Charles Moore's Mailbag

A Whisper Quiet Notebook Drive, Pismo Runs Cool with 7200 RPM Drive, Upgrading from OS X 10.1, and More

Charles Moore - 2007.06.06 - Tip Jar

A Very Quiet Notebook Drive

From Lukas:

Hello,

I just read your comments on suitable hard drives for the Pismo in the Miscellaneous Ramblings Mailbag of 2007.05.21 [7,200 RPM Drive Too Hot for Pismo?]. Having bought a hard drive for a Pismo myself last month, I thought I'd throw my 2 cents worth in.

Just as Martin Jungowski, I was looking for a drive as quiet as possible. I ended up buying a Fujitsu MHW2080AT. This is a fairly new drive which was introduced this spring. I highly recommend this drive. [Editor's note: This is a 4,200 RPM hard drive with an 8 MB buffer. dk]

I selected the drive based on the tests in the German c't magazine. The c't magazine measures hard drive loudness using the "Sone" unit (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sone), which expresses the subjective loudness of a drive more accurately than the dB unit.

The MHW2080AT was rated at 0.1 Sone and is thus the quietest 2.5" drive currently on the market. (1.8" drives are even quieter.) Other drives aren't much louder (e.g., Toshiba MK2035GSS: 0.3 Sone), but if one is looking for a drive as quiet as possible, the MHW2080AT is the way to go.

The loudness of a drive depends not only on the speed with which the platters turn, but also on the number of platters. The hard drive manufacturers are currently moving to a new recording method called PMR (Perpendicular Magnetic Recording), and this method allows the MHW2080AT to store 80 GB on a single platter. The previous Fujitsu drive generation, called "MHV" (e.g., MHV2080AT), needed two platters to store 80 GB.

In practice, the hard drive is barely audible. You do hear it when you sit in front of the Pismo in a totally quiet room, but as soon as you walk two steps away from the machine, you can no longer tell whether the hard drive is spinning or not. It's really fantastic.

After putting the drive in the Pismo, for the first time ever I noticed that you hear a quiet static noise from the Pismo's speakers. Whenever you hit a key or move the mouse cursor around, you can hear this from the speakers. I never noticed this before because the hard drive (the factory installed Toshiba MK2016GAP) was so loud.

Another advantage of the MHW2080AT is that it is designed for a lifetime of 5 years, whereas other hard drives (e.g., the predecessor MHV2080AT) are designed for only 3 years. This is because according to the specifications, Fujitsu designed the MHW2080AT primarily for embedded applications (like navigation systems in cars or digital video recorders), rather than notebooks.

One thing to keep in mind when selecting a drive for the Pismo is that the built-in "Key Largo" ATA controller only supports ATA/ATAPI-5 (aka Ultra DMA 4, UDMA-66). For drives with more than 128 GB, ATA/ATAPI-6 is required! I guess if you put a drive with more than 128 GB in the Pismo, you will only be able to use 128 GB.

As for performance, ATA/ATAPI-5 only supports 66 MB/s. Given the data density of modern hard drives, this does become a bottleneck. In my opinion, it makes no sense at all to use a 7,200 RPM or 5,400 RPM drive in the Pismo. The data throughput of a modern 4,200 RPM drive already surpasses 66 MB/s most of the time. The seek time does decrease of course with a 7,200 RPM drive, but I doubt that this will be noticeable in practice.

Best regards,
Lukas

Editor's note: See How Big a Hard Drive Can I Put in My iMac, eMac, Power Mac, PowerBook, or iBook? for software solutions to the 128 GB problem. dk

Hi Lukas,

Thanks for the interesting and informative report. The Fujitsu MHW2080AT sounds great, so to speak. Silent computing is a long-term quest of mine. The quietest notebook drive I've ever encountered is the 20 GB IBM drive in my G3 PowerBook. Well into its fifth year of service, it's still virtually inaudible if there is any background noise at all.

I have a 5400 RPM HD in my Pismo, and I never noticed an dramatic increase in performance over the 4200 RPM OEM drive (both units are Toshibas). You may have explained why.

Charles

7200 RPM Drive Not Too Hot for Pismo

From Greg Walker:

I read the entry from Martin Jungowski today, and I just wanted to mention that I've had a 7200 RPM 40 GB hard drive in my Pismo for quite a long time (3 years? 4 years?), and I've never had any problems with it; the fan doesn't come on, it doesn't get very hot, and the sound doesn't bother me or seem that loud (your mileage may vary). I've done full-HD backups to an external FireWire drive, and the fan never comes on.

The only times that the fan has ever turned on in my Pismo have been when I've had it running some processor-intensive task for hours on end, such as the time I had it decode a 1 GB+ 7zip file while sitting in a closed cupboard (oops).

I don't remember the manufacturer of my hard drive, but I got it at mcetech.com. I definitely think it's a worthwhile upgrade - the speed improvement is noticeable!

Hi Greg,

Thanks for the report. Your experience squares with mine with the 5400 RPM Toshiba drive in my Pismo. The fan never comes on, and it never feels especially hot.

That said, I've been working with a 5400 RPM Seagate 100 GB drive in a metal FireWire housing this week. It's whisper quiet and nicely responsive, but I was surprised by how hot the external housing gets to the touch.

You're right; in my experience it's processor activity that lights the fans in my 17" PowerBook (which has a 4200 RPM drive).

Charles

Pismo Fan Rarely Kicks In

From Martin Jungowski:

Hi Charles,

Thanks for your reply. Now that you mentioned the fan, I'm actually quite worried since I haven't heard my fan for a very long time. Other Pismo owners told me that they can actually hear their fan quite frequently in OS X 10.4, but now that you mention you haven't ever heard your fan cut in I'm relieved.

Anyhow, on the hard drive question. I'm still considering it - the 4,200 rpm drives runs quite cool, and I can barely hear it. I'll probably try the 7,200 rpm drive, and if it's too loud or too hot I'll just put it into an external USB case. I'll let you know how that works out

Thanks again

Martin

Hi Martin,

I would say go for it. I did have fan activity in my 550 MHz G4 Pismo after installing Tiger until I installed Daystar's processor cover with the copper heatsink in it. Easy to install and not very expensive. The fan has not cut in since it went in nearly two years ago.

Note that you won't be able to boot from any drive in an external USB case, and for USB 2.0 support, you're going to need a PC Card adapter in the Pismo, which also contributes to heat. I recommend FireWire - fast and bootable.

Charles

Hi Charles,

There would be no need for booting from a USB drive, since I'd use it as data storage only. As for external bootable hard drives - I have a 20 gig iPod that I can boot from (and already had to once). I also already have an external 2.5" USB 2.0 case (currently holding my old 20 gig drive) and a Mac OS X compatible USB 2.0 PC Card, so that wouldn't be a problem. I might even replace the 20 gig drive in my iPod with the 40 gig drive; we'll see.

My hope was that in case I would actually replace the 40 gig drive with a 100 gig drive, there would be no need for an external drive for me to take with me to Detroit. Excess baggage, if you ask me (FYI, I'm currently living in Munich, Germany, and intend to return after said year at WSU, hence I'm very limited in my choice of techy items I can take with me). On the other hand, if it'll get too hot and too noisy, then 40 gig might not cut it in the end, and I might have to go for a bigger 5,400 rpm drive; that's the thoughts I'm having on this issue right now.

However I have decided that I am going to give it a shot. I walked by a store selling a 100 GB 7,200 rpm drive for 95€ and am probably going to purchase it next week or the week after that. I'm guessing that I'll be okay with it, since I started to notice a very quiet yet audible hum coming from my current hard drive . . . it has been in use for quite a while now, so that's okay. You should hear my old 6 GB drives - sound like chainsaws, yet are still as reliable as the daily sunrise. Hence, I figured that till August the quiet and almost not audible hum might turn into something a lot worse and even more disturbing, so it's time for a new hard drive anyway.

Oh yeah, and what I almost forgot. I don't have a copper heatsink but the standard aluminium (?) heat sink. After several hours of word processing, surfing the Web, and writing emails in the library today it was warm to the touch (both the heatsink attached by the heatpipe and the aluminium plate right on top of the CPU itself) but not hot. So I'm guessing it's okay for the fan not to cut in, since there seems to be no need at all.

Thanks again for your help and insights. I'll let you know how things turned out as soon as I'll have time to finally replace the hard drive.

Greetings from rainy Germany
Martin

Hi Martin,

Cool; I'll be interested to hear how you make out.

Since you already have a USB enclosure, that certainly makes sense for you. I have three external hard drives, and two of them are USB 2.0, while the third is FireWire. They're all very useful, but I do find the FireWire one extremely handy as an auxiliary boot drive, especially for troubleshooting, running disk maintenance utilities like Disk Warrior and Drive Genius, and so forth.

Booting from an iPod is handy in a pinch, but my daughter ruined the drive in her first iPod by using it as a boot drive too frequently. At least that's her provisional explanation for its premature demise.

As you've noted, hard drives can get atrociously noisy and still just keep on working fine. The only hard drive failure I've ever had was a 6 GB Fujitsu, and it failed completely and quietly when it had less than 25 hours on it. OTOH, I have a 4.6 GB Fujitsu pulled from a Lombard that sounds like a chainsaw, as you put it, but still works jolly well.

Charles

WallStreet Wireless Failure

From John Galle:

Good Evening Charles,

This is Jack Galle from Virginia Beach. I've written to you several times and always appreciated your input. I "googled" your name the other day and saw that you are using a WallStreet. My daughter had a WallStreet, and now it is mine. I agree with you that it is a great computer. I don't think I've had a laptop that had such a nice feel to the keyboard.

About two years ago I bought a Roam About Wirelesss LANs card (802.11 DS High Rate) by Cabletron for the WallStreet. I was able to get the wireless card working one time, but somehow I changed the settings and can't get the wireless card to work. I am pretty sure I messed up the TCP/IP settings. Could you tell me what those settings should be? Is there anything else I need to do to connect wirelessly? Is it possible the card went bad, although I have not used the card more than 3x in the past two years since I can't seem to find anyone who is familiar with the TCP/IP settings.

The WallStreet is a great computer, and I would use it much more frequently if I could only get it to work wirelessly. I have a Epson Stylus CX 7800 which does not recognize OS 9.2, so anything I want to print I need to send from the WallStreet to my newer Mac laptop, which uses OS X. It's a convoluted way, but Epson only lists downloads for OS X, nothing OS 9.

Thanks for continuing to be a voice for Apple.

Jack Galle

Hi Jack,

Great to hear from you again.

Actually, the WallStreet has been my wife's computer for the past 18 months, although I do get on it from time to time, and the keyboard is still unsurpassed.

I've never set up a wireless connection from OS 9.2, although it's mindlessly simple with OS X on my G4 PowerBook.

However, I trolled around a bit with Google, and found some links that might be helpful for setting it up.

Of course, it's possible (albeit unlikely) that the wireless card is defective.

Wegener Media has a couple of WiFi cards that support the WallStreet, but they both require OS X. That's one option you might consider, since the WS is supported up to OS X 10.2.8. Make sure you have enough RAM (I suggest 512 MB) if you decide to go that route.

Charles

Upgrading a Lombard from Mac OS X 10.1

From Travis Jay Patocka:

Charles, once again I call on your Mac advice see WiFi PC Card for OS X Lombard] to help me with yet another question about upgrading the Lombard laptop.

I am currently running [OS X] 10.1.8 and want to upgrade to 10.2. If I purchase a full install version of 10.2, will the computer take whatever files it needs to upgrade to 10.2, or will it reinstall the OS overwriting my currently existing OS? I have seen "upgrade" versions of OS 10.2 for sale on eBay, so I don't know if an upgrade version ever existed or if 10.2 was sold as a standalone OS.

Finally, since my Lombard only has a CD-ROM, does 10.2 come on CD or DVD?

Thanks for all of your help!
-Travis

Hi Travis,

Wow, still running OS X 10.1. You're in for a pleasant performance enhancement with a version upgrade.

First, I strongly recommend moving up to OS X 10.3 Panther, which is significantly faster, has more features, and is still supported by a lot of software that has abandoned 10.2 support.

Panther should run fine on your Lombard and ships on CDs, not a DVD.

It's been many moons since I ran a Jaguar install, but there are several installation options, including a clean install, importing your settings and preferences from the old system, and an erase and install, which wipes the destination drive or partition. Click the Options button in the installer dialog.

There has never been a full version updater for any OS X version. You need to do a new install from an install CD, although, as noted, you can import settings from the previous OS.

Hope this helps.

Charles

12" PowerBook G4 Durability

From Ed Hurtley in response to Looking for a Durable Laptop:

I have to disagree.

My 12" PowerBook G4 has been dropped onto hard surfaces twice (once during a foiled car robbery, once falling off a cabinet) and still works like a champ. I upgraded to a MacBook Pro for performance reasons, but if I hadn't needed the upgraded computer, I would happily still be using my first generation 867 MHz 12" PowerBook G4.

My wife uses it now, and in spite of the numerous dents, it still works perfectly. The difference between the aluminum and polycarbonate computers is that the aluminum ones get dents in severe drops, the polycarbonate ones shatter. (Admittedly, the polycarbonate ones can probably take more of a hit before they shatter than the aluminum can take before it dents; but I'd rather have a dented but working computer than a shattered computer.)

Hi Ed,

I don't disagree with what you say. However, polycarbonate machines will indeed take an awful beating and come back for more. I've flipped a PowerBook 1400 off a laptop stand on a bed onto a hardwood floor, open - about a three foot drop. No discernible damage. A friend of mine dropped his 1400 onto concrete (it fell out of its slipcase) with only minor scuffing. One of my kids booted (literally) a Lombard across the room from a chair it had been sitting on by tripping over the power cord. The AC adapter plug was mangled beyond repair, but the computer was fine.

I shudder to imagine how my 17" AlBook would fare in any of those instances. The original clamshell iBooks were amazingly tough as well.

I don't doubt that it can happen, but I've never encountered a shattered Apple 'Book case.

Charles

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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