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Hard Drive Storage On My New Mac Pro
7 February 2014
This article is the third in a series about my new Mac Pro computer. In case you missed the previous articles, they are:
The new Mac Pro does not come with a traditional mechanical hard drive (HD) — the only option is a solid-state drive (SSD). On the "entry level" model I purchased, the standard SSD capacity was a measly 256GB. Because that felt like a return to the stone age — the primary HD in my old Mac Pro was 2TB, eight times as much! — I decided to splurge a little bit and pay an extra $300 to upgrade to a 512GB (half-terabyte) SSD. I would have loved to go for the 1TB SSD, but the extra $800 seemed pretty steep.

In this modern age of digital photos, music and video, even half a terabyte is woefully inadequate. But then, nobody says you have to keep all your stuff on your main internal system drive. Neither do additional drives have to be connected inside the computer case. The old Mac Pro had four internal drive bays, which I had stuffed with a total of six terabytes of hard drive capacity! But with the new Mac Pro, Apple's road map for its customers involves using attached external hard drives.

Because an SSD is so blazingly fast compared to a traditional HD, it is the place where important, frequently-accessed files should be stored. Obviously, that means the OS X operating system itself, as well as all of the programs I have installed. Storing the Parallels virtual machine file (discussed here in my last article) on the SSD makes Windows programs run much better. My iTunes library data is here too, but not the music files themselves, as you will see in the following section. The same goes for my photo library: the Adobe Lightroom database is on the SSD, but the actual photos are in the same location as the music files. Lastly, local copies of all the Web sites I develop live here as well. Even with all of these files — more than 900,000! — in these various categories, the 512GB SSD is only about one-third full, so I've got plenty of room to grow.

In my particular situation, the first part of my external storage solution was already in place. In order to meet the data access and backup needs of each member of my family, I have been using a number of network-attached storage (NAS) devices over the years.

My current unit is a Synology DiskStation 2-Bay NAS DS212 which has been serving our home network since late 2011. I've been pretty happy with this device. It has well-made and very functional browser-based management software. But on the other hand, in operation it often buzzes as loudly as an old-fashioned razor at a barber shop! I had to move it from my home office into the hallway so I could work in peace and quite!

The DS212 holds two 2TB hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration to help protect our precious data — all of our digital music and photos, as well as some videos. In addition, family members store their documents on this NAS rather than on their local machines, ensuring that their data gets backed up to the attached Iomega 2TB eGo USB 3.0 / USB2.0 external hard drive on a daily basis.

Because the new Mac Pro features six Thunderbolt 2 ports, and because this is my first computer with Thunderbolt technology, I decided that I absolutely MUST have a Thunderbolt-capable HD as my primary external storage. Thunderbolt 2 is pretty new, so all the available drives are still Thunderbolt 1. After researching the limited selection of drives with this not-too-common type of interface, I settled on a LaCie d2 USB 3.0 / Thunderbolt Series 3TB external hard drive.

Not only is Thunderbolt new to my set-up, but this is also the first computer I have had which provides speedy USB 3 ports rather than plodding USB 2 ports. In order to get a clearer idea of what these new technologies mean in terms of real-world performance, I just conducted a set of informal tests to provide some cold, hard facts. I copied a 36GB file to my new LaCie drive twice, once via a Thunderbolt connection, and once via USB 3. I also copied the file twice to a different external HD, once via a FireWire 800 connection, and once via USB 2. Here are the results:
Interface Max Speed   Copy Time 
Thunderbolt 1   184 MB/s 3m 22s
USB 3 183 MB/s 3m 22s
FireWire 800   67 MB/s 9m 15s
USB 2 43 MB/s 14m 15s

I was surprised by the nearly-identical results of Thunderbolt 1 and USB 3 — somehow I was not expecting that. It also needs to take into consideration that some part of these results is due to the speed of the hard drive, and not just the interface capabilities. I would imagine that a Thunderbolt SSD would have a significantly-faster transfer rate than what I got from my Thunderbolt HD. Unfortunately I don't have one on hand to test my theory.

Doing some math, my small unscientific tests indicate that, in real life and not in theory, the modern Thunderbolt 1 and USB 3 interfaces are 4.25 times faster than the aging USB 2 technology. And they are 2.75 times faster than FireWire 800. Seeing that there are NO FireWire ports on the new Mac Pro, how am I connecting a FireWire drive to it? That question leads us to the next issue.

Because FireWire 800 was the dominant external-interface technology on my old Mac Pro, I ended up buying seven FireWire hard drives over the past five years — two 0.5TB, two 1.5TB, and three 2TB. These are all perfectly good drives with a lot of use still left in them, so I didn't want to simply scrap them and start over with a collection of Thunderbolt drives.

Fortunately, Apple has a solution for this problem, in the form of their spendy Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter. I bought one of these even before my new Mac Pro arrived, and it has worked so well that I ordered another one. On one hand, $29 feels like price gouging; but on the other hand, it's a heck of a lot cheaper than buying a whole new Thunderbolt drive. Of course, the Thunderbolt drive would be at least 2.5 times faster, but for the use I'm putting them to, my old FireWire drives are just fine.

What use AM I putting them to? Well, now that I have nearly a terabyte of valuable data stored on the LaCie Thunderbolt drive, I've got to back all that data up. FireWire drives to the rescue! I'm putting one of the 2TB drives to work as a backup for my 3TB primary external drive. Obviously, in the long run it will be too small, but since I have a bit less than 1TB of data, I'll worry about that down the road. By that time I might be ready to replace it with a large-capacity Thunderbolt drive.

For backing up my SSD primary drive ... by using an external drive which was designed to resemble my old Mac Pro — an Iomega UltraMax FireWire 1.5TB — I was able to kill two of the proverbial birds with one stone by partitioning it into two logical drives.

On the smaller half-terabyte partition I have an exact bootable copy of the half-terabyte SSD primary internal drive, created and updated weekly by Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC). I'm using the larger one-terabyte partition as my daily Time Machine backup drive, which also backs up the SSD, but is not bootable. With this two-pronged approach I am doubly protected in case of a failure of my primary operating system drive.

In order to test my "cloned" backup, I just now shut down my computer and restarted it, holding down Option on the keyboard in order to select a start-up volume. I chose the "cloned" partition, and soon was back into the Mac OS, but this time running off of my backup rather than the SSD. It worked!

Now that I have finished setting up my new Mac Pro, I don't really need my old computer, so I'm selling it on Craigslist. Inside my old Mac Pro I had a 2TB primary HD, and a 2TB "clone" of the primary, made, again, by CCC. In order to still have access to all of the files which were on my old machine, I decided to install the 2TB "clone" HD in an external drive enclosure.

With a lot of the enclosures I looked at on Amazon there were concerns about the possibility of the HD overheating because there were no fans in these cases. And of course it had to have a USB 3 interface, not USB 2. I finally settled on the StarTech.com 3.5" SuperSpeed USB 3.0 SATA hard drive enclosure with fan. Some customers had complained about having trouble installing their HD in this enclosure, but I didn't not experience any of their difficulties.

Now, when I need a file which I have not transferred to my new system, I can simply turn this external hard drive on, and there it is! Because I'm not going to be using it very often, I don't mind the small amount of extra noise from the fan. In fact, the noise of the fan reassures me that it's keeping the HD at a safe operating temperature. And in a nice attention to detail, StarTech even added and on/off switch for the fan, just in case I want to go silent.

So, in summary, here are all the external hard drives (and internal SSD) in my system:
  • 0.5TB primary internal SSD and 3TB Thunderbolt primary external HD
  • 1.5TB FireWire and 2TB FireWire drives to back up the two primary drives
  • Two 2TB internal drives joined in a RAID 1 NAS server
  • 2TB USB 3 drive to back up the sever
  • 2TB USB 3 drive with all the files from my old Mac Pro

  • Two 2TB USB 2 drives containing all of our home video footage for the past 20 years — see my article Goodbye, Mr. Tapes!
OK ... I've got all of my precious data backed up on-site, but what about if my house burns down, or if a thief steals everything? Are all of those irreplaceable videos, photos, and other data lost forever?

NO! In this modern digital age, it is imperative to have OFF-site backups as well! Stashed away in a safe deposit box at the bank is a squadron of 5 portable 2.5" hard drives which duplicate the contents of all the drives listed above. Four of these palm-sized mobile drives are the Western Digital My Passport for Mac 2TB USB 3. The fifth drive is an older Other World Computing Mercury Elite Pro Mini 500GB with the now-unavailable interface combination of FireWire 800 / eSata / USB 2.

Every month or two I drive down to the bank, take these drives out of the safe deposit box, bring them home, update each drive with an incremental backup, and then take them back to the safe deposit box the next day. Between my on-site backups and these off-site backups, I feel that I'm as safe from digital catastrophe as I can reasonably expect. If all of Oregon gets destroyed in a Cascadian Reckoning, I'm going to have much bigger and more serious problems than the loss of home videos from when my children were young!

For these off-site backups I've been using a Swiss donationware program called iBackup. It's a pretty nice program, but definitely on the slow side. Because I was using it only occassionally, every month or two, the slow speed didn't bother me too much. My daily backups with Time Machine were speedy enough.

But now that I'm backing up my 3TB Thunderbolt external drive on a daily basis, iBackup is no longer cutting it. When doing an incremental backup, even if there are no files to back up, the backup software still has to check each file to see if it has changed since the last backup. I did a little test the other day, and it took iBackup nearly 54 minutes to go through the 882GB on this drive and compare it to the backup drive to see which files had changed. That doesn't include copying any files, just comparing them. In a stunning contrast, it took Carbon Copy Cloner (CCC) an amazing 58 seconds to do the same work! Even though I like the user interface of iBackup better, I'm giving up on it and relying on CCC for ALL of my backup needs.

Finally, in closing I want to touch briefly on the last external drive of my system. Not only does the new Mac Pro not have an internal mechanical hard drive, but it also does not have an internal optical drive (DVD or Blu-Ray). In the last quarter of 2013 I started to see advertisements for an awesome-looking Blu-Ray burner, with a sturdy aluminum case designed specifically to sit under the new Mac Pro. So at the beginning of December, in anticipation of the soon-coming Mac Pro, I ordered myself one directly from the manufacturer.

My experience with NuMac.co and their Blu-Ray drive has been a two-months-and-counting horror story. In the meantime, after considering my options, I settled on an LG Electronics 14X USB 3.0 Super-Multi Blu-Ray external rewriter. I'm not very enthused about its white and silver color, but the drive itself seems to work just fine. I've played commercial Blu-Ray movies with it and burned my own home video Blu-Ray disc without any issues — that's good enough for me.

Well, that brings this comprehensive survey of the external storage solutions for my new Mac Pro to a close. I plan to write two more articles in this series — a comparison of my experiences running Microsoft Windows on the Mac with VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop, followed by the horror story of the NuMac.co Blu-Ray player. Until next time....
This article is 6th a series of articles on this Web site related to Technology and Computing which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
26  Oct  2010
11  Jan  2014
29  Jan  2014
5  Feb  2014
Hard Drive Storage On My New Mac Pro
7  Feb  2014
14  Feb  2014
15  Feb  2014
16  Feb  2014
17  Feb  2014
1  Nov  2014
12  Nov  2014
20  Nov  2014
22  Nov  2014
2  Dec  2014
6  Dec  2014
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