one day (about two weeks later), after another slowing of µTorrent and a reboot and disk check (actually I had tried to fix the disk without the reboot which caused a system hang), the ExpressCard 5TB just wouldn’t allow itself to be fixed by Disk first aid, saying that the disk was unrepairable, etc.

Fortunately it was repairable by connecting the disk to a High Sierra MBP and running DFA from that.

Anyway, I decided to left the ExpressCard 5TB disk disconnected, just using the 5TB drive connected to the built in port, and run uTorrent like that. It worked well, and although some files were obviously stalled, with the error “Error: Disk Removed. Please Re-attach”. Nevertheless, the downloads to the disk connected via the built in USB seemed to download without the slow down occurring.

I also powered off the ExpressCard.

Now I can not definitively say that the disk slow down issue is with the ExpressCard or with that particular 5 TB hard disk – or even an issue with uTorrent itself. it should be noted that the ExpressCard and disk combination ran well (but hot) for around six months. However, maybe under heavy write loads it can become a bit overloaded.

It is just something to bear in mind – maybe the USB ExpressCard is not suitable for long term “server” type functionality.

Further testing

After leaving only the disk connected to the built in USB running over 24 hours at full download , without any issues, I thought that some further tests were warranted.

I needed to verify whether:

  • It was the disk or the express card was at fault
  • Whether the ExpressCard worked well, without issue, when only reading (and not writing) disk accesses.

There are five scenarios to test:

  1. Built in USB only: Connect the ExpressCard disk to the built in USB (leaving the disk that was previously connected to the built in unconnected)  and see if over heating or slow down occurred. This would test just the disk in isolation, removing the ExpressCard from the equation.
  2. Swap disks with read-only on the ExpressCard: Swap the disks around, i.e. ExpressCard disk to the built in and the built in USB to the ExpressCard. However, first ensuring that no writes were made to the disk connected to the ExpressCard USB port. This would test both the disk in isolation as above, but also whether using the ExpressCard in a pseudo read-only mode resulted in less slow downs or overheating
  3. ExpressCard USB only: Reconnect the ExpressCard disk only (disconnecting the built in USB disk) and run. This would see whether having µTorrent working on both the built in and the ExpressCard USB ports at the same time was causing the problem
  4. Original configuration with a light write load: Maintaining the original configuration, but ensuring that only a light write load as made to the disk connected to the ExpressCard USB port. This would test both the disk in isolation as above, but also whether using the ExpressCard in a light write mode resulted in less slow downs or overheating.
  5. Two read-only fat disks: An extension of test number 2 – connect two full/completed (i.e. no further writes required) 5TB disks to the ExpressCard USB ports. Will the ExpressCard manage to handle the current draw of two 5TB fat passport disks? In particular the 1.2 A spin up current. It could be best to connect the disks manually, one after the other, connecting the second after the spin up of the first.
  6. Powered hub with two (or more) fat disks: Using a hub to remove the current draw from the ExpressCard, in the hope that overheating is only related to power supply rather than the data transfer.

Notes

  • A heavy load would be ~1Mb/s, whereas a light load would be ~10-100 kb/s (i.e. one or two orders of magnitude less).
  • Check for over heating
  • Disk slow down
  • A clean (and quick) quitting of µTorrent – without the delayed pale blue dot beneath the application’s icon in the dock.
  • A clean shutdown

The first test – Using built in USB only

To test whether the disk was at fault, it could be moved to the built in USB port and run to see if downloads caused the same overheating and slowdown issues.

I removed the disk attached to the built in USB port and attaching the disk that had previously been connected to the ExpressCard USB, to the built in USB port ( obviously after shutting down the Mac). In µTorrent, the files residing on that disk had an error “Error: Invalid Download state, try resuming”, whereas previously the error had been “Error: Disk Removed. Please Re-attach”. Resuming did indeed cause no issues, although there were a lot of files to resume.

It was interesting to see that the disk could be switched USB ports without µtorrent throwing a fit and requiring the download location to be reset.

It should be noted that uTorrent quit much much more quickly and cleanly, without any disk connected to the ExpressCard USB, with the pale blue dot hanging about, under the application’s icon in the dock, for a maximum of two seconds are the quitting message had gone. The Mac shutdown much more cleanly too.

This clean quitting and shutdown behaviour happened with both of the disks (when connected separately to the built in USB port).

The second test – swapping the disks/ports

To test whether it was the card or the disk at fault, I left the ExpressCard disk disconnected and waited for all of the downloads to the built in USB disk to complete. That way, there would be no more writing required. Then the built in USB disk could be placed on the ExpressCard and any disk access would only in read mode. That way the ExpressCard could be seen to perform or fail when only reading.

Not yet tested.

The third test – Using ExpressCard USB only

Not yet tested.

A fourth test – original configuration, with light write load on ExpressCard

Reconnecting the disks as they were originally, when the issues occurs, but this time with only a very light write mode (or a read only mode) on the disk connected to the ExpressCard USB port. This is essentially the same as the second test, but with a light write load, en lieu of a read-only load.

First attempt

I tried this, and the load was indeed less than 100 kB/s. The quit of uTorrent was not as clean as the first test, with nothing connected to the ExpressCard USB. The blue dot hung around.

I went into Activity Monitor and noticed that there was a find process highly active. I killed this and then µTorrent quit (or rather then blue dot disappeared. Whether this was a coincidence, I don’t know as find is a legitimate process.

Second attempt

The load was a maximum of 256 kB/s, this completed and the disks continued working for at least an hour.

Then for no apparent reason, download speeds eventually slowed to <10 kB/s, eventually stopping. Even trying to load a web page in Chrome was incredibly slow.

Quitting and shutdown was clean. Ejected the card and it was super hot. Restarted the machine without the ExpressCard (and the attached disk) and downloads speeds were back to normal, using just the built-in USB port.

So, it was like the very first original issue that I experienced when I first got the ExpressCard, which I have struck out above: The card over heats and causes Wi-Fi to slow and basically die (even though the Wi-Fi is still connected).

Maybe one of the cards is faulty and I should try the other card. However, I feel like I am flogging a dead horse testing this, and that I am in denial that the NanoTech cards overheat.

Final Thoughts

Maybe the overheating issue could be attributed to the fact that a 5 TB disk has a largish current draw. It would be interesting to see what happens if the disk was powered externally – would the heating be less of an issue.

To accomplish this either:

  • use a standard desktop disk, with separate power supply, or,
  • if using a passport drive, rig a cable that takes the power line to a separate USB supply, rather than taking the power from the USB port on the ExpressCard

Also, maybe the disk connected to the ExpressCard USB would not cause much issues, if only in a read-only mode, or a light write mode.

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