OWC Helios 3S with Shuttle U.2 system not mounting on Monterey without a restart? Check your connection

Frustration. That’s the term I was looking for the other day when the Helios 3S I reviewed last year would only mount its U.2 ShuttleOne or U.2 Shuttle when I restarted the Mac. I blamed Apple and its wretched Monterey system that makes my system feel like a massive block of molasses. I should have looked further and deeper, trying different things. Alas, prejudice — not thinking further than the stupid assumption Monterey isn’t only slow but faulty too — prevented me doing that with weeks of searching for the culprit in all the wrong places.

OWC’s Helios 3S enclosure is a PCIe expansion box. As I stated in my review of the unit, which you can read here, I love this thing. It runs absolutely silent and enables you to quickly swap U.2 NVMe’s, although hot-swapping you cannot. With the U.2 Shuttle and the U.2 ShuttleOne, it’s a producer’s dream device as you can, for example, save each one of your projects on a separate U.2 drive tray and swap them as per your need. You will have to disconnect the Helios before you can remove the U.2 Interchange bay, but that’s no problem with a Mac.

Well, it wasn’t a problem until a number of things came together that made the whole system collapse. In my case, it was hooking up the Helios to a CalDigit Element Hub instead of the Mac’s Thunderbolt port. When I tested the Helios, it worked well with Big Sur and it was connected through the CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 TS3+ Station. But then came Monterey and shortly after I needed to review the CalDigit Element Hub. And for that review I hooked up the Helios 3S to the Element Hub.

As we all know, Monterey is more strict than Big Sur in some respects. One of the areas could be how you connect certain devices. The Helios 3S isn’t really an external SSD storage unit. It’s basically an external PCIe card expansion box. So, when I started to get mounting problems when swapping Shuttles, I blamed Monterey. After all, an OS doesn’t necessarily need to “see” the Helios as a device that is capable of more tricks than just containing a PCIe expansion card was my reasoning when the Shuttles refused to mount unless I restart my Mac.

The silliest thing was that for weeks on end, it didn’t occur to me that I could try connecting the Helios to my Mac directly and while I blame myself first and foremost for that, I also blame technology products that make life easier. It makes us lazy — in this case, enabling us to connect multiple Thunderbolt and USB 3 devices without giving it a further thought.

Unfortunately, giving it a further thought was exactly what I should have done. Weeks of frustration ended with me finally starting to rule out possible causes besides Monterey. The Helios 3S hardware? Nope, the Helios is OK and barely audibly humming as it has been doing for a good number of months. Monterey? It did throw me an error yesterday — the dreaded “Could not mount “Helios 3S”. (com.apple.DiskManagement.disenter error 119930868.) error — but Disk Utility reported the Shuttles as OK and DriveDx couldn’t find anything wrong, either.

And then only minutes ago I finally realised the connection itself must be faulty. It’s not that I was suddenly enlightened. No, it came to me because I was planning ahead for the review of the new CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 4 dock that you’ll see appear on this site sometime in the next couple of weeks. It was because I considered switching the Helios to the new dock to try it all out, that I had my “Aha” moment. And indeed, when I connected the Helios 3S to the Mac directly, I could swap to my heart’s content. And then I thought: “Could it be that the CalDigit Element Hub uses a different chipset that perhaps doesn’t support devices like the Helios, in contrast to OWC’s own Thunderbolt Hub?”. And I installed the OWC Thunderbolt Hub again and connected the Helios 3S, and lo and behold, I could swap all I wanted and the SSD’s mounted without fail.

UPDATE: 35 minutes after it worked with the OWC hub and working with Logic Pro X, I found the same problem happening again. Plugging in the Helios 3S directly in one of the Mac’s Thunderbolt ports is the only way you’ll be able to enjoy the swapping storage capability you might have purchased the Helios for…

And that brings me to the point of my story: with technology, as with many problems in life at large, it’s best not to run in circles, but to try break through your own prejudicial thoughts and try out everything that you possibly can. Starting with a clean slate mentally may, with a bit of luck, make you find the solution to a problem within hours instead of weeks.