New iMac with Thunderbolt RAID: 1st report

Summary:Xmas in July: brand new quadcore I7 Sandy Bridge 3.4 GHz 27.5" iMac with Thunderbolt and new Thunderbolt storage array. Woo-hoo! How great is it? Here's a hint: I'm writing this on a Core Duo 2.

Xmas in July: brand new quadcore I7 Sandy Bridge 3.4 GHz 27.5" iMac with dual Thunderbolt ports and new Thunderbolt storage array. Woo-hoo! How great is it? Here's a hint: I'm writing this on a Core Duo 2.

Out of the box The new iMac has a fine unboxing experience. The wireless keyboard and Magic trackpad are neatly packaged.

After plugging in the power cable, MS Natural Elite keyboard, Logitech Trackman Wheel (never had much luck with wireless kit), LaCie Rugged FW800 drive (a clone of my former system disk) Promise Pegasus R4 RAID, Apple 23" Cinema Display and a Viewsonic 20" display, I hit the power button. The gorgeous 27" display came up, but I couldn't see my new array.

Turns out that the iMac needed an update to 10.6.8, the only version of OS X that supports the Promise array, along with a another 500 MB of other updates. Must have been in the warehouse for a while.

Once the update completed it still needed another update to support the Thunderbolt array. The updates went pretty fast, but needing them took some shine off the "factory fresh" iMac.

In the meantime Migration Assistant moved my old accounts, apps, documents and settings to the new system disk - although it lost my Final Cut Studio serial number. Reinstalling FCS is no fun.

Pegasus OOTB Once the updates were in the iMac could see the Pegasus RAID. Ready to rock?

Nope. The box needs to initialize and synchronize the 4 TB of raw Raid 5 capacity. A "Very Important Please Read!!" message warns this can take up to 10 hours. Based on the 7 hours/72% complete so far, I'd say it will take almost exactly 10 hours - with the Pegasus doing nothing else all day!

Why I'm not writing this on the iMac My old box was a 2006 Mac Pro with 12 GB of RAM, a sweet 10k Velociraptor, a Radeon 5770 video card and a 2 drive RAID 0 for video files. Swap files rarely exceeded a few hundred megabytes, even after 2 weeks of heavy use.

The stock 4 GB iMac is a different story. With just a dozen Safari browser tabs, Mail, the RAID utility and the Mac activity monitor open, I saw frequent slowdowns and almost 8 GB of swap files.

Safari was hogging RAM. Quitting it restored system performance, but I need to have a browser open for research while I write. The 4 GB MacBook Air/128 GB SSD combo easily handles that - even with over a GB of swap files - so here I am.

The Storage Bits take Despite these hiccups I expect the iMac/Thunderbolt/Promise RAID will meet my requirements and give me better performance than the 5 year old Mac Pro. 16 GB of RAM is going in later today and that should help.

But it's clear that the RAID OOTB experience isn't up to Apple standards. NAS boxes - such as the Iomega Ix4 200d - give a much smoother user experience using the defaults.

To be fair to Promise, all RAID boxes are a pain to stand up. That's why the Drobo arrays are so popular with civilians.

I'll be back with more on the new kit soon, including RAID performance and RAM recommendations.

Comments and questions welcome, of course. Sold the old Mac Pro for $2k - not bad for a unit I bought in 2007 - and paid for the iMac and Pegasus RAID myself.

Topics: Hardware, Storage


Robin Harris is Chief Analyst at TechnoQWAN LLC, a storage research and consulting firm he founded in 2005. Based in Sedona, Arizona, TechnoQWAN focuses on emerging technologies, products, companies and markets. Robin has over 35 years experience in the IT industry and earned degrees from Yale and the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton... Full Bio

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