2013: New Laptop and Storage Arrays

I apologize I haven't posted in some time....the second half of 2012 was pretty bad.  I will post on that at some point.  Anyway, 2013 is a new year...with new toys! I had been using a 2008 15" Macbook Pro for all of my photo work.  Unfortunately, the apt I was living in caught on fire and that computer got soaked from firefighter water.  I will post more on that later but I have to say that firefighters are prob my fav people in the world now.  Anyway, thankfully I had good insurance and got to get new laptop.  For a replacement, I picked up a 15" Macbook Pro Retina (2.7/16gb/7XX GB SSD).  I was going to get the 2.6 because I read that the performance improvement wasn't that great, but I needed a computer one weekend to finish two photo jobs I was working on.  Apple had the config I ended up purchasing in stock but not the 2.6.  So this one won out.

Initial impressions: this think rocks.  Screen is crisp like nothing you've ever seen.  Needless to say, my photo collection looks awesome, but even little things like the text on gmail you notice.  It's very thin, a little heavier than you'd expect, and fast as hell.  I picked up Lightroom 4 for a song during Amazon's black friday sale and it loads really quickly.  Scrolling is a breeze.  External editing with Photoshop and Nik plugin's is SO much faster than my old setup it's not funny.  I've had too much school work to do lately to use this laptop that much (I've got a 2009 13" MBP I use for that), but I'm looking forward to this guy becoming my daily driver.

Blackmagic test on internal SSD

Above you can see the Blackmagic test on the internal SSD.  Purty speedy.  It's not a scientific test but just gives you an idea re: read/write speed.  I do science for a living so no scientific tests here.

After the fire I also thought it was a good idea to revamp my backup situation.  I have a valuable (to me) photo catalog that also has client photos in there, countless hours of PhD thesis work, and all sorts of other stuff I'd rather not lose.  I originally thought about Drobo but have read some bad things (not about the company, but rather their products).  I decided to go with RAID arrays over piles of other hard drives.  After some research, I went with a Promise Pegasus R4 Thunderbolt array and a Sans Digital eSATA/USB3.0 box with WD Red Drives.  I've got everything plugged into an APC BR1500G UPS for power management.

I was a little hesitant about the Promise because of the negative reviews on the Apple store website but went for it anyway.  I just went with the 4TB R4 (4-bay) unit that comes with 4-1TB drives preconfigured in a RAID 5 configuration.  First thing I noticed...instructions say it takes 8-10 hours to synchronize when you first plug it in.  After I disabled all the energy saver settings and told the computer not to turn the hard drives to sleep, I estimated it took ~36 hours for it to synchronize.  A little longer than they said but hey it finished.  First file I transferred was a 33 GB movie file...took about 1 minute to go from internal SSD to Pegasus!!!  Performance tends to fluctuate a little but I see speeds as advertised (below).   More long term testing to come.  I'm planning to no longer store my photo library/catalog locally and run it from this puppy.  Should make edits a breeze.  Also, if you purchase this through the Apple Education store it's cheaper (~$100 off).

Promise Pegasus Results...I see the advertised 500MB/s

So that's the Pegasus.  The RAID 5 setup should allow 1-drive failure and I can rebuild and not lose data.  Knock on wood....

I also wanted ANOTHER backup system.  I put this one together myself.  Ended up with Sans Digital box above (hardware RAID eSATA/USB3.0).  Ideally, enterprise-level drives should be used for an array like this (WD RE, Seagate Constellation, etc).  These drives are super expensive.  I went with the middle of the road.  WD Red drives are still considered consumer drives, but have some firmware modifications that make them better for NAS 24/7 applications.  I'm not planning to run this as a NAS, rather a local storage unit.  Also, this unit will only be for backup and won't be running all the time.  These drives should be ok.  They are 2TB drives (4x2TB) setup in a RAID 10 configuration.  Again, I can lose a drive, replace it and rebuild without losing data (in theory..knock on wood).  I'm using this setup via eSATA with a Sonnet Echo Expresscard Pro and a Sonnet Tempo SATA 6Gb Pro ExpressCard/34.  A couple notes...Sans Digital documentation is not great.  For RAID 10, you set the mode dial in the back to the RAID 1 position, and throw in 4 drives.  Then hold the reset button for 5 secs while powering on.  Voila, RAID 10 is now setup, but not terribly intuitive.  I had to email customer support to get this info.  They got back to me in about a business day which is pretty good.  Plugged in everything and it showed up as a single RAID 10 array.  It froze on me once, but I think that was because I had two things plugged into the adaptor which then became unseated.  The eSATA expresscard doesn't lock in which is problematic.  I've read about this unit overheating because there is so much SATA cabling in the back that it blocks the fan, but it's not bad so far.  Another note, sometimes with eSATA and RAID arrays, you wanna make sure your hub/adaptor/whatever supports port multiplication.  I've also read with this kinda thing eSATA is more stable with OSX than USB 3.0.  Food for thought!  Anyway, I'm seeing about 200MB/s ish read/write speeds.  Wish it were higher (esp after using the Pegasus and internal SSD) but still much faster than USB 2.0.  So anyway, this system will mirror the Pegasus system above.  I figure with two different RAID boxes, different RAID configurations, diff interfaces, and drives from diff manufacturers (Pegasus doesn't use WD RED...I believe they are also consumer drives) I should be alright.  I'll periodically throw stuff on individual drives and throw those under lock and key in different physical locations too.  Starting to transfer a bunch of data around and put setups into heavier use, will report back if there are any probs.  Aside from a few hiccups, everything works as advertised so far! (knock on wood)

Blackmagic and Sans Digital (eSATA)

FYI: I purchased the laptop and Promise Pegasus from Apple; Sans Digital/WD Red, Sonnet gear from Newegg, Tiger Direct, and Sonnet; and APC from Amazon.  Had a bit of a snafu with Tiger Direct ordering but the customer service ppl on twitter got my prob resolved quickly and efficiently...quite impressed.  It's also worth noting I am in no way affiliated with any of the above and received no compensation (monetary or otherwise) for this post.  Also, special thanks to the folks at for posting some great info on storage.  Cheers....

Nikon D4

The Nikon D4 was officially announced today (along with the WT-5 wireless transmitter and 85mm F1.8G) as the new Nikon FX flagship.  From the spec sheet, this thing looks like it's a boss and a worthy D3S successor.  I'll do a more comprehensive rundown of the feature set that I'm most excited about shortly.    Press release can be found here.

Bowers and Wilkins P5 Headphones

So I recently realized that I've been neglecting the blog.  I'm gonna try to do better at updating on a semi-regular basis.  Here's a post I've been wanting to do for some time.... Awhile ago I was in the market for headphones.  I'm a student and therefore do a lot of work late at night, in coffee shops, libraries, etc. and wanted to spring for a decent pair of cans (headphone slang for those unfamiliar).  I was looking for an over-the-ear closed back set that did noise cancellation or isolation.  I did a lot of research and narrowed things down to a couple options: Bose QuietComfort 15, Monster Beats Studio, and Bowers and Wilkins P5.  I then ran around to the Apple store (they have all three on display) and the local Best Buy to try out every pair I could.  Here are my thoughts:

Bose QuietComfort 15 (~$300): A lot of people like these.  They sound pretty good and offer noise cancellation.  The noise cancellation works well and cuts out a lot of ambient chatter from around you.  This is great because you can listen to your music at lower volumes.  Unfortunately, I learned noise cancellation is not for me (this might not bother others).  Noise canceling headsets use Active Noise Control.  The headphones actually emit soundwaves to cancel ambient noise.  Not gonna go into the details, if you want more info check out the link.  For me, it feels like these headphones are constantly putting pressure on my eardrums and it gives me a headache.  So I liked the sound from these guys and the premise of noise cancellation but found out its not for me.  They're comfortable to wear and come with a nice carrying case though.  Next.

Monster Beats Studio (~$300): A lot of people love these and I see a lot on campus.  If you read reviews, a lot of people say that the build quality is not up to snuff for a $300 pair of headphones.  They do feel kinda flimsy, and if you go to an Apple store (which do get a lot of traffic in the defense of the headphones), take note of which headphones are broken.  Usually they are the Beats.  The sound is decent but I think it depends on what you listen to.  To me the frequency response sounds artificial. I feel like the mids are scooped and the highs and bass enhanced.  They have a ton of bass but sound artificial to me.  Again I say, artificial to me.  They are also big and clunky, not something I was a fan of.  Last, like the Bose, they are also noise-canceling, something I'm not a fan of.  Next.

Bowers and Wilkins P5 (~$300): These are the cans that I ended up purchasing.  First, the build quality is fantastic.  Very solid.  The next thing you'll notice when you put them on is how comfortable they are.  The headband and ear cups are made of "New Zealand Sheep Leather".  PETA won't approve but it feels like you have pillows on your ear.  The sound I think is amazing.  It's very organic.  The bass response is great without being enhanced.  These make listening to your old MP3s fun again.  You'll be surprised at the things you'll pick up in songs you've listened to a million times.  They are noise-isolating and not noise-canceling.  "Noise isolating" is a fancy way of saying they physically block incoming sound because they sit on your ears.  They do bring down the ambient noise (not as much as the above two sets) but won't block it out completely.  This ends up not being a huge problem as I rarely have to push the volume above 50% for the music to block out everything.  I can listen to these things for hours on end with minimal ear fatigue at those volumes.  They are slimmer than the above two sets and come with a soft carrying case.  I was worried about the soft carrying case but I've been carrying them around in my bag for a couple months now without issue.  The other thing about these I thought was cool: the earcups are removable and the cord can easily be replaced by you if it ever gets severed.  No sending them back to the manufacturer if you have cord problems.  The cord also comes with inline control for ipod/iphone/etc.  Giddyup.  Anyway, I can't speak highly enough about these.  I talked my brother into getting these as well for school and he loves them as well.  Definitely give them a listen.

Above: Bowers and Wilkins P5.  Shot with Nikon D7000, 24mm f1.4G @f1.4 (review to come soon), ISO250 1/60 sec.  Straight out of camera.

Keep in mind that there are more options out there than what are listed here.  There are some very high quality earbuds out there that sound great, block out external sound very well, and are VERY compact for traveling.  Not everyone enjoys sticking stuff in their ear canals though.  I've owned several pairs of this style by Shure.  They're great but cleaning out ear wax is a pain in the butt and all the pairs I've owned have broken after a year or two.  Two pairs were under warranty and Shure replaced them pretty hassle free no questions asked.  Great customer service and I'll buy another pair for working out when I've got another $100.  There are also other over-the-ear OPEN back headphones, such as Grado.  Grado's get RAVE reviews by audiophiles however the open back design is not great for quiet places, like the library, where sound leakage is a problem.  Keep them in mind though when making your decision.  Note: I am in no way endorsed by any manufacturer of any sorts so don't get any perks for writing about this stuff.  I just do so because I like to.