IBM xSeries 330 (x330) SATA Retrofit

This post documents the process of putting SATA hard disks into older 1U servers. At first thought, I thought it would be quick and easy but I will share some of the pitfalls I experienced along the way.

I acquired a pair of x330 servers this summer, basically missing only the CPUs and heatsinks. CPUs were not difficult to obtain, but it did take some trial and error to get correctly oriented passive heatsinks. Before putting these into service, I took the opportunity to bring some much needed larger NAS online for the home network by adding some large SATA drives.

x330 hard disks - old and new

After buying a good set of drives and a controller, I started running into some snags. The most obvious was the lack of standard 5v/12v accessory power. The x330 has a 24-pin header that provides power to the SCSI backplane. Using a multi-meter, I was able to locate the necessary contacts. If your server lacks molex power connectors as well, you will need to trace these down. My best advice is to triple check your readings and use an older drive to test the connection before you hook up your new drives. Nothing like all that work, followed by a puff of the magic black smoke flying out of your new drives :). The right eight pins are the ones we want.

x330 J8 Power Header

To make a nice cable, you will need a Molex 43025-2400 connector and 4 to 8 pins. While I waited for mine to come in, I just pressed a power cable wire by wire into the connections to make contact.

x330 Power Wiring

The next potential point of struggle is getting the drives mounted in the trays. The x330 trays have a plastic SCSI SCA pass through on the end. These were held on with a pair of security Torx screws, so you may need to get creative if you do not have the correct bit. The drives fit nicely at this point, but the SATA power connection was blocked by a metal corner of the tray. A quick bit of work with a file fixed this.

x330 Tray Mod

Pull the old hotswap backplane and cable up the new drives. At this point you should power on and see how it goes. Hopefully you wired the power cable correctly.

Now your server is capable of accepting inexpensive, high capacity SATA drives! The basic process should be the same for any 1U server lacking power connectors, though you may need to dig deeper to get to the 5v/12v source (power supply is a surefire bet).

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30 thoughts on “IBM xSeries 330 (x330) SATA Retrofit”

  1. Nice. This is quite an improvement over the SCSI storage. What type of SATA controller did you use? I’m interested in implementing this modification on my x330, but I am currently experiencing problems trying to get an OS installed. Any ideas you have would be more than welcomed. Go here for more info:

  2. I used your article as a guide to fit 2 x 300GB ATA133 drives into my xSeries 335 with great results. I found that the BIOS doesn’t support HDD >137GB, so I will have to buy a 3rd party controller as the latest BIOS available doesn’t provide this feature.
    Great article, there is very limited info on the Internet for xSeries hacks.

  3. Nice one. I’ve got two of those servers. I’m designing a new pcb SATA back plain to replace the current SCSI one. So the drives will still be hot swappable :) Send me an email if you’re interested in the schematics and board files.

  4. Great idea.
    Hey roy.
    I would like the schematics for that, but i cant find your email
    Could you mail them to browsem * at * gmail com

    Br Browsem

  5. Hi Roy, I’m thinking of buying a 2nd hand x346 and modity it to fit 4 SATA HD’s. Could you please also send me your schematics? My email address is freindebib at hotmail. Thank you

  6. My mail host server is a x330, and I was just going to replace scsi with sata. I would want the backplane as well, willing to pay for parts and labour.

    lundman at lundman.net

  7. For what it’s worth, I also have a recently acquired x346 that I’ve been playing with. My biggest problem is that it seems to be unstable (constantly reboots) if the power to the SCSI backplane isn’t plugged in. There’s an addon card attached to my backplane, similar results if that card is removed with the rest of the backplane plugged in.

    Did you run into similar problems with this server? I’m hoping that if I put a load on the power rails, the problem will go away, but I’m not hopeful. I’ll try and get back to poking it with a meter later on this week.

    If I can’t eliminated the backplane, I’ll have to fold it over and take out 4 fans, which I’d like to avoid.

  8. @Jan
    I used a 3ware SATA raid card.. search my other posts from this time period for experiences with it.

    I would suspect most PCI SATA cards will work. I have also used a 133MHz 64-bit PCI Silicon Image card in the IBM x345. That would be fine if your OS has good software RAID (Linux, Solaris, BSD).

  9. I’m trying to convert my x346 to SATA too. Has anyone managed this sucessfully? if you have please let me know. ashley.gale3 at gmail

  10. @Ashley
    What specific problem do you have? The process will be essentially the same but may require a bit of ingenuity to get power to all the bays since there are six.

    @Jan
    I’ve since upgraded to a x335 for the box this article was written about, so you will likely have good results.

  11. My problem is that the backplane is for SCSI only. I have looked into adaptors, but cannot seem to find the right product. I’m now looking into replacing the whole backplane with a newer one that can handle SATA.

  12. @Jan
    I believe it was the same/similar connector as the one detailed in this post. The servers are 2000 miles away from me so I can’t take a look for you until March.

    @Ashley
    Yes, if you take a look at the pictures in the post I hacked the bay and trays to accept SATA drives (albeit non-hotswap) on the x330. The process would be similar for the x346, though you will have 3x the cabling.

    If this is a commercial application, you are better off buying an external SATA JBOD and using the internal SCSI bays for the operating system.

    You may also wish to look into the System x 3650 which is the successor to the x346. Very nice octo-core capable machines and relatively cheap on the used market. These support SAS which is cross compatible with SATA.

  13. Just installed my megaraid card and it works perfectly!
    I’m only missing the molex plug. Kev, where did you buy the plug?

  14. This has been a while, so not hoping too hard for a reply. Would anyone think it was possible to run an esata cable through the server to the front drives and install from there?

  15. Hi
    I recently bought an used IBM x346 server and a 1Tb SATA HDD just to find that it has SCSI HDD slots. Now I’m looking for a way to add my SATA HDD. The main problem seems to be the power. I want my SCSI HDD bay to still work with 2HDDs that came with the server. What would be the best place/way to tap into for power? One way seems to be using the CD drive power connection, however I would like to have a working CD drive. A splitter, maybe?
    Also, I am not clear, does this card maybe also provide power? http://cgi.ebay.com/PCI-e-PCI-Express-SATA-Adapter-Converter-Card-Mini-/150522625211?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item230bd8fcbb

  16. @Edib0y
    Read the article. You should be taking power from the backplane power rails as I describe. That is what the engineers of the machine intended to power the hard disks; tapping bus power is a bad idea. Since you want to leave part of the SCSI bay intact, you might try the mod with vampire taps from an automotive store and splice the power into a hacked power cable from a parts machine.

  17. Thank you very much for your post! Connected everything up tonight, using T type connectors, and I am very happy to report that, after months of ordering parts adn one very stressful evening, I didn’t burn my HDD and in fact everything booted up and works perfectly!

  18. Hy,
    i bought a x346 server.
    I read your post but i don’t see the molex 43025 connector. We have a different connector.
    We have a different connector.
    Someone arrived to connect Hard drive sata and keep the scsi connected?
    Thanks for advance.

  19. Where you able to get your xSeries to boot from an “unsupported” PCI device? I’ve got a x346 and a PCI card that is supposedly bootable. Nothing shows up in my BIOS that I can use it to tell it to boot off a drive on the PCI card. I know this thread is ancient, but do you remember if you had to configure your BIOS at all?

  20. Hi!

    Thanks for wonderful article! I guess I’m about to receive 335 in future, and using it for own playing is main purpose. I was already looking for SCSI disks but this guide made my day! I’ll just get inexpensive SATA-Raid -card and some disks and give this little 1U wonder a new life :) I wonder if making backplanes with some hot-glue and creativeness works…
    Since I already run Atom powered NAS upcoming conversion process will create 335 as the main bit-cruncher.
    Thanks for wonderful article once more! I actually didn’t even think that molex would be missing from those. Even Sun Ultra 1 from year 1995 that runs 2x SCO 80-pin SCSI disks has molex for cdrom-drive!

  21. Hello,

    I am about to receive an IBM x330 with dual 36Gb SCSI drives. I want do remove these drives, following exactly this guide, and install dual 1Gb SATA discs connected to a PCI SATA controller.

    I want to ask how you persuade the machine to boot off the SATA array?

    Thanks,
    Alex

  22. @Alex

    In my case, the 3Ware card properly asserted itself to the BIOS as a boot device.

    If for some reason your card isn’t recognized, a small CF->IDE adapter with a bootloader or “Disk on Module” (flash memory that fits in the IDE slot) would do. Both are fairly inexpensive from i.e. newegg.com.

  23. In fact this was my original ideea:

    - put FreeBSD on a CF card (1Gb) connected to the IDE port (I assume this server DOES have an IDE port, at least for the CD-ROM) and then the two SATA drives be used just for mass network attached storage.

    I am very glad someone else thought about this too!

    I am waiting for the machine to come on Friday. I am very curious about it (especially I should find a way to deal with the noise of the fans, because I assume it does make a lot of, then perform the SATA replacement).

    Alex

  24. @alex there is an additional ide slot on the mobo so cf card will be a great idea

    i just got one of my uncle and looking forward to hacking with sata and ide harddrives…

  25. I found this easier to do in a x335 type 8676-22X, which has drive bays for fixed EIDE drives. All what I had to do is to unplug and remove the frontal (primary) IDE channel cable, leaving only the original power supply molex connectors in place. I then attached a LSI Logic SATA controller to the second PCI-X slot then connected the drives to the card’s SATA ports using 30cm cables, carefully arranged so I can close the chassis later.

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