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BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests

TransIntl's SwiftData 200
Puts 5 Drives
INSIDE A G5 Power Mac

Originally posted 03/30/04 by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated 04/21/04 with the correct links to Swift Data 200 page.

On March 29th, 2004, TransIntl.com introduced the Swift Data 200, an upgrade kit that adds THREE drives INSIDE the G5 case, bringing the total possible internal drives to FIVE. That's right. FIVE INTERNAL DRIVES! ProMax is offering the same product which they call SATAMAXi.

Many high end G5 owners who capture or playback uncompressed HD video or HQ audio often need a disk array that runs at 180MB/s or faster. Some Photoshop CS users who edit documents larger than 300MB need a fast scratch disk array. The G5 only has inside factory mounts for TWO internal SATA drives. That leaves the high end users scratching their head over how to stuff more drives inside or use some external drive scheme (FW800, SCSI, or "custom" SATA).

FireWire 800 RAID is NOT a viable option for the G5. You probably read my rantings on other test reports. Suffice to say that the write speed is slow -- slower than G4 Power Macs and G4 PowerBooks -- slow enough to make it useless for high throughput video and audio projects. That leaves you with expensive SCSI solutions and their limited storage capacity... but then...

...enter some creative third party products. Wiebetech was first out of the blocks with their G5Jam which adds TWO more SATA drives in the PCI bay of the G5, bringing the total INTERNAL drives to FOUR. You might have read our review of that product. It's a good product. However, if you dedicate the four internal drives to a disk array, you must boot from a fifth drive -- which usually means an external FireWire 800 or an external SATA drive (with data cable fed through an empty PCI slot). If I only had a fifth INTERNAL drive...

TransIntl must have been reading my thoughts when they designed the Swift. They came up with an ingenious method for adding THREE drives inside the CPU bay (near the memory sockets). They mount an aluminum plate using an existing chassis screw hole. Then they provide three brackets that attach to that plate, enabling you to add up to three drives in the vertical position.

That brings the total internal drives to FIVE, which gives you the option to stripe four internal drives and use the fifth internal drive for a booting OS X. Yay!

Although most users will probably install SATA drives, you could also install standard IDE/ATA or SCSI drives as well. That's good news for buyers upgrading from a G4 Power Mac. They can transfer their existing drives to their new G5 thanks to Swift. Apple's RAID software and SoftRAID don't care what "mishmash" of drives you choose to stripe.


TransIntl has made their Swift Data 200 affordable and versatile to anyone who wants to install more than two drives inside their G5. You can buy the Swift "bare" -- without drives and without controller card. (You may already have drives and controller cards you wish to use.) Or you can add SATA controllers and drives to the order, since TransIntl sells both. You can build the drive system you want or can afford. You can add drives one at a time, as needed.

When I tested the Swift, the only concern I had was the effect the drives "invading" the CPU bay might have on the temperature control system of the G5. The fan that blows air over the CPUs now sucks air over the three drives. How will those drives affect air flow? Will drives heat up the air being blown over the CPUs? I used to ThermographX to monitor the 7 temperature probes in the G5. The temperature readings were not significantly affected by the presence of the extra drives.

Being a speed freak, I had to wonder how fast 5 striped drives would go. I used DiskTester to measure the speed of reading and writing a 1GB document to both 4 and 5 drive SATA RAID sets.


Notice I included the speed of the 4 drive set at 60% capacity and the 5 drive set at 80% capacity. What I wanted you to see in the graphs above is that the 4 drive array drops below the target 180MB/s level at when you are at 60% capacity (559GB) while the 5 drive array is still above that level at 80% capacity (880GB).

CONCLUSION
Like the G5Jam, the Swift Data 200 fixes the most glaring fault in the design of the G5 Power Mac: limited internal drive expansion. But it goes the G5Jam one better by adding three internal drive slots, not just two. It's another great product for "Power Users" who want to have maximum storage with minimum external clutter.

Hey! Maybe I could install both the G5Jam and the Swift -- that would give me 7 drives -- and if I get seven 400GB Hitachi 7K400s, that's 2.8 Terabyte total -- Moo hah hah!

A word of caution: You might be able to "kludge" a cheaper internal expansion -- like the guy who removed his SuperDrive and shoved two drives in the optical bay -- but be sure your solution addresses two key technical concerns:
1. Cooling - Does your solution provide cooling for the drives? Does it work WITH or AGAINST the G5's sophisticated heat management system?
2. Stability - Are your drives mounted solidly? Without a solid mounting, the resonance or vibration will shorten the life of the drives.

LINKS OF INTEREST

SATA versus SCSI versus FireWire 800 -- more tests from Bare Feats

Wiebetech G5Jam review -- another product that adds drives inside the G5

Fastest SATA drives versus BIGGEST: WD Raptor 10K takes on Hitachi 7K400.

A pair of FireWire 800 ComboDocks on the PowerBook and PowerMac

SoftRAID versus Apple RAID -- features compared. My favorite SoftRAID feature is "custom volume sizes," which lets you isolate the fastest portion of your RAID set.

WHERE TO BUY
The Swift Data 200 drive expansion kit was provided courtesy of TransIntl. Prices start at $299 for a "bare" kit, if you already have drives and controllers. Or you can buy the drives and controllers from TransIntl.

ProMax prices for their SATAMAXi start at $395 without drives but it includes a 2 channel SeriTek/1S2 PCI controller card.

Our Hitachi 7K250 Serial ATA drives were provided courtesy of TransIntl and Hitachi. Be sure to check TransIntl.com for pricing. Check also with OWC.

The best performing Serial ATA PCI host adapter we've tested is the SeriTek/1S2 provided courtesy of FirmTek. This card works on all Macs with PCI or PCI-X slots. It is available direct from FirmTek's online store for $69.95. Check also with TransIntl and OWC. Sonnet Technology will sell you a purple version (Tempo Serial ATA) for $99.95.

Has Bare Feats helped you? How about helping Bare Feats?

WHAT IS DISKTESTER? It is a disk speed testing utility by Lloyd Chambers, the author of DiskDoubler and AutoDoubler. It has no GUI and must be invoked via the Terminal app, however it allows you to set parameters like test file size (1GB, 5GB, etc.), system cache (on/off), iterations, starting block size, etc. My favorite option is the one that lets you reserve a contiguous block which can be tested in predefined segments. I used it to divide a newly formatted RAID set into 10 parts so I could plot the falling transfer rate as the inner tracks were approached. That method is much faster than utilities that test the entire drive like Winbench and SmartVue. If you want a copy of DiskTester to try visit, Lloyd's Software Tools Page.





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2004 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist