At my college we're upgrading an Xserve G5 (RackMac3,1) to be a file server for some courses. Currently it has one sled with a 75GB drive. Obviously, this isn't enough.

I've tried some Googling on this matter and I'm hearing a ton of different stuff - custom firmware, size issues, etc. So, for anyone who knows, what's the actual lowdown on this machine. We want to put in three 2TB drives using three standard sleds, replaced with third-party drives. Is this possible?

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    According to Apple (support.apple.com/kb/HT1219) the largest hard drive they've qualified for use with the G5 is 500Gb. Not sure if larger hard disks will work or not. You'll need an apple "drive bay" for each disk too - I think they ship with blanks in unpopulated slots. – Rob Moir Jan 8 '11 at 19:08
  • Yes, that's right - empty slots have only unusable blanks instead of drive carriers. You need to order complete sets consisting of drives and the carriers if you need more disks. Of course, these cost outrageous amounts of money. I am not sure about the real max disk size though. – Sven Jan 8 '11 at 19:21
  • Yep. We've got an empty drive sled and we're buying another one. Thanks for the heads up though. – wjl Jan 8 '11 at 19:36

We went ahead and purchased two Hitachi Deskstar 2TB drives, model identifier HDS722020ALA330. They have a jumper on the back. It's undocumented, but I believe it forces the drive in SATA150 mode.

I put each drive in a USB-SATA interface and formatted them with my MacBook, Apple Partition Map, HFS+ Journaling. I stuck one drive in, gave it a minute to figure out what's going on, and the drive showed up on the desktop and in server monitor as 1.82TB, due to the difference between tebibytes and terabytes.

It seems to be working perfectly. shrug

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You can swap out the drives from their caddies (standard procedure on most servers) and put in 2TB drives (might need jumpers as outlined previously, not a speed issue but a standards issue, I believe). You can install 3TB drives, but without a new sata/raid contoller, they will show as 2.2TB only.

Apple only support their Apple Drive Modules (caddies with drives installed) but most off the shelf SATA drives will work. You can get several third party PCI-X HBAs and re-route the sata cabling from the onboard ports to the HBA to support 3TB+ hard drives. Another alternative is external enclosures - USB, Firewire, SCSI, FibreChannel, eSATA etc. For SCSI, eSata or Fibre Channel you will need to buy a PCI/PCI-X card.

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I can only testify that my Powermac G5 (dual) correctly support, use and format a 1TB disk (either GUID or APM, 10.5.8). But hear this: for my intel Xserve last gen, I bought one of these new 3TB disks; it works fine when it's in the USB enclosure, but when I opened and insert into an empty sled in the Xserve and it's recognized as a 2.2TB disk! So be careful and borrow a disk before buying.

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  • The Xeon Xserve recognized the 3TB as a 2.2TB, or the G5 did? – wjl Jan 8 '11 at 20:17
  • I guess hitting enter on serverfault doesn't go to the next line, it submits. I was going to ask, did you need to flash any firmware? – wjl Jan 8 '11 at 20:17
  • the 3TB was connected to the Intel. No firware was flashed, the drive was as delivered. Sorry if I couldn't expain myself properly :) – Alessandro Vozza Jan 9 '11 at 16:17
  • Drives over 2TB tend to need very new controllers with firmware that supports them. It's the 137GB days all over again. – Chris S Jan 11 '11 at 19:49

I installed two 2TB WD RE4 drives in a 2x2Ghz XServe G5 (RackMac 3,1)

I purchased some second hand 80GB drive modules, swapped over the drives, and used the jumpers to set them to SATA 1500 mode. Then they worked.

Without the jumpers being set they did not work.

Previously I had 2 1.5TB (RE3?) drives in the system, and they worked fine too. No jumpering iirc

I expect 3TB HDs will not work optimally, and you will only see 2.2TB. Pitty... this server is still rock solid and does everything we need.

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You won't be able to drop in more than 500Gb drives into that G5. http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1219

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  • This is only about certified drive sizes and doesn't necessarily mean the system won't work with larger drives. – Sven Jan 8 '11 at 19:22
  • I saw that document and that's what prompted the question. I think that Apple said 500GB because that's what they had at the time the G5's were made, much like they always understate the RAM limits for their laptops. – wjl Jan 8 '11 at 19:37
  • From my experience, it won't detect larger drives correctly. Which is NOT to say they won't work, but as you mentioned in your question; that will require a ton of modifications to things such as firmware, etc. The defacto 500Gb will work out of the box. – Publiccert Jan 8 '11 at 19:45

Can't you install or upgrade the RAID interface and install an array of hard disks to suit your needs?

This should bypass any hard disk size limits due to older firmware.

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  • Frankly I'm not familiar enough with Xserves to know if that's possible. All I know is it has the three drive bays which use Apple's proprietary connector (hence the need for ridiculously priced drive sleds). Behind that, I don't know how their connected to the rest of the system. – wjl Jan 8 '11 at 21:11
  • proprietary connector!? I think I'm starting to understand why market uptake forced them to give up on the whole Xserve range... sad Apple :-( – DutchUncle Jan 8 '11 at 22:55
  • Apparently it's a pretty standard practice throughout the industry. For a 160GB drive and it's sled you'll be out $99 to Apple. – wjl Jan 9 '11 at 0:45
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    Standard practice throughout the industry? Not in my universe :-) My servers stick to standard connectors such as SCA, SAS and SATA. Also, vanilla Intel pizza-boxes are good at sticking to interchangeable hard disk trays. – DutchUncle Jan 9 '11 at 16:23

The rumours I hear is that Apple's drives have firmware to optimise their use with HFS+. Regular drives are allegedly optimised for Windows environments. However, since we are talking about a fileserver, there's little benefit here.

I regularly swap in larger, stock standard, SATA drives into various Macs, including the Xserves. Pretty common, really. The tray caddies are proprietary, which for a long time was all too common in server hardware across the board (I have caddies for Dells, HPs and IBM servers, some which take SCA-2 or SATA drives which was meant to resolve that very issue, but I digress).

You need to make sure you get the right sled for the right xserve. I think the G5 and Intel trays are physically the same connector, but electrically incompatible. According to Apple there are also differences between the various Intel models. And some drives do have issues with the SATA controller on G5s, or the other way round. Usually, there is a jumper setting to fix this. xlr8yourmac.com often has info on these jumper settings. They used to have an excellent drive compatibility database, but it looks to have died.

So getting back to the question, yeah 2TB drives work. I've not gone larger, but from what I hear the G5 Xserves happily take 3TB+ drives. And thanks to the easily re-routable SATA cables, you can use whatever controller you like. From memory, I think there can be delay booting if the system doesn't detect anything connected to the onboard SATA ports, but that may be resolvable with an Open Firmware setting.

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