Archive for August 2011


Performance Tip: Using a SSD in your client machine

August 23rd, 2011 — 9:54pm

Background

If you have a read of dbott’s excellent blog post ReadyNAS Performance Expectations you’ll soon learn that there are a number of factors that determine the performance you’ll get with your ReadyNAS.

Assuming you are using a fast ReadyNAS (e.g. Ultra, Pro) over gigabit ethernet (your router/switch and PC must have gigabit ethernet too to use this) via Cat5e or newer ethernet cables you’ll find that a computer with a single mechanical hard drive can’t push it to its limits.

My 2007 MacBook is a good example. I’d already upgraded the hard drive a few times in the past and just recently was using a SeaGate 500GB 2.5″ 7200rpm drive. Whilst this is a faster drive than the stock 5400rpm drive my machine came with it. It just wasn’t pushing my ReadyNAS to its limits.

The Problem

Uncharacteristically I downloaded Mac OS X Lion 10.7 the night it was released and started installing it the next day. I soon found that the stock 2GB RAM in my MacBook isn’t enough for Lion. Looking at OWC’s helpful website (e.g. see their MaxRAM page) I was reminded that my MacBook can handle 3GB RAM (as I read elsewhere on their site it’ll actually take 2x2GB sticks and the matched RAM will give a slight performance benefit over non matched RAM, so that’s what I went with).

The Solution

I thought that if I was going to buy a RAM upgrade I may as well do a hard drive upgrade at the same time. Looking at OWC’s Installation Videos page it isn’t much more effort to replace the hard drive versus just replacing the memory.

I considered different options such as using a hybrid drive (part mechanical and part SSD) but decided to purchase a 240GB OWC Mercury Extreme Pro 6G . Although my MacBook can only do SATA I (3Gbps), I’m planning on moving to a new laptop next year which can take advantage of SATA III (6Gbps) and I’ll move the SSD to that when the time comes. The 5 year warranty of the Extreme 6G also provides some peace of mind.

If you’d like an OWC SSD there’s currently a contest at The SSD Review for a fast OWC Electra 240GB SSD. Whilst not quite as fast as the Extreme, OWC has said that most users won’t notice a speed difference.

Benefits of a SSD

The benefits of a SSD drive over a traditional mechanical hard drive are many it’s not a mechanical hard drive, which means a cooler computer, less power usage, faster boot times, faster application launches and a computer that feels and is more responsive. The one downside is price per GB. But with a ReadyNAS Ultra 6 with 6×1.5TB drives giving roughly 5.4TB (in my case 5543GB) of dual-redudant space on my ReadyNAS I was able to compromise and downgrade to 240GB capacity.

Backup

Before beginning the upgrade process I backed up my SSD and did a Time Machine backup to the ReadyNAS. I can’t stress the importance of backups enough. If you have important data you should backup that data regularly.

The Upgrade

The upgrade kit I purchased from OWC included the SSD, a USB enclosure to put my old drive in and a 5 piece tool-kit to install the drives. I don’t know if it was just me, but I found that only one of the tools was named so I found it hard to work out which one was which.

As well as looking at the Installation Videos by OWC, it can be good to have a read of iFixit.com’s guides as well as they are very detailed and can provide some useful advice not found in OWC’s Installation Videos. However as upgrading my MacBook is very simple, I just followed the advice in the video.

Having installed the RAM upgrade and the SSD in the new machine, I put my old disk in the USB enclosure and booted from that and then proceeded to clone the hard drive onto the SSD. I should have really done the cloning with the SSD in the USB enclosure, but I was impatient, wanted to do the cloning overnight and didn’t want to install the SSD in a rush the next morning.

Of course I could have alternatively done a restore from a Time Machine backup from the ReadyNAS (See Time Machine restore from the ReadyNAS) but I wanted to give the cloning a try.

The difference

Having done the clone, I then proceeded to boot my Mac. Boot times are now much faster than before and most applications load practically instantly. My RAM upgrade also means that my Mac spends far less time swapping.

But the thing I was really interested in looking at was the performance of network transfers with the SSD installed. When I was reading data from the ReadyNAS using the Finder my Mac was showing a transfer speed of over 110MB/s at times. Write speeds weren’t as good, but that was to be expected. Of course there are some network overheads in this, but I was very impressed with this figure.

Conclusion

Of course when you remove a performance bottleneck or two you’ll soon discover you have another, so my Mac isn’t as fast as a new machine that has a SSD in it, but it’s an impressive improvement. I’ve found it does some tasks quicker than my 2009 Mac Mini which has a faster CPU, 4GB RAM but a slower 5400RPM hdd in it. I’m so impressed with using SSDs that I expect to eventually use them in all my client machines

The upgrade has eliminated the disk in my client machine from being the bottleneck for large file transfer to and from my ReadyNAS. In fact at least as far as writes to the NAS are concerned, I would get some benefit in write speed from moving to using an even faster ReadyNAS such as the ReadyNAS Pro 6.

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Common Problems with Time Machine and the ReadyNAS

August 8th, 2011 — 4:34pm

One of the great features of the ReadyNAS line which helps set it apart from its competition its excellent Mac support. All ReadyNAS support AFP (Apple Filing Protocol) and Time Machine. The ReadyNAS uses heavily customised Debian Linux optimised both for the ReadyNAS hardware and NAS use. NetGear is a customer of NetAFP (the company which develops the Netatalk project which provides AFP and Time Machine support to Linux devices).

As of 4.1.8+ (Sparc) and 4.2.18+ (x86) there is now support for Mac OS X 10.7 Lion on all ReadyNAS units.

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