New Apple Xserves – Compelling or Commonplace?

| April 8th, 2009 | Comments Off on New Apple Xserves – Compelling or Commonplace?

Apple has finally unwrapped their new series of Xserves to incorporate the new Nehalem CPU line and, one would imagine, to add new features in line with current trends and technologies.

One would imagine. And while there are definitely some new features, the truth lies somewhere in the middle

What is new and compelling?

  • More cores. Choose from 4 to 8 cores. (with clock speeds of 2.26, 2.66 or 2.93 GHz)
  • Three channels of 1066MHz DDR3 ECC RAM. (This also means a max. of 24GB RAM. But it is faster memory and those 3 channels give you wider bandwidth.)
  • A ‘free’ SSD slot separate from the three internal 3.5″ SATA bays. A very nice addition, indeed. The offered 128GB SSD can decrease boot (and reboot!) times and reduce or eliminate bottlenecks resulting from OS wait time.
  • On-board graphics (GeForce GT 120 w/ 256MB). There’s no slot taken up and/or no card to add/remove. Don’t scoff! Your GPU will become very important, even on your servers, very soon. OpenCL is right around the corner. This is ‘free’ processing power.
  • “Lights Out” power management via an independent service processor. Green it up, y’all.
  • Lower power-to-performance ratio is claimed. Partly from the new CPUs and partly from engineering changes. Touted as an overall ‘greener’ product.
  • 10.5 Leopard Server with unlimited client license included.

What’s not so exciting?

  • Given what’s inside the base model… well, it’s still a little spendy. The base 8-core system is $3599 with a paltry 3GB RAM and 160 HDD. The base 4-core system just doesn’t excite me at all. In fairness, these are Nehalem CPUs which have only just hit the open market, so you will pay a premium to live on the bleeding edge.
  • In-store drives and memory prices are not competitive. At all. $300 for a 1TB drive? That’s about $125 for the tray… which you can’t buy empty…
  • Redundant power supplies still not standard. Although $200 to add one isn’t too bad, it’s really time that a $3500 base box has it standard. Of course, two power supplies means having to publish a higher idle power usage and overall lower energy efficiency rating… So marekting’s probably not crazy about the idea.
  • No. Effing. eSATA ports. Two Firewire 800 ports are as close as you get (and 3 USB2 ports for… a keyboard or whatever). Not so bleeding-edge… Now that Apple is out of the drive rack business, why do they care what we hang off these boxes? Give us some options here. Firewire 800 is nice to have for backups/restores/dumps, but it’s speed-limited. Yes, you can add a internal card, but we really should have at least one eSATA port standard by now.

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4 Disk Array in a Mac Pro

| April 5th, 2009 | Comments Off on 4 Disk Array in a Mac Pro

For a lot of Mac Pro owners, especially video editors, step number two when a new Mac Pro comes into your possession is to slap in three more drives in the empty drive bays (step one being the unpacking, setting up and fawning over). From that a full-contained 3-disk striped scratch/capture array can be built for just the price of the drives. Maybe you even pop in an eSATA extender to an put extra port(s) on the rear for external drives or a JBOD. All full up. Right?

Not exactly. For those of you with a need, it’s rather easy to create a 4-disk array and keep your boot disk inside, as well. (You could always use an external eSATA boot drive, but where’s the fun in that?) And, you can even keep that [single] external eSATA port. Unless you’ve used up that empty optical bay up top with a blu-ray burner or something, you have some room to grow here.

What you’ll need:

  1. A drive sled allowing a 3.5″ device (your boot drive, in this case) to mount in a 5.25″ bay (example: MacSales/OWC ). If you’re worried about heat, you can search a little and find a sled that’s also a heat sink.
  2. A SATA cable that’s at least about 18″ in length (and that eSATA extender bracket, if you’d like to tackle this all at once. This one or this one is long enough, for example).
  3. A power cable adapter to go from the SATA power port on the drive to the open Molex connector in the optical bay. (Like this, for instance.) If you buy the drive in the retail box (versus OEM), an adapter is included as well as an 18″ SATA cable.
  4. A long-ish slim Phillips-head screwdriver
  5. Patience

IMPORTANT: OK, one thing I need to tell you now that you may hear to the contrary — You do not need to remove the riser card bay to do this! Yes, you should probably pull out the riser cards (and definitely pull the power cable!), but that’s it. The riser car bay need not be unscrewed. You need only remove:

  1. The hard drive trays (and unscrew your boot drive from tray #1)
  2. The CPU cover (it’s held on by magnets, that’s all)
  3. The front fan assembly (2 screws and it pulls right out)
  4. And maybe your video card if it gets in the way of removing the CPU cover

That’s it. Some guides will have you remove too much. Trust me… it’s not as hard as some sites make it out to be. I had all intentions of pulling mine apart and doing a step-by-step photo guide, but then I saw this excellent guide for getting at the guts by Michael Smith. It covers it all quite well. The only difference here is that you will be putting your 3.5″ boot drive, mounted on your 5.25″ sled kit, where he’s putting his optical drive. And, again, perhaps putting in that eSATA bracket on the remaining port while you’re in there.

I’ll wait here while you go do that part… OK. Done? Good. Leave Michael a nice comment, while you’re at it, eh?

Once you’re done moving your boot drive to the optical bay, hooking up the cables, and closing it all back up, you’ll need to put four disks for your array into the 4 empty drive trays. I would not recommend mixing drives of different sizes as it will likely affect your overall storage size and an odd drive may slow down the array as a whole. I highly recommend all the drives be of at least the same size and class, if not the exact same models.

So now you need to create this dang array, right? Well, I won’t punk out and send you elsewhere for the pictorial guide this time. So, fire up the Mac Pro, clear any disk initialization messages and open Disk Utility.

One of the things you’ll have to work out for yourself is block size. In general, larger block sizes are best for things like video where most of the data being read and written is in large chunks. If, however, you plan to use this array for gaming or database storage — in other words, applications which make many, quick calls for small chunks of data — then you’ll want to use a smaller block size. You mileage will vary, but my general, unwarranted suggestions would be: If World of Warcraft or Apache or MySQL will sit on this array, a 32k block size is probably a safe choice. If you’re reading/writing a lot of DV or HDV video, 128k is a fairly safe bet. If you’ll be working on RED or 2k footage, you might want to try 128k or even 256k blocks.

So let’s get to it:


And… there you go. You now have a 4-disk striped array inside your Mac Pro. If I’lve left anything out (or too vague), please leave a comment and let me know.


Seagate 1.5 TB ST31500341AS

| April 5th, 2009 | Comments Off on Seagate 1.5 TB ST31500341AS

When Seagate announced their 1.5TB hard disk (oddly still placed in the Barracuda 7200.11 family instead of a new category) a few months back, you obviously expected lots more space. But I don’t think any of us, at least at first, expected more performance to boot. But it turns out that the Seagate ST31500341AS is, in fact, a faster drive than its 1TB and 500GB predecessors — by quite a bit.

Yes, this is not an ES2 ‘enterprise’ disk, for those already scoffing at it. Being an AS drive it is still considered a consumer driver. But bear this in mind, the MBTF listed for this drive is 750,000 hours. That’s pretty damned good for a commodity drive, and 250,000 higher than previous family models.

Now… about that speed. Quickly I’ll not that Tom’s Hardware witnessed burst of speed up to 127 MB/s in their tests. Of course, burst numbers are almost meaningless, but they do give you a sort of feel for the underlying performance to be had. So I’ve done some quick tests to give you an idea of what this drive is like in the real world. In that regard, I’ve included all the usual speed test suspects, but included numbers from John Flowers’ new HD Speed Test ( for those of you whose drive use involves digital video.

Click to view

Disk Test Results (belated)

| December 23rd, 2008 | Comments Off on Disk Test Results (belated)

The disk test results were posted some time back. However, we neglected to post them here. Here’s a quote from Maggie’s final test entry as well as a link to the results.

In the end, Seagate trounces the competition on performance. However, the second place Samsung disk is still a strong contender, especially where price is an issue. Quite frankly, these are the only two 1TB disks I’ll be recommending to anyone for any sort of capture or editing. Well… actually, I’ll be recommending 4 disks: the two winning models here and their cheaper non-enterprise versions. You’ll have to decide for yourself which best fits your needs and pocketbook.

For us, the 4 Seagates will go into a rack unit and be put into daily use offloading backups.
The 4 Samsungs will go in a new Mac Pro for edit/capture.

Disk Test Results (final)

NOTE: Prices have dropped a great deal since these tests.

It’s also worth noting that Maggie has reversed her assertion that the Western Digital drives run cooler than the others. Longer study shows that the Samsung drives run anywhere from 3 to 5 degrees cooler. And one of the WD drives has since failed catastrophically (and another shows SMART errors). So, one more plus for the Samsung mechanism.

Data Wrangling

| June 4th, 2008 | Comments Off on Data Wrangling

Maggie is planning a series of drive tests soon which will benefit not only her day job, but also others who have heavy data wrangling needs. The basic premise is 3 to 4 SATAII drives in RAID0 in an ‘everyman’ edit/capture station.

I am planning on doing some disk testing in July testing sustained transfer (read and write) specifically geared towards prosumer video capture/editing and file serving. My intentions are to take a standardized platform (a Mac Pro – for file serving use it will be easy to extrapolate from here) and keep it WWJAD (What Would Joe Average Do). This means keeping cost in mind as well as ease-of-use/installation.

The short list of drives she’ll be testing (so far) are:
Samsung Spinpoint F1 7200RPM 32MB (HD103UJ)
Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 7200RPM 32MB (SEAST31000340AS)
Hitachi 7K1000 7200RPM 32MB (HIT0A35155)
Western Digital RE2-GP 5400/4700RPM 16MB (WDGWD10FYPS)

For more info see her blog entry at . If you’d like suggest any additions or changes, feel free to drop us a line here and we’ll pass it along. We’ll post the results as soon as they come in (mid to late July).

Boston Skeptics in the Pub video

| June 4th, 2008 | Comments Off on Boston Skeptics in the Pub video

Updated: Boston Skeptics in the Pub videos can now be found at the Boston Skeptics channel at Vimeo.

Maggie will be at WWDC next week. If you see her, say hello.

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Boston Skeptics in the Pub

| May 25th, 2008 | Comments Off on Boston Skeptics in the Pub

Boston Skeptics in the Pub will happen again on Monday 5/26 at 7pm. The event has moved to Tommy Doyle’s in Harvard Square. This month’s speaker will be Patty Pieniadz. Click the link above for more info.

We’ll be there filming again, and if you missed last month’s speaker be sure to check out the video in our archive or click the link below.

Updatedl: Boston Skeptics channel at Vimeo

Boston FCPUG 5/21 – Alex Lindsay & Peter McAuley

| May 18th, 2008 | Comments Off on Boston FCPUG 5/21 – Alex Lindsay & Peter McAuley

Join the BOSFCPUG for our Wednesday, May 21st meeting. Special guest Alex Lindsay of Pixelcorps will join us for an evening on Final Cut Studio tips and tricks, podcasting update, and greenscreen workflow. Also joining us will be Peter McAuley of Boris FX for a closer look at the newly released Final Effects Complete 5 FxPlug for Apple Final Cut Studio 2.

When: Wednesday, May 21, 2008
Where: Rehearsal Hall
Arsenal Center for the Arts
321 Arsenal Street
Watertown, MA 02472