The Moving Picture: Editing With eSATA
Posted Mar 20, 2008

I’ve recently acquired three new products in the office, each in their own way a breakthrough, at least for me, so I thought I would share. The first product allowed me to join my family in Atlanta over the holiday season for the first time in several years. That’s because December means The Nutcracker in my family—four shows in three locations with two different casts this year for students at my wife’s ballet school, and I had two DVDs to deliver ASAP. Usually, this feat requires a desktop computer.

My MacBook Pro had enough horsepower for the job, but it lacked the spare hard disk space needed to produce an 80-minute ballet video from a 2-camera shoot. I’ve edited with a USB 2.0 drive in the past, but that was painful. I had been wondering about eSATA drives for awhile, and it seemed like a good time to find out more. As you may know, most computers moved to internal Serial ATA (SATA) drives a few years ago. With a theoretical transfer rate of about 3.0GB per second, SATA is more than sufficient for DV and HDV editing, and external SATA (eSATA) extends this speed to external drives.

I bought a 250GB NewerTech v3 external drive, which costs $160 direct and comes as large as 1TB for $429. Since my MacBook Pro includes FireWire 400, 800, and USB 2.0 connectors but not eSATA, I got an APIOTEK eSATA Express Card Adapter for about $45. The v3 drive also has connectors for FireWire 400, 800, and USB 2.0, so being the curious sort, I used the Intech SpeedTools utilities that came with the drive to test the performance of all connectors.

On the 100MB random read test, the largest test offered by the program and the one most relevant to video editing, the eSATA read 62MB/sec, FireWire 800 57MB/sec, FireWire 400 41MB/sec, and USB 2.0 18MB/sec . Interestingly, the MacBook Pro’s internal hard drive read at 33MB/sec, so the external drive was actually faster than the internal.

The actual editing experience was very responsive, and, better yet, when I returned to the office, I plugged the drive into the MacBook Pro via FireWire 800 and rendered and produced my DVD there, another great benefit of this multiconnector drive. If you’ve been soured on USB 2.0 external drives for editing, take another look at FireWire 800 and eSATA.

The next product is also storage related. Even on my desktop workstations, disk space is always a problem, as I’m sure it is for most video producers. The largest internal drive I have in any system is 500GB, and for a long time, that was the largest single drive available. When I saw an announcement from Samsung about an internal 1TB drive, I had to have a look.

The drive, called the Spinpoint F1, costs under $300 in several online shops and is also a Serial ATA drive. It took about 5 minutes to install it into my 30 GHz Quad-Core HP xw4600 workstation, which has only a 250GB drive.

My concern with larger drives has always been performance. To test this, I ran some benchmark tests comparing the existing SATA drive to the Samsung unit. I found the Samsung ran about 36% faster, reading 94MB/sec compared to 69MB/sec for the existing drive. I’m sure much of this relates to the fact that the Samsung drive was pristine clean, while the C: drive was cluttered with data. Still, the Samsung clearly won’t slow me down, and, at 1TB, it will hold a few months worth of projects while preserving one last internal HDD slot for an additional drive. If you’ve got a computer that’s short on disk space and hard disk drive expansion room, you should check out the Spinpoint F1.

The final product is probably the most groundbreaking of the three, at least on a day-to-day basis. I was testing a corporate batch encoding product from Anystream, and I wanted to set up a rendering farm. I had sufficient computing horsepower for the task, but the Anystream technician got really quiet when I told him that my internal network ran at 100MB/sec.

I checked the workstations in my office and most had 10/100/1000 interface cards, so that left the hub as the main capital cost. Last time I looked, hubs were hubs. Now they’re all switches, which are faster and more intelligent. Back then, even 8-port hubs cost in the low 4 figures. I thought that speeding up to 1GB would raise the price even higher. A quick trip to Amazon revealed that the D-Link DGS-2208 8-Port 10/100/1000 Desktop Switch cost all of $54.32 and was rated 4.5 stars by 17 online reviewers.

I received the switch a few days later. I had it up and running in about 5 minutes, and, oh, my goodness, the performance across the network is amazing. Where I used to have to schedule multiple-GB transfers during lunch and overnight, I had copied an 835MB file from one computer to another in 42 seconds.

If you transfer a lot of files over your LAN, say, for backup, processing on multiple computers or even for a rendering farm, and you’re still running at 100Mb, check the prices of gigabit Ethernet equipment. It’s probably cheaper than you think and will goose the heck out of network performance.

Jan Ozer (janozer at doceo.com) runs Doceo Publishing and is a contributing editor to EventDV and Streaming Media.