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My new MacPro

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Some ideas about my new MacPro

Why Mac

I have been using Macintosh as my mainstay computer for a two and a half years and been extremely satisfied. Before that my choice of OS would be Linux, but reality forced me to use Windows XP. The main advantage with the Mac is that it works.

Why not Windows?

My experience with Windows was never positive. The major issue is that it detoriates with time.

Why not Linux

I used Linux for something like 14 years, since 1995. I used to like Linux but got a bit tired of it lately. The reasons are:

  • To much change - to many versions, significant interface changes
  • Much because of the changes a lot of maintenance work

More serously, Linux lacks in capabilities for advanced photographic work. The major issue is lack of hardware supported color management. I don't consider Linux "to be there" regarding serious photographic work, at least not without to much effort. A major issue is that Photoshop and Adobe toolchain is a "de facto" standard in the photographic world. Everyone speaks "Adobe speak". Similar results can be achieved by Linux toolchain, but how do we know that the results are the same?

 

Color management is quite complex with many trap doors, so it's an advantage to go with tools that are well known. Even so, it's far to easy to make mistakes. In addition Linux support of hardware color management is scarse and the supported hardware tends to be on the high end side.

 

Why MacPro

The only Mac's that can be expanded with internal disk capacity are MacPros. The iMac and MiniMac lack ESATA. ESATA can be added to some of the MacbookPro models. Also I generally don't like notebooks.

 

Configuring the MacPro

Great config info on Macs can be found at www.diglloyd.com. I recommend that site.

Which model?

  • In general I would not spend a lot of money on CPU-power. So I don't buy the fastest CPUs. In the best case performance scales with CPU speed, but it often does not.
  • The trend today is that the number of cores is increased and a technique called hyperthreading has made a comeback.

I assume to keep my MacPro for at least three years. Assumptions that are valid today may be less valid in three years. Anyway, I decided to buy a nearly minimum configuration of my MacPro, with a single quad core Intel Xeon with 2.66 GHz. This belongs to the new Nehalem series with:

  • Improved memory controller on chip with three memory channels
  • Quickpaath intrconnects
  • Hyperthreading (that is it acts as eight CPUs)

Buying a dual CPU MacPro would be an option, but it would add something like 1000€ to the system cost and even the base configuration is a stretch for my budget. At present few application can fully utilize a Quad core Xeon. This may change in three years, on the other hand, a lot of things will change in three years anyway...

 

Memory

With my new 24.5 MP DSLR (a Sony Alpha 900) I felt a lot of memory limitation on my old iMac. With carefully selected memory chips the MacPro can handle 16 GByte with a Quad Xeon, using 4x4 GByte chips. As 16 GByte memory was available at OWC at a reasonable price I decided to go for that. The MacPro needs at least 3 memory chips for optimum performance. Going for six or eight GByte of memory would mean getting rid of the old chips and replacing all.

Disk drives

The MacPro has positions for four internal drives. Diglloyd recommends that all four slots are used for 2TByte SATA disks with two disks in pairwise RAID-0 stripes. In addition he recommends and SSD disk installed in the unused bay for the second optical drive. I choose a different approach, again to save cost. I keep the boot drive that came with my computer and use only two 2 GByte SATA disks. I set aside a 50GByte partition on each so that can be used as a very fast striped device. The rest of the two disks is used as two volumes, one called Master and one called Backup.

Backup

Backup is essential. A RAID protects against disk crashes but not against loss of data because of other issues. An initial approach is to use "Time Machine" on the Backup disk. This protects against disk failure and accidental destruction of data. It does not protect against common mode failure of both disks or the worst case scenario of fire. To protect against fire we need off site backup.

 

On the old computer I was using four 1 TByte SATA disks which I use with a Newer Technology Voyager docking station. On the new computer I will use the same option, but migrate to 2 TByte disk. Writing a full one TByte backup took something like 8 hours on the Voyager using Firewire 800 on my old iMac. Hopefully the use of E-SATA will allow for much faster data rates.

 

The old 1 TByte disks will be used as an external RAID 5 device, connected trough E-SATA. How this will be utilized is not really clear, a possible option is to use it as storage for example panorama stuff, which is based on TIFFs and can be rebuilt from original images. TIFFs are wasting a lot of  space. This RAID will hold 3 TBytes of information. Hopefully it can be reused later when bigger disks appear and will be needed.

 

Inital experience

Moving from the iMac

I found a migration tool under Utilities called MigrationAssistant. Using this I could move everything from my iMac to the new MacPro with help of a "Time Machine" backup. This worked out pretty well. All applications were moved and all password transferred.

Memory utilization

It seems that 16 GByte is more memory than needed.

 

CPU utilization

The computer has four CPU-cores, because of hyperthreading the system utilities see this as 8 CPU:s. Few application can utilize all CPU-s. So far Lightroom seems to achive decent CPU-utillisation, exporting a bunch of DNG-images about 385% CPU load is achieved by Lightroom. A similar performance is achieved when rendering 1:1 previews.

I use Autopano Pro for generating panoramas. That program can achieve about 600% CPU utilization so it also puts the hyperthread feature to good use.

 

Lightroom performance

Lightroom performs well on the MacPro. To generate an "actual pixels" image from my 24.6 MPixels DNGs takes about 5s, a long time, but it also prerenders a couple of images ahead, which is quite useful. Also, when importing a lage amount of images the computer still stays responsive and it is also possible to work in Lightroom during the import. It seems that the Xeon processor is several times faster than the Core 2 Duo in the iMac but it still needs around five seconds per raw conversion. Adding more cores may increase the look ahead, but probably wouldn't make reading any individual image any faster.  This prerendering is important, the effect is that when we move to the next image it shows up very fast eve at actual pixels.

(Still looking at this and having some contradictory data)

 

Disk I/O performance

There are four options to connect disks to the MacPro:

  • USB 2.0 (High Speed)
  • Firewire 800
  • SATA (internal disks only)
  • E-SATA (which requires an additional card)

Of these options only SATA/E-SATA is really fast, even if Firewire 800 may keep up with older 3.5" disks. Todays fastest 3.5" disks outperform FW800 by a significant margin, however. I have just run a very simple test on a brand new 2TB Hitachi drive

Interface Speed MB/s
E-SATA 125
FW800 65
USB-2 26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Last Updated on Friday, 11 December 2009 09:13  

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