Embracing Obsolescence

SATA and PCI Power Macs: No OS X Joy, but You Can Boot OS 9

- 2006.11.17

Verizon's lines were down again for just about this entire past week, so I apologize for Part 3 of our SATA saga being a little late. I am grateful for Verizon finally fixing the phone lines so my Internet service can continue unabated. Now we can close the SATA report with a healthy dose of good news.

I had already tried every conceivable trick to get the Power Mac 7600 to boot into OS X from any drive connected to the OWC 2+2 SATA PCI card. Swapping cables, swapping power connectors, connecting just the PATA (parallel ATA) drive and SATA adapter, connecting just the SATA drive, adding the OS X 10.3.9 SCSI hard drive in tandem with either, and then both the drives connected to the SATA card, but I didn't have any real success.

A Clean Start

Instead of continuing to beat my head against the wall, I decided to make a fresh start. With the 30 GB PATA drive connected to the OWC SATA card and the OS X 10.3.9 SCSI drive connected to the internal bus, I booted the 7600 into Mac OS 9.1 from the PATA drive.

Then I copied some important data onto the SCSI drive, popped in a Mac OS 9 CD, and rebooted from the CD. I erased the OS 9 partition on the 30 GB PATA drive and reinstalled OS 9 onto this "minty fresh" HFS+ volume.

The installation went flawlessly, and I shut down the computer after checking to make sure everything I needed was transferred back from the data residing temporarily on the SCSI drive. I removed the SCSI drive and swapped the 320 GB SATA hard drive back into its slot in the 7600's chassis.

Booting the computer was a success, so with fingers crossed I selected the OS X installer image from the PATA drive's second partition.

The 7600 rebooted, showed a bunch of white text on black background (including something about loading an SATA driver!), and then proceeded to grant my wish by showing me the OS X installer! Disk Utility recognized both the PATA 30 GB Maxtor and the 320 GB SATA Seagate, which allowed me to reformat the drives in their entirety, not just erase volumes already formatted in Mac-friendly HFS or HFS+ partitions.

Clearly, I could not do much with the Maxtor, as it contained both the current startup disk and XPostFacto from the OS 9 volume. However, the Seagate was fair game, and I formatted the 320 GB drive into four partitions. I installed OS X onto the first 45 GB partition.

The install ran flawlessly, if not a little slowly. Giddy with my success thus far, the installer automatically rebooted the 7600 after installation was completed.

And then my frown was right side up again (uh, meaning I wasn't smiling anymore) after watching my fresh installation kernel panic before getting anywhere interesting. I figured XPostFacto might need to control the startup activity, and maybe the installer's tomfoolery with those settings was not appropriate.

I Missed Something

But wait, I was starting to think I missed something obvious. Big slap to the forehead! I was not able to install the necessary XPostFacto components to the SATA drive before rebooting into the installer because it didn't contain any recognized volumes.

Luckily XPostFacto allows for this possibility and has a handy Install Menu selection.

XPostFacto Install Menu
XPostFacto Install Menu

Consequently, I rebooted into Mac OS 9 by holding down the option key, changed XPostFacto's preferences to use the new OS X installation on the 320 GB Seagate SATA hard drive's OS X partition, installed the necessary XPostFacto components, and rebooted.

Grey screen, lots of icon spinning, but the startup drive was never located. Booting back into Mac OS 9 we go!

My next guess is that maybe the OS X installation didn't go so well after all. With XPostFacto, I changed the startup disk back to the OS X installer image on the PATA hard drive's second volume.

It Worked! Just Once...

Boy was I surprised, because the installer didn't pop up after reboot - instead the "Welcome to OS X 10.3 Panther" movie and music appeared. Once again giddy with excitement, I dove into configuring the various user account and tweaking settings.

Satisfied with my success, I restarted the 7600.

On restart I received the grey screen and lots of icon spinning, but the startup drive never appearing. None of XPostFacto's settings yielded any success in booting from the OS X volume on the SATA Seagate.

Booting back into the OS X installer image on the PATA was successful, and subsequent attempts to get a working OS X volume on the SATA Seagate never went any further from initial success followed by a "missing in action" OS X startup volume after rebooting.

Not one big 320 GB volume, not having the first volume under 8 GB in size, and nothing else in between could coerce the 7600 to repeated success when booting into OS X from the SATA Seagate.

You Can Boot OS 9 from It

Even more curious to my feverishly racing mind, I made a interesting discovery in my various experiments. Once the OS X installer has formatted the 320 GB SATA, Mac OS 9 can be installed and booted from any HFS or HFS extended volume upon that drive.

Very weird, but I negotiated a compromise out of this curious mess. I made the first partition on the 30 GB PATA hard drive my OS X boot volume, and the second remaining as the 10.3 installer image.

The 320 GB SATA became four partitions representing data, data copy, Mac OS 9 boot, and miscellaneous. The first two partitions are 139.9 GB in size, the Mac OS 9 partition 4.9 GB, and the miscellaneous partition is a healthy 13 GB. For whatever reason, the OWC 2+2 SATA PCI card can boot into Mac OS 9 or X from the PATA drive, but only Mac OS 9 from the 320 GB SATA Seagate (perpendicular storage) hard drive.

Unfortunately, I don't have any other SATA drives on hand to test whether this problem is related to the Seagate SATA hard drive, endemic to all SATA drives on Old World Mac systems, or some other quirk with my setup. However, if one were to understand the limitations, even Old World Macs can benefit from the low cost and flexibility of the OWC 2+2 (Internal/External) SATA PCI card in comparison to competing SATA cards. Also, Low End Mac readers will benefit from not having to go through all these hoops, as I have already done so for any interested party.

Quick Summary

  • Hard drives (whether adapted PATA or native SATA) attached to the OWC 2+2 SATA PCI card are recognized by the classic Mac OS only if previously formatted with HFS or HFS+ volumes or if booted into a Mac OS X installer via XPostFacto.
  • Formatting attached SATA drives is not possible via the classic Mac OS Drive Setup application, but individual HFS or HFS+ partitions can be erased by the Finder's Erase Disk command.
  • Once booted into OS X, either from an installer or an actual installation, Drive Setup can format the entire connected SATA hard drive, not just erase partitions. Although, Drive Setup can do the latter as well.
  • Adapted PATA drives are capable of booting into Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X, but I have only successfully gotten SATA drives to boot into Mac OS 9.

Feel free to email me any questions, comments, or related information about SATA drives in general. SATA technology is still new to me, as my current crop of computers only natively supports SCSI and/or PATA. I'm learning on the fly here, and it's quite possible that I have overlooked some easy answer to the admittedly much smaller list of caveats with this SATA setup on legacy Macs.

I'm this close to giving an unequivocally favorable recommendation to this card for any Mac with PCI slots, but only if the users understand the remaining possible issues with such unsupported configurations. If I uncover more information, I'll make sure to report back in an SATA epilogue.

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