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Kool Tools

Volume Number: 21 (2005)
Issue Number: 4
Column Tag: Review

Kool Tools

by Sam Crutsinger

Huge Systems MediaVault U320-R


Handing a RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) to a video/film editor to review is, well, asking for trouble. Editors can and will manage to fill up anything that you attach to their system if you give them a few days. When 600GB showed up in a G5-esque cheese-grater case, I just had to see how fast I could pack that thing to the top. Of course, all of us with "geek-butt" know, it's a piece of cake to gain weight, but losing it is no easy task. When you shed half your total storage capacity in one trip to UPS, the task tends to get put off a bit. So, before anything else, allow me to take a moment and apologize to the fine folks at Huge Systems for keeping the MediaVault much longer than I was supposed to. (Actually, I think we can work the word "much" into that last sentence about three more times.) But hey, I like to hold onto the good stuff. If a reviewer sends back the evaluation unit early, that's usually a bad sign.

The Huge Systems' MediaVault U320-R is a 5-drive RAID array that operates at RAID-0 or RAID-3. The drives themselves are ATA-133 IDE drives so they're easy to replace with drives from any local computer store when a drive eventually takes a dirt nap. I'm not saying anything disparaging about this system here. Drives fail. All drives fail eventually. The trick is to be ready when it happens. If you've never had a drive fail on you before, trust me it's coming. You're just working your way to the top of the list.

When I first pulled the MediaVault U320-R out of its box, two words popped into my head: Mini Me. If you're looking to accessorize your G5 system, keeping with the perforated metal theme, this thing's an ideal compliment. It's one of the more solidly built RAID cases I've seen. It's not one of those plastic boxes with flimsy handles and whatnot. This is the rugged design that Tonka would make if they were in the storage business. Yeah, yeah. I know. Cosmetics isn't why you buy a RAID, but trust me, I've seen flimsy RAID boxes and psychologically this box makes you feel like your data is more secure, and that's worth something.

As a video editor, fan noise is often a deal-breaker on many storage solutions. I do most of my editing in my home office. I don't have the luxury of putting the noisy equipment over in the data center, down the hall, sealed up and out of the way. My gear is all within arm's reach, so my stuff needs to be relatively quiet. The MediaVault has been a very considerate guest in my home. The truth is that I'm on a Mirror Door G4 right now, and I've managed to get my system relatively quiet with a few tweaks, but I can't hear the MediaVault over the drone of the Macintosh from about 3' away. The drives don't whine. The fan noise is at a nice low level and it's low pitched. It does have a bit of a ticking when the drives spring into action but it's well within the bounds of good taste. This rig is good on the ears.

Now for the bad news. It's SCSI. Those of us who have been on the Mac for most of the past two decades can't help but cringe when we deal with SCSI. Granted, it's not as bad now as it used to be when all our peripherals used it. Now that SCSI has been relegated to super, high-speed storage, you usually end up with just one product on the SCSI card with the one cable, and the one terminator, and you don't really have to worry about addressing and various, sundry SCSI voodoo conflicts, right? Heh heh heh. Never underestimate the maniacal nature of SCSI voodoo.

Just when you thought you had SCSI beat, they throw you another new curve ball. This system is optimized to get its best performance with an ATTO ExpressPCI UL4D SCSI controller card (320 MB/s) and certain video capture cards (a nugget not mentioned in the manual by the way). Without the video capture card, the RAID only performs at about 60% of it's potential based on the benchmarks provided by HUGE Systems. They sent me test results of: Read 212.7 MB/s / Write 220.3 MB/s peak. Now that's impressive, and plenty of room to work with even Uncompressed 10-bit HDTV (182.3 MB/s) as long as you're only needing one video stream at a time, which is a reasonable assumption in most cases. Unfortunately, I don't have one of the magic video cards.

If you use the MediaVault without a video capture card like the Decklink, or Kona, or a Cinewave card, you'll top out at around: Read 170 MB/s / Write 134 MB/s. The video card provides hardware assist. It bypasses a bottleneck in the system's RAM, which lets the RAID get that extra speed, according to Huge Systems. The gist is that if you just plug the MediaVault into any old SCSI-320 card without a supported video card, you'll lose the ability to shift into 5th gear and floor it. Sure, that's disappointing, but saying you can only get 170 MB/s is like complaining that your microwave takes a full minute to cook a hotdog.

The system has everything you need to get through any flavor of Standard Definition video editing all the way up to 10-bit uncompressed (24.1 MB/s) and any HD format short of 10-bit uncompressed. If you're one of those 1% of editors currently working on Final Cut Pro with 10-bit uncompressed footage, well, let's just say that I've seen how much you guys charge, so you can spring for the extra video card to get the extra throughput.

Data Rates (with uncompressed 48KHz, 16bit, stereo audio)

   Standard Definition
   DV-25 (Normal MiniDV)           3.6 MB/sec.
   DVCPRO-50                       7.2 MB/sec.
   Uncompressed 8-bit  4:2:2 SD   20.1 MB/sec.
   Uncompressed 10-bit 4:2:2 SD   24.1 MB/sec.

   High Definition
   DVCPRO HD (720p60)   1280x720           5.6 MB/sec.
   DVCPRO HD (1080i60)  1920x1080         13.9 MB/sec.
   Uncompressed 8-bit   1080 29.97i HD   121.5 MB/sec.
   Uncompressed 10-bit  1080 29.97i HD   182.3 MB/sec.


Figure 2: Throughput comparison

The actual usable storage space came to 574 GB when formatted HFS+ at RAID-0. This box can give you RAID-3 as well, which will allow you to keep running even if one of the drives takes a dive. Once you replace the dead drive, the system will rebuild itself, so you'll be ready for the next drive failure. Rebuilding takes less than an hour. Of course if any drive fails in a RAID-0, you cry.

Hard drives have different throughput depending on what part of the drive platter the system is currently writing to, which is where the MediaVault's "Turbo" mode comes into play. It ignores the slower parts of the platter, which ensures you'll get maximum speed from the drives, but you lose a healthy chunk of capacity in the process. It's like throwing away the pizza crust. Sure, it's not the yummy, cheesy part of the pizza, but it's still food.

I edited with the drive for a good while, mostly working with uncompressed 10-bit SD footage, and it never gave me a bit of trouble until I realized that I was filling it up. At that point I started to get some dropped frames, and a few delayed starts on playback most likely due to the fact that I had severely fragmented the drive while trying to beat it up dumping content to it from multiple sources at the same time. Once I cleared off the copious amounts of file copy fluff, it worked great again. The moral is to never totally fill up any hard drive, but hey, I'm not here to be nice to the gear. I'm here to beat it to a pulp, and see how it handles the punches.

This is a fantastic little box. It's quiet, sturdy, spacious, and a good looker. It's a shame it has to be SCSI, and that it's crippled when not working in tandem with an HD video capture card. Of course, this sort of storage doesn't come cheap. The 600 GB version is $3359 MSRP ($3200 street), while the 1250 GB version is $5949 MSRP ($5650 street). A 2000 GB version for $7859 is due out soon.

Sam Crutsinger


iPod Fan Book

by Michael R. Harvey

One thing just about every electronics product lacks out of the box these days is a decent instruction manual. Publishers have stepped in to fill the gap with tomes like David Pogue's Missing Manual series. The Missing Manuals are a great, but they tend to be massive. That can be daunting for beginning and casual users. O'Reilly has a new series of small, concise books designed to get the casual user up and running, the Fan Book series.

The first Fan Book is for the iPod. It's tight, at 96 pages, but packs in a great deal of useful information. Penned by Yasukuni Notomi, the iPod Fan Book covers the iPod scene from the first release through the 4G iPods (unfortunately not the iPod Photo, though). It gives you a brief history of the iPod, then gets you right into the thick of understanding and using your iPod. It provides screen shots for both Mac and Windows. It provides not only basics, but more in depth stuff like smart playlists, ripping, (and not just CDs, but tape and vinyl as well), as well as tips and tricks, like ways to make the iPod more like a PDA.

The iPod Fan Book also covers third party hardware and software add-ons. Chargers, cases, alternate docks, other head sets, and car adapter options. eBook readers, and other software to extend the usefulness of the device. Many good options are covered.

This book is just the beginning. O'Reilly already has four other entries in this series on book shelves. There are Fan Books for xBox, iBook, PowerBook, and Treo available today. Each are $14.95, and can be purchases directly from O'Reilly's web site, among other places.

Michael R. Harvey


eMedia Rock Guitar Method Vol. 1

by Robert Turner

Everything You Need To Play Rock

Do you want to learn rock's heaviest hits, or punk's angriest anthems? The secrets are revealed in eMedia's latest release. This CD ROM is loaded with songs and techniques, and has over 100 lessons designed by Charles McCrone, a Guitar Institute of Technology graduate. The application is very easy to install and navigate through, and comes with a collection of excellent features. It is designed to make learning the guitar fun for both beginners and experienced players, with fast-paced lessons that are sure not to bore you.

After installing the software I ran through its contents. I really liked the interface and was pleased with the animated fretboard that displays the notes as the music is played. I have found instructional videos sometimes difficult to follow because the teacher is facing you. Here, you have the fretboard adjusted in the correct manner. It can be viewed properly for left handed players, too. Among the contents are some very useful tools. There is an automatic tuner, digital metronome, and digital recording device to allow you to play back what you have done. Also included is a chord dictionary with a library of over 250 chords. It shows fingering positions, and has recorded sound playback.

The contents page allows you to quickly find an area to work in. Here you can go directly to a wide variety of subjects such as chord types, blues boogie, palm muting, or picking patterns. The licks are offered in rock, heavy metal, punk, and blues among other styles. The lessons are very easy to follow. I had my guitar on my lap when I first ran the application, and soon found myself playing along. There are over 50 QuickTime videos featuring radio personality Steve Rock. He goes through the lesson's techniques, and lets you see it played. There is plenty of live recorded multi-track audio that can be slowed down with the variable-speed MIDI tracks. Each lesson includes recorded tips from the instructor. There is tablature as well as the animated fretboard. The tablature features tracking as it is played. The black note turns red as you hear it. Sections can be selected and looped for extended practice. I found this to be very helpful in following along. The slow and fast choice is a great idea.

There are a good variety of songs offered. Some are classic songs and others are played in the style of famous bands. Rock hits include Paranoid by Black Sabbath, Don't Fear the Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult, All Right Now by Free, You Really Got Me by Van Halen, Tired of Waiting for You by Green Day, Lake of Fire by Nirvana and Tomorrow by Silverchair. Band style songs include AC/DC, David Bowie, Eagles, Blind Melon, Jewel, Metallica, Rush, Offspring and Rolling Stones. These types of lessons show you the playing techniques of these famous bands, as well as licks and riffs that sound like their songs. This is a great idea if you are not looking for a note-for-note transcript of a song. It allows you freedom to jam like the band and get comfortable with their style.

Along with songs are detailed lessons covering many things such as warming up, open chords, power chords, barre chords, hammer-ons & pull-offs, playing with other musicians, picking styles, using feedback from your amplifier, bending notes, using the whammy bar and scales. I really liked the scales. These can sometimes be boring and difficult to learn. The lessons offer the slow and fast option as well as the tracking tablature and animated fretboard. You can also print out the tablature for the ability to practice away from the computer.

There are lessons on how to hold the guitar, strum it and how to read the tablature charts. You can learn how to tune your guitar, how to change strings and which pick to select. Throughout the lessons are helpful equipment tips such as setting up a practice area and movable bridges. You can learn about a variety of effects pedals like distortion, wah-wah, and reverb, and how to set them up.

I really liked the teaching methods on this CD. I have tried it on both my Mac and PC and am very pleased. I know that I will be spending more time on practicing now and expect to see big improvements on my playing style.

This software is available directly from eMedia for $39.95. http://www.emediamusic.com/

Robert Turner


 
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