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mac57 05-16-2008 12:00 PM

Making a Good Thing Better
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 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.

Kash 05-16-2008 12:07 PM

Could you image the speed gains from two 15k Raptors in RAID 0? I've got that in my Windows rig, blows away anything else I've seen :D

I'm still totally jealous ;P

mac57 05-16-2008 12:47 PM

Isn't a 15K drive pretty noisy? I would think that at that speed, it would issue quite a whining noise? Am I out in left field? Are these beasts really quiet?

sanity1082 05-16-2008 01:28 PM

i haven't heard any complaints about them being to loud

mac57 05-16-2008 04:01 PM

I looked up WD's latest, the Velociraptor. It's sustained transfer rate is 120 MB/s. That is faster than the Seagate I put in, but not by as large a margin as I expected.

Confessing my total ignorance of the performance benefits of RAID, if I could RAID two disks that had a sustained transfer speed of 100 MB/s, would I achieve an overall sustained transfer speed of 200 MB/s? If so, would a RAID'd Mac boot twice as fast as a non raided Mac? ...launch apps twice as fast?

Sorry for the stupid questions but I have always thought of RAID principally in terms of reliability, not performance. Thanks.

Kash 05-16-2008 04:14 PM

Access speeds are improved dramatically with RAID. Boot times, application load times, and read/write speeds would be improved by noticeable margins.

I've run benchmarks before, but I don't remember the actual numbers. I'll try to run another benchmark, but I should point out that I have the Raptors, not the newest Velociraptor.

bryphotoguy 05-16-2008 11:29 PM

Yea, I thought about picking up that Seagate drive but I don't have the cash.
I don't think you could achieve 200 MB/s without the RAID card. But I could be very wrong.

mac57 05-17-2008 10:01 PM

Nope, I think you are quite right Bryan. I have been checking around on the web. The fastest non RAID disk I have found so far is 150 MB/s, but this is an ultraSCSI interface. In pure SATA, the above Velociraptor at 120 MB/s is the fastest I have seen.

RAID'ing would seem to be the next step - the one that delivers the next major leap in performance. I checked Apple's web site - they want $799 for their RAID card. That seems just a bit expensive for the increased speed that would result. You can buy whole computers these days for less than that :D

Khorium 05-19-2008 01:41 PM


My first post here so bare with me.
You keep talking about the "stock 500 GB". How are the 320 GB disks that is standard with the Mac Pros (at least it looks like it on I suppose those are as fast as the 500 GB you tested in the store?

EGGO 05-19-2008 03:53 PM

For when you really need your naughty pictures FAST huh?

mac57 05-19-2008 11:14 PM


Originally Posted by Khorium (Post 657905)

My first post here so bare with me.
You keep talking about the "stock 500 GB". How are the 320 GB disks that is standard with the Mac Pros (at least it looks like it on I suppose those are as fast as the 500 GB you tested in the store?

There really is no way to say. Apple doesn't explicitly spec out which drives they use, just the capacity. Hence they are free to change manufacturers as they wish. This is reflected in the fact that the ones I tested at the store had Western Digitals in them while the one I purchased had a Seagate in it. Basically, you don't know until you get it and you test it.

I would certainly HOPE that the 500's would perform as well as the 320s, but it all comes down to the manufacturer and the specs. Meantime, I can tell you that Seagate's 7200.11 line, which my new drive is a member of, is a real performer. I would strongly recommend them. Happily, the 320 GB drive in this family (see this Seagate page) is even faster than the 750 GB I have, clocking in at 115 MB/S sustained transfer rate. If raw data transfer performance is THE thing for you, go for this drive.

CoG888 05-20-2008 01:15 PM

I have the 320 GB drive in my new Mac Pro, model ST3320820AS_P. Seagate's site claims a max rate of 78 MB/s, and an 8MB cache.

A new hard drive is second on my wish list, after 2 more sticks of RAM. You all know that you should install RAM in multiples of 4 on the MacPro for maximum performance, right? of course you do... :)

christm 05-20-2008 02:31 PM

Im very jealous !

I wish I had / will have one day - a mac pro !

A very accurate and detailed post, a good read, well done on your purchase and thanks.


the8thark 05-21-2008 01:08 PM

To the OP:

Thanks for all that info. And it's a very well set out/explained post. Well done.

cowasaki 05-21-2008 07:34 PM

The aerial density of the Samsung F1 1TB drive is so high that is is faster in all but seek time than the raptors and a lot quieter. We all know why sanity1082 says he hasn't heard any complaints, he's been deafened!! I like quite computers and the raptors are just not quiet. I think tomshardware guide did a comparison of the F1 and raptor not long ago. It might be worth a read. Also the F1 is surprisingly cheap now, I have seen it for less than 100. I will be sticking one on my mac mini server shortly! Then replacing the boot drive on my mac pro with one too. You will notice the word I picked was ON my mac mini server, being a 3.5" drive it will not fit inside but a nice SATA cable set will work

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