RAID10 and Bootcamp on Mac Pro using ODD SATA port

The background

Mac Pro ( I am talking about the “early 2008″ version) is a miracle of industrial design.

It two 5.25″ CD/DVD bays. By default one of the 5.25” bays is empty. Currently this CD/DVD “SuperDrive” is connected via a Parallel ATA interface. There are Parallel ATA and 4-pin molex power connectors in place for the second CD/DVD drive when you choose to install one.

Once you take off the side panel you will see four 3.5″ Hard Drive bays. These bays accept any standard SATA drive (in a position that, according to Seagate installation manual, is upside-down, but I am willing to assume that since it works fine, it’s Ok. Feel free to compare Apple HD installation manual and Seagate Installation Manual). These drives can be configured totally separately, or as a RAID array (0, 1, or even 10). You can also format one or several of them with FAT or NTFS and run MS Windows (using Bootcamp, or not).

Interestingly, Mac Pro motherboard has not four, but six SATA connectors. The two extra ones are hidden out of sight and are clearly not intended for consumer access. These connectors are known as “ODD SATA” ports. Odd indeed – they are not bootable. The most common speculation is that some day these ports might be used for a BluRay or HD DVD drive (which is why they are close to the front bays).

Finallly, Bootcamp (the way to boot and run MS Windows on a Mac) is essentially a Mac BIOS (firmware) feature (with drivers thrown in for a good measure), and it requires that you boot your Windows from an internal drive. Not a USB drive. Not Firewire. Not over the network (would not that be sweet). You cannot boot Windows from an internal drive connected to ODD SATA ports either (you cannot boot any OS from them.) See Apple FAQ.

Messing with computer guts can be dangerous. You can destroy expensive equipment and/or electrocute yourself. Enjoy!

ODD SATA uses

Many enthusiasts have looked into utilising the ODD SATA ports. The main reasons have ranged from “because they are here” to “I want more drives” to “I have this neat ESATA enclosure”.

External SATA

It is possible to run a long-ish SATA cable all the way from an ODD SATA port to the back of a Mac Pro and then into an external SATA drive. There is a site out there that will sell you a nice eSATA kit for your Mac and will charge extra for putting all the pieces together.

You can also buy a standard eSATA kit for PC (or call any of your PC hobbyist buddies – they would have it sitting in their boxes of electronic junk and will give it to you for free). If you go this route, you will also need a long (36″ recommended) internal SATA cable. make sure that it has an angled connector – otherwise it won’t fit. To make your life easier, find one with 90-degree angle on one end and 270-degree angle on the other – this way you won’t have to wonder if it will fit all right.

Keep in mind that eSATA does not guarantee hot plugging. In fact, currently Mac Pro does not suport it. So, at power-up you will have to make sure that your eSATA enclosure is up, and then switch on your Mac Pro. Still several people have failed to make this work.

Internal SATA

Instead of (in parallel with) palying with an eSATA solution you can mount your extra drive internally, into the empty 5.25″ bay. There is an excellent walk-through with all the necessary pictures and advice by Oliver B. here. I followed it myself and did not regret it.

To fit a 3.5″ drive into the 5.25″ bay Oliver used X-Swing HDD decoupler. It is virtually impossible to find in the US, but I have used its cousin: Nexus Double-Twin. Either theoreticaly allows you to fit two drives into the space of one bay.

If you really insist on putting in two drives, make sure that at least one of them is slimmer than usual – get a single-platter drive. I had to turn in Seagate ST3320613AS three times for warranty replacement, so get those at your own risk.

IF you put in two drives, the lower one will likely bump into the guide pins – be ready to understand what is going on instead of alying brute force.

The Challenge

So, how do I configure both RAID10 and Bootcamp? RAID-10 requires four(4) drives. There are four bootable drive bays. Bootcamp would not boot from an external drive. And still I want both!

The Path Ignored

It might be possible to partition a bigger HD to be used part-RAID part-Bootcamp. Feels too funky though. You do it if you have time.

The solution

Summary

Configure RAID 10, move one of the drives to an ODD SATA port, put a new drive into its former (bootable) bay, install Bootcamp.

Step by Step

This has been done on Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.3. It has survived the upgrade to 10.5.4.

There is no guarantee that this process will not cause irreperable harm to you, your computer, or your karma.

1) Using your Mac OS X Disk Utility configure your hard drives. Set up your RAID 10 (or just JBOD). Reboot (just in case). Make sure everyting works fine.

2) Open your Mac Pro and move the drive from Bay 4 into your CD/DVD bay. Conect it to an ODD SATA port (and don’t forget the power!). Use the walkthrough by Oliver.

3) Boot up your Mac. Fire up your Disk Utilities. Make sure your RAID is working fine. This step is important – your RAID will keep working even if you messed up (I did). [You may pull the drive from a different bay, but I suspect that the actual bootloader is on the drives in Bays 1 and 2 (or not), so you might be sacrificing some reliability if you pull one of those drives.]

4) Shut down your Mac and install the HD for your Bootcamp into the Bay (say, Bay 4). Start your Mac, make sure it sees the drive.

5) Mac OS X has so-called “Bootcamp Assistant”. Mine got very confused (probably by the RAID10) and refused to help. It was complaining about “External drive” and such. No worries.

6) Download Bootcamp drivers for Windows from Apple site and burn them on a CD – you might be able to get them directly via the Internet later, but why take chances? [A USB memory device might also work]

6) Insert your Windows CD and reboot your Mac while holding “C” key. That should make it boot from CD and you will see your friendly blue Windows installation screen. Pretty, eh?  [ Note: I heard that in some firmware versions “C” only works if you are doing a “cold start”, not just a reboot. ]

7) Install Windows on your new drive. Please watch where you are installing! If you mess up and wipe Mac OS partitions in the process… what were you thinking? Not my fault and not my problem.

8) Windows installation will require you to reboot the computer three times. Each time you must remember to hold “option” (“alt”) key when you are booting – that will bring up a menu asking you which drive to boot from. If you somehow miss the moment, you will boot into Mac OS X. No problem. Nothing lost. Shut down and start it up while holding “option” key. Boot from your Bootcamp drive. Windows will continue its installation just fine – it won’t even notice that you have been flirting with another OS.

Note: my Mac Pro has a second graphic card with no monitors attached to it (it’s waiting for me to buy a big-ass flat panel TV – hey, a guy can dream!) Probably as a result of that, when I boot with “option” pressed, instead of a nice menu I just get a blank screen. I bet the menu is displayed on one of the non-existent screens attached to the secondary card (do not ask me why).  Pretending that I can see it helps: I just press left arrow key and then “Return” (or, sometimes, just the Space bar), and the computer continues to boot the way I want it. Uninitiated observers get very impressed.

9) Once you have installed Windows, install those Bootcamp drivers. Reboot Windows (remember the “option” key).

10) You are done! You have RAID10 and Bootcamp! You are using an ODD SATA port! You are ten feet tall and you can get Blackjack with a single card! – just don’t bet any real money on it 🙂

Drop me a word, let me know how it went. It took a while to write this up, so it would be nice to find out that it actually helped someone.



  1. […] And now….enjoy the step by step instructions! […]

    1. Very helpful suggestion. I intend to use it. Mac Pro 2008. Question though. If Bootcamp installed this way and using one of the odd port drives as part of a raid 10, will bootcamp Win 7 see the raid and be able to read/write files? Macdrive 9 now offers mac raid support even for concatenated mac raids.

      1. Theoretically, the answer should be “yes”, but PLEASE do not take my word for it. I am still stuck in the world of Leopard/XP (too much work to upgrade)…

  2. so I’m trying to get Bootcamp up and running on a 2008 macpro with a hardware RAID card. The above instructions only apply to software RAID, correct? I am under the impression that once you install the hardware RAID card, all of your 4 SATA connections route through the RAID card. I am desperately seeking a solution to this problem… How do you install bootcamp with the apple hardware raid card installed???

    1. Robb, you are right – my post was about software RAID. With hardware RAID… you are in a bit of a pickle.

      There might be a way – I recently stumbled across directions on booting Windows on a Mac from an external drive. I cannot give you the exact links – I am moving right now and so my computer is somewhere inside a truck, but the idea was to format an external drive using Mac Disk Configuration utility, applying Mac-specific boot record format (NOT MBR), and then effectively following same method as my post (hold Option key at boot time to choose the source).

      Might work for you. If it does, please drop a note here.
      Good luck!

    2. If you are still searching for a solution: you can used the 4 standard SATA ports by installing a SFF 8087 cable to a 4x SATA bracket to lead the ports out of the case. Then you can install 4 (e)SATA Drive which are completely usable for booting into MacOS or Windows (Bootcamp). Good success Stefan

  3. You are so wrong! I have two sata optical drives in place of the PATA ones connected to the odd sata ports and OS X boots up fine. I can even select it from the option key. I just recently installed AHCI drivers for windows 7 and it also boots into windows. I don’t know why you keep saying these ports are not capable of booting on the mac side and windows side, but I just did so and it was successful. Unless you intend to boot windows dvd from a odd port, 1st install AHCI drivers. On the mac side, putting in my snow leopard dvd and booting off it to start up mac os x – worked like a charm!

    1. This is one case where I would be happy to be wrong 🙂

      Three points:
      1) you are running Snow Leopard (i would not be surprised if it ame with a firmware update)
      2) I was writing about hard drives, you are running optical drives
      3) quite a bit of time has passed since my original post. Things might have changed (i do not re-install BootCamp weekly)

      I am planning to perform a Snow Leopard upgrade right after the Thanksgiving – may have happy news then! 😉

    2. Oh wow.!! I am trying to use those odd sata ports as well. Where did you find that AHCI driver? Been pulling my hair out!! Thanks

  4. BOOTCAMP 3.1 WILL SOLVE THIS! IT WILL COME WITH A FIRMWARE TO ALLOW WINDOWS TO SEE ODD PORTS.

  5. This is all very interesting. I have booted to an external HD into OS X and bootcamp (WinXP) on that drive using FW800 *BUT* it was originally my internal drive which was originally set up that way.
    This worked quite well although now I want to install Win7 and redo this whole thing and now w/ my appple raid card I’m running into the same issue. Am going to try to use the odd sata ports and see how well things go. Hope this will work out b/c i’d rather not have to remove the RAID, do all this install and then put it back in. 🙂

  6. Anyone got this working with bootcamp 3.1 now that it is out?

    ODD ports specifically

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About

I am sorry you have to see this. Actually, I am not – if you came here, it’s you fault. When we choose our actions we also choose the consequences.

Despite my oversized ego I do NOT believe that anyone out there craves a daily dose of my insight. In fact, I am suspicious of people who think otherwise.

This blog is a tool.

I meddle with many complex computer deployments, and as I go through adding features and learning things, I also tend to forget numerous details and the reasoning behind the many choices I have made in the past. This is the place to document my adventures. And to give something back.

If you stumble upon this and find it useful – …good for you.


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