I recently bought a pre-Macworld Expo, San Francisco G4 and quickly realized that I would need a PCI expansion unit if I wanted to use more than 3 PCI cards. The expansion units I’ve seen advertised previously were all pretty expensive, so I was interested when I saw the new offering from Mobility Electronics – the T35.
It looks like a small charcoal-coloured tower computer with power- and drive- activity LED status-indicators on the front panel. On the back panel there’s a power connector, an integrated two-port USB hub, and a Split Bridge port that interfaces to the PCI card in the computer.
Inside there is space for three full-length PCI cards, three 3.5-inch hard-drive bays, and two 5.25-inch user-accessible drive bays for removable drives. Two integrated IDE-controllers support a total of four IDE drives – but not, frustratingly, on the Mac. G3s will recognize only the primary IDE bus of the T35, and the G4 does not support either of the IDE controllers. Another limitation is that G3 and G4 machines will allow only two CD units (CD/DVD/CD-RW) in any configuration at one time.
The Mobility Web site boldly states that the T35 works perfectly with the G3 and G4 – and is ideal for use with audio and video cards. Specifically: “Expansion for Apple G3 and G4 (sic), Servers and Desktop Computers at a fraction of the cost. The EasiExpansion T35 is the perfect solution. Ideal for video and audio cards.”
Does the reality match up to this claim? Installation was straightforward enough. I just had to insert the CD-ROM and click on the Apple installer to place a control panel and extension to support the card in my system folder. I powered down, opened the Mac, took out my audio card, put the supplied Mobility PCI card in its place, put the Audio card in the T35, hooked up the cable, then powered everything up again.
Unfortunately, my Pro Tools software could not communicate properly with the card when it was in the T35. So, back to the Mobility Web site to check out the T35 compatibility chart. Right off,I noticed that all the audio cards listed are PC-only, and the video and MPEG cards are almost certainly PC-only as well. I have a Pro Tools MIX card, for example, which works on Mac or PC – but this is not listed as compatible. Also, I didn’t see the more professional video cards – such as the Media 100 – listed either.
The other PCI card I have is an Atto SCSI accelerator card, which is recommended for use with Pro Tools. Again, this is not compatible – although several of the popular Adaptec cards are. All of this blows Mobility’s claim that the device is ideal for use with Apple computers – and particularly for audio and video – right out of the box.
In many respects, the T35 offers good value for money – it is affordable and has many more features, such as support for several additional disk drives as well as the PCI cards, than previously-available expansion units. But Mac users will have to check the compatibility list very carefully before buying.