Friday, July 12, 2013

Systems Upgrade

I haven't done anything with my home computer systems for several years and it seemed like time for some upgrades and some preventative maintenance.

My Time Capsule is getting older and I knew sooner or later it would fail. It's nice having wireless router and network storage all in one unit. On the other hand, if it fails you're in trouble. Being paranoid about backups, I also decided I should have some kind of redundant storage.

So I replaced the Time Capsule with an ASUS RT-AC66U wireless router and a Synology DS413 4 bay NAS server with three 2tb Western Digital Red drives. The default setup for the Synology NAS will handle a single drive failure without losing any data. It combines the capacity of all the drives so I ended up with about 4tb of storage from the three 2tb drives. I can add a fourth drive at any time (of any size) if I need more space. This was a pretty painless upgrade and improved both wireless and storage speed and space.

I've been mildly tempted by a new iMac, but mostly for more memory and an SSD, which I decided I could get without replacing the whole machine, since it's got a decent i7 and is otherwise fine. (USB 3 and Thunderbolt would be nice, but not essential.) One advantage of the older iMac over the newer models is that it has the SD memory card slot on the side whereas the new "skinny" machines have it on the back where it would be a lot more awkward to use.

The trick was that I need more space (mostly for photos) than I can reasonably get with an SSD, which meant an SSD plus a hard drive. But since my model of iMac doesn't have space for a second drive, that meant removing the optical drive and putting the SSD there (using a "data doubler"). I didn't really mind losing the optical drive - I can't remember the last time I used it. A new iMac wouldn't have had one anyway. And I can always get an external one.

I could have kept the existing 2tb hard drive since it wasn't full, but I decided to set up a "Fusion" drive which combines the hard drive and SSD and automatically migrates data to the appropriate drive. This requires wiping out the hard drive and I was nervous about depending on my backups. So I bought a new 3tb Seagate Barracuda drive and kept the old drive as an extra backup.

I also upgraded the memory from 8gb to 16gb.

Having been in the computer business through the whole progression from 5mb hard drives to 500mb, to gigabytes, and now to terabytes, I sometimes have to think twice about the sizes I'm talking about. Is that backup 1000mb or 1000gb? I know everyone's tired of hearing it from us old timers, but it's still mind boggling that the current drives have grown something like a million times bigger over the course of one working career.

If it had been a PC I probably would have done the upgrade myself (although my hardware days are long past), but to get inside an iMac you have to take the glass off the front which seemed a little scary to me so I got our local Apple dealer to do it.

I had made an OS X installer USB thumb drive beforehand and I had no problems booting from this, setting up the Fusion drive, and installing OS X. Then I used the Migration Assistant to restore from my Time Machine backup. This took roughly 4 hours for about a terabyte of data and restored all my files and applications. It was nice not having to re-install applications.

The only thing I missed was my Parallels Windows VM. For some reason this wasn't included in my Time Machine backup. I had previously excluded it, but I was sure I had started including it. I'm not sure what happened.

I put my old hard drive into an external USB 3 / Firewire 800 enclosure and retrieved the VM with no problems.

The iMac definitely seems faster. If I watch the drive activity (using iStat Menus) it appears the Fusion drive is working properly. The only concern I have is that the new hard disk seems to be running quite hot, even when the machine has been "sleeping". The preferences are set to power down the drive but it maybe that isn't working.

All in all it went quite smoothly and hopefully will keep me happy for a few more years.

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