The silver tower Mac Pro is an extremely popular machine, especially among audio and video engineers. They are easy to upgrade, self-contained and when maxed out, they perform reasonably close to current Apple hardware.
There are countless Mac Pro users – mostly with 4,1 and 5,1 (2009-2012) hardware – who have maxed out the RAM, graphics cards, and disk performance on their computers.
Many of these maxed out Mac Pro models use SoftRAID to create a RAID volume using the four SATA drive bays at the top of the Mac Pro. These disks are often combined to create a RAID 5 volume, which can provide speed and protection from disk failure, and can easily generate 400MB/s reads and writes on SATA disks.
With the introduction of the 2018 Mac mini, is it time to migrate?
I want to explore this question from the perspective of disk performance. How difficult is it to move your storage from the Mac Pro you’re using now to a new 2018 Mac mini? How much performance gain should you expect with those same disks?
Can you really expect to get faster performance on your existing RAID volume? Let’s find out!
The ‘Old’ Mac Pro:
We start with a 2009 Mac Pro 4,1, essentially identical in storage performance to the last Mac Pro tower Apple shipped in 2012, the Mac Pro 5,1.
- Computer: Mac Pro 4,1 2009 with Quad core processors
- Memory: 32GB
- Built-in storage: Lower DVD slot, a high-performance 1TB OWC SSD
- PCI Bus: OWC Accelsior 1TB
- Drives: Four 5TB Toshiba drives in trays
Notes: I tested with two different SSD startup drives, one on a SATA SSD installed in the lower DVD slot and the other on an OWC Accelsior PCI card. These are the most common upgrades for users to increase performance on their startup volumes. While the DVD lower slot is only SATA 2, it still provides a reasonable startup volume for many users.
I used four Toshiba 5TB drives, as larger drives do not easily fit in the Mac Pro. (The screw locations changed with 6TB drives, which require new tray brackets.)
The New 2018 Mac mini:
- Computer: Mac mini 2018
- Memory: 16GB
- Built-in storage: 256GB internal SSD
- Drives: The same four Toshiba 5TB drives that were originally in the Mac Pro installed in a ThunderBay 4 with Thunderbolt 3
I configured the Mac Pro with 5TB Toshiba drives because these are great performers for their size, and they install easily in both the Mac Pro and ThunderBay 4. The same 5TB drives were used in all of the below tests. I wanted to see if their performance would improve just by changing the enclosure and the CPU which I used, without changing the disks themselves.
Let’s investigate! First, what about the startup volume? The 2018 Mac mini I used has a 256GB SSD for the startup volume.
This generates excellent performance with Reads of 3,138MB/s and Writes: 1,187MB/s
Compared that with the startup volume on the Mac Pro: Installed SSD (lower tray) had Reads of 267MB/s and Writes of 236MB/s while the OWC Accelsior had Reads of 646MB/s and Writes of 645MB/s
Verdict: You get amazing startup drive performance with the Mac Mini 2018! Over 4X the fastest available option for the 2009 Mac Pro.
Now let’s look at the RAID volume
Mac Pro 2009: Inside the Mac Pro, we had four Toshiba 5 TB drives, configured as either RAID 0 or RAID 5 volumes.
This is the performance starting point with the Mac Pro 4,1:
Tests were done with RAID 0 (Stripe) and RAID 5 volumes.
Note that these are excellent numbers. A RAID 5 with a Quad Core Xenon does very well. It’s easy to understand why many users keep these machines so long.
Mac mini 2018: Let’s see what happens to RAID storage just by moving the drives to a ThunderBay 4 with Thunderbolt 3 enclosure and connecting it to our 2018 Mac mini. These are the same drives as above. The only thing we did was remove them from the Mac Pro, and install them into a ThunderBay. It should be noted that the drives do not need to be formatted, or reconfigured, SoftRAID automatically recognized the drives as belonging to a single volume and mounts the volume.
Mac mini 2018 RAID Volume Performance with the same 5TB Toshiba drives:
We measure up to 30% performance increase on the same drives!
While the Mac Pro has been a fabulous, flexible and very upgradeable performer, the newer hardware is in another class as expected. While this mini-review has focused on storage performance, video/graphics performance is dramatically improved.
Here is a takeaway table: