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Review: TransIntl.com's 12GB Portable Firewire Drive
How it Compares to VST's Superslim Drives
by Mike Breeden
Published: 6/27/2000

What's Included

Photo of Package Contents


Package Contents:

  • Assembled 12GB Portable Firewire Drive
  • AC Adapter (for use with PCCard Firewire controller or if daisy-chaining drives)
  • Firewire cable (6pin-6pin)
  • CD with Drivers, Formatting/Test Util (Radialogic)& Documentation

Contents of the Supplied CD:
CD Contents

The drive came already formatted and ready to use. You only need copy the Formedia Extension to your System Folder, restart and plug in the drive.

I verified the drive was bootable from the Powerbook Firewire. I simply copied a System folder to the drive, selected it as the startup disk. I could not boot from my S900 older mac with a PCI firewire card.

If you've read my previous Portable Firewire Kit article, you can see that the Transintl drive uses the same basic case and internal interface card.

Prices change so frequently that within weeks of publishing them they're obsolete. (Within a month the prices for drives in my Expansion Bay Kit and Portable Firewire Kit articles had fallen significantly). Check www.transintl.com for current pricing. As of 6/27/2000, the 12GB firewire drive reviewed here was $349, about $150 less than the best prices I've seen for a VST drive. (See the previous Kit article for Pros/Cons of VST vs Kit drives).

Performance Tests


Important Notes on Performance:

I want to remind the reader of several things to be aware of when examining the results of performance tests on this page.

  • This particular Transintl sample used a 12GB IBM drive. Different drives may show better or worse results. Due to a sealed case, I do not know what brand of drive the VST contains and as noted in my past kit article, it can vary. (A 2nd 12GB drive didn't perform quite as well as shown on the performance page of my previous Portable Firewire Kit article.)

  • Driver versions can have a dramatic effect on Benchmark results as shown here and in the previous kit article. They didn't seem to affect Finder file copy performance however. Later driver versions than used in this article may perform differently.

  • For owners of older Macs with Firewire PCI cards, the choice of card can make a dramatic impact on performance. This is shown in some of the tests below comparing a RocketFire PCI card and a Western Digital PCI card in the S900. The TI firewire chip on the RocketFire card in some cases delivered dramatic performance gains over the NEC chip used on the Western Digital card. (See my previous Portable Firewire Kit article performance page for examples.)

  • Remember that a stopwatch was used for the Finder file copy timed tests, therefore human error in repeatability of starting and stopping the timer could easily make a fraction of a second difference in run/run times. I rounded off to the nearest second.

  • All tests were run after a reboot and disks were blank (empty). The PB Firewire system had the Apple 2.4 Firmware update applied along with the latest Apple Firewire 2.4 extensions.


Benchmark Tests:

First let's look at the benchmark performance of the drive and compare it to the more expensive VST superslim firewire drives. Unless otherwise noted, the TransIntl drive used the supplied Formedia v1.5b7 extension (driver).

ATTO Tools Benchmark:

The graph below shows the results of ATTO Tools v2.3 tests (set to 0-8MB test file size):

ATTO Benchmark w/Transintl drive

The following graph compares performance against the VST 12GB drive:

ATTO benchmark comparison


Intech's QuickBench Results:

Quickbench Graphs

Quickbench Numeric Results


MacBench 5.0 Disk Benchmarks:

I also ran Macbench 5.0 disk tests on the portable firewire drives. Since I own a VST Firewire 12GB drive, I've included tests to show what performance differences are using the VST driver with the TransIntl drive. (I did this after seeing a similar gain before from VST's 2.1 driver vs. a previous version.) Only the MacBench tests tests below show results with the TransIntl drive using VST's extension. The ATTO tests above and all other benchmark and real world tests were done with the TransIntl drive using the Formedia extension. (Clarification added after comments from VST were received.)

Macbench 5.0 Disk/PubDisk results

The graph below shows the results of MacBench 5.0's disk inspection tests.

Macbench Disk Inspection Tests





Real-World Finder File Copy Tests:

I ran tests on the PowerBook G3/500 to time how long it took to copy a system folder (large number of mixed file sizes) and a single 642MB Quicktime movie file from the internal 18GB Toshiba drive to the portable firewire drives. System was on AC power and all conditions were identical except for the drive extension loaded. (VST tests used their driver, TransIntl drive test used the supplied Formedia driver.)

These tests were run with each vendor's driver - the TransIntl drive did not use the VST driver for these tests. (Clarification added after comments from VST were received.)

Copy System Folder Tests

Through the file system performance:

  • TransIntl: appx. 2.64 MB/sec
  • VST appx. 2.13 MB/sec.

The effective MB/sec rates look low, but capture rates from an application would be far higher, as there is a lot of overhead from copying in the Finder (especially with thousands of files involved).

Copy 642MB Quicktime Movie File

The TransIntl drive was almost 1/2 second faster in this test, but given the margin for error in starting and stopping the stopwatch I considered this test a draw.

Through the file system performance (large file copy) performance was identical at appx 5.7MB/sec.

In the movie file copy test, using the VST driver vs. the Formedia showed literally no difference, despite the large MacBench 5.0 gains seen with the VST driver.


Movie Playback Tests: I also tested the framerates from playing back a movie from the portable firewire drive. I used the 44KHz audio HQ version of the Phantom Menace trailer (25.2MB file size, 24fps rate). Both drives played back the movie at at 24fps, dipping only a fraction of one FPS for a second at a few points in the movie.


Summary:

The TransIntl firewire drive was the equal or better of the VST drive in Finder copy tests, but trailed in some benchmarks (depending on the drive used). The System folder copy test was especially surprising as I didn't expect the TransIntl drive to be that much faster.

One advantage of the drives like the TransIntl are they can be opened up and have the drive replaced easily. (Or you can take the 12GB drive out and use it to upgrade the PowerBook, and reuse the original Powerbook drive in the portable case). There are potential issues with the kit drives (noted in the past kit article) but I saw no such problem with this sample from Transintl. (I had advised TransIntl of the potential issue I'd seen with the FW direct kit to help make them aware of things to check before shipping their drives.) If you can't afford a VST drive and don't mind a bit larger size, or want to be able to reuse a drive after a PB HD upgrade, the TransIntl drive is worth a look.

For more information on these and other hard drives, see www.transintl.com.

Test System Configuration:

  • PowerBook G3/500 Firewire
  • 256MB SDRAM (222), VM OFF
  • OS 9.04 with firmware update 2.4 applied
  • Internal 18GB Toshiba drive
  • Firewire 2.4 drivers/Onboard Firewire ports used
  • VST drivers v2.1
  • Formedia extension v1.5b7 (on supplied CD with TransIntl drive)
  • No other firewire devices connected during tests
  • Resolution: 1024x768, thousands colors
  • All OS 9 updates applied (including Multimedia Update and QT) as of published date.



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