Testing OWC’s Legacy SSD in a Mirrored Drive Door Power Mac G4

Last December, I started a series on SSD (Solid State Drive) options for older Macs – see SATA and SSD Options for G3 and G4 Power Macs. At about the same time, Other World Computing (OWC) was preparing to address exactly that issue with a new line of “legacy” SSDs that would be plug-and-play compatible with the UltraATA bus in G3 and G4 Macs.

I received a couple of those legacy SSDs last week, and in coming weeks I’ll be busy putting them through their paces.

Setting Things Up

The first one I’m testing is the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD Legacy Edition, a 40 GB drive. The drive itself is the SATA OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD plus a mounting bracket to fit a 3.5″ drive bay and an Addonics IDE-to-ATA adapter. Because this drive is smaller than the Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger boot partition that I normally use, I installed a basic Tiger install (fully updated to 10.4.11) on the SSD, one cloned from a 80 GB 7200 rpm Deskstar hard drive with a 2 MB cache. (My standard drive in my dual 1 GHz Mirror Drive Door Power Mac G4 is a 400 GB 7200 rpm Deskstar with an 8 MB cache.)

Mirror Drive Door Power Mac G4I installed the SSD in a NewerTech miniStack enclosure, which has USB 2.0 and FireWire 400, and I used SuperDuper to clone the internal hard drive to the SSD. Once everything is clones, I can use the Legacy SSD in the external case or install it in any of a number of G3 and G4 Macs that accept a 3.5″ ATA drive.

After installing Tiger, I copied the System Folder and Applications (Mac OS 9) from my Classic partition to the SSD, rebooted the computer in Mac OS 9.2.2 from the internal drive, and made sure the System Folder on the SSD was “blessed” (Apple’s term).

My Tiger machine is a dual 1 GHz G4, the last model capable of booting the Classic Mac OS. It has 2 GB of memory installed, along with a USB 2.0 card and three hard drives (one 80 GB Deskstar plus two 400 GB ones – one for work, one for backup).

I also have some additional hardware to help me evaluate things: a Sonnet Tempo Serial ATA card, an SBA FireWire 800 card, and a NewerTech Voyager drive dock (with USB 2.0 and 3.0, FireWire 400 and 800, and eSATA) all on loan from Other World Computing, and a refurbished 500 GB 7200 rpm Samsung hard drive with a 16 GB cache that I bought for testing purposes.

I hope to test the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD Legacy, the FireWire 800 card, the SATA card, and the SATA hard drive in a Beige G3, a Blue & White G3, and a dual 500 MHz Mystic Power Mac G4, and possibly some other legacy Macs as well. I also hope to test the drive with some G3 iMacs and my 1.25 GHz eMac.

Testing with OS X 10.4

Because the MDD Power Mac is one of my production machines, I haven’t used it to test the SSD as extensively as I will with some of my other Macs. I have tested five different configurations and made some interesting discoveries.

Note that the MDD has three different drive busses. The primary hard drive bus is 100 MBps ATA-6 and supports “big” hard drives – ones over 128 GB. The second hard drive bus is 66 MBps ATA-5, which I used in several of these tests for convenience. The third drive bus is 33 MBps ATA-4 and is used by the optical drive(s). Big drives can be a problem on ATA-4 and ATA-5.

In all cases, I booted the MDD from the drive to be tested and then shut down the Mac and rebooted.

80 GB Hard Drive

Startup time with the Deskstar drive on the 66 MBps ATA-5 bus was 48 seconds, and Xbench 1.3 turned in a result of 52.16 in its drive benchmark.

SSD with FireWire 400

The Legacy SSD was used in a miniStack enclosure, which was connected to a built-in FireWire 400 port. System startup was significantly faster – just 33 seconds, over 30% faster than the hard drive. (Note that from a cold start, the Mac spends some time testing memory and other system components, so startup is not just a factor of drive speed.)

I ran Xbench 1.3, which gave a score of 85.35, over 60% higher than the hard drive. Keep in mind that ATA-5 is 33% faster than FireWire 800, making this an even more remarkable performance.

SSD with ATA-5

Because of the way drives are installed in my MDD, it was easier to remove the secondary drive cage and drop in the Legacy SSD. Startup time was 45 seconds, just a little bit faster than the hard drive and 12 seconds longer than over FireWire 400.

Xbench returned a disk score of 135.39, 2.6 times as fast as the hard drive and 58% higher than over FireWire 400.

At this point, I installed TextWrangler 2.3 and copied my Low End Mac archive files to the SSD. Doing a search of all those files for a specific word or phrase is something I do regularly. I chose to use the phrase Tweet this article in my search, and TextWrangler completed the task in 149 seconds.

SSD with SATA

Because this is really a SATA SSD with an IDE adapter, I decided to remove the adapter and connect the SSD to a SATA card. This should really show what this 2002 Power Mac is capable of – or perhaps how limiting the PCI bus is. Startup took 48 seconds, the same as the Deskstar hard drive. Disappointing to see no improvement at all.

That said, Xbench gave this configuration the highest score – 180.09. That’s 3.45 times the result for the hard drive and 33% higher than using the SSD with its IDE adapter.

My test search was also faster, finishing in 140 seconds, about 6% faster.

SSD with FireWire 800

My final OS X test on this Mac put the SSD in the Voyager dock, connected it to the FireWire 800 card, and restarted just fine. Unfortunately, what it would not do is a cold start, so I couldn’t measure startup time. Further conversation with OWC confirms that this card does not support deep sleep. (During deep sleep, the Mac shuts off power to PCI cards.)

Xbench turned in its second best drive score with this setup, 140.67 – more than 20% slower than SATA performance but almost 4% ahead of ATA-5 performance. ATA-6 might have done better, and I regret not testing it.

For completeness, I also ran Geekbench on these configurations, but the scores were virtually identical regardless of the setup.

Testing with OS 9.2.2

I was able to test four of the five above configuration with the Classic Mac OS. I was unable to boot over FireWire 800.

80 GB Hard Drive

This was an excellent drive in its day, and MacBench 5 turns in a disk score of 3820. Speedometer 4 gives it a disk score of 4.611, and startup took 47 seconds.

SSD with FireWire 400

Using the Mac’s built-in FireWire 400 port and a miniStack enclosure, MacBench 5 reports a disk score of 5042, a 32% improvement over the Deskstar hard drive and the same boost seen under OS X. Speedometer 4 gives it a disk score of 4.794, just 4% better, and startup took 50 seconds, 3 seconds longer than the hard drive.

SSD with ATA-5

On the Power Mac’s internal 66 MBps ATA-5 bus, the SSD achieved a MacBench drive score of 7994 – 2.1 times what the hard drive scored and 58% faster than the FireWire 400 result. Speedometer turned in a score of 4.627, a bit ahead of the hard drive but behind FireWire 400. Startup time improved to 43 seconds. Again, ATA-6 would have been even better.

SSD with SATA

I was unable to cold boot into Mac OS 9 with the SATA card, but I could do a restart and run OS 9.2.2 that way.

MacBench turned in a score of 7644, about 4% behind the ATA-5 score but still well ahead of the other configurations. Speedometer rated the drive at 4.793, virtually identical to the FireWire 400 setup.

Other Discoveries

I did have some problems with deep sleep. I don’t recall this being a problem when the SSD was in the miniStack and connected via FireWire 400, as the enclosure keeps the drive powered up. In other instances, waking up from sleep could be as fast as always – or sometimes very slow or even unending, requiring me to unplug the computer.

The Energy Saver system preference is set to sleep the Mac after 45 minutes but never put the hard drives to sleep. The sleep problems usually manifested after several hours away from the computer, and I didn’t make extensive notes about the circumstances. If you decide to go with a legacy SSD, I recommend you use it as an IDE device connected to your Mac’s built-in drive bus. If you want to use it with a SATA card, disable sleep. I will continue to look at this issue when I test this SSD in other Macs and report on it.

Kudos to the folks at Other World Computing for addressing the relatively small market for “legacy” SSDs – there are a lot of old Macs and PCs with IDE out there. If you can get by with 40 GB, the $130 cost could make this very attractive. (OWC also offers 60, 115, 240, and 480 GB legacy SSDs.) There is also a line of legacy SSDs for notebooks, and I’ll be testing one of those as well.

In the future we’ll look at the legacy SSD in my dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4, and we’ll be testing under other versions of OS X as well.

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