External SSD Solutions

Configure and optimize you computer for Audio.
KVRer
25 posts since 1 Mar, 2018

Post Sat May 08, 2021 9:49 am

Greetings. I have a mid-2012 Retina MacBook Pro w/16GB RAM and (as I recall) a dual-core Intel i7 2.6GHz (maybe 3.0GHz ?) CPU running OS X Mojave. The internal drive is only 750 GB, but I have an external LaCie 4TB RAID-5 configured hard disk drive array, which gives me access to 3TB of storage. This drive is at near capacity. My other similarly configured external drive conked out and is no longer in use. I have a couple of USB hubs and tie everything together with an OWC Thunderbolt-2 compatible docking station, which also includes USB-C, HDMI and a variety of other ports. I setup a Western Digital external hard disk drive and use Time Machine to backup my internal & external drives onto it.

My main DAW is Cubase Pro 10.5 but I also use Abeleton Live Suite 10. I own quite a number of instrument, utility and FX plugins. Recently, I purchased and setup a Waves system that includes the DiGiGrid IOX audio interface and a SoundGrid Extreme Server-C. I use the latter's DSP to process my Waves plugins in order reduce CPU load on my antiquated MacBook Pro.

At some point I will either supplement my MBP with a Mac Mini or I will dive into an iMac Pro or a Mac Pro. However, I am waiting to see what happens with Apple's new chip development, currently developing/releasing its M2 chip. Needless to say it will take the major audio & video software developers at least six months to release M(#)-compatible software, let alone Apple's optimizing its own operating system for the new CPU architecture.

Currently, I use Vienna Ensemble Pro 6 and run a single instance on my MBP. However, I recently acquired a couple of external Windows 10 systems, and I plan to use my other VEP licenses on them. This will allow me to share processing power across the computers over the same local area network. While a VEP instance has inserts and sends that allow you access any plugin, including VSL plugins, you need to have those plugins installed on the system(s) where you intend to use them. For example, if I want to access Kontakt sample libraries on every computer, loaded via a Kontakt instance placed on VEP track inserts on every VEP instance running in my network, then each VEP's host computer requires a Kontakt plugin to be installed.

This is the background for the post. Next, here is the challenge I want to address.

I need to extend the storage capacity for my sample libraries. I would like to do so using only external SSDs that are vetted for optimal audio-streaming performance both with OS X and Windows platforms. Also, if possible, I would like to house these drives in an SSD case that holds multiple SSD drives and that includes an Ethernet network card. Ideally, I want to centrally locate all my VSL and non-VSL sample libraries so that they are available to any computing resource on my network to be accessed by the relevant plugins hosted within VEP server & client instances. I do not want to run the SSDs in a RAID configuration, because my goal is (a) to maximize the storage capacity and (b) to optimize the SSD drives' performance.

Questions:

1. Is this network-enabled external SSD setup possible? If so, then what products do you recommend? Is it even possible to audio-stream over an Ethernet CAT-6e cable at the same speed and bandwidth as Thunderbolt 2?

2. If this network-enabled external SSD setup is possible, is this an optimal solution for my needs? If not, what are the viable alternates?

3. If no network-enabled external SSD setup exists, then what is the best external SSD solution in terms of performance and reliability for my multi-computer setup? I would require external SSDs for my MBP and for my Windows 10 laptops. I could add an internal SSD drive(s) to my Windows 10 desktop. Then, of course, we have the backup issue. With each computer having its own SSD drive(s), my Time Machine backup will only apply to those drives within and attached to my MBP. I would then need to figure out a backup solution for my other computers and for any future sample libraries that I store on those SSD drives directly attached to the Windows 10 computers.

4. For backup purposes, specifically for all the external SSD drives that would exist in my setup, is there a solution whereby I can dock these drives, 'n' at a time, on a docking station attached to my MSP, so that I can backup them up using Time Machine?

Apologies for this lengthy post, and I appreciate your feedback. Thank you.

KVRian
949 posts since 3 Oct, 2011 from Christchurch, New Zealand

Post Sat May 08, 2021 11:06 am

network enabled and multiple ssd basically means you’ll need to go with a NAS. If you’re happy using 2.5” form-factor SSDs there’s lots of options, though obviously to get full speed over the network it’ll need to be something that either has 10gbe standard, or has a slot for a 10gbe nic.

The Issue with you old MBP will be the lack of a 10gbe interface to talk to it - the stock 1gbe on your dock will limit speeds terribly. On newer macs you could just as a suitable 5gbe or 10gbe external NIC - not sure what there is that will work with tb2 though. Qnap do have some units with tb3 for direct connect (as well as having ethernet) - which can give even better speed than 10gbe - but that would only help if you update to a new mac with tb3/tb4

Presuming you also want 10gbe on your windows machines to get decent speed to the storage that will mean 10gbe nics for them, plus a sufficiently large 10gbe switch to link it all together.

Needless to say this is not going to be cheap….but if you have the budget it’ll give you a very nice setup

As for backup - with a NAS you could choose to config the SSDs in a RAID config to give drive failure tolerance. Or you could put a large spinning rust drive in one bay and backup the ssds to that (the nas can do that internally and automatically). For even better fault tolerance you could have a 2nd NAS somewhere else in the building and have the primary NAS backup to that. For maximum robustness you could backup off-site to a suitable cloud sytem (amazon glacier or similar). Again it comes down to budget and how much risk you can live with

KVRer

Topic Starter

25 posts since 1 Mar, 2018

Post Sat May 08, 2021 11:36 am

Thank you, jdnz, for your valuable feedback. Yeah, I neglected rule out a 10 gigabit router for the reasons you mentioned. Therefore, a central NAS enclosure will not work for my current setup, and I would rather invest that money in the future differently.

Ruling out a central NAS SSD enclosure, what do you recommend in terms of (a) external SSD enclosures without network capability and (b) individual external SSD units? From what I was able to locate, I am unaware of any individual external SSD units with built-in Thunderbolt 2 ports, let alone a second Thunderbolt 2 port for daisy-chaining. Also, what about the backup issue under the scenario where I connect multiple individual SSD units and/or SSD enclosures housing multiple SSD units? Does a docking station solution sound viable?

KVRian
949 posts since 3 Oct, 2011 from Christchurch, New Zealand

Post Sat May 08, 2021 12:17 pm

you said you want multiple ssds - that means you’re looking a DAS units like DROBO makes. Trouble is they have tb3/usb-c connectivity, so you’d need to talk about their ability to drop back to tb2/usb3 for your older macbook.

I just checked and Sonnet still sell their tb2 10gbe box - so maybe go with that off your dock, and a suitable 10gbe nas - it’s going to be the best option going forward - as you’ve found tb2 is just not something you’re going to find on any current gear, it’s been considered obsolete for too long.

KVRian
949 posts since 3 Oct, 2011 from Christchurch, New Zealand

Post Sat May 08, 2021 12:30 pm

just did some digging - looks like apple’s tb3/tb2 adaptor is fully bidirectional (has to be) which means it not only works to hook legacy tb2 devices to tb3 equipped macs, but also does what you want - it’ll let you connect a current tb3 nas/das unit to you tb2 mac! Even better the adaptor is relatively cheap.

https://www.akitio.com/faq/373-can-i-co ... bolt-2-mac

Go have a look at QNAPs 10gbe/tb3 NASs (the 453bt is the cheapest option - the bigger ones are very high spec’d but also high price).

https://www.qnap.com/en/product/?conditions=2-8

Other option would be a Promise Pegasus Pro r8 - it has tb3 and 10gbe connections (4 of them - so can at least partially avoid the cost of a 10gbe switch). It's going to make even the high-end QNAPs look cheap, but they're very solid - I've got an old tb2 Pegasus R6 still in daily use after 10 years

https://www.promise.com/Products/Pegasus/PegasusPro/

You can always just run 1gbe to your windows boxes for now and upgrade to 10gbe/5gbe/2.5gbe as need and budget allows

KVRer

Topic Starter

25 posts since 1 Mar, 2018

Post Sat May 08, 2021 4:56 pm

Once again, jdnz, thank you for such a useful, detailed response. I appreciate your time and effort. Your most recent response offers a possible NAS-based solution (the QNAP product line), which I like. I took at a look at the QNAP product line some time ago, but I was not ready to invest at the time.

The downside of introducing a NAS unit into my setup is that I would need to replace my existing 1 Gigabit router and 1 Gigabit switch. Actually, I also would need to replace my 1 Gigabit access point, which pairs with my 1 Gigabit router. The upside is that a NAS unit with SSD drives and TB3 connectivity, interfaced with my MBP using the Apple TB2-TB3 adapter that you mentioned (see: https://www.apple.com/shop/product/MMEL ... 5%252B45b0) (a) would provide the performance I need for streamed audio and (b) would centralize my sample libraries so that I can access them from any computing resource on my network running VEP. Of course, this assumes that the VSL & non-VSL sample libraries are allowed to be accessed over a network connection as opposed their being required to be accessed directly by the host computer that streams samples into their host software.

With respect to DAS, I had a Promise Technology Pro r4 unit. Unfortunately, after a few year's time, its network card failed. Promise Technology technical support was very responsive and very helpful, but it acknowledged the card failed. Unfortunately, it no longer supported that model and the cost of repairing the unit was not worth it. I LOVED this unit, but its lifespan was way too brief. Perhaps my specific unit was an outlier. In any event, I would be nervous investing in another Promise Technology product without first trying out a different brand.

If accessing sample libraries over a networked storage unit is not possible, then I am forced to resort to one of the following solutions or a combination thereof: (a) purchase a DAS for each computing resource; (b) purchase individual external SSD drives; (c) purchase some combination of (a) and (b). This leaves me the backup challenge. I can use Time Machine for an external storage solution directly attached to my MBP, but I would need to devise a storage backup plan for those drives attached to my Windows 10 computers. I think the simplest solution is to purchase a separate docking station into which I can physically insert SSD drives that are formatted either for OS X (AFS) or for Windows 10 (NTFS). However, I'm not sure if it is possible to back up the NTFS-formatted SSD drives to Time Machine. Also, I would still be stuck with how best to backup a DAS unit with multiple SSD drives for my Windows 10 computers.

I will have to think on this. It would be great to keep this thread going. I doubt I am the only one with these very same questions in mind. Any additional advice is most welcome. Thank you.

KVRian
949 posts since 3 Oct, 2011 from Christchurch, New Zealand

Post Sat May 08, 2021 9:07 pm

as far as the cost of deploying 10gbe across all your machines - the QNAP 10gbe port is actually multi-gig (10/5/2.5/1gbe) - so you have the option of just hooking up your existing 1gbe switch and living with 100mb/s max speed (at no cost) - or you could go for the middle ground of 2.5gbe to the windows machines which is lower cost (both switches and NICs) and also doesn’t care if your existing in-wall wiring is only cat5e.

There are now some reasonable priced 10gbe nics based around the Marvell/aquantia chipset now (asus and tp-link do them) - but I still trust Intel best, and whilst you can get the old x540s quite cheap now the x550 and x710 based ones are still pretty eye-watering prices.

In 2.5gbe things are much better priced - apart from Intel’s own 215 chipset there’s the very cheap realtek 2.5gbe nics, and switches are much better priced too - the 8*1gbe/4*10gbe qnap m408-4c is markedly dearer than the 8*2.5gbe/2*10gbe qnap m2108-2c. Depends if you can live with 250mb/s to those clients though - if you want the full ssd bandwidth everywhere you’re going to have to go 10gbe

You wouldn't need to upgrade your router unless you upgrade your internet service beyond 1gbps, with a high speed switch in front on the router the only lan traffic that will hit the router will be inbound/outbound internet traffic - lan local traffic will get dealt with at the switch at high speed. Similarly you wouldn't need to upgrade you AP unless you have high speed capable wireless devices and want to deploy an AX ap (and even then most of them only have 2.5gbe rather than full-fat 10gbe - 2.5gbe is cheaper, can be run further and is fast enough)

I don’t think you can use timemachine to backup ntfs volumes on MacOS - but you could instead use rsync from the command line to do it (only catch is that where timemachine does versioning rsync doesn’t). You could even run rsyncd on the mac and rsync across the network from the windows machine (I use the rsync in cygwin for this) - means no need to unplug the drives, but obviously your network will be the bottleneck in that case ( I run rysnc jobs overnight for that reason )

It’s going to end up being one of those decisions where you’re going to have to cost up the complete cost of the different options ( 10gbe/tb3 nas + 10gbe/2,5gbe switch + n*10gbe/2.5gbe nics vs the cost of individual external ssds on each and every machine and work out what the all up cost is - including factoring your time to manually shuffle around drives for backups vs having everythig automated).

Also don't forget to check what your current ethernet wiring is - if it's cat5e you're either going to be locked at 2.5/5gbe or you're going to be paying to rewire everything with cat6 or higher - that can be by far the most expensive part of a full 10gbe rollout!

KVRer

Topic Starter

25 posts since 1 Mar, 2018

Post Mon May 10, 2021 7:00 am

Thank you for the update, jdnz. The other option, of course, is to stick with DAS and/or separate internal and external SSDs across my systems. In this scenario, I avoid any performance issues, since I would rely upon either Thunderbolt 2 for my MBP and either TB3/USB-C/USB-A for my Windows 10 machines, depending upon their port availability. For backup, I would utilize Time Machine for my MBP SSD peripheral and, as per your suggestion, rsync or some other utility for my Windows 10 internal and external SSDs. There is an additional dedicated backup drives, but I will incur this cost under any scenario.

In this scenario, I would need to install my non-VSL and VSL libraries across two or more drives. Naturally, I would overlap only those sound libraries for which I would require access across more than one computer concurrently and delegate the remaining sound libraries to specific SSD drives. I will have to check out the licensing agreements for the sound libraries with respect to the number of installs, and the same goes for any host plugins (e.g., Kontakt, UVI Workstation, HALion, Play, Vienna Instruments Pro) for which most of my sound libraries are targeted.

By the way, I've been searching for large-capacity internal SSDs for a Windows 10 desktop. So far, I've come across these:

- SAMSUNG 870 QVO SATA III 2.5" SSD 4TB (MZ-77Q4T0B)
(see: https://www.samsung.com/us/computing/me ... 7q4t0b-am/)

- 870 QVO SATA III 2.5" SSD 8TB
(see: https://www.samsung.com/us/computing/me ... 7q8t0b-am/)

- WD Blue™ SATA SSD 2.5”/7mm cased
(see: https://shop.westerndigital.com/product ... DS400T2B0A)

- WD_BLACK™ SN750 NVMe™ SSD
(see: https://shop.westerndigital.com/product ... DS400T3X0C)

What do you think about these specific brands & products? Are there better performance-based alternatives?

Thank you.

KVRian
949 posts since 3 Oct, 2011 from Christchurch, New Zealand

Post Mon May 10, 2021 10:11 am

the QVO line are very well priced - but the catch is poor sustained write performance, once you fill their internal buffer write speeds drop to HDD levels. This makes them GREAT for data that is read-mostly like sample libs, but is something you need to be aware of. I’ve stuck with the EVO line instead as a result - slightly dearer but ‘normal’ write performance.

I’ve never used the WD blue sata - but have got a black nvme at work I’ve used a bit (lives in an external housing for shuffling data around), it seems solid - but if I was buying with my own money I’d have stayed with the corresponding samsung nvme even though it’s a bit dearer - I just trust samsung the most.

You should be gine with Kontakt/UVI/Halion libs on portables (or network shares) - all three have license management systems, so don’t really care where the data streams from as long as the machine doing the streaming has a license

KVRer

Topic Starter

25 posts since 1 Mar, 2018

Post Mon May 10, 2021 2:12 pm

> This makes them GREAT for data that is read-mostly like sample libs...
Excellent point. You've reminding me of everything I've read in the past when researching drive read/write access. Thanks for the cordial tap at the back of my head to jog my memory (smile).

> I’ve stuck with the EVO line instead as a result - slightly dearer but ‘normal’ write performance.
I located the Samsung 870 EVO SATA 2.5" SSD 4TB drive (see: https://www.samsung.com/us/computing/me ... -am/#specs). The site claims compatibility with Windows, OS X & Linux operating systems, although there is no systems testing benchmark information, but the r/w speeds of 560/530 MB/s look pretty good. There is a caveat for the sequential read speed (maximum read transfer under optimal conditions), stating performance varies based upon system hardware & configuration. Again, benchmark testing would be helpful here. Same goes for the 530 MB/s sequential write speed.

I'm think maybe go with the Samsung QVO line for my sample libraries and the Samsung EVO line for other audio recording duties. However, I'm not sure if the latter part makes much sense. From what I've read, it is always better to run DAW projects natively on the computer hosting the relevant DAW. For me, this means running Cubase 10.5 Pro and Ableton Live Suite 10 projects on my archaic mid-2012 Retina MBP, which houses a 750 GB drive. Embarrassingly, I don't remember if it's an HDD or an SSD. It sounds fairly quiet, so I'm going with SSD. However, even if I had an external Samsung EVO line SSD attached to my MBP, the constant reads/writes across the TB2 buss plus the r/w times on the external SSD have to be collectively longer than direct native access to a local drive. Even if the local drive is an HDD, couple that with a secondary cache memory and considering the local internal r/w buss shortens access time, I assume this is why the sources I've read advocate for running DAW project files locally and not via a remote drive. Now that I think about it, the Samsung EVO line is worthwhile for any other computer on my audio production network that allows me to install another drive locally. Do you think it would be beneficial to run DAW projects files on this drive if it is installed as a secondary internal drive, or would it be best to install a DAW on the secondary drive and locally run its project files from that drive? I do not know offhand if a Windows 10 system allows one to install applications on a non-system disk internal drive, especially those that require the Windows system directory and such for part of its install.

Thanks again for the valuable information you have conveyed.

KVRian
949 posts since 3 Oct, 2011 from Christchurch, New Zealand

Post Mon May 10, 2021 5:26 pm

you say your macbook is mid-2012 retina - the 2012 retina MBPs have ssd's as standard, but the mid-2012 (non-retina) still had a 2.5" sata HDD as standard (750gb like you state). Presuming you actually have the later I'd be looking hard at doing a ssd upgrade on it - it's cheap, relatively painless and will both markedly improve the usability of the macbook AND also avoid the inevitable death of the nearly 10 year old HDD. I'd use a samsung evo 2.5" for the job - partly cos I trust them and mainly cos that's the exact model I've used for the 2012s I've personally upgraded.

KVRer

Topic Starter

25 posts since 1 Mar, 2018

Post Tue May 11, 2021 6:24 am

Thank you, jdnz. I can confirm I have the mid-2012 Retina model.

KVRian
949 posts since 3 Oct, 2011 from Christchurch, New Zealand

Post Tue May 11, 2021 11:57 am

That's what I was trying to explain - there is NO mid-2012 retina. You either have a mid-2012 or a 2012 retina, refer here https://everymac.com/systems/apple/macb ... okpro.html

Mid-2012 will have a 750gb hdd - retina a 768gb ssd, check the hardware profile and see if the drive is a hdd or ssd

The tb2 bus is 20gbs - compared to 5gbs for usb3 and 6gbs for sata - that means a tb2 attached nvme ssd should be able to push up to 2gbytes/s (not quite full speed of the WD Black nvme you listed but close enough). I wouldn’t worry about the overheads of going acorss the tb2 bus vs hitting the onboard ssd (presuming you HAVE an onboard ssd) - that promise r6 I mentioned is attached to a trashcan and we’ve had no problems with it (given the rather slow ssds on those 2012/2013 mbp-retinas and trashcans you may actually find a modern nvme over tb2 is actually much FASTER than the onboard ssd)

Also - if your mbp is indeed the retina model with ssd - like the trashcan they still use a ssd module, albeit a proprietary one (same module in both machines). We replace the stock ssd on the trashcan recently after it died (9 years of heavy writes killed it) - I used an OWC drop in replacement ( https://www.owcdigital.com/products/aura-pro-x2 ) and it’s both markedly faster than the original drive (ssd tech has come on a bit since 2012) but also available in MUCH bigger sizes, so that could be an upgrade path to look at

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