Nerding out


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It’s been a long time between computer clean outs for me. My main computer (Mac Pro first version) has been doing little funny things for a while, maybe 12 months or so, and I’ve been meaning to clean it up a bit. By little things I mean here and there an application would crash occasionally, Path Finder runs slow sometimes and become unusable, SuperDuper! runs slowly (but still runs thank god). Y’know, the little annoying things. Not to mention all the dust that’s accumulated on the inside of the machine over the last few years.

My beloved Mac Pro is out of shape. Now that I have some spare time — I figure I’d need a few days — I’m going to whip it back into it’s former glory, and add a few enhancements while I’m at it.

So, for non-nerds out there, the rest of this post might be a bit shithouse. If you want something to pass the time, you can check out this photo of me petting a camel on Flickr.

Way down in Nerd Town

When I decided to finally take the mental plunge in cleaning out and rejuvenating my main machine I spent a few days (ask Kelly) reading as much as I could at Mac Performance Guide. This is a site dedicated to optimising your Mac to run as fast as possible, and it’s skewed towards photographic mac-nerds. Perfect for me. If you’re at all interested in how your Mac ticks, spend some time there. It’s a wealth of information. I was especially blown away by this page, which can also apply to PC users.

With my head full of facts I drafted my plan. Aside from physically cleaning my Mac, and tidying up my files, I wanted to enhance it so it ran as well as could (or really, as well as I could afford to have it run.) Here are the basic upgrades:

  • 2 x 2TB Western Digital external drives (each contains 2x1TB drives in a RAID 0 stripe) for backups.
  • 2 x eSATA cards (six ports in total) to allow fastest data flow to the above drives.
  • eSATA cables to connect the two new drives + my existing back up drive.
  • Separate my system files from my work files. By default Mac OSX puts everything on a single drive (most macs come with one drive as standard). Separating system and work files means the Mac can read from my data drive at the same time as using the system.
  • Make my new data drive a RAID 0 stripe (two or more drives combined into one but using both sets of drive heads to read and write data) effectively increasing drive speed by two times (2x).
  • Create a stand alone scratch disk volume for Photoshop and other apps. The scratch disk will also be a RAID 0 stripe to get maximum speed.
  • Create a Time Machine drive which allows hourly incremental backups for when I accidentally delete a file.

Now that all the components have been delivered, it’s time to get to work. But before we dive in, a little info on Time Machine, for those nerds and non-nerds alike:

Time Machine

Time Machine is a built-in file recovery application for the Mac. In OSX 10.5 Leopard, when it was introduced, is had some problems. But as of 10.6 Snow Leopard it’s been vastly improved. Time Machine is one of the most important features introduced into OSX. Here’s a choice excerpt from John Gruber‘s post about the Time Machine debut:

The argument for Time Machine’s game-like UI isn’t that it’s more usable, but that more people will use it. That’s actually more important in the case of backup software: there will be data saved that would otherwise have been lost if Time Machine instead sported a more traditional, straightforward visual appearance, because there will be some number of users who will have turned Time Machine on in the first place only because it looks so damn cool.

It’s results that matter most, and the result of Time Machine is going to be that more Mac users will be backing up their data regularly than ever before. For some Mac users, who otherwise still wouldn’t be backing up regularly, it’s going to end up being the most important feature Apple has ever added to the Mac OS.

Time Machine is not a replacement for a proper backup, but to be able to have something running invisibly that will save any files I accidentally delete is awesome. Heres a YouTube clip of how it looks and works. Here’s a funnier version for the non-nerds who are still reading (what the hell are your doing? You should be looking at me and the camel…).

Backup plan

If you have a reasonably large ecosystem of hard drives, and you are reconfiguring them for the better, you’ll soon realise you can’t just back everything up, wipe it the drives, and reinstall. You need interim storage — somewhere to temporarily store everything while you wipe your drives clean. If you are nerdy and rich you can buy spare drives for this purpose. Because I no longer work full-time, I need to reuse my current drives. This means I need to be clever in the way I move things about during the overhaul so I don’t get stuck having to destroy a current backup to make room for new data. Kinda like the farmer, fox, chicken, beans puzzle.

Of special importance is the fact I’m using RAID 0 stripes. I need to be extra careful and have at least two backups of everything during the overhaul. Because RAID 0 uses two drives to increase speed by a factor of two, there is double the chance that a drive in the stripe will fail. So I’m being proper careful. I don’t have children. I love my data.

Here’s my farmer, fox, chook, beans plan of action using my Mac Pro’s existing drives. Some of the terms might not make any sense to you, just know that the HDV1s and the like are names of drives. At most back up steps I’ll verify the backup works.

Boot drive(s)
  1. Backup HDV1 → Data BU1 and Data BU2
  2. Backup HD1 → Data BU2 (Sparse bundle)
  3. Backup HD1 → Data BU1 (Sparse bundle)
  4. Split HDV1 RAID into 2x400GB drives
  5. Move 2 x 400GB drives to trays 1+2
  6. Move 2 x 1TB drives to trays 3+4
  7. Erase 2 x 400GB drives
  8. Partition 1 x 400GB into 80GB volume + remainder volume (named OS1 + Spare) (rename second 400GB to OS2)
  9. Install OS + Apps onto OS1
  10. Transfer relevant library files from BU + open apps and fix any library files, palettes etc
  11. Clone OS1 → OS2
  12. Backup OS1 → Data BU1 as sparse bundle (keep for future clean install with apps)
Data drive(s)
  1. Erase 2 x 1TB drives
  2. Partition each into 64GB Scratch + rest Data (scratch 1+2, Data 1+2)
  3. RAID 0 → both 64GB scratches into one super Scratch stripe
  4. RAID 0 → both Datas into one super Data stripe
  5. Manually copy iTunes, iPhoto, Video, Audio, Documents, all work files → Data
  6. Reconnect iTunes + iPhoto libraries
  7. Remove files from Data BU1 (leave sparse bundles)
  8. Backup Data → Data BU1
  9. Backup Data → 1TB WD
  10. Check everything is OK, all files are there
  11. Remove files from Data BU2 (leave sparse bundle)
  12. Backup Data → Data BU2
Time Machine BU
  1. Erase 1TB WD Drive (rename TM)
  2. Configure Time Machine to backup files to TM
Final drive/volume configuration

These are the drives/volumes I’ll be left with on my desktop:

  • OS1 (boot drive partition)
  • Spare (left over space from boot drive)
  • OS2 (clone of boot drive partition)
  • Data (RAID 0 partition for all work files)
  • Scratch (RAID 0 partition for Photoshop/Premiere scratch disk)
  • Data BU1 (Monday Back up of work files, iTunes, iPhoto archive)
  • Data BU2 (Thursday Back up of work files, iTunes, iPhoto archive)
  • TM (Time Machine hourly backup for accidentally deleted files)

Sounds convoluted, right? That’s because it is! but I’m doing it the hard way to ensure my data is safe. The time it takes to do this will be nothing compared to the time of getting my data back if something goes wrong. If it can be retrieved at all.

The next few days

I’m going into the nerds version of the rabbit hole. I expect it’ll be a few days. I’ll see you on the other side *insert echo*

But you’re not safe

I’ve still got my laptop so I’ll be around to annoy y’all.

This post is part one of a trilogy. Here are parts two and three.