Thursday, March 28, 2013

SST or SSD: going faster than the speed limit

When I got my first computer, an Atari 800 system with 16 KB of RAM and the operating system in ROM, I was surprised how quickly the system booted.  At 1.79 MHz (not GHz, in this case half a color clock), it was speedy for 1981.  Of course, there were faster clock speeds but the MOS Technologies 6502 as an unofficial RISC-based chip could outperform CISC chips like the 4.77 MHz 8088 in the IBM PC when the 6502 was running at 4 MHz.  Atari also had the amazing Jay Miner design the graphics chipset, and the system could turn off the display to process data more quickly.

As we had to have external storage, we had the options of magnetic cassette tape and magnetic diskettes.  Today, an 88KB diskette couldn't hold much but given a processor that could only address 64 KB of RAM, a diskette could hold many applications.  However, diskette drives were slow and tape drives were incredibly slow.  The only thing worse at the time was paper tape that some kit machines were using, and Hollreith punched cards.  I even built a RAM disk through some code in a magazine and it seemed amazingly fast but back then, dynamic RAM wasn't fast at all.

We travelled through several diskette options increasing capacity quite a bit and even merging magnetic and optical technologies in one type of disk.  The Winchester hard disk became very popular and it's basically what we're still using today.  The interfaces have become much faster, so that an external drive can be accessed much more quickly than some of the internal drives from years past.

I spent a lot of time with SCSI drives since they worked well with Atari machines (my Seagate 74 MB drive is still working) and only dabbled in IDE/ATA drives with an occasional DOS machine, and eventually when I got my Apple PowerBook in 2005.  The ATA/100 specification was great but I don't believe I ever saw 100 MB/second, even on more powerful machines at work.  The number was a measure of peak burst performance.

Where is this all going?

I installed an OWC Mercury EXTREME Pro 6G drive into my MacBook Pro yesterday.  The 6G should be a clue that it uses a SATA (Serial ATA) interface that allows 6 Gbps transfers.  That seems really fast.  However, I'm a skeptic and nothing ever seems fast enough.  At the same time, I transferred my old WD Scorpio Black 7200 rpm drive into a USB 3.0 case from the same company.  Here is an article concerning the announcement of the SATA 6 Gbps update from AMD and Seagate--from 2009.

They had a rather significant difference in the Incompressible Data Rate of the Pro model over the other, for an extra US$70.  I felt the difference in price wasn't prohibitive and got the faster drive.  I did some benchmarks earlier and I was pleased that each one was close to 512 MB/second.  Still, it doesn't seem OMG-it's-so-fast-it-will-fly-apart fast, but rather extremely smooth.  (Other World Computing now has a USB3 connected model.)  It still doesn't feel like the Concorde SST but the delays are minimal, if any.  I have two USB2 connected drives available to offload older files, to clear space since the 480 GB isn't ever expansive or expanding.

I transferred 351 photos to the drive and opened Phase One Capture One 7 Pro which needs a lot of RAM and should get a lot of performance tuning before they finish with version 7 because it's rather slow now.  The performance improvement was quite noticeable.  It loaded the file previews into its grid interface quickly and I could use the arrow keys to move and there was no noticeable lag any longer.  It also didn't seem to heat up the system nearly as much.  Right now, the system is running 44 degrees C instead of about 56 degrees C it was running yesterday.  I'm only using Firefox at the moment, but it seems much better.  After I transferred data last evening and Spotlight was indexing the drive, the palm rest area was warm, including the side with the optical drive.

I'm hoping that the drive's cache will become more familiar with my most used data and applications and it will feel more speedy as I use it more.  I'm pleased to say that replacing the refurbished WD Scorpio Black has resulted in zero kernel panics and other glitches with that drive seem a distant memory.  Note to self: don't buy refurbished rotating things.

It's amazing to come some far and be so close to where I was headed when I started with my first computer.

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