SSD for OS X, Sounds and Data

Andre Favreau


I'm wondering what would be the best way to manage data and drives on a MacBook Pro. Mine is the late 2011 version, so I have a Thunderbolt, a FW800 and two USB 2.0 ports. It would also be possible to change my main HD for a 6G SSD as well as replace my optical drive for a 3G data drive

With HDD, I've been used to have separate drives for the OS, sounds and recorded data.

But now, with new SSD, is it still preferable to keep these three separated in regards to performance? If so, how should I organize and separate this considering the options I have.

I am not sure about Apple's I/O handling but generally the data streams go over several buses to different ports where the devices are connected. So you probably don't get a problem with disk speed, but if you consolidate all your data to one disk (SSD or not) you may lose performance because you will have only one I/O bus instead of two or three.

At least this is the case in our Internet servers. If we add more/bigger/faster disks we don't necessarily get better performance because of I/O limitations per port.
Not really. You see some information after calling "About this Mac" -> "System Report" from the Apple-Menu ("System Profiler" on older Macs). But the names do not show you the several data paths.

For example, my external HD is shown as a SATA device and not on the USB bus where it is actually connected. Furthermore, you cannot know which data buses are fed from a common source and how fast this source is. Would this help anyway, without knowing your exact requirements? I think not.

Generally you can count the internal disk, USB and Firewire as three I/O buses. And as a rule of thumb:

The internal I/O bus should be the fastest, I think.
Firewire 400 is faster than USB 2 for most tasks.
Firewire 800 is much faster than USB 2.
I don't know about USB 3, it was promised to get faster than Firewire 800.
Don't forget the thunderbolt bus! Something like LaCie's TB to SATA adapter will give you an additional SATA bus to play with (separate from those built in.) Despite starting as a USB3 sceptic (never had reliable high speed experience with USB2) it's well worth a try (although I'm not sure your MBP has it) I've had good results getting around 200MBs reliably to/from a LaCie SSD (rubbery orange ones) admittedly not as good as the 250MBs from TB port but more than enough for reasonably heavy tracking.

My (studio) setup consists of a late 2013 27" iMac, apps/os run from the (stock, non SSD) internal drive, samples + achieve on an Drobo 5D on TB, I originally thought it would be able to deal with tracks as well, was wrong, so, tracks run from aforementioned LaCie SSD via TB, this setup can run massively complex sessions with loads of EWQLSO instruments etc and at least 60/70 audio tracks at 24/48. Both drives are on the same physical TB port, leaving the other free for my interfaces on a TB/FW adapter (iMac has 2xTB but no FW!)

In hindsight I wouldn't buy the Drobo again (price vs speed vs capacity.) I'd likely go for something like the LaCie 2Big/WD TB velociraptor duo. But the LaCie SSD/TB is superb, just checked, it's called LaCie rugged USB3/TB.

I think apple are moving away from a monolithic mac ethos towards modularity with TB as their tech to do it, and although pricey, for me it does work well, meaning I leave my machines stock and just plug stuff in!

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Thanks! That helps.

From what I've read, USB 3.0 could give you a faster HD than Thunderbolt.

In this case, this is nice device:

Some things are still not clear though:

-Is it still better to have a HDD for tracks and SDD for Sounds?
-Is a Raid 0 with two SSDs possible or a good idea for sounds?
-Are there any TB portable storage out there? Only see USB 3.0.
-Is it possible to daisy chain Hard Drive with TB?

Hmm interesting link, I think it's down to practical use, it was writing large files that I tested it with (LaCie rugged 256MB, TB/USB3), as I'm thinking that's the crucial one for recording (could be wrong but it certainly outpaces my needs using TB)
I'd personally steer clear of the belkin hub, heard nothing but grief from people that have used it, the market is still a little sparse, there's a promised sonnet one that looks good and has an optical drive (missing from *all* new macs grr), but they keep pushing back the release date...
SSDs have very fast "seek" times so are particularly good for sample playback but large sample libraries make it financially silly for me, if your libraries are under the magic number of 500GB you'll probably be good with a single SSD.
You can RAID using SSDs but I think it'll be overkill for all but the most heavy use
I assume you mean bus powered? There are a few, but again pretty sparse, mainly SSDs or slower HDs, the main downside being lack of a 2nd TB ports for daisy chaining. A lot of the mains powered units do though and I've not had any I/o issues doing this.
Thunderbolt has worked well for me but it does take a bit of planning, with added considerations like external displays and (for me) needing a TB/FW adapter (both of which are end-of-chain devices) and of course deeper pockets!
I'd (personally) replace the internal optical drive with a 500GB SSD for samples (a lot of companies offer to put the optical drive in a USB enclosure when doing this.) Get a FW800 RAID array for tracks/audio*. Then the TB port is free for a display and USB ports are free for MIDI/Optical drive etc. As a further step to boost performance of apps etc you could upgrade the internal HD to SSD, but beware, at some point down this route it may be more sensible to replace the computer, SSDs at higher capacities are still pretty pricey!

*Although it's very important to back up if using RAID 0 (ie "striped") as a failure of ANY disk in the array could destroy the volume. Other RAID flavours can give you redundancy but you'll need more drives (

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Awesome. I like this.

The SSD that would replace the optical can only be 3Gbps on my model according to, but I think it's well worth it. It's nice to have your sounds all the time with you.

The nice thing about replacing the main drive with a SSD is the silence factor. I always wonder how guys with an iMac or MacBook can record with an HDD still running (I record my audio on my Mac Pro that is in an adjacent room). I'm thinking sometimes I could actually transfer the OS to the 3Gbps SSD replacing the optical and put my sounds on a new 6Gbps SSD replacing the main drive. Do you think this is possible or a good idea?

I use Raid 0 on my Mac Pro, but I never thought about it for my audio tracks, only for my sounds. Any Raid FW800 drive you could recommend?

Thanks for your help
I wouldn't worry too much about it only being 3Gb as this equates to about 600MB/s (faster than you'll need for a single drive) but it's probably worth using it for the os.
I'm not that current with FW RAID drives but I've not had a problem with LaCie (although I'm sure others have!) I've used their 2big and (single drive) "D" ones. I've heard the WD velociraptor array is very fast but I don't know what configurations (ports/sizes) they come in.

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... it was writing large files that I tested it with (LaCie rugged 256MB, TB/USB3), as I'm thinking that's the crucial one for recording (could be wrong ...
Mmh ... do we look at large file transfers while recording? We produce large files of course but they get written in chunks. I think we deal with small file transfers from the view of the computer.

I use Raid 0 on my Mac Pro, but I never thought about it for my audio tracks, only for my sounds.
Raid 0 can be an advantage if you record many tracks. "Disk too slow" during a concert or while recording "the take of the year" belongs to the worst things we imagine.