Dealing With SCSI Devices Without A SCSI Card

My recent experiences with doing almost all of my sound assisting on my laptop with an Mbox got me thinking about other things I could do to expand on that model. One big sticking point was SCSI. Firewire is awesome, but in the post-production sound world, SCSI is still king—if for no other reason than the Tascam MMR-8 and MMP-16 still deal exclusively with Kingston-style removable SCSI drives.

You can cut all you want on firewire hard drives or even on your internal—those SATA drives in the G5s are screaming fast—but you will still often need to layback you finished sessions to a SCSI drive for dubbing. Or you might get some SCSI drives with stems from the stage.

The idea of moving away from SCSI is even more tempting when you consider that PowerMac G5s only have 3 PCI slots. The old G4s had 4. This was perfect for 2 Pro Tools cards, a digital picture card and a SCSI card. What do you do with 3 slots? Go back to an expansion chassis? That’s a possibility. Run only a core Pro Tools system with 1 card? Also a possibility. But how about dumping your SCSI card? That’s a much cooler idea. Especially since RATOC makes a couple of cool SCSI without a SCSI card solutions.

I picked up both the FR1SX Firewire to SCSI adapter and the U2SCX USB2 to SCSI cable. So far I’m loving what I’m seeing. I’ve used the FR1SX quite a bit. It works perfectly with removable hard drives. You get speeds comparable to regular Firewire 400—about a gigabyte copied per minute. I’ve also used it with a DLT4000 tape drive and had slightly faster rates than I did directly through SCSI. It’s an old SCSI-1 device so it’s not particularly fast, around 85 to 87 MB per minute in Retrospect 5 under OS X. With the FR1SX, I was getting between 90 and 95 MB per minute. Different types of audio backup of different speeds so I wouldn’t count on it always being faster but I think I can easily say that it’s the same speed as SCSI. You’re not losing anything.

Under OS X, it’s perfect. You turn on your device. Attach the FR1SX. Plug in the Firewire cable and it’s available. A SCSI hard drive will mount up just like as if it were Firewire. You can even hot swap by unplugging and replugging the Firewire cable. The only problem I’ve seen it that it only supports one SCSI ID. So even though the carrier that I have it attached to has 2 bays, only the top one (the first in the chain) works. The FR1SX doesn’t support SCSI chaining. But if you’re just using it for laybacks or to copy off a SCSI drive, you probably don’t need more than one at a time.

I haven’t tested the U2SCX. I can’t see that it would be any different. The Pro Tools system I’m working on only has USB1 ports so it would be much slower (1.5 MB per second maximum through-put at USB1 versus 60 MB per second at USB2). But Aluminum PowerBooks and G5s come with USB2 so it could be very viable there. The webpage for the U2SCX says that it support SCSI chaining of 7 devices but it mentions that you have to be running the RATOC driver in Windows. I don’t know if they have a Mac driver and frankly I like the fact that I don’t have to install any new drivers in OS X.

If you are going to get one or both of these devices, it would probably be a good idea to kick in for the power adapter. They don’t need to be powered if your SCSI device has Termination Power, but it’s probably better to be safe. Another thing you’ll need is a SCSI adapter or two. Both devices have an HD50 Male SCSI-2 connector. You’ll want to pick up an HD50 Female SCSI-2 to HD68 Male SCSI-3 adapter for Wide SCSI drives and an HD50 Female SCSI-2 to Centronics 50 Male SCSI-1 adapter for any old devices that you might have.