Reasonably cheap way to vastly improve performance of Mac Pro;
Double the number of hard drive slots;
Built in hardware RAID; sturdy construction;
Easy to insert drives to Mac Pro
Requires software setup due to difficult position of reset button;
Software program crashed a couple of times;
The Icy Dock MB982SPR-2S (or to give it its full name: the Icy Dock MB982SPR-2S Full Metal Dual 2.5in to 3.5in SATA HDD & SDD Converter with RAID for PC & Mac Pro – which must surely be a record) is an intriguing device for Mac Pro owners.
Essentially it is a 3.5in metal caddy that fits into a Mac Pro hard drive slot, and inside is space for two 2.5in hard drives (the type normally used in laptops). It features a built in hardware RAID system enabling you to combine the two hard drives into one single drive that is recognised by the Mac Pro.
Although it’s possible to use any kind of 2.5in drive, we imagine that its primary use will be to add twin SSD (Solid State Drives) units to a Mac Pro. Most SSD drives are sold in the smaller 2.5in format, and are designed to fit in laptops not desktops.
But SSD drives offer a massive performance boost so are as much of interest to Mac Pro owners as they are to laptop owners. Indeed, Apple started adding them to its soon-to-be-extinct Xserve systems as boot drives alongside the regular hard drive, and SSDs are sold as an option on many Macs.
The Icy Dock MB982SPR-2S is also interesting because it enables you to double the number of hard drives you can add (up to eight in total in the four bays). And because it has hardware RAID you don’t have to rely on the software solution provided in Mac OS X.
Of course, if you’re going to place two SSD drives into a computer you need to think about cost. Although SSDs have dropped in price dramatically, they still start at around $100 for a 64GB drive and go up to a whopping $1,000 for a 512GB (with a 256GB drive in the middle around $450).
Typically the idea is to place the Mac OS X boot installation and applications on the SSD drive and then all your documents (video, photographs, iTunes folder, and so on) on a regular hard drive. The SSD provides the speed; the regular hard drive the space.
If you take this approach you can use the Icy Dock to combine two small 64GB drives to provide 128GB of space for the Mac OS X boot drive, and use your regular hard drive as a second drive for storage.
We tested the Icy Dock with two Kingston SSDNow V+100 64GB drives (with a SRP of $100 each). We used AJA System Test to monitor performance and cloned Mac OS X using SuperDuper from the regular hard drive (a stock Western Digital included with the Mac Pro) to the new Icy Dock setup.
So how much faster is it? The stock hard drive provided a write speed of 43.4MBps and a read speed of 43.7MBps. The Icy Dock SSD combo provided a read speed of 247.2MBps and a write speed of 243MBps. That’s a 547 per cent performance gain from two $100 drives and $85 caddy; certainly nothing to be sniffed at. The read speed is actually fairly typical of a single SSD inserted directly into the Mac Pro, but the write speed is roughly double that of a solo SSD drive.
The performance of the machine was, understandably, transformed by the new setup. Boot time went from 1:55.9 to 1:10.3, with most of the gain being when the Mac desktop appeared. The annoying wait between the desktop appearing and being functional virtually disappears.
Application launching was much faster too, and the whole system feels snappier and more instant. More like using an iPad or iPhone in the way applications just appear rather than load. Working with large documents is much faster too, although these do need to be copied to and from the stock hard drive for performance gains unless you want to fill up the drive quickly.
We’d like to say setup was completely simple, but it wasn’t. The design of the caddy is nice, with both drives sliding in place and the closing of the caddy pushing them into the slots. On the rear of the device is a screw dial that enables you to choose the RAID type: 0, 1, BIG (aka Concatenated) and Port Multiplier, which acts as two separate drives.
The caddy was set to RAID 1 by default, and to set it to RAID 0 (to stripe both drives) you turn the dial with a small driver to set it to RAID 0. The instructions advise you to hold down the reset button while the computer starts up. The problem here is that the reset button is on the rear of the caddy is tucked inside the Mac Pro hard drive slot and completely inaccessible with the drive attached.
Instead of holding down the reset button, you have to use the supplied RaidManager software, which isn’t included. We had to download it from the Icy Dock support site. We also found the software slightly cranky, occasionally refusing to load. However, you only have to run it up once to change to the required RAID setting and then you can use Disk Utility to format and manage the drives.
We used SuperDuper to clone the main Mac OS X installation onto the SSD. You’ll need to take your Mac OS X installation down below 100GB (probably closer to 90GB to be on the safe side), which can be a time-consuming process. The alternative is to set up a new Mac OS X installation on the SSD RAID and use it to manage documents on the spare hard drive.
Typically you should go for RAID 0, which stripes the drives enabling the fastest performance. Going for RAID 1 mirrors the drives enabling the second to act as a complete backup for the first. While this is useful in a server environment, using SSD would be an expensive way to perform a backup.
Speaking of backup if you’re going to stripe two drives it’s recommended that you use a backup solution because you effectively double the chances of drive failure (because if one drive fails the whole Mac OS X volume becomes unusable).
Setting up two SSD drives in a Mac Pro using the Icy Dock MB982SPR-2S wasn’t exactly child’s play, but it was massively rewarding and a superb performance upgrade for the price. For that reason it comes highly recommended.
Macworld’s buying advice
You have to factor in the cost of two SSD drives, which if you go for two 64GB units will set you back an additional $200, but that’s great value considering the vast increase to both read and write speeds that you get from this unit. One of the best upgrades we’ve seen all year and highly recommended for all Mac Pro owners.
The key advantage, though, is that you can stripe together two SSD drives to provide even faster performance than a single SSD drive would provide (which would be in itself far faster than a regular spindle drive).
[Mark Hattersley is the editor in chief of Macworld UK.]
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