I have recently been researching the subject of booting a MacBook from an external eSata drive, more specifically a MacBook Pro. Many people are having trouble doing that, some even claim that it is not possible. However, I have read a few posts from people who have succeeded. The trick is to use an eSata ExpressCard that uses the JMicron chipset (JMB360) instead of the Silicon Image one (Sil3132). Unfortunately these former cards are harder to find. Most of the eSata Express Cards on the market use the Silicon Image chipset. I believe Windows has built-in drivers for this latter chipset. That would explain why ExpressCards with the Silicon Image chipset would be more popular. From what I have read, OS X (10.5.5) would have built-in drivers for the JMicron chipset.

So, I decided to make a list of all the eSata ExpressCard brands I would find and to find out which chipset they use.

Here is the list of the brands that use the Sil3132 chipset. Sometimes, I also wrote the model and the number of eSata ports the card has:

  • Addonics
  • ApioTek (2 port card) (EXTREME Dual eSATAII Express Card)
  • Belkin
  • BYTECC BT- ECES2
  • FirmTek SeriTek/2SM2
  • Griffin
  • IOGear
  • Koutech ECSA221
  • Kouwell BT-5652E3
  • LaCie
  • nGear
  • PNY
  • Quatech
  • Rosewill RC-605
  • SIIG
  • Sonnet Tempo
  • StarTech
  • Syba SD-PCBX-ESA2 (2 ports)
  • St Lab
  • Vantec

And here are the cards with the JMB360 chipset:

  • ApioTek (1 port card) (EXTREME eSATAII Express Card)
  • Best Connectivity (1 esata)
  • GWC Technology (GWC BS1020) (2 ports)
  • nGear (Moved to the Sil3132 chipset list. See my more recent post about this)
  • PPA Int’l (2 ports)
  • VC (an original brand of Vintage Computer Inc.)
  • Syba (1 Port)
  • Sunix ECSA24J (Discontinued)

You will want to use an eSata ExpressCard from one of these brands if you want to be able to boot your MacBook from an external drive. This is true if you are using OS X v10.5. I haven’t researched the subject for previous versions of OS X.

I just ordered an nGear eSata ExpressCard, a Seagate Barracuda 1 TB drive, and a Vantec enclosure, so I will soon be able to experiment with this and report about it here. If you are wondering why a Barracuda drive, because they are silent and Seagate offers a 5 year warranty.

Posted in Mac

26 thoughts on “Booting MacBook from external eSata drive

  1. I found this useful blog and proceeded to purchase 2 expresscards to test: a single esata card from meritline for $20 free shipping (package marked jmicron jmb360) and based on your blog, a PPA Int’l (iConnect) dual model 1172, available from Frys or newegg. The PPA Int’l boots up 10.5.5 on my macbook pro without any drivers. No luck so far on my boot camp partition. The meritline I have no success so far, despite the web blog to the contrary. Will update if i make more progress.

  2. Hi Warren,

    I am wondering if this is because Windows has the Silicon Image drivers by default, not the JMicron drivers. I am about to return my nGear eSata card, but if I have time, I will try booting windows from it.

    What are you using to select the boot partition? Are you using rEFIt?

    Cheers!

    JF

  3. To select boot partition, all I do is hold down the option key during boot and the esata drives show up! Thats it! (with 10.5). When I do that, the boot camp partitiion shows up, and if I choose that, it just hangs. The problem with using a SI card may be that it doesnt show up during boot. I am going to try to install the Jmicron drivers into XP and see what happens, but I am not hopeful

  4. Also, the VC card is not available anymore and they dont know if and when. The meritline card is the best connectivity one.

  5. I just did th following test:

    I removed the harddrive from my desktop PC (WinXP) and I connected it to my Macbook Pro using a Vantec enclosure and an nGear eSata ExpressCard. I then booted my MBP with a rEFIt CD. The only drive shown to boot from was my internal MBP drive. rEFIt did not see the external drive.

    I then turned off my MBP, disconnected the eSata cable, removed the eSata ExpressCard and reconnected the exeternal drive with a USB cable. I booted into rEFIt again, and this time, it recognized the external drive. Of course, I could not boot from it, because the WinXP installation is made for different hardware.

    Cheers!

    JF

  6. I am curious to see what happens after you install the JMicron drivers on the WinXP partition. I actually think that it could solve your boot problem. I believe the Windows XP built-in eSata ExpressCard drivers are for cards with the Silicon Image chipset. It would make sense that WinXP does not recognize your ExpressCard unless you install the JMicron drivers.

    JF

  7. I cannot install the JMicron drivers. They are for RAID and the install (in VM ware Fusion) says it cant find the JMicron card. The only way to install the driver would be to put the drive on something that I could boot the boot camp partition on – then if I could do that, I wouldnt need it! So I am stuck not being able to boot off the boot camp partition on an external disk. SO far, the ONLY way I have found was hacking a mac mini by connecting a esata cable to the internal SATA hard drive connector. Then OS X cant tell whetherr the drive is internal or external and then it works. BTW, the Best Connectivity card doesnt boot. I can choose the disk holding down the option key, the apple starts up (with the apple) and then it hangs.

    SO its a 50% hit. I was looking for a way to boot XP because fusion is still slow sometimes compared to native XP boot.

  8. Hi Warren!

    Do you have the option of booting from your external drive using USB? If you can, you could install the JMicron drivers from there. I believe it would also be possible to create a WinXP installation CD with the proper drivers, like others did with USB drivers, but this seems a bit complicated.

    Also, are the drivers you downloaded these ones:
    ftp://driver.jmicron.com.tw/jmb36x/Win2k_xp_Vista/JMB36X_WinDrv_R1.17.42.09WHQL_eSATA.zip

    You can also check for drivers on the ExpressCards manufacturers sites, if they have any.

    What you are trying to do is exactly the same as what I wanted to do. I am also using Fusion and I wanted to compare speed.

    Cheers!

    JF

  9. For me to boot from the external drive using USB would require modding the drivers and reinstalling XP, a daunting task. The drivers you show are the ones I tried to use – they are raid drivers and dont install.

    For whatever reason, eSATA feels clearly faster than firewire 800. I dont understand because the hard disk is slower than either so it shouldnt make a difference, but it does. I am using a western digital studio edition so maybe the firewire 800 firmware on the WD is not as good as it should be…

  10. BTW, the reason I am trying to do this is because XP is much faster running native than thru fusion or parallels for the software I am using. I know this to be true because I compared both when I used my hacked mac mini. So now I am using a macbook pro, I want to boot XP…

  11. Hi Warren,

    I see two solutions to the problem of installing the drivers (if you can find proper drivers for your eSata card…) on your BootCamp partition. These are only guesses, so I don’t know if these solutions would work for sure:

    1) Burn the drivers on a CD. Boot your system from your WinXP CD. Press F6 and insert the drivers CD when prompted. Do a repair install of WinXP.

    2) Boot WinXP using Fusion and use Sysprep to add the drivers. Sysprep is a tool to install multiple drivers on a machine that will be ghosted on other machines with different hardware. This page might interest you: http://www.vernalex.com/guides/sysprep/mass.shtml.

    Cheers!

    JF

  12. I’m wondering if I am doing this backwards. i originally set up my HD using my hacked mac mini with the hard drive looking as an internal drive. Set up OS X and a Boot camp partition using the boot camp assistant and installed XP. Then I pulled the disk out and simply attached the exact disk and booted up my macbook pro using firewire 800. I run XP using fusion. When I try to boot. the issue is my partition is a boot camp partition and boot camp doesnt boot with external disks. Maybe if I try and start over with a fresh external disk, and make 2 partitions, one OS X and one XP without using boot camp, it may allow it to boot. BTW, the macbook pro doesnt boot with a XP SP2 CD, I dont know why. It just hangs just like trying to boot up the windows partition… Will try a few more iterations and then I will give up.

  13. Hi Warren,

    You might need to boot with a WinXP SP2 CD with SATA drivers on it. I have one, and I will try it as soon as I have a minute. I also ordered a PPA Int’l eSATA ExpressCard. So I will be able to experiment with this soon.

    I find it too bad that BootCamp does not boot from an external drive.

    Cheers!

    JF

  14. Hi Warren,

    I just booted my Win XP SP2 CD with SATA drivers. I booted to the point where I could choose a partition to install Win XP. My guess is that the CD-ROM and hard drives are all on a SATA interface in the MBP, but in fact I am not sure of this. A system administrator prepared that CD for me. I’ve seen explainations on forums on how to remaster a Win XP ISO image with extra drivers.

    I found this interesting link. People seem to use nLite to do that:

    http://maxeasyguide.blogspot.com/2008/04/preparations-for-winxp-installation-cd.html

    Or you could use this although, I am not sure if it is legal:

    http://www.google.ca/search?q=creating+a+winxp+iso+with+SATA+drivers&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a

    Cheers!

    JF

  15. Gave up. Created a slipstream XP with the SATA drivers, my macbook pro will not boot from it! In fact, my macbook pro wont boot off a conventional XP SP2 disk even if I unplug everything from the laptop! Good luck!

  16. Hi Warren,

    How is it going with your PPA Int’l ExpressCard? I’m not having much luck with mine. My external drive does not get recognized when I boot my machine or when I connect it. I have to plug it through the USB port to activate it and once it is in that state, I unmount it, deconnect it and reconnect it through the eSata port. But even then, at some point my MBP freezes.

    Also, I was thinking about your boot from CD problem. At that point, your MBP is just like any other laptop, and it should boot. I tried booting again with a different CD, and it worked. It was a WinXP SP2 CD, and I don’t think the SATA drivers were on it, although I am not sure.

    Cheers!

    JF

  17. The PPA card was just fine. Make sure that your esata cable is good. Turns out I bought 2 esata cables. The first showed up the disk upon boot but would not actually boot it. The second supposedly identical one worked. I threw the first one away. Do you have another esata? Also, how is the disk partitiioned? GUID or MBR? Mine was GUID. Also it could be your external box sata firmware that is problematic.
    Good luck.

  18. You can add the Kouwell BT-5652E3 to the Sil3132 list. Its a generic offered at Fry’s Electronics.

    Using the regular 1.1.9 drivers from their site (SATALink not the RAID 5 ones), I’ve been able to get my two enclosed drives up (Barracuda & WD Caviar with Antec MX-1 enclosures) and running so far under 10.5.5 on my MBP. Its not 100% perfect, I had a freeze when I chose “Power off Card” from the expresscard menu (haven’t tried again yet), and a few airport issues, but I haven’t seen them since.
    I’ve yet to try any heavy r/w yet, but so far so good. My itunes library plays just fine and I’ve watched part of a movie as well. Ejecting and putting it back in works fine as well. Haven’t tried booting yet though.

    I’ll come back and update once I’ve played around with it more. I just wanted to post now because the list is a great resource for potential buyers (wish I woulda saw it before). Thanks.

    PS: For people having problems with their Sil3132, check my delicious links on the subject here. There’s a few threads about firmware flashing, reinstallation, etc. that might help.

  19. Where can I purchase one of those PPA cards? Newegg doesn’t seem to carry it anymore and Google is similarly fruitless. Did these cards just fall off the face of the earth o_O?

  20. I just want to go on record as saying that the GWC BS1020 actually contains a JMicron JMB363, not a JMB360. Vendor ID: 0x197b, Device ID: 0x2363. It seems to work somewhat without drivers, but the port-multiplier aspect seems to fail with my Addonics Storage Tower; it only detects the first drive. I haven’t tested booting yet.

    O/T: Anyone find it strange that the PCI-SIG has no record of that vendor ID? I thought they were the ones responsible for handing those out?

  21. I’m looking for an eSATA express card that will allow me to install and boot the Windows 7 Release Candidate on an external eSATA drive. My June 2007 Santa Rosa Macbook Pro has OS X Leopard and Windows XP installed (through bootcamp).

    Should I get an eSATA ExpressCard with the JMicron or Silicon Image chipset for this purpose?

  22. Hi Kwarp,

    I would go with the JMicron chipset, since it is not possible to boot a Mac from an external drive using an eSata card with the Silicon Image Chipset. This is according to what I read when researching the subject. Now, for WIndows 7 to be able to use the Express Card, you might need to install drivers. I don’t know if WIndows 7 will include the drivers for the JMicron Chipset.

    I read that some people had success with the PPA Int’l eSata Express Card, but I did not, and I did not get much support from PPA Int’l. If I connect the drive while the computer is booted, it will be recognized. However, if it is already connected at boot-time, my MBP (Early 2008) won’t mount the drive. Also, my MBP sometimes froze when I was using the PPA Int’l card, so I am not using it anymore. Since other people did not have as much trouble with the card, I suppose it might be due to a combination of things like card revision and MBP Firmware revision. The problem is not coming from the external drive, casing or cable however, since I tried other drives with different cables, and I had the same problems.

    Cheers!

    JF

  23. I’m posting to state that my attempt to install Windows 7 RC on an external eSATA hard drive has failed.

    My message to anyone attempting to install any variety of Windows on an eSATA drive on a Mac: Don’t even try.

    I bought a Syba (1 Port) eSATA ExpressCard 34. It has the JMicron chipset. The hardware itself had no technical problems. I duplicated my OS X backup on my eSATA drive and successfully booted from it. I then cleared and formatted the drive as NTFS, and used Winclone to duplicate my internal Windows XP partition onto the drive. The BootCamp loader recognized the external drive and indicated that there were two Windows partitions I could boot from. However, no matter which drive I chose, the internal Windows XP partition would always boot.

    1) Problem 1: software limitations. Both Windows XP and the Windows 7 RC installer recognized the eSATA drive as a “Local Drive”, but not one that was bootable. I believe I installed the JMicron drivers correctly, but may have made an error in this regard.
    2) Problem 2: Firmware limitations. Intel Mac hardware uses a BIOS replacement called EFI for booting. It emulates BIOS to allow legacy operating systems such as Windows XP to boot. It seems when I boot any Windows partition, the BIOS emulation kicks in, and since Windows only sees one bootable hard drive, always picks the internal one. That is my impression anyway.

    At this point I gave up. Further attempts to tweak the boot sequence would require me to modify my EFI firmware with 3rd party software such as rEFIt (http://refit.sourceforge.net/).

    Scenarios I did not try:
    Erasing the internal XP drive, then attempting to boot the eSATA Windows XP drive.
    Actually installing Windows 7, which may have support for EFI and behave differently.

    If anyone is willing to attempt these scenarios, I wish you the best of luck.

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