Adding a Silicon Power 512GB SSD to my Mac Pro 2008

TLDR; here’s the main points:

  • Restore a Time Machine backup using Recovery, not from Disk Utils from the MacOS installer
  • If an uninitialized SSD is not visible to Disk Utils, it may show up under ‘diskutils list’
  • If still not visible, put it in a USB drive enclosure where it should get detected, then initialize it

I picked up a cheap $50 512GB SSD to add to my Mac Pro 2008. I already have Windows 10 on one SSD, but decided it was time to replace the WD Blue 5000rpm drive also with an SSD. Backed up El Capitan to Time Machine, and now ready to add the new drive.

I mounted it in a Sabrent 2.5 to 3.5 caddy, and then attached to one of my drive sleds.

I’ve had good luck with new and even refurb drives over the past couple of years, this Silicon Power SSD is the first drive that’s given me issues, as it’s not visible in Disk Utils or even to ‘diskutils list’ which normally detects and lists an installed drive even though it’s not usable. Not knowing if it was the SATA connectors, I removed all my other disks, and moved it between each of the 4 slots, and no go, it was still not detected in MacOS Recovery Disk Utils, either when booted into El Cap, or in Windows 10.

First attempt to see what was going on, I tried downloading Silicon Power’s SP Toolbox software, and Windows Defender says it has a trojan:

Ok, well that’s not good. Uninstalled.

To double check that the drive could be detected on other machines I uninstalled it and moved it to a USB3 external drive enclosure. Windows 10 Disk Management now sees the disk as uninitialized, and pops up a dialog to initialize it as either MBR or GPT. Ok, picked GPT but haven’t formatted it yet. Going to now book back into MacOS Recovery to see if I can format it, and restore my TimeMachine backup. Back in a few mins.

Ok. So I have a Recovery partition that for some reason does not boot. The other option is to boot from an MacOS El Cap bootable USB flash drive and restore from Disk Utils there. I tried this and when I selected the ‘Restore…’ menu option, selected the Time Machine USB drive and the SSD as the target, I ended up restoring a copy of the content of the Time Machine backup onto the SSD, but it’s not bootable. First clue that this happened should have been from the boot menu screen when I had 2 identical orange Time Machine drive icons, and not a new silver bootable disk.

Since I don’t have a working Recovery partition to boot from where the ‘Restore from Time Machine’ option is, I went the long way round and installed El Cap from USB to the new SSD which got it bootable and with a new Recovery partition, then booted to this Recovery partition, selected the ‘Restore from Time Machine’ option, left it restoring over night, and now I have I my previously El Cap install completely transferred to the new SSD, successfully bootable and all. That took way longer than I expected, but now successfully up and running!

El Cap boot time from SSD on this 2008 Mac Pro is about 4 seconds, whereas before from a 5000rpm WD Blue it was at least a minute to get to the desktop… a HUGE improvement!

Adding a cheap SSD to my 2008 Mac Pro

Windows 10 on my 2008 Mac Pro maxes out the disk i/o while booting, checking for updates and doing whatever it does after startup, plus add Steam and Origin to launch at boot and disk i/o sits at 100% for several minutes after boot. My Windows 10 disk up until now has been a cheap Hitachi/HGST 7200rpm 500GB HDD.

I boot Windows 10 on my Mac Pro only for occasional gaming, so I haven’t been overly eager to install an SSD. It wasn’t until these recent SSD deals with 480GB for as low as $65 that I decided to pick one up.

I’m aware that the 2008 Mac Pro only has a SATA2 disk controller by default so won’t be able to take advantage of the maximum SATA3 SSD speeds (max 600MB/s), but even at SATA2 bandwidth (max 300MB/s) the i/o will still be multiple times faster than what’s capable by a 7200rpm magnetic disk.

For the last couple of magnetic 2.5″ disks I added, I used a cheap $5 2.5 to 3.5″ 3d printed bracket from Amazon. While it works and holds the disks in place, it’s not sturdy enough to get the drives inserted into the SATA slots when you push the drive sled into the machine. You need to reach under to find the back of the drive and give it a push, then it seats into the slot. I decided to try a Sabrent metal bracket for the SSD. When it arrived I realized I had already used one of these in the past when installing an SSD into a 2012 MacBook Pro. These are pretty sturdy and work well:

$5 3d printed adapter on left, Sabrent adapter on right

A few notes as reminders to myself on the install:

  • Windows 10 will not install from the ISO burnt to a USB flash drive, no matter whether you set it up from Windows 10, MacOS, or Linux. I tried multiple times, and it will not boot. Strangely, MacOS will boot and install from a USB flash drive just fine.
  • Windows 10 will not install to a fresh, blank HD or SSD if there are other disks already in the Mac Pro. Remove all the other disks, leaving just the target disk for Windows 10. Boot from DVD, complete the install, then insert all the other disks back after completing the install

My HDDs with most uptime hours

I keep a few old HDDs around as scratch disks for installing random stuff. I realized a couple of them I’ve been using fairly regularly in my Mac Pro are pretty old, so took at look at the SMART stats (smartctl) to see how old they actually are, and what their stats and uptime actually are:

WD Caviar Blue 500GB – this drive came installed in my 2008 Mac Pro when I bought it used. I’ve no idea if it was an original disk in the machine or added later, but it’s still chugging along with no errors and over 3.7 years uptime:

32,830 uptime hours
0 read error rate
SMART health: PASSED

Hitachi Deskstar 3.5″ 7200rpm P7K500 250GB – I have 2 of these disks that I used in a Linux server as a RAID1 pair when I used to self host my website from home. Still no errors and over 5 years uptime so far:  

45,082 uptime hours
0 read error rate
SMART health: PASSED

I understand that both of these are on borrowed time and I don’t use these for anything critical, but it’s interesting to see how long some disks last. On the other end of the spectrum I’ve also had several disks fail within a year, and one (a Quantum Fireball I think) failed within a couple of weeks, but it’s interesting to compare the lifetimes and failures from a number of disks over time.

Ars Technica: Connecting a TRS-80 model 100 to the internet

For some reason I find connecting any dial-up modem era computer or earlier to the internet rather interesting. Not because a computer this old would make a great device to use to surf the net, because of course it doesn’t. It’s a terrible user experience. This article therefore over at Ars Technica caught my attention, about connecting a TRS-80 model 100 laptop to the internet, using homebrew serial cable connections and various other technical noodlery to get working.

Maybe it was this intro to the article that got my attention:

The true test of a man’s patience is crimping pins onto the end of a cable that leads to building a custom serial cable—especially if it’s the first time you’ve even handled a serial cable in a decade.

Yep, been there recently. I posted a while back on G+ about connecting an Kantronics Packet Radio TNC (Terminal Network Controller) to my Atari 1040ST, for no other reason than at the time that this was the only computer I had available on my desk that still had an old school style DB25 serial port connector.

I’ve been shopping for a while to add network and/or SD Card disk support to my Atari ST, but still wondering if I really want to spend this much on adding support to something that I only tinker with occasionally? On my shopping list is either one of these or one of these, but maybe a better option would be one of these FPGA boards with support for a number of different hardware devices. This will probably give me more flexibility to tinker with a number of platforms. Choices choices. 🙂