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SHOOTOUT: What's the Fastest Boot Drive for the
Mac Pro?

Originally posted August 17th, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist.
Updated December 12th, 2006.

"What is the best boot drive for my Mac Pro? And what about a dual drive RAID 0 boot volume?"

The factory "stock" drives that came with the two Mac Pros we tested were a Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 250GB and Western Digital Caviar WD2500JS 250GB. We were not overly impressed with their performance and believed we could do better. We tested single boot drives and dual drive RAID 0 boot volumes in our 3GHz Mac Pro. Tests included Reboot, Launching of a disk intensive application, Finder Duplicate of large single file, and QuickBench small block random read/write.

LEGEND
Fastest in
bold RED, Second fastest in ORANGE. (Raptor is in WHITE)
R150 = Western Digital Raptor 10K 150GB SATA 1.5G (WD1500AHFD)
S750 = Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 750GB 7200rpm SATA 3G drive
M500 = Maxtor MaXLine Pro 500GB 7200rpm SATA 3G drive (7H500F0)
H500 = Hitachi Deskstar 7K500 500GB 7200rpm SATA 3G drive
W500 = Western Digital Caviar 500GB 7200rpm SATA 3G (WD5000KS)
S320 = Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 320GB 7200rpm SATA 3G drive
M300 = Maxtor MaXLine III 300GB 7200rpm SATA 1.5G (7V300F0)
W250 = Western Digital Caviar 250GB 7200rpm SATA 1.5G drive (Apple OEM)
S250 = Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 250GB 7200rpm SATA 1.5G drive (Apple OEM)


OBSERVATIONS
1. Startup or Restarting doesn't happen faster with a RAID pair. Restart speeds varied from run to run by as much as 4 seconds. We posted the fastest time from three Restarts.
2. Dual drive boot volumes have a slight advantage when launching complex, disk intensive apps like Unreal Tournament.
3. There is a big difference in performance between different brands of single drives when performing a Duplicate. A Dual Drive RAID 0 boot volume is much faster than a single volume when it comes to duplicating files (reading and writing simultaneously).
4. There is a also big difference in performance between individual drives when doing small random reads and writes. Oddly, some of the fastest drives to read are the slowest to write -- and vice versa. And in most cases, the Dual drive boot volumes were much faster doing random reads and writes.

THE OVERALL BEST PERFORMING BOOT DRIVE
We realize you have your favorite "horses" in this "race" and some of you are price sensitive. Some drive companies have a better reputation than others, whether it's justified or not. We judged the drives soley on performance. Based on that, the overall fastest single 7200rpm drive was the MaXLine Pro 500GB. The second fastest 7200rpm drive overall was the Hitachi 7K500.

As expected the 10,000rpm Raptor was faster overall than the 7200rpm drives, but its limited capacity (150GB) is a concern. With OS X Tiger loaded along with a basic set of applications, we only had 86GB left on the drive. If we were to choose the Raptor for a boot drive, we'd opt for two of them in a RAID 0 set with a total of 300GB.

BEST RAID 0 BOOT PAIR
Speaking of RAID 0 (striped) pairs, we rate the MaXLine Pro 500GB as the overall fastest 7200rpm RAID pair. MaXLine III 300GB (7V300F0) comes in second.

SEAGATE PUZZLES
Firmware version 3.AEE or later solves the slow sustained large block write speed issue for a single 7200.10 inside the Mac Pro.

The remaining performance issue is slow small random read speeds for one, two, three or four drives. No matter how many drives you configure in RAID 0 sets, the average random read speed for combined block sizes from 64K to 1024K is less than 30MB/s (based on QuickBench 3 testing).

Until Seagate fixes this, we can't recommend the 7200.10 series as the ideal boot drive for the Mac Pro (or Power Mac).


NOISE LEVELS
Noise levels are hard to measure with our crude decibel meter. The Mac Pro is quiet -- quieter than any Mac tower we can remember. Therefore, we were able to clearly hear every drive doing its thing. Some drives had a higher pitched noise when the actuator was busy -- which I find annoying. We thought the muted lower pitch of the MaXLine Pro 500 was the least obtrusive.

Overall, we subjectively judged the Western Digital Caviar 7200rpm WD5000KS to be the quietest. (Turns out that SilentPCReview, a website that specializes in drive noise testing agrees with our finding.)

The Raptor X (WD1500AHFD) with the "window" showing the actuator was noisier than the Raptor (WD1500ADFD) with the traditional metal case -- which is the quietest Raptor we've tested to date.

FIREWIRE 800 WRITE SPEED ISSUE
Someone was asking if the write speed "restriction" experienced with the G5 Power Macs had been "lifted" on the Mac Pro. We did a quick test with two Maxtor MaXLine III drives configured a striped set. There was some improvement in WRITE speed. Using QuickBench and a 100MB test size, got 58MB/s on the G5 and 61MB/s on the Mac Pro. But we think it should be closer to 75MB/s -- a number attained on a G4 PowerBook with FW800.

The READ speed was also improved (from 72 to 77MB/s).

WHERE TO BUY SATA 3Gb/s DRIVES for your MAC PRO

MacGurus (host adapters, enclosures, drives, cables)

Other World Computing (host adapters, enclosures, drives)

Small Dog Electronics (host adapters, enclosures, drives)

TransIntl (enclosures, drives, internal mounting kits)

Apple's online store (click on STORAGE in the left margin of main page)

WHERE TO BUY SATA HOST ADAPTERS and ENCLOSURES

FirmTek (host adapters -- boots OS X; works on Mac Pro, enclosures)

CalDigit (enclosures, host adapters)

Granite Digital (host adapters, enclosures, cables)

MaxUpgrades (host adapters, enclosures, internal mounting kits)

Sonnet Online Store (host adapters, enclosures)

Wiebetech (host adapters, enclosures, pre-installed drives, internal mounting kits)

WHERE TO ORDER YOUR MAC PRO

If you live in the USA and plan to purchase an APPLE product, please CLICK THIS LINK or any APPLE DISPLAY AD to help us earn our affiliate commission. It's a great way to support Bare Feats.

DON'T LIVE in USA?
Readers in Canada should visit Apple Store, Canada.
Readers in France should visit Apple Store - France.
Readers in Germany should visit Apple Store - Germany.
Readers in Italy should visit Apple Store -Italy.
Readers in the United Kingdom should visit Apple Store - UK.

WHERE TO ORDER YOUR MAC PRO MEMORY
You can order extra Mac Pro memory from
Apple USA when you custom order your Mac Pro, though it might delay delivery. Plus, we think Apple charges too much for their memory upgrades.

We recommend getting your memory upgrades from third party vendors. In our initial Mac Pro testing, we used kits provided by Other World Computing. They are a good source for quality memory at a reasonable price. Plus OWC has a "Trade In Your Factory Memory" REBATE program.

TransIntl.com is shipping Mac Pro memory with Apple suggested heat sink specs. They took great care to engineer their heat sinks for maximum thermal efficiency using 6 fins on each side (versus 4 on the Apple factory modules) and special aluminum alloy. We tested these and can vouch that their heat sinks are truly efficient in absorbing and dissipating heat.

MaxUpgrades offers their unique "MacSink" design for a heat sink (using 2 clips instead of 4) which results in more fin area exposed to the airflow. We've tested them and they are very effective. MaxUpgrades will sell you the memory with the heat sink or just the heat sink. Their prices are very competitive, too.

We also tested the Data Memory Systems Mac Pro memory with conventional heat spreaders. It ran an average of 10 deg F warmer than the memory with "fat finned" heat sinks. DMS is also offering memory with Apple approved" heat sinks as an option.

MAC PRO GRAPHICS CARD OPTIONS:
The GeForce 7300 GT (16X, 256MB, dual-link DVI + single-link DVI port) is standard. However, we recommend the Radeon X1900 XT (16X, 512MB, two dual-link DVI ports) as a CTO option. It's much faster than the GeForce 7300 GT and just a hair slower than the expensive Quadro FX 4500. To custom order your Mac Pro with the Radeon X1900 XT, go to the Apple Store and click on the Mac Pro graphic.

Fortunately, you can order the Radeon X1900 XT as an aftermarket kit. We ordered our Mac Pro with the standard GeForce 7300 GT so we could get it within a few days. The X1900 XT we ordered separately was back ordered for 5 weeks. Visit the Apple Store and click on DISPLAYS in the left margin or do a search on "X1900."

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2005-2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist