My ‘not so speedy’ WD 1TB Drive

My Mac Pro sports four 1Tb drives. Sounds like a lot but in truth it’s not that much with the way I have it set up which is:

  1. The boot drive has two 500Gb partitions, BootA being a 500Gb Leopard system partition and a 500Gb ‘VMA’ partition where I store all my VMware Fusion virtual machines (currently 186Gbs-worth).
  2. The second 1Tb drive is a clone of the first. Twice a week I use SuperDuper to clone disk #1 to disk #2 so if my boot drive ever fails then I’m good to go off disk #2 without (hopefully) too much loss of data.
  3. The third 1Tb drive is where I store the bulk of my data. That’s music, photos, videos, etc. That all gets backed up daily to a LaCie 1Tb firewire drive, and weekly to a network drive.
  4. The fourth 1Tb drive is my TimeMachine drive…. yes I’m paranoid about backups!

WD RangeAnyway, this obviously isn’t how Apple shipped the Mac Pro to me – that was a machine that had a single Western Digital Caviar 500Gb drive (model WD5000AAKS). I added the 1Tb ‘data’ drive first by buying a Western Digital ‘Green’ 1Tb drive and it worked brilliantly. Quiet, cool and did the job of storing my precious data just fine. I was so impressed that I added another for TimeMachine and now I have four of them. They are still good drives but I think installing one as my boot drive was maybe pushing it too far. It works well enough but it seems to have slowed the system down. These are 7200rpm drives and are built for their green credentials rather than outright performance, like say the Western Digital ‘Black’ or ‘Blue’ versions.

So, when Snow Leopard hits – rather than upgrade my existing Leopard installation on the 1Tb ‘Green’ drive, I’m thinking about building a new boot drive from scratch using a Western Digital VelociRaptor 300Gb drive. Yes it’s quite a bit more expensive (per Gb) than the Green drive, it’ll certainly be hotter as it’s a 10,000rpm drive and it’ll probably be noisier. But it’ll be a lot FASTER and it seems the Mac Pro benefits from a speedy boot drive. I’ll keep the other three 1Tb drives and re-jig how I clone the boot drive for recovery, but it’ll be interesting to see how snappy it makes the Mac as currently I seem to spend too much time waiting for OS X to access my ‘Green’ boot disk.

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Quickbitz – The value of a Macbook

I watched a video on You Tube recently showing a celebrity (some chap who calls himself Ice-T) taking a claw hammer to a Macbook and destroying it. Now I hate to criticize because after all it was his property to do with as he wished, but I can’t help thinking that rather than reduce it to a pile of mangled bits that will end up in a landfill, there was a better way for this to pan out.

From his comment at the start of the video it would appear that the display wasn’t showing an image. Suppose that rather than demolish the thing on video as a result, he donated the offending Macbook to be refurbished. Perhaps as a celebrity he could have signed it and the repaired item could have been auctioned with the proceeds going to charity.

Ho hum…

Quickbitz – CleanApp, Netgear DGN2000 + Airport Extreme, Camera Tip

CleanApp

CleanApp

A while back I did a little review of an uninstaller called CleanApp by Synium Software. One of its main strengths was that it goes into a lot more depth than other uninstallers because it can track what files a particular application is using. However, I spotted that this could also be a drawback in the wrong hands as it was all to easy to blast a file that was needed by other apps. Synium have now fixed this and have made a great app even better. CleanApp can now detect if a file is used by other apps and if so will ‘uncheck’ it on the list of files to delete and tag it with a little icon to show that it’s needed elsewhere. They’re definitely on to a winner with that feature.

So on to routers and my ageing D-Link G624M ‘MIMO’ wireless router was beginning to struggle. Seems every time it had to handle large numbers of connections, as one might experience with BitTorrent, the router would simply disconnect after a few minutes, and recycling the power was the only way to get it back online. I was loathed to replace it though, because it worked fine with my Mac Mini, XBox 360 and work laptop. However it started to disconnect more frequently and so I eventually plumped for a new Netgear DGN2000 Draft-N job. I have to say my fears about switching were unfounded and the Netgear works brilliantly with everything. What’s more, I also have an Airport Extreme (Dual Band) daisy-chained off the Netgear (seeing as the Airport has no way of connecting directly to my ADSL line). Once I discovered the correct setting on the Netgear, the Airport Extreme worked perfectly with it. On the Netgear you should go to the LAN Setup page and set RIP Direction to ‘Both’ and set RIP Version to ‘Rip-1’… job done.

Netgear DGN2000

Netgear DGN2000

Oh and another thing – I bought a Razer eXtremeMat mouse mat a little while back, but after only a short while I decided I didn’t like it. Now this mouse mat has two different surfaces (one for speed and one for accuracy) and is made of aluminium. However, I found that placing it under my D-Link G624M wireless router, it actually IMPROVED the signal!? (That’s as measured by Air Radar on a MacBook in the lounge, and also by the XBox 360). However, the complete opposite is true for the Netgear router. When sitting on the aluminium mouse mat the signal strength was 67%, but removing the mat boosted the signal to 78%. How weird is that?

And finally… I wrote a tip a while back about how to prevent iPhoto loading every time you plug your iPhone into your Mac, while still being able to load iPhoto for your camera. Well now there’s an even better solution. It a little freeware utility called Cameras by Flexibits. It installs as a Pref Pane and lets you easily control what happens when you plug in any device that has photos on it, and that includes card readers. I strongly recommend you check it out – I’ve ditched my little Automator Action in favour of cameras and haven’t looked back since. If you want a good review of exactly what Cameras does, then check out the MacWorld review.

Icy Box 2 Disk ‘JBOD’ SATA Enclosure – Uncooth but useful

Icy Box 2-Bay JBOD Enclosure

Icy Box 2-Bay JBOD Enclosure

A by-product of having built and upgraded my own Windows PCs in the past is that I now have an assorted collection of 3.5″ IDE and SATA hard disks. However, the one place I was short of storage space was on my entry-level Mac Mini which sports a mere 80Gb internal drive. To solve this, I had attached two Freecom 500Gb USB drives as well as a Freecom 400Gb USB drive, taking up three of the Mini’s four USB slots, and more importantly three power outlets as each Freecom drive needs it’s own power supply. There has to be a better way, one that takes up fewer ports and gobbles less power.

Enter the Icy Box 3.5″ x 2 Black JBOD SATA Enclosure USB (to give it its mouthful of a full title). In essence it’s a two-bay enclosure that lets you add two of your own SATA drives and then connect it to your Mac (or PC) via a single USB cable. With two ‘spare’ SATA hard disks (a 300Gb and a 400Gb) floating around, this had the potential to give me nearly 700Gb of storage which should be fine for the Mini. First impressions are that the Icy Box is a neat, pleasant looking device that wouldn’t really be out of place anywhere, even tucked away with your other media centre gadgetry in the living room. In fact I only have two real criticisms of it as a gadget and that’s build quality and noise.

To take build quality first, the whole thing is reasonably well designed and screwed together, however on my unit the on/off switch doesn’t sit flush with Icy Box JBOD #2the backplate, rather it’s crooked, as is the 4cm fan that protrudes 1.5cm from the case and is also not aligned. It’s more nit-picking though because both things work and once you’ve put the thing together you’re unlikely to see them when the unit is in use. While we’re on the subject of the back panel, it also sports a USB socket and a DIN-style power socket for the supplied mains adapter. There is also a rather flimsy plastic ‘stalk’ labelled backup (aimed at providing one-touch backup for Windows users).

Now fitting the drives is a little frustrating and is done as follows:

  1. You remove the two screws from the bottom of the case and slide out the internal chassis.
  2. Before completely removing the internal chassis, you remove a small ribbon cable that connects the front LEDs to the circuit board on the backplane.
  3. Screw your two drives into the bays on the internal chassis.
  4. Slide the internal chassis back in to the case and re-attach the ribbon cable before pushing it fully home.
  5. Turn the unit upside down and attempt to screw in the two bottom screws.

It’s the last step that’s the frustrating bit. The two SATA drives are quite heavy and there’s enough play inside the case to allow the internal chassis to move a few mm when you turn it upside down, so even when you line up the holes on the enclosure with the holes in the internal chassis, the screws to secure the two together don’t reach. In the end I had to balance one of the screws on a magnetic screwdriver, align everything with the unit the right way up, then holding the unit above my head I approached it from the bottom in a sort of juggling act. It worked and the whole assembly is now secure, but I wouldn’t relish undoing it all to replace a drive!

Finish isn't brilliant, but it'll do.

Finish isn't brilliant, but it'll do.

So, with the drives fitted it’s time to plug it in to a Mac and with that done and the unit switched on, that’s where my second minor niggle is. The fan is on all the time the unit is powered up, and it’s not quiet. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not noisy either, but it’s louder than my Mac Pro and it’s noticeable in the sitting room if the TV is off, or you are near the TV watching a quiet scene. I did think about disconnecting the fan completely, but figured it was probably worse to run the disks at a higher temperature than put up with the whirring noise. To be fair, if you’re 12 feet from the TV and watching a movie, you probably won’t hear the fan.

Ok, so what did Mac OS X make of my little drive store? Well the nice things here is that this is a ‘JBOD’ device (Just a Bunch Of Drives) and because you have two drives presented to OS X via a single USB interface, you have a choice of ways you can configure the space in Disk Utility. On opening Disk Utility, you see each physical disk inside the unit separately, and the most straightforward option is then to simply partition each one separately and use them as they were two separate external hard drives. However, you can also explore the options you have using software RAID. Now as I mentioned, I’ve got a 400Gb and a 300Gb drive in my unit and certain scenarios RAID works better when using disks of the same size (e.g. space isn’t wasted), however this doesn’t stop you experimenting with what software RAID under OS X has to offer, and here are your choices:

Mirrored RAID Set – OS X mirrors the contents of one drive on to the other. That is the most secure because if you lose one drive, then all your data is safe on the other. You just replace the failed drive and rebuild the RAID array, and you can even continue using the ‘good’ disk while you’re waiting for a replacement for your failed disk. . The downside is that the space available for storing data is equivalent to that of the smallest disk, so in my case using a 300Gb + 400Gb disk, I actually only get 300Gb of usable space. What’s more, by using two disks of different sizes I also lose the extra (100Gb) space on the larger drive.

Striped RAID Set – OS X ‘stripes’ the data across the two disks. The plus point is that it’s supposed to be faster than a ‘concatenated disk set’ and you get to use all the available disk space, so in my case that’s 400Gb + 300Gb = 700Gb which I’d see as a single large volume. The downside is that if either drive fails then you lose all your data (you are backing up… aren’t you?). Note that given this is a USB device, any speed gained through striping may be lost because USB isn’t the fastest connection in the world.

Concatenated Disk Set – Like the Striped RAID Set, essentially OS X joins the two disks together and you see them as one single drive having the total picture-23space of the two drives added together. However the data isn’t striped across the two disks, rather the two disks are just joined together one after the other. Great if you’ve got data you don’t want to split over multiple volumes, but the downside is still that if you lose one disk, you stand to lose the data on both drives.

You can even combine RAID sets if you have multiple disk sets to play with but that’s a topic for another day. The point here is that the Icy Box ‘JBOD’ Enclosure gives you options via OS X for being a little more creative with how you use your disks. It’s a handy little unit and if you don’t mind the few rough edges, then it’s a good way to employ spare disk drives. Icy Box make a number of other disk enclosures, including a slightly more expensive 2-bay ‘JBOD’ USB disk enclosure that sports a variable-speed fan and screwless drive fittings. In hindsight I’d choose that one as it’s only another £10 and it addresses both my niggles with the cheaper unit. Still, it’s worth it from the perspective of being able to put my spare disks to good use.

If you want to check out the Icy Box homepage it’s HERE.

Windows diNovo Edge keyboard & Leopard – A step forward?

It's there - my Windows diNovo Edge keyboard!

It's there - my Windows diNovo Edge keyboard!

In addition tp my Logitech MX Revolution mouse, I use a Logitech diNovo Edge keyboard with my Mac Pro. It’s not the Mac version of the diNovo Edge, rather it’s the original Windows version with the soft orange lights. It works fine as a basic keyboard with OS X Leopard, and the volume slider, mute button, the ‘Touch Disk’ and the sleep button also work, but that’s about it. None of the extended function keys do anything because the Logitech Control Centre software for OS X doesn’t recognize the diNovo Edge… until now that is. I saw via MacUpdate that version 2.7 of the Logitech Control Centre software has just been released, and seeing as I was using v2.6 I figured I ought to upgrade, so off I went and installed it.

Previously when I launched the Logitech Control Centre (v2.6) in System Preferences, I would be shown my Logitech mouse and asked which device I wanted to configure. There was no sign of the keyboard, so configuring it in Mac OS X was impossible. Now however, it’s started to change. Now when I launch v2.7 of the Logitech Control Centre software, up pops my diNovo Edge keyboard! Surely they haven’t…? Have they…?

I can check the battery level!

I can check the battery level!

Well it’s good news and it’s bad news. First the good news – yes you can select your (Windows) diNovo Edge keyboard and click the Configure button. Click on the General tab and you’ll be able to set the tracking speed multiplier for the Touch Disk and you’ll also be able to see what the remaining battery life is for your keyboard. Both useful additions over the zero-configurability you had before.

But now for the bad news. You still don’t seem to be able to configure any of the other keys on the keyboard, although the option to do so seems tantalizingly close. If you choose the ‘Keys’ tab you get what looks like a screen where you can assign applications to certain keys, but even though it seems you can build a list of apps and their corresponding keystrokes, nothing actually seems to work. I assigned Firefox to the Option-3 key combo but pressing Option-3 did nothing, and I can’t get anything to appear in the Name/Assigned Action list.

So near... and yet so far!

So near... and yet so far!

My guess is that the Windows version of the diNovo Edge is still not oficially supported under OS X and that the fact that now appears in the Logitech Control Centre v2.7 release is just a happy coincidence because some aspect of its operation overlaps with the Mac version of the keyboard. Still, maybe v2.8 of the software will address that and I’ll finally have a fully functional version of the keyboard? Ok, I’m not holding my breath on that one.

Macbitz Musings – Netbooks

I have read lots of posts from people who seem to have a genuine requirement for something larger than an iPhone/iPod Touch and yet smaller than the 13″ MacBook to use for basic web and PDA duties. There are also lots of rumours that Apple is preparing to enter this market, but that they have said they’ll only consider it when they can “do it properly”.

I wondered what “do it properly” meant and it wasn’t until I started using an MSI Wind 100 netbook that I started to realize. As devices go it really is not something I’d want to buy or use on a regular basis. The screen seemed relatively clear but that’s about where the usability experience ended. The touchpad is miniscule, and the two buttons below it that act as mouse buttons – talk about needing a firm press… if they don’t give you RSI then nothing will! As for build quality, well the whole thing has a plasticy cheap feel to it and I can’t imagine it’s that robust.

While I don’t personally have a need for a netbook, it will be interesting to see what Apple do in this space.

Oh and a final word about the new ‘2009’ Mac Pro. The Quad-Core 2.66GHz version can ‘only’ take a maximum of 8Gb of RAM, compared to the 32Gb max on the 8-Core model. Shame… (I run multiple concurrent VMs on my 2008 model that require 2Gb of RAM each).

Mac Pro Hard Drives – Don’t Pay Through The Nose!

This might be a completely inaccurate assumption on my part but I’m guessing that a lot of Mac Pro owners are reasonably tech savvy. I mean the sort of person who splashes out on a Mac Pro usually has fairly specific requirements, and in my case this was for a fast machine that could take a lot of RAM (>8Gb) so that I could run multiple concurrent Windows XP virtual machines as part of my work.

So what baffles me is the dealers out there who think that labeling something ‘Apple’ is good enough reason to ask Mac Pro owners to pay nearly three times the going price for a piece of hardware. So what is this all about?  Well my early 2008 Mac Pro came equipped with a single 500Gb hard disk and the first thing I did was to pull the disk out and have a look to see what make & model it was. Turns out it was a bog-standard Western Digital 500Gb 7200rpm SATA drive, part number WD5000AAKS. When it came time to add more disks, I simply shopped around for the best price on Western Digital SATA disks and I added a second 500Gb drive plus a 1Tb

Mac Pro Hard Disks

Mac Pro Hard Disks

Western Digital ‘Green Power’ drive on which to back everything up.

These extra drives have performed flawlessly over the past year, being well suited to the Mac Pro as they run both cool and very quietly. Still, with the wealth of music, movies and general rubbish I’ve collected over the years, it was time to get another drive and so I have just bought another 1Tb WD ‘Green Power’ SATA drive from Novatech for the princely sum of £81.65 including VAT. Taking just a couple of minutes to fit the drive, I decided to browse the web for a while as Super Flexible File Synchronizer copied the data from my old drive to the new one. I found myself on eBay and decided to have a look see what was for sale in the world of Apple…

Before long I found myself looking at a listing for a 1Tb hard disk for the Mac Pro. Nothing unusual there – except for the price. The dealer was asking over £200 for a hard drive of the exact same spec I’d just paid a fraction over £80 for. Same capacity, same cache, same spin speed, same seek time… everything the same. I was amazed, and very much reminded of how important it is to do your research.

So if you’re in the market for an internal hard disk to fit your early 2008 Mac Pro then pretty much any standard SATA II 7200rpm hard disk will do just fine.

In my Windows PC days I had a lot of bad experiences with Maxtor drives, and gathered a collection of eight failed IDE and SATA Maxtor drives. I then switched to using Samsung drives and more recently Western Digital drives and (touch wood) failures seem to be a thing of the past.