Benchmarking my new Mac config with Thunderbolt, SSD

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Julie can bear witness to my gradually escalating frustration with my desktop photo and video editing platform I use at home. I abandoned doing any movie production in iMovie on that machine earlier this year, and my Lightroom workflow has been significantly hindered.

I've suspected for a while that the key issue is my storage solution - a Drobo drive array with about 2.7TB of storage attached to my iMac via Firewire 800. Julie and I agreed (well, her words were more likely "OK, whatever") that it was time for an upgrade. Last week I took delivery of a custom Mac Mini with a new external drive empowered by the new Intel and Apple developed Thunderbolt) technology.

Specifically, here's what I ordered:

Wanting some empirical support for this upgrade, I decided to benchmark the various disk interface options (old and new) to see how things compare. I used the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test tool installed from the Mac app store. There may be better tools out there but this was free, easy to use, and seem to produce reliable and repeatable results.

Storage read/write benchmarking

Not surprisingly, the Drobo was the real performance dog in this show - a faster computer obviously wasn't going to make any difference. In fact, when accessing the Drobo from my Mac Mini via USB performance went down about 30% vs accessing it from my iMac via Firewire.

Unsurprisingly, the internal Apple supplied solid state drives (SSDs) performed extremely well on both my MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. I suspect they are identical 250GB drives in both machines.

What blew me away was the Thunderbolt 2TB external drive performance. My take is that we are seeing an unconstrained I/O channel (Thunderbolt) combined with the advantage of a RAID 0 striped drive. Given that I went with the 5400 RPM drives vs 7200 I didn't expect the performance to surpass my SSDs, but that's what I'm seeing. Write performance is over 30% faster on the Thunderbolt drive vs the SSD.

And yes, my subjective take on the performance improvement in Lightroom and iMovie is "wow, what a difference". And Julie doesn't have to put up with my complaining anymore.

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