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Thunderbolt expansion chassis for new Mac Pro: How to make? Where to buy?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

I'd like to update my five year old Mac Pro with one of the new Mac Pros when they come out this fall, but I'm one of the people who's going to miss having internal expansion for optical drives and hard drives. I don't want to have to settle for a stack of external drives hooked up with a tangle of cables and a pile of power bricks.

 

My wish is for a 5-6 bay expansion chassis into which I can install two optical drives and 3-4 hard drives.

 

Ideally, all I'd need to hook up my new expansion chassis is a power cord and a single Thunderbolt cable. If it makes a significant difference in performance, maybe two thunderbolt cables. I'd certainly hope that the Thunderbolt performance and bandwidth is good enough that I won't want or need a dedicated Thunderbolt connection for each drive.

 

I could easily buy a stock mini PC case, throw in a power supply and my drives, but then how would I make the data flow? I've googled "thunderbolt sata adapter", but haven't found anything that really suits my needs. What I'd need is something that splits a single Thunderbolt connection into six SATA connections. I don't want it to be a PCI card because I don't want this expansion chassis to require a motherboard. If I have to settle for two such adapters because a single adapter only handles 3-4 SATA connectors, so be it.

 

The closest existing pre-built item I've seen is some Thunderbolt RAID arrays, but they're only similar in form factor to what I want, not in function, and way too pricey to hack into service for my needs even if possible.

 

I'm guessing that a new Mac Pro is going to cost me $2500-$3000, maybe even more depending on what options I choose for number of cores, speed, size of internal SSD (something I have mixed feelings about -- I don't like the data security issues of SSD storage). I don't want to have to spend another $1500-2000 just to get the kind of expansion I used to be able to enjoy from the Mac Pro itself.

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post #2 of 9
I have not seen such a product or the parts to roll your own yet. However, I do believe there is adequate demand for the capabilities, especially when the new Mac Pro becomes available. One things you say is that you don't want a motherboard; but I think that is actually the way to go. I'm imagining the following part: - Thunderbolt Expansion Board that takes the form factor of an ATX motherboard; fits in any standard ATX PC chassis with power supply. - rear port area includes USB 3.0, gigabit ethernet, Firewire, eSATA, etc. - internal headers for front case ports (USB, Firewire, etc.) - Two PCIe slots matching the ATX standard. - 8 internal SATA ports, support for various RAID configurations - 1 or 2 slots for card-style SSD expansion Thoughts?
post #3 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by shetline View Post

My wish is for a 5-6 bay expansion chassis into which I can install two optical drives and 3-4 hard drives.

I doubt you'll find optical drive bays in a Thunderbolt hard drive chassis. You don't need power supplies for bus-powered USB drives and they are pretty cheap:

DVD:
http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Portable-External-SE-218BB-RSBS/dp/B008AJLPYS
Blu-Ray:
http://www.amazon.com/Samsung-SE-506BB-TSBD-External-Blu-ray/dp/B00AO1XFM0

After that, you just need Thunderbolt or USB 3 RAID with one power supply. There's a 4-bay TB here for $600:
http://www.amazon.com/DataTale-RS-M4T-Thunderbolt-Storage-Enclosure/dp/B00CC0VRQC

5-bay USB 3 for $270:
http://www.amazon.com/Sans-Digital-TowerRAID-TR5UT-Hardware/dp/B004WNLPH8

If it's to dump the data from the old Mac Pro, you might get by with an 8TB dual drive, depending on how much data you have in your current setup:

http://www.amazon.com/G-Technology-Thunderbolt-Powerful-Transfer-0G02272/dp/B00846Z4YY

If the drives are from the Mac Pro, it might be a good idea to move to new drives if they are 5 years old.
post #4 of 9
Thread Starter 
Quote:
I doubt you'll find optical drive bays in a Thunderbolt hard drive chassis. You don't need power supplies for bus-powered USB drives and they are pretty cheap:

 

I'm not expecting the optical drives themselves to be Thunderbolt, I'd just like a single cable, if possible, between my Mac Pro and my ideal expansion chassis. Inside that hypothetical chassis, I'd want some type of Thunderbolt-to-SATA adapter that handles multiple SATA devices.
 

Yes, going USB could at least save me the clutter of extra power bricks, but ideally I still want to get all my extra drives into one tidy box.

 

Quote:
After that, you just need Thunderbolt or USB 3 RAID with one power supply.

 

RAID is not what I'm after. I want separate drives acting as separate volumes for separate processes which don't have to compete with each other for disk access. For example, I use an extra internal drive right now for Parallels Desktop virtual drives. One of two Time Machine backups goes to an extra internal drive. I might also forego the speed of the new Mac Pro's SSD in favor of the higher data security of using a separate external hard drive for my boot drive.

 

Quote:
If it's to dump the data from the old Mac Pro...

 

No, that's not a major concern. I have plenty of ways to get that job done. Nor am I overly concerned with whether I reuse the particular old drives that I'm currently using.

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Declaring us the nicest of the damned -- They Might Be Giants          See the stars at skyviewcafe.com
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post #5 of 9
Quote:
Originally Posted by shetline View Post

RAID is not what I'm after. I want separate drives acting as separate volumes for separate processes which don't have to compete with each other for disk access. For example, I use an extra internal drive right now for Parallels Desktop virtual drives. One of two Time Machine backups goes to an extra internal drive.

I see. The following kind of device will behave like that:

http://www.amazon.com/StarTech-eSATA-Drive-Docking-Station/dp/B004I6OCRO



Not the nicest looking device ever made of course. You'd have to cover it with something more attractive, like a poster of Kate Upton.
Quote:
Originally Posted by shetline View Post

I might also forego the speed of the new Mac Pro's SSD in favor of the higher data security of using a separate external hard drive for my boot drive.

Hard drives are less reliable than SSDs and you'd really miss out on the performance improvements. If you want responsive virtual machines you should run those from an SSD. They'll boot up in a few seconds - the Mac Pro SSD has read speeds over 1GB/s. You could format externals for extra space and just have small virtual machine drives.
post #6 of 9
Thread Starter 

If I were going to settle for using USB 3.0 instead of Thunderbolt for a data connection, I'd simply get a case more or less like this (probably not this particular one):

 

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16811156247

 

...fill the bays with my drives, stick a USB 3.0 hub inside the box, and call it a day. USB-to-SATA converters are easy to find and not expensive, so I can use standard bare hard drives and internal optical drives. Not as pretty as Kate Upton, but a lot more attractive than that top-loaded monstrosity that's not very suitable for the optical drive part of what I'm looking for anyway.

 

While USB 3.0's 4.8 Gbit/s bandwidth isn't bad, since up to six drives would have to share that bandwidth if I want a single connecting cable, it would sure be nice to be able to take advantage of Thunderbolt 2.0's 20 Gbit/sec bandwidth instead. Thunderbolt adapters and converter options don't look very promising at this point, however.

 

The closest thing I can find to what I'd need is this LaCie eSATA hub: http://www.lacie.com/products/product.htm?id=10574

 

But this only handles Thunderbolt 1.0, it's $200, and since it only allows for two drives, I'd need $600 worth of those hubs daisy chained together with overpriced Thunderbolt cables, and 6 eSATA-to-SATA adapter cables.

We were once so close to heaven
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Declaring us the nicest of the damned -- They Might Be Giants          See the stars at skyviewcafe.com
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We were once so close to heaven
Peter came out and gave us medals
Declaring us the nicest of the damned -- They Might Be Giants          See the stars at skyviewcafe.com
Reply
post #7 of 9
Have you considered the Drobo 5D?
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/876457-REG/Drobo_DRDR5A21_Drobo_5D.html

My advice is... Wait. They just showed off the MacPro with thunderbolt. By fall there will be several solutions available. The market will demand it.
post #8 of 9
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Have you considered the Drobo 5D?

 

That's certainly a nice enclosure, and would let me use Thunderbolt too, but it doesn't look like it's going to handle optical drives (no place for the disc trays to pop out, even if they'd be electronically compatible), it's only going to be Thunderbolt 1.0, not 2.0, which doesn't make it quite as big a leap over using USB 3.0 (x2 instead of x4), and the thing is a bit pricey to cover, I'd imagine, the cost of the SSD capability and BeyondRAID, which might even be obstacles for what I'd want out of an expansion chassis.

We were once so close to heaven
Peter came out and gave us medals
Declaring us the nicest of the damned -- They Might Be Giants          See the stars at skyviewcafe.com
Reply
We were once so close to heaven
Peter came out and gave us medals
Declaring us the nicest of the damned -- They Might Be Giants          See the stars at skyviewcafe.com
Reply
post #9 of 9
I would wait. So little about the MP is known and over the next few months new accessories will pop up inevitably. Apple has yet to show off their new input devices and displays. I'm sure they're not going to sell the Mac Pros with oddly mismatched inputs devices like the silver and white keyboard and mouse out now, not to mention a TB display not catered to laptops like the current one.
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