More PCI slots for a 2008 Mac Pro

Mac Pro owners will know that finding accessories for their machine can sometimes be a bit of a lottery. iMacs and Mac Books have things like cameras and microphones built-in, and anything else is either a dedicated peripheral from Apple, or something that connects via USB. So when it comes to expanding the Mac Pro it’s often a case of reaching for Google and off you go.

I’m already looking for a USB microphone that works with the voice recognition built-in to OS X, given that the ones on my Logitech webcams work with everything (Skype, iChat, etc.) except any form of voice recognition. Both the MacMice MicFlex USB and the Logitech USB Desktop Microphone look like possible candidates, and I’ve got the latter on order from Amazon UK (for just £13.89 rather than the £24.99 PCWorld want to fleece you for it!), so when it arrives I’ll let you know how it works out.

However all these USB devices need a home on my Mac Pro and with only 3 USB slots at the back and 2 at the front (that I want to keep free), I need more slots! A bit of research will tell you that the 2008 Mac Pro sports PCI Express (aka PCIe) slots. This means that many of the regular PCI style cards won’t fit and you need to look elsewhere. What I also found are many websites that try and sell you PCI cards telling you they’re supported under Mac OS X but failing to warn you that they may not fit the latest Mac Pros.

In the end I was looking at a Belkin PCI Express 5-port USB card from Amazon UK for the princely sum of £42.35. Surely that couldn’t be the cheapest? A bit more digging and I found Cancom stocked USB cards so I headed over there. Turns out they didn’t have what I needed, but the salesman very kindly telephoned Maplin who are just a 5 minute walk from their store and established that they had what I needed. With service like that it seemed a shame to go elsewhere, and if you want helpful Mac-buying advice I can definitely recommend Cancom. Just a short while later and I was picking up my ‘4 + 1 USB 2.0 PCI Express Card‘ at Maplin for just £24.99!

The eco-unfriendly-slice-your-fingers-sharp-plastic(!!) packaging mentioned nothing about Mac compatibility, and indeed the little leaflet enclosed said I needed some flavour of Windows from 2000 up to Vista (eugh!), but the edge connector was exactly what I was looking for. Fitting it was a 3 minute job, and powering the machine back up with my two external Freecom USB drives connected saw them burst in to life. Likewise my Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro works a treat, as does my iPhone 3G dock. With the receiver for my Logitech MX Revolution mouse, and my Elgato Hybrid TV tuner plugged in to the Mac Pro’s built-in rear USB ports, I’m left with one free slot – for my USB microphone when it arrives.

The PCIe card fitted.

The PCIe card fitted.

Testing out the read/write performance of my external USB disks, they seemed as fast as they were when connected to the Mac Pros built-in USB ports. One point to note is that none of the USB devices that I have plugged in to my new PCIe USB card is bus-powered. The card does have a 4-pin power socket on it, but I elected not to power up the card, a) because I don’t need it, and b) because I have no idea where I’d take a power feed from inside my Mac Pro anyway, at least not without some further investigation!

So, if you’re a 2008 Mac Pro owner looking for a PCIe USB card, you could do worse than opt for this one from Maplin.

Incidentally, if you don’t have a Maplin store in your part of the planet, here’s the website for the company that makes the card (SunRich Technology H.K. Limited). Navigating the site can be a little tricky, you want to click on ‘Product’ at the top, then ‘PCI Express I/O Card’ then ‘PCI-E USB 4 + 1 Port’. If you don’t manage that, then the part details off their site are as follows.

Article No: PCIE-USBNEC101-5P-1 (4+1) PORTS
Part No: IE-N17-1241-00-00012
Description: U-321, PCI EXPRESS NEC101 USB 2.0 4+1 PORTS ST LAB GIFTBOX

2 Responses

  1. Really grateful for this information. I was disappointed with the high price of PCIe USB cards and went searching at Maplin — their Q&A for the card you mention is cautious about use in a Mac Pro.

    I sussed out that as long as the card had a NEC chip, I might be OK, and I managed to snag the same card off eBay for £17, and should arrive anytime soon.

  2. That’s an excellent find getting it for £17 off eBay.

    I can understand Maplin being cautious about using the card in a Mac Pro and I had to rely on the fact that the salesman at Cancom knew the right questions to ask.

    Have had the card plugged in and working for a few weeks now with all four ports in use and everything seems fine – no ill effects.

    Good luck! 🙂

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