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Sustained data transfer rates and optimising workflows

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Andrew Stuckey
Sustained data transfer rates and optimising workflows
on Mar 9, 2012 at 3:02:08 pm

I work with a modest setup running FCP 7 on a 2010 2.8Ghz iMac i7 with an array of external HDDs. Unfortunately the iMac is limited to USB 2.0 and FW800 (or eSATA if I feel game enough to make my own modifications!). Unfortunately no Thunderbolt and it's also hampered by a rubbish Ethernet port with no support for jumbo frames.

I've just run out of space on my backup drive (!) and need some advice/clarification re expanding my storage and backup setup. I've been doing a bunch of research online, looking at RAIDS, Drobos, NAS etc in an attempt to get the best band for my buck. But I've now hit analysis paralysis and am confused by the different data transfer rates of all the different technologies and keen to avoid any choke points in my new setup.

I understand the importance of sustained data rates and felt it was worth starting a post to clarify and summarise the different speeds of the various technologies we work with and how they might impact workflows.

There seems to be be so much emphasis placed on the sustained transfer rates of I/O technologies, USB, Firewire, GB Ethernet, eSata and now TB, but what about HDD's? If the sustained transfer rate of your HDD is less than any of these then the I/O connection would make little difference, right (or wrong)?

So my questions…

1. What is the approx sustained data transfer rate of a (please add)
7200rpm HDD -
10000rpm HDD -
15000rpm HDD -

2. I know RAID setups are supposed to be faster. What are the approx sustained data transfer rates for the following RAID configurations (assuming 7200rpm drives)?
- Raid 0 (fastest?)
- Raid 1 (slower?)
- Raid 5 (?)

Theoretical maximum data transfer rates
USB 2.0 - 480 Mbps
FW800 - 800 Mbps
GB Ethernet - 1000 Mbps
eSATA - 3 Gbps
USB 3.0 - 5Gbps
Thunderbolt - 10 Gbps

Approx minimum sustained data transfer rates (please add)
USB 2.0 -
FW800 -
GB Ethernet -
USB 3.0 -
Thunderbolt -

Hopefully understanding the real world speeds of these technologies will help optimise workflows. Using software that utilises multiple processor cores for renders etc will also make a difference, but in terms of hardware are there any other major factors to be considered here that impact on the speed of your workflow?

Thanks all.

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Bret Williams
Re: Sustained data transfer rates and optimising workflows
on Mar 9, 2012 at 4:05:04 pm

I'm no expert, but in my experience with FW800 a raid is pointless other than for security. The drives are already faster than the interface. So raiding them together won't add any speed.

With eSATA it's a little different. eSATA is faster than a SATA drive, so raiding them together is definitely beneficial. Can double or triple your throughput. BUT, the card you install has to be capable of running a raid. For a MacPro, the Sonnet cards capable of handling a eSATA raid and getting some benefit from them are $200-$300 maybe more. A regular cheap eSATA card is around $40.

That cheap eSATA card will get you about 130MB/sec. FW800 will get about 70-80 MB/sec and FW 400 gets about 30-40 MB/sec.

Get the expensive eSATA card and you can pull in over 200 MB/sec with an eSATA raid.

My Thunderbolt Pegasus raid on the iMac will do 350-500MB a second by comparison.

Those are from the AJA system test app.

I don't know about drive speeds. Seems like you want at least 7200. Although my LaCie rugged with FW800 does just as good as my GRaid when it's on FW800. It also has an eSATA connection.

A GRaid might be a good choice. You can run it on FW800 and if you ever decide you need the eSATA speed you can install that eSATA card in your iMac (I wouldn't bother) and use eSATA. I'd look for a system that has FW800 and Thunderbolt. That'd be a sweet drive. But seems like thunderbolt peripherals only have thunderbolt.

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Chris Tompkins
Re: Sustained data transfer rates and optimising workflows
on Mar 9, 2012 at 4:35:44 pm

Hey Bret,

You like the iMac/TB setup? Does it work for all your editing needs?

Chris Tompkins
Video Atlanta LLC

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Bret Williams
Re: Sustained data transfer rates and optimising workflows
on Mar 9, 2012 at 7:52:17 pm

It's sure faster than my 2006 MacPro. Especially rendering AE! FCP is negligible since it doesn't make any use of the extra processors. I'm guessing a dissolve renders in 1 sec instead of two. :)

All in all I love it. As a freelancer, it more than suits my needs. It's as maxed out as it gets. 27", 16gig ram, 6970 2gig graphics, 3.4ghz i7.

Thunderbolt made it possible. Previously I had to get a MacPro for the ability to have external monitoring and eSata. So I needed a new machine and waited all last year for the MacPro to get thunderbolt. I bought the iMac in December for the write off. I also got the intensity extreme and it's great. Even the beta FCPX drivers work with FCP7 at the same time. It also works with DaVinci Resolve so Im playing with that. I also have the tb adapter for my matrox mini. And pegasus r4 raid. The whole thing is about the same as a good MacPro alone. Having a built in 27" monitor is just icing.

Now I just need another 27" monitor. Can't stand using a single monitor. Was hoping they'd introduce a 27" retina monitor!

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Chris Tompkins
Re: Sustained data transfer rates and optimising workflows
on Mar 9, 2012 at 8:25:06 pm

I'm in the same boat, waiting on Apple...

Chris Tompkins
Video Atlanta LLC

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Andrew Stuckey
Re: Sustained data transfer rates and optimising workflows
on Mar 9, 2012 at 10:36:50 pm

Thanks for your thoughts Brett.

So you're saying that most 7200rpm drives (and certainly a RAID) are already faster than FW800 at 70-80Mbps? It would be great to know how much faster.

eSATA is not easy to install on the 2010 iMac. OWC offers an installation service but living in Australia kind of kills that idea. I'm trying to hold off on the whole eSATA route and upgrade to Thunderbolt sometime in the next 6 months.

But again... what's the point of having all of TB's delicious through put if you're restricted by the physical output of HDD or RAID (which may not even be 500Mbps let alone anywhere near 10GBs!)

Am I missing something here?

One obvious solution is to go SSD, but I can't justify the current SSD prices on 250, 500 and 1TB units, let alone 8TB of solid state RAID?? (Don't think they even make em yet.)

So it seems that the choke point on almost all workflows (using >FW800) will be the sustained data output of the drive or RAID array. Right? Which makes the choice between eSata, USB 3.0, GB Ethernet or TB quite arbitrary as all should be much faster than what HDD's can currently push out.

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Samuel De Loenen
Re: Sustained data transfer rates and optimising workflows
on Oct 3, 2012 at 11:20:25 am

I was wondering as well wether Thunderbolt holds any advantage over eSata.

According to this article it does. They used 6 and 4 drive Raid 0 systems.

I however am looking at buying a G-Raid, which contains 2x 7200 rpm drives in Raid 0. There's a price difference between the thunderbolt version and the esata/firewire/usb one.

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