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I hear that I need an Intel AHCI chipset - what's this chipset stuff about?

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What is a chipset?

According to Wikipedia:

A chipset, PC chipset, or chip set refers to a group of integrated circuits, or chips, that are designed to work together. They are usually marketed as a single product.

This is divided into Northbridge and Southbridge. If you have a newer motherboard, you won't even have a chipset, but simply one chip (PCH on Intel motherboards) combining the Northbridge and Southbridge.


When we talk about chipset compatibility, we are actually talking about the data controller that resides either on the Southbridge or separately from the chipset altogether. This data controller uses Serial ATA (SATA) and/or Parallel ATA (PATA) to communicate with your hard drive(s)/DVD drive(s).


Do I have to have an Intel controller?

No, this is a common myth. The only reason why people say that an Intel controllers is required is because Apple's built-in drivers only support Intel controllers. However, there are many third-party drivers floating around the web, supporting ATi, nVidia, VIA, Marvell, SiS, JMicron, and probably even others I forgot to mention. This has nothing to do with your graphics card (GPU). Again, we are talking only about your hard drive/DVD drive interfaces, SATA and PATA.


Okay, so I can have other types of controllers. Can I only use SATA? And does it have to be AHCI?

Nope, another myth. Usually people say only SATA is supported because that's what's bundled with Apple's drivers, but actually Apple's drivers support Intel PATA drives as well. AHCI, same deal; it's recommended to have AHCI enabled, but it's not a requirement. If AHCI is not supported on your motherboard, you can still use Mac OS X; you just need a third-party driver like what is mentioned above. (Hint: even if your motherboard does not explicitly support AHCI, if you have a setting for RAID mode RAID is the same as AHCI. You can enable RAID without creating a RAID array. ;)) Note however that if you use PATA or SATA in RAID or IDE mode, you will have slower boot times than explicit AHCI. The funny thing is, sometimes the BIOS won't even say AHCI, RAID, etc. but rather something similar to Enhanced, Combined, and Native. You will have to look up this information in your motherboard manual to determine which mode does what. A caution about PATA: you are going to want to have the drives you boot from (DVD drive for installation and/or the hard drive you will use) to be set to Master. If you have to have a drive as Slave, it is recommended that you don't boot from it, or, if you have to boot from it, make sure there is a Master device as well. It doesn't matter whether the Master/Slave drives are connected to the Primary or Secondary channel; the guidelines above apply to both.


A note before you continue: there are several things you will need to know. First, be prepared to experiment with this; no matter what vendor you have (even Intel), there's a possibility you will run into trouble. You will need to be able to research a driver that can support your data controller if the drivers you tried to use don't work right. If you have both PATA and SATA on the same controller (e.g. both reside on the Intel ICHx controller)it will cause you trouble unless you know what you're doing. For example, if you enable AHCI on such a controller, PATA probably won't work, and no matter which mode Mac OS X can get very confused unless you know what you're doing and why. This does not apply if you have, for example, SATA on a Intel ICHx controller and PATA on a JMicron controller.


To sum all of the above information, the best configuration is to use SATA drives on an Intel controller with AHCI enabled. You can use other configurations, but you will have to experiment and be very patient. ;)

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