From four to zero in a day

While I was bobbing around the Caribbean on a MacMania cruise, I got some great news— Macworld had purchased a new Mac Pro for my use, and it would arrive back home in Portland at the same time I did. For those who don’t know, I’ve been using my personal Power Mac G5 ever since I joined Macworld a year and a half ago—it just didn’t make much sense to spend a lot of company money on an only-somewhat-faster G5, so I told Macworld I was fine using my personal machine. I was planning on replacing the G5 sometime next year, but now that Macworld has given me a new machine to work with, I won’t be doing that.

I’m in the midst of a much-longer writeup on the Mac Pro, very similar to my three - part magnum opus on the Mac mini from this spring. I’ll be done with it shortly, but I thought I’d take a minute to talk about the Mac Pro and its four internal drive bays.

When I first saw the Mac Pro, I thought “Geez, I’ll never use up four internal drive bays!” After all, my G5 only had two, and I always found that sufficient. But now, after having the machine in front of me for a couple of days, and contemplating how I’m likely to use it, I find that I’ve filled all four bays very quickly. Not only are they filled, but I’m already wishing there were at least one more.

Now you might ask, how could I possibly fill four hard drive bays so quickly? Well, here’s how:

  • I have legitimate access to Apple’s software seeding program, and I typically have the next-available version of OS X installed somewhere on my system. That requires a separate partition (or hard drive). So on the Mac Pro, I partitioned the stock 250GB drive—I set aside 20GB for the “future OS X” partition, and left the rest in one lump for general use. So there goes one drive bay.
  • I’ve always been interested in running my boot drives in a RAID 1 configuration, which adds reliability to the system by mirroring the data from one drive to another, in real time. If one fails, the second takes over. Obviously, to use RAID, you need at least two hard drives. There go the second and third drive bays.
  • Finally, I want to run the Mac Pro in Windows mode occasionally—and not just in Parallels, but the full meal deal via Boot Camp. Shouldn’t be an issue, right? Well, it is, actually. Boot Camp will only install on an unpartitioned boot disk. The first drive is already partitioned for the OS X seed installs, and the second and third drives are in a mirrored RAID, which cannot be partitioned (for hopefully obvious reasons) by the Boot Camp installer. Ergo, the fourth drive bay is needed for a hard drive that will hold a copy of OS X, and the Windows partition.

So there you have it—four drive bays filled, even though I don’t have nearly enough data to fill all those drives. Recall I mentioned a need for a fifth drive bay, too. Why, you might ask? Well, when OS X 10.5 is released, the Time Machine feature will want a hard drive to work with; ideally, that would be an internal drive. I’m hoping it will work with a partition on a drive, though, as I could then make the fourth hard drive handle the Time Machine duties, too.

I’d repartition the fourth drive (using iPartition, which will do the job non-destructively) into three partitions: One for Windows, one for a minimal OS X system, and the third (and largest) partition for Time Machine data. To make this work really well, though, the fourth drive will need to have a lot of capacity—ideally it’d be a terabyte drive, leaving lots of space for the incremental Time Machine backups of the other two drives. (Remember, two of my drives are acting like one drive.) It’s a good thing OS X 10.5 isn’t out yet; hopefully, the price of high-capacity SATA drives will drop appreciably before the ship date!

If anyone has any thoughts on how I could support Leopard seeds, RAID 1, and Boot Camp with something less than four drives, I’d love to hear them—perhaps I’m missing something obvious.

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