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More on FireWire to IDE
A peek at Intech Software's HD Speed Tools

Description

What is it? The best description of HD SpeedTools comes from the Introduction in the program's excellent manual, which you can download from the bottom of the HDST product info page:

"Hard Disk SpeedTools (HDST) is an easy to use, high performance hard disk and removable disk utility for the Macintosh. It incorporates powerful storage management tools including two-drive RAID level ) striping, custom size partitioning, media testing, security erase, and a system extension that will automatically mount removable media cartridges. Hard Disk SpeedTools also offers advanced features such as drive performance benchmarking, data signal integrity testing and native FireWire hard disk support.

Hard disk SpeedTools has five major components:

Hard Disk SpeedTools Utility Program - an application that is used to test, configure and prepare a storage device for use with a Macintosh computer.

SpeedTools Extension - a startup program/driver (system extension) that allows your Macintosh to automatically mount volumes on removable disk cartridges when they are inserted.

HDST FireWire Support Extension - a startup PowerPC native driver file that allows your Macintosh to communicate with FireWire disk devices. (This is for fixed disk drives only, at present. Intech is working on support for removable devices in FireWire/IDE enclosures. For optical media you will still need an application with native FireWire drivers like Toast, although Intech's CD/DVD Speed Tools can work with optical drives in FW/IDE enclosures if you run Indigita's FireSCSI extensions and load CD/DVDST's driver manually from the control panel after booting.)

IntegrityTM Utility Program - a testing application that creates a test file, writes a revolving pattern to the selected disk and reads it back in, each time comparing the data pattern to the original. This utility is useful for tracking down SCSI termination and ATA DMA timing problems. (It is also the only FireWire interface testing utility that I am aware of, and it really can smoke out weaknesses in your FireWire interface.)

QuickBenchTM Utility Program - a disk performance benchmarking utility that provides more than 40 different performance measurements."

You can learn more about HD SpeedTools, and Intech's companion program, CD/DVD SpeedTools at the Intech website. Intech maintains a detailed FAQ that is very helpful for troubleshooting and provides compatibility info on their site. They also offer a free demo of CD/DVD SpeedTools. Unlike many competitors, Intech wants to keep you as a customer, and provides frequent, free upgrades to their programs.

Outstanding Customer Support - I was extremely impressed with Intech's customer support. When I contacted their tech support and told them about the problems I was seeing with my 8500 and the FW/IDE enclosures, they purchased an OrangeMicro combo card, did their own testing and sent me a beta driver to test within just a couple of days. The beta was the only FireWire driver software that would allow me to reliably copy DV files from the drive in the enclosure.

If you've been reading xlr8yourmac for awhile, you have probably noticed many informative postings from Chris Karr, Intech's VP of Engineering. These guys really seem to have made the Macintosh spirit of helping users and providing information part of their corporate culture. They are a company that deserves your business not just because they make great software.

Cool HDST Features!

We'll just look briefly at two of HD SpeedTools many neat features. Besides giving you the information to handle problems, HDST can benchmark your drives. Its QuickBench utility tests with data transfer sizes ranging from 1 KB to 1 MB and graphs Sequential and Random read and write speeds and also gives you a numeric read out, as shown below. Your CPU speed will affect the throughput you see. The screenshots below are for the Maxtor drive in the MacAlly enclosure. Remember, current bridge board technology limits maximum throughput to about 15 MBps, depending on your FireWire interface and Mac processor speed.

HDST also comes with the Integrity utility that can test your FW, IDE, or SCSI interface for reliability. Integrity writes a pattern of data to the drive and reads it back - over and over. Intech recommends testing the FW interface for as long a period as possible, since problems are more subtle with this type of interface. As mentioned, Integrity is the only utility that I am aware of for testing a FireWire disk interface. Integrity is very simple to use, just drag and drop the volume you want to test on the window below:

HDST also features a "get info" command on its main menu that lists SCSI Manager status, max volume size, PCI bus and controller features, FW version and whether the FW drive is bootable, and the current driver for a selected device. My FW drive is shown below:

What the Future Holds - Should You Buy an FW/IDE Enclosure Now?

Although the IEEE-1394 FireWire standard dates from 1995, FireWire is still an evolving technology, and so are the bridge boards that make FW/IDE enclosures work. The current max throughput limit of 15 MBps will be pushed back probably to UltraDMA 33 speeds with the next generation of chips. But with Indigita's SIM extensions and HD Speed Tools' RAID 0 striping, you can achieve 25 MBps with two FW drives today. Here are the pros and cons as I see them:

Pros:

  • FW/IDE enclosures allow you to add hard drive storage cheaply to new Macs with full IDE buses without adding an interface card.
  • Big IDE drives are the best value in $ per Gig, though you won't see their speed advantage with the current generation of enclosures.
  • Apple has moved to high speed internal IDE buses, so an IDE drive is sure to be compatible in the future
  • FW/IDE speed and reliability are sure to increase as technology matures

Cons:

  • FW technology is still evolving, though the FW community is working together well and improvements are rapid.
  • The rapid advancement means you'll need to be careful about compatibility and watch for and install new software/firmware.
  • With the exception of HDST's RAID 0, throughput is only 50-60% of a 10K U2W drive.
  • If you're buying the enclosure to use on a beige G3 or older Mac, be sure you can return the enclosure if you have problems.

That's everything I know, but if you have a question or problem not addressed here, I will be happy to help if I can, just drop an email.

Page 1, Introduction | Page 2, the MacAlly Enclosure | Page 3, the ADS Enclosure |

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