How to upgrade a Pro Tools HD system cheaply

That got your attention, didn't it?

As some of you may know, Digidesign announced the end of support for PPC systems. This causes a problem for PPC owners who still want to use their HD systems. Unless you bought the very last G5s, you have PCI slots in your machine. And if you bought earlier, and bought a great big HD system, you probably bought an expansion chassis to hold all the PCI cards your computer wouldn't (since it has only three slots). Your new Mac Pro will have PCIe slots.

So now, if you want to get future version of Pro Tools (from 8.0.3) you need a Mac Pro, or maybe a Macbook Pro with an ExpressCard slot and a cardbus interface to your expansion chassis.

Problem is, a lot of users bought the Digidesign 64-bit 7-slot chassis. This was actually made by Magma and is otherwise known as the PR7464. We have one at work, though it doesn't have the model ID anywhere on it, so it took a while to figure out whether that was what we had.

Now it turns out that most, if not all, of those chassis do not work with a Mac Pro. What you need is a chassis with the Pericom bridge chip. So I took a look inside ours. Lo and behold, there's a great big Pericom chip. It's not the one shown here, but I was hopeful.

Whoops! Turns out that's a clock chip. I haven't been able to find the (incompatible) Intel or DEC chips. So now we have to buy another expansion chassis. And those things are not cheap.

Actually we need two. The studio computer has two HD cards inside it, so we need a new chassis for those cards anyway. But the HD3 system (three cards) is in the existing chassis.

It is possible to replace the boardset inside the chassis. That's about US$1450 instead of $2500. But that's not a big saving after having to spend $2500 on a new chassis and also get two computers.

All this took more than a week. The person from Magma turned out to be helpful, but I could have figured it out sooner if she'd read my first couple of emails properly. I thought what we wanted to do was pretty plain at the start. Still, while Magma is the only game in town for PCI expansion (since SBS disappeared and one wouldn't trust those cheap things now appearing on ebay), they probably do way more business with server farms and the military. As usual, audio is marginal.

Goodbye $15000. (If we can afford it, that is.)


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