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May 17th, 2001


MAGMA 2 Slot Expansion Chassis
for PowerBooks

Contact And Other Information
Manufacturer: Magma
Product Home Page: http://www.magma.com
Description: A super cool break out box for your PowerBook that allows you to plug in full length PCI cards!!
Address: 9918 Visa Pasar San Diego, CA 92126
Price: Price Varies depending upon which model
Telephone: 858.530.2511
Fax: 858.530.2733
Requirements: Any Mac or PC Laptop with a CardBus compadible slot.
System Used For Testing: PowerBook G3 400 320MB RAM, 10GB HD, DVD, 1 PCMCIA/CardBus Slot
[Review]
Digtial Music-Digital Mac - Have Powerbook? Will do PCI!
by Chris Rogers

From "Normal" to SuperBook In 2 Minutes

If you are looking towards getting a PowerBook G4 or already own a G3/G4 get ready to really release the power of your 'Book. Say you are the mobile video professional and own a studio. Perhaps you have your PowerBook which you take everywhere, but mostly you use it for your word processing and keeping track of you company's finances. To this I say shame on you. You aren't putting your G3/G4 processor to work as you should be! You have one of the most powerful laptops in the world! Why not use it to its greatest potential? There is a company that thinks that way too, and that company is the Magma Corporation.

Thanks to Magma, you can now have the power of a full desktop G3/4 that can fit into your briefcase. Introducing the CardBus Expansion Chassis. For entertainment enthusiast, we think it's important to have a mobile studio where we can make our own movies, music, play DVDs, and video games because hey you can't work all the time! Magma has opened up the flood gates for your PowerBook: a PCMCIA card, a cable, and a metal chassis open up your PowerBook to a whole new world. That world, of course, is the world of PCI cards.

Opening The Box

We tested the 2-Slot Expansion chassis with built in SCSI. Setup was very simple. After unpacking the chassis, we were presented with 5 items: the chassis, a 1.5 meter cable, a power cord, a PCMCIA card and a CD-ROM. Setting it up was easier than tying a shoe. After connecting the cable to the PCMCIA card and the expansion chassis and plugging it in, it turned on immediately. A green LED let us know that power was flowing.


External Views of the 2-Slot Expansion Chassis

Inside the Beast

We pried open the chasis to take a closer inside. There sat a small power supply, the PCI bridge, the ATTO SCSI card with 68-pin SCSI cables heading to the other side of the chassis to a bracket where 2 full sized internal hard drives could be placed. We really liked the neat organized interior, but looks can be deceiving.


*Internal HD Brackets

So how well does it perform with PCI cards? To test out the chassis, we installed an audio card from DigiDesign. The card is the PCI interface for the Digi001 system. You may be thinking to yourself that we missed an important detail, the drivers for the chassis. We thought the same thing until we noticed there were no drivers to install. This is our kind of equipment, simply plug in the unit to the computer and the wall, and that's it! The CardBus architecture is a 32-bit 33MHz bus. The speed of the expansion chassis roughly matched that of one of the PCI busses in the Blue and White G3 series. The Digi interface card that was installed was not supported by Digidesign, but it worked flawlessly for a month. The DigiDesign software recognized the PCI card as if it was installed in a true tower and worked without a hiccup.

Installation and Operation

Getting into the expansion chassis was simple and here's how we did it: 1) Using a Phillips screwdriver we removed the two screws on the back of the unit and slid off the cover. 2) Using the same Phillips screwdriver we were able to unscrew the screw that was holding the PCI cover in and remove the cover. 3) We took the PCI card of choice and slid it into the PCI socket pressing firmly using all five fingers to secure the card evenly in the slot. 4) Replacing the PCI screw and two chassis screws we plugged in the chassis and began rolling. It took about 5 minutes to get the card in and hook the chassis up to the PowerBook. Once the card was in, it was smooth sailing. Not once was the card not recognized.


*Different views from the inside of the 2 Slot Expansion Chassis

Performance

So how does it compare to a real tower? The PowerBook Pismo and the G3 Tower used for testing were very close in their specifications. The PowerBook: G3 400MHZ processor, 320MB RAM, 10GB HD and DVD. The G3 Blue and White: 350MHZ processor, 320MB RAM, 6GB HD (2). We were surprised to see that using a demo session supplied with the audio card, the PowerBook loaded the 177MB session in exactly 21 seconds 80 milliseconds. The tower performed the same operation in exactly 18 seconds 14 milliseconds. Roughly 3 seconds behind the tower is not bad at all. For a feature unavailable previously in PowerBooks, this speed is very, very impressive.

Even with all the things we liked, there were a few things that didn't sit particularly well. For one there wasn't a switch on the unit that would allow the user to turn the chassis on and off. As soon as it was plugged into the wall, it was on. This is a rather pesky problem because to turn of the unit you have to move the chassis and unplug it. We hope that the next revision includes a switch, maybe even an optional remote. The last item weI encountered that we weren't particularly fond of was a messy CD-ROM. The CD-ROM included software for the ATTO SCSI card as well as product information, press releases and an ugly SIOUX tester used to check and make sure the chassis was connected and PCI cards were recognized. It does do the job but it would be nicer to see a cleaner CD-ROM, an updated version of the testing application that is more Mac-like, an installer to automatically install everything needed for each chassis model, and all of the PDF documentation in a "Magma" folder.


Conclusion

Overall we were very impressed with the performance of this unit. It sits in a strong chassis and gives you 2 32-bit 33MHz PCI slots that allow you to literally replace your entire desktop with your PowerBook. Since this is a more advanced piece of equipment, only Cardbus compatible PowerBooks are capable of running it. Check Apple's TIL Article to see if your PowerBook is CardBus compatible. Now the only thing that we would like to see come out of the next generation of these chassis are translucent interchangeable faceplates, so that they'll match all of the different personalities and Macs out there, a power switch, and a nice CD-ROM.


Final Score (Maximum Score is 5 Thumbs Up)
4 1/2 Thumbs
Pros:
  • Worked flawlessly
  • Portable
  • Brings PCI Slots To Your PowerBook
  • Performance That Is Close To Traditional Towers
Cons:
  • Messy installer CD
  • No Power Switch



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