|Booting Late 2008 MacBook Pro from an eSATA external hard drive|
| (Disclaimer: The content in this
page is about making a modification to a laptop hardware. If you try
the same thing, do it on your own risks. I don't take responsibility.)
I'm primarily using late-2008 15" MacBook Pro at home. It's getting old and relatively slower than the most recent PCs, but it performs all right. I am mainly using 32-bit Windows XP on it, and I boot it in Mac OSX when I want to compile and test my program on Mac OSX. I'm also studying iOS programming, too.
I like Windows XP because I can reach most of the items with a few key strokes. In Windows 7, I need to either type keyword, confirm Windows 7 finds the right item, and then press enter even when I know exactly where it is. Or, it is sometimes quicker to just use mouse than keyboard. Either way, I need to look at the monitor. I could do most of those things without even looking at the monitor in Windows XP. Now, I always need to look and confirm. It is very inefficient compared to Windows XP. It's ok as a toy. But, not good for serious work. Honestly I don't like Windows 7. I expect that I will be disgusted by Windows 8.
Nonetheless, 32-bit operating system is becoming another frustration to me. I decided it is time to install 64-bit Windows 7 in my MacBook Pro.
I thought it would be straight-forward to install Windows 7. I tried to install it in one of my spare 250GB HDD with Boot Camp. Installation went smoothly, and I tested for any obstacles in transition from Windows XP to Windows 7. I found a solution to most of such issues, but I could not solve one critical issue. It turned out the ExpressCard slot of MacBook Pro was disabled in Windows 7. It is impossible to use an eSATA external hard drive through an ExpressCard. After searching for the solution on the web for several hours, I concluded that there is no solution, and Apple has no intention of fixing it. Only options to use an external hard drive were limited to USB 2.0 or Firewire 800, both of which are too slow to be practical. Here is an interest speed comparison between eSATA, Firewire 800, and USB 2.0.
The obvious conclusion is eSATA is fast. It is supposed to be because eSATA gives almost the native speed of the hard drive. Although this web site concludes that Firewire 800 does pretty good job when accessing the slowest part of the harddrive, mostly eSATA is way faster. USB 2.0 is a joke. It is only good for keyboard and mouse.
My biggest reason of using an external hard drive is the size of the data that I carry daily. I have a decent quad-core PC on my desk in my CMU office. I want to access all my data files directly from that computer when I am working in CMU. But, when I come up with a new idea of my research, I want to be able to implement and test right away. The problem is the size of those data files. Now, 50MB is normal. Some exceeds 500MB. There is absolutely no way of accessing it over the network. Cloud file storage is no use for me. Firewire 800 may be ok speed, but once you get used to eSATA speed, you don't want to go back to the stone-age technology any more.
For this reason, unless I can use eSATA connection (excluding eSATA via USB 2.0), it is useless for me. The hope of installing Windows 7 in my late-2008 MacBook Pro looked fading.
I almost decided to stay with 32-bit Windows XP for another two years, when I came up with an idea. I can easily remove a lower lid of this late-2008 MacBook Pro and access the internal HDD and the battery. How about removing the internal HDD and connecting an external eSATA HDD via a cable? I am carrying 500GB HDD. If I get a new 750GB HDD, I should be able to install Mac OSX, Windows 7, and still have space for my data files.
This modification will make it totally impossible to use it as a laptop, but I haven't been carrying it around anyway. The battery came to its life was swollen. I have removed it long time ago.
For experiment, I ordered a cable from Amazon.com.
It is somewhat a special use cable. The connector in the MacBook Pro is for directly connecting an internal HDD. A typical SATA to eSATA cable has a female SATA connector and a female eSATA connector. But, for my purpose, I needed a male SATA connector and a female eSATA connector. Luckily, I was able to find one on Amazon.com. According to the following web site, it is also possible to combine SATA extension cable + SATA male to male coupler + SATA to eSATA cable.
Below are the pictures of the cable that I purchased. It indeed has male SATA connector on one end and eSATA connector the other side.
But, the bracket of the SATA connector needed to be removed. I had to cut and drill a small hole to be able to fully insert the connector.
After cutting and drilling and applying sand papre, the SATA connector looked like below.
After removing the internal HDD, nothing holds the ribbon cable of the internal HDD connector. I don't want to leave it dangling even though I don't carry it around. I would connect and disconnect my HDD every day, and eventually repeated bending might break the ribbon cable. To prevent the fatigue failure caused by the cyclic loading, I cut two bamboo skewers to the size and held them over the SATA to eSATA cable by the bracket that was holding the internal hard drive.
The connection was done. I was ready to connect my HDD that used to be inside the laptop via the eSATA enclosure. I used Vantec NexStar 3 enclosure, and 5V AC to DC converter that I purchased when I visited Akihabara a few years ago, then turned the power on.
The result was....
By the way, I am using two monitors arranged vertically. The initial plan was to make YSFLIGHT multi-window capable and draw external view in the top window and the instrument in the bottom so that it mimics actual eye movement in an airplane cockpit. But, this MacBook Pro does not draw 3D graphics fast on the external monitor, and the plan is on hold.
Although I was a bit worried about noise issue because I was extending a SATA cable, I haven't experienced any problem so far. Furthermore, one of the biggest weakness of MacBook Pro, lack of HDD access light, is gone! The enclosure has its own access light.
By the way, a black thing in front of my NexStar 3 is a cooling fan that I took out from a junk PC. HDD lasts long if you sufficiently cool it. A 120GB Maxtor 3.5 inch hard drive lasted 10 years with zero error until it retired.
One more note is there are multiple versions of NexStar 3. I could not boot from an old version. I was thinking that it was just passing signals through eSATA connector to the drive directly, but it may be doing something more than that.
Now, I am testing if I experience a problem in this configuration. If it doesn't give me any trouble for a while, I am going to install Windows 7, Mac OSX in my new 750GB HDD and will start using it. In fact, experimental installation has been done. I'll post another article regarding the installation later.
(Disclaimer: The content in this page is about making a modification to a laptop hardware. If you try the same thing, do it on your own risks. I don't take responsibility.)