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You are here: MacNN Forums > Hardware - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Mac Notebooks > A Bit of Crow for Dinner

A Bit of Crow for Dinner
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Sep 9, 2013, 09:20 PM
 
I've opined several times that I thought the Retina MBPs were over priced and lacked "important" things like a Kensington lock port or an optical drive. Well..... In the process of getting my wife a new iPad Mini, I got to do some side-by-side comparisons of the 15.4" versions at my local Apple Store, and then some built-to-order pricing comparisons. And it seems that my mind has changed about the machine being overpriced for what you get. And then my lovely, darling wife asked some interesting questions: "How often do you actually lock up your computer now?" And "Do you really use the DVD drive on your computer?" Of course the answers to those questions are "never" and "almost never." There. That's my "eating crow." Now for my questions.

I'm looking at a 15.4" Retina MBP with the 2.4 GHz processor and the 512GB flash memory. I know nothing about SDXC storage, and only a little bit more about Thunderbolt accessories.
> Is SSD tech mature enough for a 512GB drive to be a good choice, or should I get a smaller drive and plan to keep almost everything on external storage?
> Are SDXC cards really fast and reliable enough to justify the premium price? Are SDHD cards "fast enough" for most uses - and do they actually work in practice in the rMBP?
> And finally, are there affordable Thunderbolt storage options (ie. external drive enclosures, etc.) for connecting the random hard drive or DVD drive to an rMBP?

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Sep 10, 2013, 12:39 AM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post

I'm looking at a 15.4" Retina MBP with the 2.4 GHz processor and the 512GB flash memory. I know nothing about SDXC storage, and only a little bit more about Thunderbolt accessories.
> Is SSD tech mature enough for a 512GB drive to be a good choice, or should I get a smaller drive and plan to keep almost everything on external storage?
SSD tech is mature, but you won't like the price of the storage. Network attached storage (like a drive hanging off an Airport) works pretty well. We have a home server.

Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
> Are SDXC cards really fast and reliable enough to justify the premium price? Are SDHD cards "fast enough" for most uses - and do they actually work in practice in the rMBP?
I don't think so. The card reader is best utilized for cameras, and nothing else.


Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
> And finally, are there affordable Thunderbolt storage options (ie. external drive enclosures, etc.) for connecting the random hard drive or DVD drive to an rMBP?
No. DVD drives will be fine on USB, so will most hard-drive based external storage.
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 04:04 AM
 
Also, wait until October.
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 04:39 AM
 
Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
> Is SSD tech mature enough for a 512GB drive to be a good choice, or should I get a smaller drive and plan to keep almost everything on external storage?
It's mature alright, but I think you'll be surprised exactly how well you can live with 256 GB. Anything you just store - like your photos - can be pushed off to a physical drive without it being a problem. There are external 500 gig and 1TB 2.5" drives that run off the USB port and are utterly tiny, if you need to transfer them.

Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
> Are SDXC cards really fast and reliable enough to justify the premium price? Are SDHD cards "fast enough" for most uses - and do they actually work in practice in the rMBP?
SDHC is SD card version 2.0. SDXC is version 3.0. The only difference in the standard is that SDHC peaks at 32 GB storage, while SDXC goes all the way up to 2TB, and that SDXC cards are delivered formatted as exFAT instead of FAT32. The speed is almost completely orthogonal to that. Almost, because there is something called SDXC 4.0 that does extend the standard slightly so the cards can report a higher top speed, but that does not mean all or even most SDXC cards are faster than most SDHC cards.

TL;DR: Don't bother about the SDHC and SDXC markings beyond what your reader supports - the speed of the card is whatever transfer speed the manufacturer reports.

Originally Posted by ghporter View Post
> And finally, are there affordable Thunderbolt storage options (ie. external drive enclosures, etc.) for connecting the random hard drive or DVD drive to an rMBP?
That's not what Thunderbolt is for mainly. Don't bother with it. USB 2.0 is certainly fast enough for DVDs. It gets annoying if your work disk is a USB 2.0 drive (because of Bulk-Only Transport, BOT, the storage protocol in USB) but for storage, one an live with it.

I would however like to second Spheric's recommendation to wait for the refresh. The next refresh will include USB 3.0, which optionally comes with USB-attached SCSI, UAS. It's a new storage protocol that completely changes how USB hard drives work, if supported, which makes a USB HD behave essentially like a Firewire drive. That makes it plenty fast for HDs, assuming the HDs you buy support UAS.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 08:32 AM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
That's not what Thunderbolt is for mainly. Don't bother with it. USB 2.0 is certainly fast enough for DVDs. It gets annoying if your work disk is a USB 2.0 drive (because of Bulk-Only Transport, BOT, the storage protocol in USB) but for storage, one an live with it.

I would however like to second Spheric's recommendation to wait for the refresh. The next refresh will include USB 3.0, which optionally comes with USB-attached SCSI, UAS. It's a new storage protocol that completely changes how USB hard drives work, if supported, which makes a USB HD behave essentially like a Firewire drive. That makes it plenty fast for HDs, assuming the HDs you buy support UAS.
P,

Are you able to expand slightly on what you mean here in terms of "how USB hard drives work"? Why would a USB hard drive not behave like a Firewire hard drive?
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Sep 10, 2013, 08:42 AM
 
DO we think October is the next refresh date?
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 09:25 AM
 
USB has many transfer modes, but before 3.0 none of them were especially useful for hard drives. Remember, USB was designed to replace parallel ports for printers, serial ports for modems and the PS/2 port for mouse/keyboard. The only one you could use was called Bulk-only transport (which was actually even that an improvement over a previous version). The main problem with BOT is that it cannot queue anything: the controller sends out one request for data, and then waits until that request has been fulfilled. Then it can send out another request, and wait. In effect, it spends most of that time waiting - and so does the hard drive. From the time that the drive finishes sending one chunk of data until it has been received and accepted by the controller and the controller has sent out the next request, the drive is just idling. And it gets worse - the latency addition by having the controller converting between USB and SATA commands back and forth is another chunk of time that the drive mechanism has to wait for each transfer.

UAS changes this (and many other things, but this is the main one). Basically it moves the commands to a different channel and sends the requests as soon as it gets them. This means that even if the drive is not queuing anything, it can start seeking for data chunk 2 as soon as it has finished reading chunk 1. In practice, the drive on the other end is probably a SATA drive with NCQ, so it will queue things up and execute them in the best possible order to avoid moving the read/write heads too much.

In effect, this makes the only difference between the USB drive and an internal SATA drive is the latency added by the longer wire length and the time taken to convert the commands between USB and SATA in the HD controller. The latency (seek time) is worse, but since the queuing hides that latency, the transfer bandwidth is back to native speeds - that is, like Firewire. Native SATA is still better, but it's a LOT better than USB 2.0 with BOT.

(Sidenote: It is apparently possible for USB 2.0 drives to use UAS as well, but I'm not aware of any driver support for that in any OS, nor any drives that use it.)
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 09:28 AM
 
Originally Posted by bbales View Post
DO we think October is the next refresh date?
It's a guess, but it's a reasonable one. They've missed back-to-school despite the hardware showing up in Geekbenches and Haswell being launched. The most likely answer is that they're waiting for Mavericks, which should be done some time in that time frame.

The other possibility is that they were bitten by that bug in the Haswell chipsets. The chips used in the MBA integrate the PCH into the CPU and are thus immune, but the others require a new stepping of the PCH - C2. That one is only now filtering out into the channel.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 10:08 AM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
I would however like to second Spheric's recommendation to wait for the refresh. The next refresh will include USB 3.0, which optionally comes with USB-attached SCSI, UAS. It's a new storage protocol that completely changes how USB hard drives work, if supported, which makes a USB HD behave essentially like a Firewire drive. That makes it plenty fast for HDs, assuming the HDs you buy support UAS.
Clarification: current retina MBPs already have USB 3.0.

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Sep 10, 2013, 10:23 AM
 
The differences in how FW and USB transfer data are also why DV camcorders used FW to transfer video. Transferring realtime video over USB is a nightmare.
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 11:46 AM
 
Originally Posted by ibook_steve View Post
Clarification: current retina MBPs already have USB 3.0.

Steve


You're right, of course - they're Ivy Bridge, not Sandy. Do you know if they supported UAS on the latest OS X version? Because I seem to remember that it was not supported at launch.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 04:46 PM
 
Originally Posted by EstaNightshift View Post
No. DVD drives will be fine on USB, so will most hard-drive based external storage.
Interesting Note, some USB DVD drives are actually faster than the internal ones that Apple uses in the MacBook Pro 15" (non-retina of course)
a Lite-On USB 2.0 model for $50 (or less) was something like 20% faster ripping DVDs, as well as faster burning data disks (don't remember how much faster burning, and didn't do much testing of this since I don't do it often any more)
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 08:48 PM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
It's mature alright, but I think you'll be surprised exactly how well you can live with 256 GB. Anything you just store - like your photos - can be pushed off to a physical drive without it being a problem. There are external 500 gig and 1TB 2.5" drives that run off the USB port and are utterly tiny, if you need to transfer them.
My experience has been that 256 GB is pretty constraining in this day and age. Since the Retinabook's storage can't be (officially) upgraded, I would definitely not get it with anything less than 512 GB, if you plan on keeping that machine for any length of time.

Ticking sound coming from a .pkg package? Don't let the .bom go off! Inspect it first with Pacifist. Macworld - five mice!
     
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Sep 10, 2013, 10:30 PM
 
Originally Posted by CharlesS View Post
My experience has been that 256 GB is pretty constraining in this day and age. Since the Retinabook's storage can't be (officially) upgraded, I would definitely not get it with anything less than 512 GB, if you plan on keeping that machine for any length of time.
I second that.

My (few years old) MBP has a 300GB HD, and I constantly have to move stuff off of it. It's really annoying.

-t
     
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Sep 11, 2013, 09:56 AM
 
[[I second that.

My (few years old) MBP has a 300GB HD, and I constantly have to move stuff off of it. It's really annoying.]]

And this is why I hesitate to get a Retina MBP. A few years ago I put a bigger hard drive in my MB (and more RAM), which has extended its life. I was moving stuff off it and I finally decided it was ridiculous not to have a big enough drive to suit my needs. Plus, I've been watching DVDs in my MB like crazy over the past year (I've taken up knitting -- movies and television shows are perfect for whiling away the time!) so I would need a DVD drive.

Very frustrated by lack of new machines...
     
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Sep 12, 2013, 09:43 AM
 
Honestly, it can be time-consuming, but if you rip your DVDs they can be available to you any time you want if you are on your network (or even have good Wifi access). For storage, something like Apple's Time Capsule is a very simple and fairly speedy network attached storage option so that you don't need to use the internal drive or have an external drive plugged directly into your laptop - and there are more powerful options from Synology/QNAP that offer multiple drive options if you don't mind forgoing some of Apple's convenience.
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