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On Orbit » Blog Archive » Adding a USB 3.0 Expresscard/34 to your MacBook Pro

Adding a USB 3.0 Expresscard/34 to your MacBook Pro

One of the best uses I found for the ExpressCard/34 slot on my Early 2011 17″ MacBook Pro is in the form of a USB 3.0 expansion card. My computer has three USB 2.0 ports and an empty ExpressCard slot (thank you Apple!). So with this Startech device I’ve added an extra USB 3.0 port, and preliminary tests show it’s up to 3x faster transferring files to my USB 3.0 hard drive.

Where to get them:

You can use any expresscard/34 USB 3.0 adapter that has the µPD720200 or µPD720202 (uPD720200 or uPD720202) controller, and in fact there are some very cheap ones on eBay these days too, including ones that are entirely flush (i.e., they don’t stick out at all so you can leave them in all the time) and have two ports instead of just one. There are some Mac-specific cards too, but the hardware is identical and you pay extra for the privilege.

Startech USB 3.0 Expresscard/34 adapter

The problem…

Most of these generic (or Windows) cards will not work out of the box though, and all the instructions I found on the internet for getting them to work are a colossal headache and flawed. I even thought of titling this post “omfg usb expresscard mac how-to” because it would probably get more traffic that way from all the frustration that’s been caused.

The problem is, there are no native Mac drivers for these generic cards. Previously the best workaround was to create a USB boot disk loaded with FreeDOS and some utilities to re-flash the card with a vendor and device ID that made it look like one of the Mac-specific cards, and then use the driver for that Mac-specific card. This is perfectly fine, and may actually be preferable if you can get it to work. The thing is, building a bootable USB disk in Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks for FreeDOS was next to impossible (at least for me).

Instructions for installing generic drivers for generic USB 3.0 adapters on Mac OS X

Earlier in 2013, a fellow named Zenith432 created a generic driver for USB 3.0 interface adapter cards such as the one I tried to get working (called GenericUSBXHCI.kext). Simply download this file, then enter the following into Terminal to complete the install:

  1. open /System/Library/Extensions/

Drag and drop the GenericUSBXHCI.kext into this folder. It will ask you to authenticate with your Mac OS X admin password. Then enter the following three line into Terminal.app:

  1. cd /System/Library/Extensions/
  2. sudo chmod -R 755 GenericUSBXHCI.kext
  3. sudo chown -R root:wheel GenericUSBXHCI.kext

Restart, and your new USB 3.0 expresscard/34 adapter should now be working!

NOTE: The generic driver used in this post does not work with Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite, as of the Public Beta. The developer still appears to be active, but no idea yet if/when Yosemite compatibility will come. If you are rely on these drivers and are considering upgrading to Yosemite, know that they do not yet work and you will no longer have USB 3.0 access to your devices.

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