Specking out a new Mac Pro, I could use some advice Raid card / configuration

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by IFixTheInternet, Jan 1, 2009.

  1. IFixTheInternet macrumors member

    IFixTheInternet

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    #1
    Let me start with, what I'm going to be using this beast for in the first place. I'm a graduate student working on my Masters in Architecture. I basically live in MAYA, Photoshop, and until a stable version of Rhino comes out for the Mac, I use Fusion to run XP to run Rhino. I have files ranging from Kbs to GBs. So I need rendering power, a ton of RAM, and serious storage. I have lost data before and I have no intention of that happening again so data redundancy / reliability is important to me. And the Mac Pro offers 4 bays of storage space. So this beast is ideal, but I'm also a college student and its not cheep.

    I'm planning on a 3.0Ghz 8-core.
    I have been doing tech support on macs for years so installing 3rd party RAM and Drives, is not a problem towards cutting costs. Initially I was thinking 2- 750Gb Raid0 and 2-1.5TB Raid1 Which would give me a 1.5TB OS partition and the other would be a mirrored Time machine. But my concern is if i rely on the OS built in software Raid I will take a big hit in performance. So I have been considering a Raid card and going Raid5 across all 4. I have no problems with installing / wiring a raid card, its really the $800.00 figure from apple that is holding me back. I am having trouble finding a 3rd party Raid card that guarantees Mac Pro compatibility. So any advice on that would be nice and or any thought on performance of using the OS software raid.

    I know the machine can support a ton of Ram but how many GBs of Memory does one really need. I am assuming 6 or 8 GB for what I am doing, any thoughts on this would also be appreciated.
     
  2. UltraNEO* macrumors 601

    UltraNEO*

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    #2
    Hiya, I'll give you a valuable tip and I'm sure many here will agree.

    If your going with hardware RAID, I'd definitely avoid Apple's own RAID card (unless you need SAS drives) as it's slow, problematic and limited to the internal four drives only. Thus there's no external expandability plus it's expensive! The only advantage I see it has is the ability to boot the system allowing you to install a fresh copy of the OS on there without too much hassle. Third-party solutions are coming...

    If your like me, and need serious storage I'd go with a hardware RAID5 setup allowing you to build a huge work drive, coupled with decent speed and it'll offer you the redundancy of one drive, alternatively build a RAID6 Array but bear in mind it'll be slower and the overheads is bigger but you'll have the redundancy of two drives. Personally I think this method is better than Mirroring data to another set of drives as there is no redundancy what so ever. So, to recap, an RAID5 array based on four 1TB drive will give you about 2.7TB of storage space and a RAID6 array based on four 1TB drive will only offer you 1.8TB but your data will be much more secure! However, this doesn't mean you don't need to back up!

    In addition to the above...

    You can attach a longer iPast (SFF-8087) breakout cable to the motherboard, allowing you to make use of the MacPro internal SATA controller. This can offer you support for another four drives, allowing you to create one or more sets, of Arrays though they will be software based in the form of RAID 1 or 0. Finally, if that's still not enough... you can also create yet another set of software RAID drives utilising the additional two drives via the ODD_SATA ports that are located under the front fans. This will bring the total of drives supported to ten drives (assuming you install a RAID card in one of the PCIe slots). And all this, without losing the internal optical drive. (You'll need to find housing for them, externally.)

    Software RAID will always be slower compared to hardware solutions but it's a very viable option and cheap solution if your on a budget. It won't offer any redundancy and you'll have to relie on Time Capsule for back up.

    On the RAM front, don't buy RAM from Apple cause there are numerous third-party alternatives.

    There are a few cards wich work on the Mac, personally I've gone with the CalDigit RaidCard, others have gone with HighPoint.. I know there's more out there but I can't remember them.. Perhaps someone here will contribute?
     
  3. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #3
    I would stick to a base model, as the speed difference between it and the 3.0GHz model isn't substantial enough to warrant the cost. The cash saved can then be directed towards the 3rd party components you want. :)

    I would think 8GB of memory would do you well, and wouldn't be worth it to go beyond that amount. Given the number of memory slots available, you can always add more later anyway. ;)

    As for RAID, hardware is a much better way to go. Apple's card is junk (too slow, too expensive, and has problems with the battery), so go with a 3rd party solution. The speed gain here is more valuable to productivity than the 2.8 to 3.0GHz CPU any day. If I understand you correctly, you want to stick to internal drives only, in RAID5. Not sure about drive interface, as you haven't said.

    The Areca ARC-1231ML is a good card to go with, if you are planning to stick to SATA drives. Works with Macs, is extremely fast, and it has other features that some of the other cards lack, such as the ability to upgrade the cache, and a backup of the Partition Tables (very much worth having). It isn't cheap, but it can be had for less than Apple's card at ~$660USD.

    For SAS drives, take a look at the Areca ARC-1212/1222 series or the ARC-1680 series. Prices aren't exactly cheap, but less expensive than Apple's offering, and gives you much better performance and features.

    You may also want to take a look at the ExpressSAS R348 by ATTO Technologies, but they are more expensive than Areca's gear. Their UI is easier than using a web browser to work with the settings, but personally, it isn't worth the cost difference, and it's missing a couple of features, particularly the ability to upgrade the cache.

    SAS controllers can run SATA drives, but in the case of the Areca controllers, they are very particular about the drives. If you go this route and run SATA drives, pay absolute attention to the HDD Compatibility List. Basically anything not on it, probably won't work. :(

    On the budget side, you can look at the CalDigit RAID Card or the Accusys line (ODM for CalDigit). Neither will have the PT backup or other features, and the CalDigit has some issues. Particularly, don't try to mix internal and external drives into an array. CalDigit must be used with their external box (HDElement) if you plan to increase the number of drives in the future. It was designed not to work with anything else. Their advantage is they are less expensive, but as always, there's a compromise. Not an ideal choice given the issues I've seen with it, but I've no idea what your budget is. I think it would be OK for 4 internal drives, as it seems to do this for other members.

    Another line to look at would be HighPoint. Rocket Raid 3500 Series (SATA), or the RocketRaid 4300 Series (SAS).

    Look closely at the details, as some of them will work with Mac and Windows without a firmware change. HighPoint will not. (They can run either, but not both, as it requires separate firmware).

    Make allowances for cables. I would also recommend using a separate OS drive, and physically mount it into the empty optical bay. Get a SFF-8087 fan out cable, and attach it to the logic board, and the original drive cable gets attached to the RAID controller. Please make particular note to the fact that the internal drive cable is very limited in length. To use all 8 lanes of the card, you would need to install it into slot 2. You can't set the lane width in the 2008 models. To really make this work properly, you would need to modify the power portion of the original cable to generate the necessary length needed to reach the RAID card if installed in slot 2. (It's been done without this, but was held together with tape). :eek: Slots 3 or 4 are easier, but you won't get the full bandwidth (also an issue with Apple's own card).

    It's a lot of info, but I hope it helps. :)
    Good luck. ;)
     
  4. Horst Guest

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    #4

    Harrumphh ? .... :rolleyes:
     
  5. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #5
    Tech Support personnel don't automatically know RAID. ;)
     
  6. Horst Guest

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    #6
    Oh, it's just a job title thing ? ;)
     
  7. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #7
    Titles get left alone, as an upgrade can be cause for increased pay. So to me, the details are in the job description and duties. :D :p

    Seriously though, think of it this way. You have some person work as a Tech for Dell, Apple, etc. for years, and never deal with RAID, as it likely wasn't put together by the manufacturer, and they don't support anything beyond what they built. Beyond that, and you're on your own.

    Systems that were, would likely be put in front of an individual that has experience with it, and probably has at least a BS in IT, CS,...

    Expert techs, whether degreed or not, are always learning hands on, just as the designers are. ;)

    Leave it alone for a few years, and the technology will pass you by, creating noobie 2.0. :eek: :p
     
  8. IFixTheInternet thread starter macrumors member

    IFixTheInternet

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    #8

    I say tech support because, I figure no one really wants a complete bio on what I know or were I have worked. Technically I know quite a bit about RAIDs. My first Raid was 6 80GB drives in a 450Mhz G4. I now work in a data center with SAS and SATA machines ranging from 1Ux2HD up to 2Ux10HD. I can diagnose rebuild and repair raids all day long. I work with Verari, ZT, and Dell servers all day, I wish I had Xserves to work on but, such is life. When it comes to finding reliable Mac compatible third part components I am at a complete loss.

    Thanks to all for all the in site on configuring and components.
     
  9. UltraNEO* macrumors 601

    UltraNEO*

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    #9
    That's fairly recent then...
     
  10. IFixTheInternet thread starter macrumors member

    IFixTheInternet

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    #10

    I would really be interested to know why you make this recommendation. I am under the impression that the OS, all apps, and all data can be dumped on with no problems.

    I was think 4 1TB (maybe 1.5TB) SATA just for clarification on my earlier post
     
  11. UltraNEO* macrumors 601

    UltraNEO*

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    #11
    Dude, is it possible to get the iPass cable to reach as far as slot 1?
    Cause my gfx card with it's bolt on fanless heat-sink, kinda makes the underside of the card bulkier, hence won't fit slot 1 - memory cage, in in the way...
     
  12. IFixTheInternet thread starter macrumors member

    IFixTheInternet

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    #12
    True,

    I am 23. I started fixing Macs and PC when I was 18, so I have no experience with anything prior to OSX. The vast majority of my experience is also hardware related.
     
  13. UltraNEO* macrumors 601

    UltraNEO*

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    #13
    Sounds like we have something in common.. I used to work as a PC engineer for a independent firm here in the UK, specialist area was mostly custom platforms for commercial uses. I love that job!:) Getting paid for tweaking!!
     
  14. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #14
    It wasn't meant as a disparaging comment in the least. :cool:

    I didn't know the details of you RAID knowledge, and I see it as a separate skill-set than Tech Support. I've met people who knew an incredible amount on the workings of computers and could fix about anything, but had never had access to RAID, and didn't know the details.

    As for Mac compatibility, I had to do the research to discover what works. Of the items I've listed, I like the offerings by Areca. In my experience, they are very fast, offer features I need or would prefer to have, and are priced (street) well for the money.
    No problem. :)

    I came from a PC/Unix (non Mac) background with RAID, and had to do the research. I don't know anyone who just knows through osmosis. :p
    Separation has a few advantages.
    1. If there's a problem with the OS, it won't affect the array. It's far easier to fix the OS on a separate drive than loose the array. Super important IMO. :eek:
    2. You get faster boot times. Initialization, particularly with larger arrays, takes longer than the time a separate drive can load the OS. Say 45sec with a modest HDD vs. 1 min 15sec or so for 4 drives. Additional drives increases the time a little.

    For me, the first reason is enough on its own. A HDD for the OS is far cheaper than data recovery. It's also the reason I really prefer to have the PT backup feature. Last I checked, 12 drives is ~ low $40kUSD. :eek: ;)

    A good backup system is put into perspective when compared to this figure as well. ;)

    I wouldn't go with the 1.5TB drives. Too many issues with that particular drive, and I personally prefer enterprise units for RAID. I've seen too many consumer units self destruct in ~2 months or so. Not good. :eek: ;)

    Drive quality seems to be suffering lately, from what I've seen. Just check out various forums about issues, especially with firmware and DOA rates. :(
     
  15. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #15
    My original non PC was an Apple IIe. Gave up on them for PC's due to hardware limits, and have just begun to look at Macs again. Too expensive previously.

    The Intel switch has helped I think. ;)
    I'm a little older at 37. :p
    Computer Engineer, but work in Telecommunications these days. I do love my work though. :p
     
  16. UltraNEO* macrumors 601

    UltraNEO*

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    #16
    For the record, the Seagate Barracuda 7200.11 that CalDigit recommends ain't do able either. I'm not sure why they've chosen them but I've managed to kill three out of four drives, all within six months of installation. Have since replaced and installed WDC Black 1TB and they're fairly good (six months later) considering it's another cheap consumer drive.
     
  17. Horst Guest

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    #17
    There are some recent discussions on Raid etc. here .

    Being no tech support expert ;) , I still think wasting an internal drive for a Time Machine backup - if you want to call it a backup - doesn't make much sense , as you don't need the speed of an internal SATA drive.

    For Maya, the slightly faster 3.0 Ghz CPU might help a tad, but it comes at a premium. For Photoshop , there doesn't seem to be a substitute for RAM, 8 GB might be the least for decent performance.

    To get back to Raid, I don't think it's any different an a Mac than on a Windows machine, just the available hardware is more limited, and driver support is an issue, very easy to Google, though.
    Not easy for me, of course, but I'm not some tech support expert ;) .

    FWIW
     
  18. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #18
    Sorry, I missed this one. :eek:

    It could probably be done, but I think it would require a modified cable. Maybe even a 3rd party cable (SFF-8087 to 4x SFF-8482). SFF-8087 to 4x Backplane with power connections. Same connector that's screwed to the back of the drive carrier.
    I've had good luck with WD. They also offer a utility (TLER) that allows a user to adjust the time out settings on their own. This allows the use of consumer drives with controllers that can't use them with their existing (default) settings in firmware. Handy, as it can save some serious money in large arrays.

    Their consumer units also have higher bit error rates. Similar to enterprise units, but still don't have the MTBF ratings.

    But overall, particularly in 24/7 operation, consumer drives won't cut it. They have a habit of going in rapid succession. I.e. one drive goes, and you put a new one in and let it rebuild. As it's doing this, another drive goes. Not good. ;)

    If this level of drive durability can be compromised on, it's up to the individual. Not for me, as I can't afford data recovery fees. :p
     
  19. UltraNEO* macrumors 601

    UltraNEO*

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    #19
    Hmmm, wouldn't it be nice if Apple made their cable a few inches longer!! Just think how much messing about it could save.

    Ahh.. I never thought about that to be honest. Hopefully it won't happen, finger's crossed, aya! Anyway after last time, I've since started to backup my project to expensive 50Gb BluRay (clients pay) usually spanning a few of disks, to avoid or at least cut down on down time.
     
  20. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #20
    I know. They didn't even think of this with their own card. :eek: :rolleyes:
    Short sighted IMO. ;) And yes, the pun was intended. :p

    Not the least expensive method of backup, but it's better than nothing. ;)

    NAS is a good way to go, as they aren't really expensive for what they are, and HDD's have gotten cheap enough. Convenient too. :D
     
  21. IFixTheInternet thread starter macrumors member

    IFixTheInternet

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    #21
    I watched the videos by CalDigit and it looks to be a good solution for me both in price and expandability. I was thinking that further down the line I might get a four drive external array for a time machine back up. Basically Using a Raid 5 to back up a Raid 5. Genius right..... ; ) I'm sure anything would be better then the re - re - built Maxtor One Touch II I am using to back up my MBP

    I'm still confused though about the OS on a separate partition. Would application such as photoshop be on the OS drive or on the Raid. Boot speed is a bit unimportant to me, this machine will be in my studio and rarely shut down. Assuming I don't over cook it before I graduate it will be a dedicated media file server / web server at home.
     
  22. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #22
    It's not a bad idea. ;)

    What are you planning to use as a backup in the mean time?
    Not a separate partition. A completely separate drive for the OS. Applications can be stored on either the OS drive or the array.

    Generally, the data is considered far more important and valuable (financially) than the OS or applications, as they can be reinstalled from the original media.

    Personally, for disk intensive applications, it may not be a bad idea to put them on the array, or even a separate array. ( OS drive + application array + data array). Not as expensive as it may seem, if the RAID card has the ability to run enough drives (available ports).

    The internal space available in a Mac Pro is an issue in this regard. At best, you can relocate the optical drive, and have a maximum number of 8 drives for certain. The hardware isn't cheap, especially considering what it is. Using something like X-swing (drive mount), you may be able to double up the drives in each sled,k giving a maximum of 12 drives. Not sure if this will work though, as I don't know anyone who has actually tried it. :(

    Then you run into issues with power. Not many connectors available, and balancing the load likely wouldn't be easy, if even possible. :(

    The 6 pin PCIe power connectors on the logic board would likely need to be used, and it may require the ability to construct a custom cable.

    Given these issues, I've had to reconsider building. The only other idea I can come up with is a Mac Pro Transplant. :eek: (Install the logic board into a server case and adapt any cabling necessary). :D

    Running the numbers, it's actually cheaper than having to use external enclosures with the Mac Pro. (An EnhanceBox E8 MS or ML would be ~$550USD, not including the cables. Also expensive). I'd have to check prices on these.

    A new case and PSU could be had for the cost of the E8. Much easier to use, especially when the cabling is considered.
     
  23. IFixTheInternet thread starter macrumors member

    IFixTheInternet

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    #23
    We'll.. all the data that would go on this box is currently residing on three independent hard drives and split between two laptops. Some of the older stuff is on disc. Obviously I wouldn't delete any of the data I have. And I don't think I would repurpose and of the drives I have given they are all under 250GB some SATA some IDE. I feel My old data is relatively secure, though another copy never hurts. Any new data would basically be soley on the RAID until I get a back up large enough to back up the RAID.

    The more I think about it, the More I am wondering if I should populate the Tower with 4 smaller 500GB Raid5, then I could get two 1.5TB external Raid 1. To many options.......

    Honestly until I get the system and a few more paychecks there might be some praying in my stratagy for data security.... 
     
  24. nanofrog macrumors G4

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    #24
    The 500GB drives are widely available, and at decent prices. I can even find WD RE2 or RE3 enterprise drives for less than $100 shipped.

    I wouldn't bother with the 1.5TB units. Just use 2x 1TB (drives for the backup source. Cheaper if you go with consumer units (fine for this purpose, as they aren't under constant use).
    Sounds like it. :p

    Just don't go too long, and experiment with the array for stability before actually placing any data on it. ;) Particularly if you go with consumer units. :eek:
     
  25. IFixTheInternet thread starter macrumors member

    IFixTheInternet

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    #25
    I ordered the tower today, I'm excited ;)

    I should be here middle of next week at latest.

    The other components I will order tonight / tomorrow, I'm already late for work. With any luck I will get everything together and running before classes start on the 12th....
     

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