I've written previously (see "Speeding up Photoshop with an External Drive" and "Maximum Photoshop Performance") about configuring software and hardware to get the most out of Photoshop. Well, my long-awaited copy of Photoshop CS5 for the Mac arrived just a few weeks back. And, by happy coincidence, I had a new external hard drive to test out as a scratch drive with it: the NewerTech Guardian MAXimus mini from Other World Computing, purveyors of many fine things Macintosh.
The MAXimus in all its diminutive glory. Looks bigger in the photos
than in real life, really.
Several things made this drive interesting. It's small—very small—about 5 x 3.5 x 2 inches and 1.5 pounds. It is truly a portable drive that can be powered by the FireWire port on your computer (it does come with an AC adapter, in case your machine doesn't have a FW port). It's got eSATA, a must for maximum performance—the FireWire cable can be plugged in to power the unit at the same time you're using the eSATA interface for data transfer.
Oh yeah, it's a RAID; this model, which runs $250, has two 500GB 7200 RPM drives. The MAXimus comes configured as RAID-1 (mirrored), if what you're after is secure storage, but it can be set up as RAID-0 (striped) to provide a full terabyte of really fast portable storage. Of course, that's the route I took. I paired it with the OWC Slim ExpressCard to eSATA Adapter, which lives permanently in my MacBook Pro. At $30, I just had to buy one, and it's a pretty slick performer. The eSATA-to-ExpressCard interface slows things down a bit so one realizes only about half the usual eSATA bandwidth, but it's a heck of a lot better than FireWire 800. Sure wish my iMac had eSATA or an ExpressCard slot. When trying the MAXimus on my iMac, I had to talk to it via FW800—more on that later.
To get an idea of how well this drive performed, I used Lloyd Chambers' DiskTester program. I have found it to be a reliable indicator of real world performance with both SATA and FW connections (USB has issues that result in a poor match between DiskTester's results and normal use—do not use a USB connection for a scratch drive, ever!). I also ran Lloyd's "diglloydMedium," "diglloydHuge," and "Speed1" benchmarks on Photoshop CS4, CS5 (64 bit) and CS5 (32 bit).
The MAXimus drive tested out as faster than any other external drive I've run off my MacBook Pro. Over the entire disk, for all kinds of file sizes, I saw consistent write speeds of 110 MB/sec and read speeds of 120MB/sec. That's configured as RAID-0 and connected via eSATA, of course. When configured as RAID-1, performance dropped in half. Similarly, hooking the MAXimus up through FW800 cost half that peak performance. If you ain't got SATA, there won't be any performance gain configuring this as a RAID-0.
My normal scratch drive for Photoshop clocks in at around 80 MB/sec. Did the jump to 110–120 MB/sec really make a difference? Across the board, in all three flavors of Photoshop, I measured an average 15% drop in the benchmark run times. Assembling some very large panoramas, I saw similar performance gains.
Fifteen percent doesn't sound like a lot, until you realize that I'm talking about generating huge panoramic files that can take 5 to 15 minutes to build with Photomerge on my MacBook Pro with its "paltry" 6GB of RAM. So, this doesn't just save seconds, it saves minutes. 'Course, an SSD would run even faster, but they're still a tad spendy. Understatement. Though I'm told that is going to improve shortly (keeping fingers crossed).
What happened with my late 2009 quad-core 27" iMac? Well, as I said, there's no eSATA, so throughput's cut in half. OWC will retrofit 2010 27" iMacs with eSATA. I'm not sure why they don't offer that service for the late 2009 model. Be that as it may, MAXimus can't pump more than 67 (write)/83 (read) MB/sec through the iMac's FW800 port. Furthermore, the iMac's internal drive is surprisingly peppy, delivering over 100MB/sec on reads and writes.
No surprise, then, that using the iMac's drive for scratch won out. It delivered an average 25% better Photoshop performance than the FireWired MAXimus. That's just not the way to get the best from this little powerhouse.
A faster scratch drive always wins, no matter where it's situated or whether or not it's the system drive. And, if you've got eSATA, the MAXimus is as fast as you can get without breaking the bank.
(Photos courtesy OWC)
Ctein's regular weekly column appears every Thursday morning on TOP.
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.