I’ve always been sensitive to auditory noise but my March 2018 concussion amped up that issue and made reducing ambient noise in my work environment a priority. See Brain-Saver: Sony Noise-Canceling Headphones for more on what noise means to me—my brain is “in progress” on recovery—good progress, but I’ll see in another year how things stand. In any case, a near-silent computing environment is a big plus.
Getting to Fast Silence with the 8TB OWC Thunderblade
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I’m finally about to implement a system design I’ve been after for years: a near-silent operating environment by using hard drives only for 3rd-tier and backup storage, thus allowing me to leave them turned off, eliminating noise and cutting power usage as a bonus.
While 8TB of SSD is not enough for everything I’d like to have available at all times, I can manage things very well by architecting things in terms of three tiers of storage, plus backups.
Storage, Tier 1: the internal SSD of the 2017 iMac 5K
Core essential data totals about 500GB for me. This is the stuff that MUST always not only be accessible, but be on a very fast SSD. I expect it to grow to 800GB within two years.
Add to that projects within the last year or so (around a terabyte) and that comes to 1.8TB needed on the internal SSD. Thus a 2TB SSD is the absolute minimum capacity SSD that I will buy in any Mac (many users might be fine with 1TB).
The idea here is that project migrate off the internal SSD as needed, to Tier 2 storage.
Going to a 4TB internal SSD would be slick, but that would require a new Mac and bumps up the price about $2000 over 2TB, which doesn’t make sense when the 8TB OWC ThunderBlade can be had for a better price per TB and when that 8TB can be moved to any Mac or a new Mac. Plus I don’t really need more than 1TB of active working space internally. So I see an internal SSD of 2TB as the smart move at this time/price juncture. If prices on an internal 4TB SSD drop, of course I’d go for that
Storage, Tier 2: the 8TB OWC Thunderblade
There is absolutely nothing limiting about the performance of the OWC ThunderBlade for use as my primary storage (it’s awesomely fast), but 2TB + 8TB = 10TB happens to be about what I need for the next two years or so to work with an all-SSD setup. In a sense this is a “waste” of the Thunderblade performance since much of its capacity will just store image files. But as it turns out, the OWC ThunderBlade offers an unbeatable combination of speed, capacity and silence.
Compared to using something like dual Samsung 4TB SSDs, the OWC ThunderBlade is an industrial grade silent solution*. I deem the OWC ThunderBlade to be far superior to housing two far slower Samsung 4TB SSDs in dual USB-C enclosures—with at best 1/3 the speed while also terminating my Thunderbolt 3 chain—a non-starter. I actually ordered two Samsung 4TB SSDs and rejected them as a solution—a performance and connectivity hassle (I travel a lot where too few ports is a headache), plus I’d want to stripe them, which I’d prefer to avoid.
* OWC claims “near silent” which I don’t understand that, as the Thunderblade has no fan.
Storage, Tier 3: overflow data
Tier 3 captures all older stuff that doesn’t really need to be accessible all the time. The solution here is a single 14TB hard drive in an OWC Mercury Elite Pro case (it’s fanless). The noise level is low when/if I do need to power it on and with Sorbothane bumpers, the vibration can be killed almost completely, so it’s qualifies as near silent.
Although OWC sells only a 10TB OWC Mercury Elite Pro, it’s possible to buy it as an empty enclosure, and then add a 12TB or 14TB hard drive.
Backup drives for the internal 2TB SSD are also SSDs, so they can remain on since they too are silent, and it’s critical to have ongoing backups as I work. I repurpose older SSDs for this purpose and a great choice is the OWC Mercury Elite Pro Dual Mini, which can use a USB-C port, or just plug into any standard USB 3.1 port.
For the bulk of my data, and many redundant copies, hard drives are perfect. At least once a day and perhaps twice, I can power-on a the OWC Thunderbay and make clones to hard drives, cycling through all of them regularly. Since the internal iMac 5K SSD and the OWC ThunderBlade both have bandwidth far in excess of even six hard drives, I can bang out as many as 10 redundant backup clones simultaneously, thus reducing my backup time as well (I generally make no fewer than three backups every day).
There is an admirable functional elegance to this tiered approach:
- No more wasting hard drive space by having to use RAID-5 to achieve speed and fault tolerance: since primary data is all on fast SSDs, all my backup drives can be non-RAID, always preferred for backups.
- More backup copies, each independent and separately storable
- In effect I can double my backup redundancy since I don’t waste the bulk of the capacity of at least 4 hard drives (because of using RAID to get the performance and reliability).
Older and smaller hard drives (5GB, 8GB) for backup still need to be RAID-0 striped pairs, but the newer 14TB drives should be able to hold everything for another few years. I may just sell off the 5GB and 8GB drives, keeping the 12TB and 14TB drives.