05-16-2008, 12:00 PM
This post is directed to anyone who has purchased the newest Jan 2008 version of the Mac Pro, and concerns itself with achieving a significant performance boost from this already very fast machine.
I have just recently purchased such a machine myself, and went for the high end 3.2 GHz eight core model. I thought I was getting a thoroughbred. I had been to the local Apple store and gone as far as downloading XBench on their machine and running it. The machine definitely was a thoroughbred and posted astonishingly good scores. I had brought a USB pen drive with me and saved off the results and brought them home with me.
Fast forward a week or two. My machine arrived and I set it up and started configuring it. Eventually I got it to the point where I downloaded XBench onto my new machine and benchmarked it. The results were disappointing to say the least. An examination of them revealed that the major delta between my new machine and the one that I had tested at the Apple store lay in the area of the hard drive in the machine. The Apple Store unit I had tested was using the stock 500 GB drive. I had paid extra to get the larger 750 GB drive. Its performance was significantly lower than the smaller drive.
I don't want to miscast this result - my new machine was still pretty darn fast, but I am an engineer and numbers speak to me. Apple had built my machine with a much slower drive than the ones in the store, and that really disappointed me.
I fired up Disk Utility and got the drive's model number and looked it up on the manufacturer's web site. It was a Seagate ST3750640AS. This model turns out to have a 16 MB cache and a sustained transfer rate of 78 MB/s. The 500 GB unit I tested at the Apple Store had a Western Digital WD5000AAKS. This drive also has a 16 MB cache, but features a 97 MB/s sustained transfer rate. This translates into real performance gains which were directly observable via its XBench results.
Poking around a little more on Seagate's web site, I found that they had a new version of the 750 GB drive, the ST3750330AS. This unit features a 32 MB cache (more cache is always good) and a sustained transfer rate of 105 MB/s, a full 34.6 % faster than the drive Apple shipped my machine with. I checked around and found that this drive was available at NewEgg.com for only $129. I couldn't resist ordering it and seeing what sort of performance gain I would get from putting it in. This is the great thing about the Mac Pro. It is endlessly configurable.
The new drive arrived yesterday. I installed it into Bay 2, and used CarbonCopyCloner to clone the original drive onto the new drive. I then physically exchanged the drives, such that the new drive was now in Bay 1 and the old drive was in Bay 2. I booted up with high hopes.
I was not disappointed. It was like I had put a turbocharger on this already high speed machine. My boot time nearly halved, from an original 45 seconds to a much faster 25 seconds. Applications launched noticeably faster. The whole machine felt snappier. The "acid test" was XBench. When I ran XBench, the results were gratifying - almost identical to the results I got from the Apple Store unit I had tested. The Apple Store machine still achieved a slightly higher result, but the differences were minimal.
So, I have made a good thing (the Mac Pro) better, much better, by exchanging the originally shipped drive with a newer, faster drive. The total investment was around $135 including shipping and I feel like the payback more than justifies the cost.
I have kept both drives in the machine, so I now have a whopping 1.5 TB of disk store on this box. I will NEVER come even close to using all of this storage, but it is nice to have. If nothing else, Photoshop will run more efficiently with an extra drive for its scratch files.
So, I wanted to let everyone know. If you have a Jan 2008 model Mac Pro (the model that is currently shipping) you might wish to use Disk Utility to examine the drive that is installed. If it is slower than the Seagate that I have just installed, you may wish to consider adding the faster drive to your system too. You will not regret it.