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External SSD for Photos?

Discussion in 'Hardware' started by denniscloutier, Dec 11, 2015.

  1. denniscloutier

    denniscloutier Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Dec 24, 2011
    I'm thinking of buying a new desktop computer for photo processing. I've pretty much decided I want the Retina iMac. I'm a mac user from way back, so I don't want to try something else at this point.

    I'm trying to decide between splashing out for a large internal SSD, or buying a fusion drive and a usb 3 or thunderbolt external ssd to store the photos I'm processing.

    The second option is much cheaper, but I don't know whether I'll take a speed penalty by having my fast drive external. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

    Thanks,
    Dennis
     
  2. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Hey Dennis, good question. I have a 2012 27"iMac w/ 1TB Fusion drive+24 GB ram+2 GB GPU & have been wondering about what I might do to speed things up.

    Couple questions & thoughts. What software are you using for DAM & PP & how much PP do you do? How big is your library now & how much does it grow a year? How much video do you do?

    I'm using LR+PS+DXO+PTGui. Have been watching Activity Monitor some as I work. Loading previews in LR is by far the biggest time eater in my PP. Unfortunately that's mainly processor dependent. So HD speed has little impact. Activity Monitor shows the 1 TB Fusion drive is barely straining during these operations. And there's plenty of RAM left unused. There are preview & cache size settings that can help speed this up a bit but a big pano will still take a bit.

    Also, LR stores its previews in I think the LR.CAT folder so load speed for those is important to what you see on screen. OS X should place those on the SSD portion of a Fusion drive I think.

    Now when I'm working w/ all 4 PP programs open & working on a big stitch, cache needs more RAM than I have.

    I also have a 13" rMBP for travel use & have thought it would be really convenient to have my lib & catalog on an ext. SSD so I didn't have to swap it back & forth between the 2 computers. But right now, the largest external SSDs are 1 TB & my catalog will be too big so its not a practical option. Instead I use a bus powered mini-2TB USB 3 Toshiba external for travel & update the lib/cat from the iMac before travel.

    If I was buying a new iMac today, I'd get fastest i7 quad core, max the RAM, get a 3TB fusion (my 1 TB can get tight) & get the fastest GPU w/ the most memory. GPU acceleration is becoming more used in PP software & that speeds up some operations. Any externals for backup or transport would be platter drives w/ the faster USB3 ports. Can't remember the faster USB3 interface standard abbreviation that's now available but its out there on the WEB. Its as fast as Thunderbolt.

    When 2 TB ext. SSDs are available @ a reasonable price, I'll get one. But that will be for convenient transport not speed.

    If you really need more speed, more processors are the only route to significantly more speed than an iMac. The newest iMac is only marginally faster than my 2012 according to tests over at barefeats & th Mac Pros 6+ core machines are too expensive for me.

     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
  3. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    292
    Mar 18, 2015
    I don't think drive speed should be the biggest issue in foto editing. While editing the file will be in RAM anyway so normal HDD should be ok. For me the reason for going with the biggest internal SSD that I could afford was that I really don't like having loads of extra stuff plugged in. That said, the internal SSD is still awfully small, and I might need to get an external solution anyway.

    So go with the external one if having an extra HDD plucked in doesn't bother you and you don't need to access your files on the go.
     
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  4. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    To be perfectly honest, you don't get much benefit from SSD speed for photo storage. Images are large enough that they get read sequentially into RAM for editing and batch processing is limited by CPU, not storage.

    Were it me, I would not sweat the storage for photos. Worry about getting the fastest storage for your OS, programs, swap, cache, scratch etc. Those help a lot. Get the fast internal SSD for that stuff. Photo storage, within reason, is unlikely to be the bottleneck.

    Now if the only thing you are worried about is whether external SSD is slower, then don't worry. Using USB 3.0/3.1 or Thunderbolt, there is no penalty vs internal disks. Well I take that back, often write caching is disabled because you could lose data if the cable was unplugged while copying. But that is unlikely to cause issues for a fast SSD.


    The major bummer about Mac is that they force you into decisions like this. If they just sold a regular PC-like tower, I'd be all over it. That said, if I was spec'ing an imac out for myself with value in mind, I'd do a 256GB internal SSD and use a couple of external 7200RPM drives for photo storage (one for backup, one for primary).
     
  5. listers_nz

    listers_nz Mu-43 Veteran

    256
    Nov 22, 2013
    Christchurch, New Zealand
    Simon
    There is a huge performance difference between a spinning HDD and a SSD, and you definately want the SSD as your main drive if you want to gain the benefit of faster boot times, faster application load times etc. Put it this way, I wouldn't contemplate buying a new computer that doesn't have a SSD as its main drive, or immediately swapping out the drive with a SSD.
    Putting your SSD external won't give you these benefits as you are only using it for data storage.
    I'm not sure how much benefit you will gain from an external SDD - certainly it should be faster than a HDD, with either USB 3 or Thunderbolt (I think Thunderbolt still has the edge in terms of theoretical max speed), but whether it is that much faster given you are essentially only loading one photo off it at a time to process, I don't know.
     
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  6. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    Long range, an NAS box would probably be the way to go. A Synology dual-drive box, set up for RAID mirroring, will also reduce the risk of losing photos to a disk crash to near zero. Better storage for MAC users- Synology - Network Attached Storage (NAS)

    You can probably pick one up on eBay for reasonable money. Like: Network Attached Storage (NAS Synology DiskStation 2-Bay (2x 2TB) DS212j They are fairly cheap even new. A model number like mine: DS212+ breaks down as follows: 2 drives, 2012 model, with the suffix designating features of the hardware. Current models that will probably work are DS215j or DS216se. For this application you don't need to pay extra for hot swap either.
     
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  7. Holoholo55

    Holoholo55 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2014
    Honolulu, HI
    Walter
    I agree with listers_nz and others. An internal SSD drive will speed up all operations of the Retina iMac considerably. It would make such a big difference that I'm considering replacing the 500 Gb HD in my old 2011 iMac with an SSD. But, you'll need external storage because the SSDs are still fairly small. Like oldracer, I'd suggest an external NAS mirrored RAID 1 drive. I've had too many consumer grade external HD drives fail on me prematurely and no longer trust them. A mirrored NAS is the way to go. I recently bought a Synology DS215j and put two HGST 4 Tb NAS drives in it (RAID 1 = 4 Tb total). Use NAS or enterprise drives, not consumer drives. WD Reds are also good. I have an older Synology DS212j as my Time Machine backup drive. Should have moved to an NAS for external storage sooner, before I lost a bunch of stuff due to external HD failures. Thank goodness I'd backed up my photos folder on Time Machine and was able to recover them.

    BTW, which iMac are you getting? The 21.5" or the bambucha 27"? I'm so jealous. Actually, instead of replacing the HD in my old iMac, I should just get a new Retina iMac too, eh? (worst time of the year for GAS! :)
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
  8. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    For most home users, you'd be better off skipping the RAID. Use the two drives, but configure one as primary working storage and the other one as a destination for automated backups.

    RAID only protects from drive failure. Backups protect from drive failure, deletes, corruption, virus, malware, bad edits, etc. etc.
     
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  9. denniscloutier

    denniscloutier Mu-43 Veteran

    204
    Dec 24, 2011
    Thanks for the input. Tradesmith, in answer to your questions, I'm using Lightroom & Photoshop & I frequently have both of those open, but I rarely use anything else. I don't shoot video.

    The time consuming part of processing seems to be waiting for previews to load. I generate 1:1 previews at import. If I'm reading you guys right the important issues for preview loading are processor speed and access speed for the drive containing the catalog file.

    I read an interesting review of the iMac by Ctein The Online Photographer: My Shiny Retina iMac
    He seems to feel that a fusion drive doesn't help much. I guess it depends what the computer chooses to store in the SSD part. I don't think you can specify this.

    I think the perfect world for me would be an SSD on which I can store the catalog file and any files I'm currently processing, and a big hard drive for everything else. Maybe my best bet would be to get the 500 gb internal ssd and a big external drive. I already own a couple of 2 TB external hard drives I could use.

    Holoholo: I'm hoping to get the 27", but I still have to get this past the Minister of Finance ;-)
     
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  10. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    The previews should be part of the catalog, which you would want on the SSD. The images themselves will not benefit too much from being on the SSD. I don't think it is worth the hassle of trying to keep a small subsection of photos on the SSD and have to continually migrate them out. I mean the performance difference will be small enough to not be worth it.

    The way a fusion drive works, it can't really use SSD for writes. Which means generating new files will be regular HDD speed. The SSD cache (particularly on the 2-3TB where it is 128GB) should make most reads at SSD class speed. SO expect HDD speed writes and SSD speed reads with a fusion drive.
     
  11. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 13, 2012
    Chicago-area
    David Dornblaser
    I thought the I read on MacRumors that Apple lowered the SSD size on the Fusion Drives with their recent update, you may want to double-check. I have a 1TB SSD on my 5K and strongly recommend that your main drive be an SSD. External SSD's are really dropping in price as well. LaCie, Samsung & SanDisk all have 1TB external SSD's. SanDisk has a new 1.92TB SSD external for only $799.99. SanDisk 1.92TB Extreme 900 Portable SSD SDSSDEX2-1T92-G25 B&H

    FWIW - I use a LaCie 1TB SSD as my scratch drive for video along with the slim 250GB, both are shockingly fast. The 1TB LaCie has speeds that match or beat the fastest large RAID configurations.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
  12. oldracer

    oldracer Mu-43 All-Pro

    Oct 1, 2010
    USA
    Done right, RAID also speeds access because the data are fetched from all (2, 3, 4, 5 ...) RAID drives in parallel. I assume Synology does it right; I have not tried to find out. Life is a tradeoff.
     
  13. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    The 1TB drives use a 24GB SSD cache, which is pretty bad. THe 2-3TB use 128GB cache. That's probably a good size.

    Yes, if you were behind a good RAID controller that is directly connected. When talking NAS, the 1GbE link is already below the throughput of a single drive.
     
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  14. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 13, 2012
    Chicago-area
    David Dornblaser
    That is a good, cost-effective option.
     
  15. listers_nz

    listers_nz Mu-43 Veteran

    256
    Nov 22, 2013
    Christchurch, New Zealand
    Simon
    Personally, I can't see the point of RAID for home use. RAID provides high availability keeping things working if a drive fails, which I can understand in a business environment, but for home use you are effecitively just paying double for storage space, but not actually getting a backup.

    Personally I have a windows box as a server on my home network (it is actually also my media centre, hence windows, but it could equally be a NAS) which provides the primary storage via 2 x 2TB drives, just configured as standard drives. They are backed up/synched (automatically every night) to a NAS, also configured with 2 x 2TB drives. So in effect I do have a sort of raid, it is just that the two equivalent disks are in separate boxes. If a drive fails, no big deal, just buy another, install it in the box, and copy the data across from the equivalent drive in the other box.
     
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  16. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 13, 2012
    Chicago-area
    David Dornblaser
    As oldracer posted, depending on the RAID configuration selected, it can speed up data transfer which might beneficial for some applications, such video editing. While NAS units may have multiple drives, I view them differently than RAID systems which can provide redundancy and/or speed.
     
  17. tkbslc

    tkbslc Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    The Only RAID that increases speed across the board is RAID 0 and that has no redundancy. Any RAID with redundancy will actually perform worse in terms of writes than a single drive. This can be overcome with write caching, but controllers that do that properly cost $500+.

    I'm a storage engineer for my day job, so I know how to do this. But I wouldn't for 99.9% of home users. For home, if you need speed, nothing beats an SSD. If you need protection, nothing beats a backup.
     
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2015
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  18. dornblaser

    dornblaser Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 13, 2012
    Chicago-area
    David Dornblaser
    Totally agree that nothing beats an SSD. I thought with RAID 10 with multiple drives speed increases as well.
     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2015
  19. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Hi Dennis,

    After all the discussion about drives speed & given my interest in speeding my machine, I did another more detailed look at Activity Monitor while loading previews on my iMac - 3.4GHz i7.

    This time I had the images in LR zoomed to 100% which I think forces LR to generate new larger previews & histogram for files you haven't looked at since it last discarded large previews. And it may also be that OS X keeps recent previews stored on the SSD part of the Fusion drive. Had LR, PS, DXO, Safari & Activity Monitor open to maximize memory use which could force more disk caching. LR disk cache is set to 20Gb & Nvidia GTX 680MX w/ 2 GB memory GPU acceleration enabled. I watched disk, memory & CPU activity during preview loading.

    First thing to know, recently viewed .ORF files loaded instantly!

    Previews of .ORF files w/o a preview took almost 5 sec. to finish loading & calculating a histogram. I timed several. Several things happen during that 5 sec & for the next 5-10 sec. First is a large disk read lasting less than 1.5 sec. @ 8-13 MB/sec. & a small disk write. Then there are 2 bursts of CPU load but virtually no change in RAM usage. CPU usage jumps to 400-500%. (Unfortunately AM does not show GPU activity.) After the CPU is done, there is another Disk read along w/ a larger write which is probably cache activity. So disk read time is about 30% of the total time needed to load previews for files w/o large previews. The currently available 4 GHz iMacs have 18% faster clock speed & other processor improvements than what I have making disk read/write speed a larger part of the total. Faster GPUs are available w/ 3-4 GB memory but I'm unsure what impact these will have. In any case CPU/GPU processing time will still dominate this particular process but none of this matters for images you've looked at recently.

    Another important variable is the impact of a 5K display. I've only done a cursory look at this issue but it seems to slow preview viewing down. Perhaps another reason to get the biggest/fastest GPU.

    Hope this helps.

     
    Last edited: Dec 12, 2015
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  20. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
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