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Archive for December, 2017

by Tom Nelson

Editor’s Note: OWC will be attending the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Ahead of the festival, the Rocket Yard will share a series of articles related to all things filmmaking.

Filmmakers may have some of the most demanding needs for storage, with their requirements for balancing speed, throughput, density, portability, reliability, and, of course, cost. And that’s just for the studio. Similar concerns are present at every phase of a filmmaker’s workflow.

ALEXA SXT Plus. Courtesy of ARRI Group.

And it’s not just the pros shooting with the latest RED or ALEXA cameras at 8K, 60 fps; even those making use of their DSLR or smartphone to shoot video have to make similar tradeoffs when they choose their storage solutions. One hour of footage using RED Raw 4K at 24 fps is going to need about 127 GB of space, and that’s just for storing raw footage from a single camera. Imagine the space needs when you consider multiple camera sources, audio, stills, multiple layers, and scratch space. If you’re shooting 1080p, that may drop down to 17 GB of space for one hour of raw footage per camera. But no matter what format you’re shooting, the eventual total space you’ll need for storage can be quite large.

This is a good time to be looking for upgrades to storage needs. Drive sizes are increasing, performance and reliability are improving, and there’s bound to be a storage option that meets your needs, either solid state drives, rotational hard drives, or a combination of the two.

External Solutions
External storage systems are the most common solution to meet storage needs. They’re available in a number of interfaces; USB 3.1, USB 3.1 gen 2, Thunderbolt 2, and Thunderbolt 3 are the most common ones used for video and film production.

The ThunderBlade V4 provides high performance throughput using a Thunderbolt 3 interface.

It’s hard to beat Thunderbolt 3 for raw performance. Its raw speed makes it a great choice for high-performance data storage. A good example of high-performance storage solution is the ThunderBlade V4. This high speed (2800 MB/s Read, 2450 MB/s Write) external SSD blade is housed in a ruggedized case, making it a great choice for work on location, as well as back in your studio. Available in sizes from 1TB to 8TB, this single drive can meet the needs of your next film project.

If a bus-powered portable is what you need, the Envoy Pro EX Thunderbolt 3 comes in a rugged case designed for fieldwork. At 2600 MB/s Read and 1600 MB/s Write, this high-performance wonder can fit in your pocket and has the speed to not impede your workflow when offloading footage from your cameras, or serving as storage for field editing needs. It’s available in 1TB and 2TB configurations.

Thunderbolt has always worked well as the host interface for multi-bay RAID enclosures, and this holds true for the newest in the ThunderBay lineup, the ThunderBay 4 Thunderbolt 3. Using a Thunderbolt 3 interface, the ThunderBay 4 Thunderbolt 3 provides 4 bays that can house SSDs, hard drives, or a combination of the two.

If you’ve worked with RAID arrays before, then it’s likely you made use of RAID 0 to stripe one or more drives together for increased speed. Of course, striped arrays suffer from reliability issues; specifically, if one drive fails in any way, the data on all striped drives is lost.

The ThunderBay 4 enclosure allows you to customize how each drive within the enclosure is used. 

Using a 4-bay RAID enclosure like the ThunderBay 4, along with SoftRAID, the best RAID utility for the Mac, allows you to configure the ThunderBay 4 enclosure as a RAID 10 array, striping the data across a pair of mirrors (RAID 1). This provides the performance of a two-drive stripe with the data redundancy of a pair of mirrors. Another option supported by SoftRAID is to use all four drives in a RAID 5 configuration. The advantage of RAID 5 is that all four disks are striped together, providing high-speed data access while also distributing a parity bit across all of the disks. The results are a RAID system that can recover from any single drive failure.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Another option is to make use of external drives with USB 3.1 Gen 2 interface. This type of interface supports speeds up to 10 Gb/s, equivalent to the speeds of the original Thunderbolt interface, but at a fraction of the cost. To get the most out of this type of connection, the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini gives you two 2.5-inch bays each with a SATA 3 (6 Gb/s) connection.

The Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini is the perfect enclosure for a pair of SATA-based SSDs.

The Mercury Elite Pro Dual mini supports hardware-based RAID 0, 1, and SPAN, as well as independent drive modes. This versatile enclosure allows you to build a storage system that will work great for film projects that aren’t pushing the technology.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Last week, we started our exploration of Finder customization by looking at the Icon and List view options. If you would like to review the first installment, you’ll find it in the Rocket Yard article: Mac 101: Customizing Finder Views, Part 1.

For Part 2 of our series on customizing the Finder, we’re going to look at the two remaining views: Column and Cover Flow.

Column View
Column view is actually a holdover from NeXTstep, the operating system developed by NeXT Computer. NeXT was purchased by Apple in 1997, giving Apple access to the NeXTstep system, as well as marking the return of Steve Jobs to Apple.

Column view was the default view for the file system interface in NeXTstep. It featured a hierarchical view of the file system organized into columns, with each column being part of the path to the file object in question.

You can select Column view by using the highlighted toolbar button shown above. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Column view in the Mac OS has seen a few changes over time, but one look and it’s easy to see the NeXTstep influence.

You can set the current Finder window to display in Column view by selecting the Column view button in the Finder toolbar (it looks like a button with three blank columns), or by selecting View, as Columns from the Finder menu. Lastly, you can use the keyboard shortcut Command + 3.

Column view provides a hierarchical view of the file system, starting at the selected entry point, which can be any folder you open in a Finder window, and then proceeding through each subfolder until you find the file object you’re looking for. The content of each folder you open is displayed within its own column, building a pathway map starting at the entry point on the left, to the subsequent file object on the right.

Column Options
The available column options are few, but they allow you to customize the view to suit your needs. To make changes to the Column view options, select View, Show View Options from the Finder menu bar, or press Command + J on your keyboard.

You can use the Column View option to include a preview column that allows you to see the content of a selected file in a thumbnail view. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

The view options window will open, displaying the following options:

Always open in column view: When selected, the current folder will always be displayed using Column view.

Browse in column view: When selected, the Finder will open any subfolder within the current folder using Column view. This allows you to browse through the folder hierarchy and retain the same Column view.

Arrange By: This dropdown menu allows you to select the criteria to be used in arranging the file objects within the Column view. A number of choices are available, including by name; alphanumerically by object name; by kind; similar items together; image, music, folders, and more. You can also choose by size, by tags, and by various date-related criteria.

Sort By: This dropdown menu is used to set the sorting options within the Arrange By selection. For example, if you select Arrange by Kind, then within the list of each kind (images, movies, applications, folders) you would find the items sorted by the selected method. Sort By options include Name, Kind, Date Last Opened, Date Added, Date Modified, Date Created, Size, and Tags.

Text size: The dropdown menu allows you to select a text size to use for the object names.

Show icons: Allows the display of thumbnail icons preceding each item. This can be helpful in differentiating one object type from another, say a folder from a file.

Show icon preview: Some file types have the ability to display a thumbnail view of the file’s content. This can be a small picture in the case of an image file, a thumbnail view of a text document, essentially any file type supported by the Quick Look technology in the OS.

Show preview column: This option allows the last column in the Column view to be used to show a Quick Look of the selected object’s content, as well as information about the object, such as document size, creation and modification dates, and any associated tags. The actual information displayed is dependent on the file object type.

The Best Use for Column View
Column view is one of the better views for using when you need to work directly with file objects, such as files and folders. Column view makes it easy to organize and move files around, as long as the location you want to move or copy a file to is present on the Column hierarchy; then it’s an easy task to drag and drop file objects about. If the location you’re looking for isn’t in the current Column view, you can open a second Finder window and drag between them.

Tip: Columns are dynamically resized to try to best fit the path into the Finder window. As a result, names within a column can become truncated. Hover the cursor over a truncated name; after a moment, the name will be displayed in its entirety.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

The Finder is the operating system’s default file manager for viewing and working with the Mac’s filing system. It allows us to easily see and work with the hierarchical organizational structure inherent in our Macs. To help us easily find, access, and organize our files, the Finder offers four different methods of viewing the filing system.

In these two guides, we’re going to look at each of the four viewing options: Icon, List, Column, and Cover Flow; the viewing options that are available for each view, and some of the quirks and characteristics of each.

We’ll start with Icon and List view, two of the most often used views. In Customizing Finder Views: Part 2, we’ll look at the ins and outs of Column and Cover Flow views.

Icon View
To set the current Finder window to display items as icons, select Icon from the window’s toolbar; it’s the first button in the View section of the toolbar. You can also select View, As Icons from the Finder menu bar.

You can select Icon view directly from the toolbar using the Icon view button outlined in red. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Icon view is the default Finder view, and is characterized by the use of icons to represent the items contained within a folder, usually files and other folders although other item types could be present, such as various types of links.

The icons can be plain default images supplied by the operating system, or custom icons created by an app developer or the end user to bring a bit of color and style to the desktop.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

It’s that time of year, when visions of sugar plum fairies bringing us new Macs dance through our heads. Or more likely, you’re considering buying a new Mac to replace an older model, or to give as a gift to a family member. Times being a little tight, you have your eye on one of the base models but you may be able to swing at least one upgrade to the Mac: a faster processor, more RAM, larger or faster (or both) storage, or a better GPU, but which upgrade should you choose?

The answer depends on which Mac model you’re considering, and how you intend to use it.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I want to point out that although we’re talking about buying a new Mac, the same considerations can be in play for purchasing a used Mac, or for upgrading an existing Mac. So, if you fall into any of these categories, read on. And please add a comment or two at the bottom; it’s always nice to hear what upgrades would be your most likely choices.

Are Faster CPUs a Good Idea?
Depends. You’re going to hear that a lot, but really, it depends not only on which Mac model you’re considering, but how you will use it. If you’re using one of the MacBook models, remember that increasing processor performance is likely to negatively affect overall battery runtime, while with desktop Macs, power usage isn’t as much of a concern. 

Normally, I’m personally not inclined to spend upgrade money on processor speed. When the processor upgrade only involves a faster clocked processor of the same CPU family, I’m not impressed. As an example, consider a 15-inch MacBook Pro offered with a 2.9 GHz quad-core i7 processor. For $200.00 extra, a 3.1 GHz quad-core i7 processor is available as an upgrade.

Because they’re of the same processor family with the same number of cores, I wouldn’t expect much improvement in performance. This assumption is born out when comparing performance benchmarks with Geekbench scores that show only a bit more than a 3% increase in single-core results, and even less of an improvement in multi-core results.

On the other hand, CPU upgrades that cross processor model families or add additional cores may be worthwhile, depending on how you use your Mac.

Once again, an example: a 27-inch Retina 5K iMac with a 3.5 GHz quad-core i5 processor vs. the same iMac with a 4.2 GHz quad-core i7 processor. This $300 upgrade not only changes the processor family from an i5 to an i7, it adds the ability to run two threads concurrently on each core, giving it an 11.9 percent single-core performance advantage, and a 30% multi-core performance increase. That’s a pretty good performance improvement for a $300 investment, provided you have a use for the extra horsepower and run apps that take advantage of multi-core processing.

For the most part, processor upgrades are limited to time of purchase. The current exception is 2012 and earlier Mac Pro models, where it’s possible to replace the processor with a faster model. Replacement isn’t simple, but it can be done. If you’re considering this route, look for processors with additional cores and not just a faster clock rate.

Upgrading CPUs can be worthwhile if you’re routinely using your Mac for number crunching, media editing, or other processor-intensive tasks. If your primary uses are email, Internet browsing, and common workplace and educational tasks, maybe not so much.

RAM Upgrades
It used to be that RAM upgrades were one of the first upgrades users performed after receiving their new Macs. In many cases, it was a lot less expensive to buy RAM from MacSales.com and install the upgrade yourself, than to buy directly from Apple at the time of purchase.

While you can still upgrade the RAM in some iMac models and the current (2013) Mac Pro, the rest of the Mac lineup uses RAM that is soldered to the computer motherboard, thus preventing user upgrades. This means you have to decide at the time of purchase how much RAM you wish to have both now and in the future.

Except for the base model Mac mini, which has only 4 GB of RAM, all other Mac models come equipped with at least 8 GB. Depending on the model, upgrades to 16 GB, 32 GB, 64 GB, or 128 GB are offered at time of purchase.

If the Mac model you’re considering doesn’t offer user upgradable RAM then it may be a very good idea to consider using some of your upgrade budget on RAM at the time of purchase.

The Mac OS does a pretty great job of managing RAM. Using techniques like compression, the Mac can squeeze quite a bit of performance out of available RAM. Adding more RAM will allow you to run more apps concurrently, allow RAM-intensive apps to perform better, or both, letting you run apps that need a lot of RAM space without having to close all of your other apps.

Upgrading RAM to 16 GB at the time of purchase for those Macs that don’t allow users to upgrade RAM would be a smart move. It would help to maximize performance now as well as extend the usable lifetime of the Mac.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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