DevicesRaidDriver

The Sonnet card is for the Power Mac G-series machines and may not work with the 8500, but they are all PCI bus machines so it is possible.worth a call to Sonnet since they don't list the 8500 series on their website. I added a Sonnet G4/450 MHz to my old Power Mac 7600/132 and it was a great machine.still works too. Hello all, First post in the PowerPC forum, really at all, but I have been enjoying your PPC forum here for about a year now. You guys remind me of why I loved Macs when I first got into computers. You guys are like the cool video gurus in the 80s-90s on Quantel Paintboxes, Amigas, and SGI.

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Hardware Review: Aurora Ignitor With Sonnet Tempo ATA 100 Card

December, 2001

Aurora Igniter with the Sonnet Tempo ATA100 card


Review By Tom Wolsky

SCSI is dead. The Small Computer Serial Interface, which has probably had its longest and staunchest adherents in the video community, can now finally be put to rest. Okay, so perhaps that's a bit of hyperbole. It seems though that EIDE drives, as we knew would eventually happen, have won the day. The last stronghold of SCSI, the high data rate to uncompressed video editing system, can now be run on EIDE drives. Medéa has for some time been making their VideoRAID boxes using multiple EIDE drives. These have been very efficient, if a bit pricey. For smaller companies, like project studios such as ours, a new solution is available for those with more modest means. The Sonnet Tempo ATA100 card allows you to connect and stripe internal EIDE drives as an array. A company called FirmTek, the first producers of SCSI to EIDE conversion software, wrote Sonnet's firmware. Their firmware on the Sonnet card is at the core of this remarkable technology.

Some systems of course will still need SCSI for a while, but even that probably won't last long. We tested ATA100 drives, but ATA133 are coming on line and even faster drives are in the pipeline.

We tested the Sonnet controller card using a pair of identical IBM 60G DeskStar EIDE drives. The drives were striped using SoftRAID, which is an extremely efficient and simple to use striping software. No geek speak need be spoken to accomplish this.


Figure 1 - SoftRAID Interface

To try out the set-up we used the IgniterRT board from Aurora Video Systems. The Igniter and IgniterRT come in a number of module added configurations starting at a base price of $1,149, going up to $5,499 for the full uncompressed, film support with realtime capabilities. Starting with the base composite and S-video input/output card, a daughter card can be added which provides component in and out up to 1.5:1 compression. Many would agree that for years the standard in image quality for digital video was achieved by Media100. It's hardware had the ability to create outstanding quality images with a considerable amount of compression. Using compression of 6:1, about 4.5MB per second, the hardware was able to achieve excellent results. At its highest date rate, 9MB per second, about 3:1 compression, Media100's results were the benchmark for video compression products. It passed almost every test without artifacting except occasionally some blockiness could be detected in the quivering aspen leaves test. After carefully looking at the Igniter's comparable compression settings, I found the Aurora board to be at least as good, and if I went to higher data rates, to 1.5:1 compression, the IgniterRT passed even the quivering aspen leaves test.

The Igniter's extensibility allows you to take the board a whole step further. Another daughter card allows you to add on a fully uncompressed option together with SDI in and out. Now the video is amazing and when you add graphical elements you get outstanding clarity and definition, no aliasing whatsoever, no matter how fine the font.

Of course this looks stunning on a component monitor, but the reality is that most people who view videos or television are not watching uncompressed video on a component monitor. More than likely they're watching on a heavily compressed MPEG2 digital transmission, or perhaps even on a VHS tape. That said, it's my experience that the higher the quality you start out with, and the longer you can maintain that quality the better the end product will be.

So here we are now, running pristine, uncompressed video with our IgniterRT, did I mention what was driving this video? That's right. It's still playing off those two EIDE drives striped with SoftRAID, controlled by the Sonnet Tempo ATA100 card. We captured video flawlessly, batch capturing in Final Cut, without a dropped frame. We filled the drives to within 20% of capacity and still never got a dropped frame. We built a sequence that was over an hour in length and laid out sections with eight tracks of audio (four stereo pairs), and played back the sequence in looped mode without dropping a frame. If I let it keep playing it would probably still be running that sequence.

For the techheads who understand these kinds of things you can find the numbers at BareFeats.

Remember the whine of SCSI drives, that sound of a helicopter getting ready to lift off. It's gone. Never, as they ran through the sequence, searching for material, did I hear a sound; the drives remained completely silent.

The board itself is a beautifully made piece of engineering. It's clearly designed by people who love their product. It comes very well packed with a great, rack-mountable breakout box and face-place. The
BOB includes composite, S-video, component and SDI ins and outs as well as balanced and unbalanced audio in and out, all connected by a massive, black cable to the PCI card. In addition to being genlockable Igniter provides a few features rarely if ever seen on breakout boxes, such as a luma key and chroma key output to feed a downstream keyer. It also has the ability to output timecode. This is a huge benefit to anyone who wants to send the timecode off their Final Cut Pro timeline directedly to a deck for recording.

The CD of Igniter software includes a pdf version of the manual (no printed manual unfortuanately), which gives very detailed connection set-ups.

The software includes the Igniter extensions, FCP presets (Figure 2) as well as Premiere presets, a control panel device called Ignition, and a separate application called Aurora Media Grab.


Figure 2 - FCP Presets

Media Grab is a simple capture window and seems to work with any DV or digitizing card (Figure 3).


Figure 3 - Aurora Media Grab

It allowed me to access an RTMac card as well as the Media100 card. With the right extension set loaded you could capture video and audio from any device without going into an editing application. This could be very handy for working with applications like After Effects, where you might only need a digitize a few, short shots or some screen grabs to bring into the compositing application.

The Ignition software shows the thoroughness with which the board and its capabilities were worked out. Just looking through the Ignition panels and the controls they offer will show you how much this board has to offer. Notice in the Capture panel (Figure 4) that Igniter has film capabilities with 24/23.976fps support. This is another optional extra that Aurora offers above the base board, allowing it to be configured in a variety of ways based on user requirements.


Figure 4 - Ignition Capture Panel

The Playback Panel allows you to control the preview size and other key preferences (Figure 5). Notice that output can be switched between 7.5IRE NTSC and zero black, giving the user much needed flexibility.


Figure 5 - Ignition Playback Panel

The General Panel (Figure 6) includes a very useful feature, the Video Previewer, which allows you to output your computer screen through the Igniter card onto your NTSC monitor, an essential tool when working with a compositing application such as After Effects or Commotion.


Figure 6 - Ignition General Panel

The Genlock/Key panel and Timecode panels give you far more control over your output, downstream keying, timecode write, TC location, user bits, etc, than in other systems I've seen.

The IgniterRT card offers single stream real-time playback for a limited number of color correction effects, Brightness, Contrast, Desaturate and SL Balance. More are on their way, including Proc Amp as well as Mask Shape, which will be a big leg up. The IgniterRT is a great package and when coupled with the Sonnet card, video of the highest quality can be achieved, on the desktop using an Apple G4.

There is one serious flaw in the Igniter card that is worth mentioning. The card is limited to working in specific resolutions, 720x486 or 360X243 in NTSC for instance. You cannot import an oversized Photoshop file, say 2000x1000 for pan and scan, nor can you create an oversized staging sequence, 2000x486 for instance, allowing you to create complex animation effects. The resolution limitation constraints the capabilities of the application, and is something I feel really needs to be addressed by Aurora.

copyright © Tom Wolsky 2001


Tom Wolsky
is the author of Final Cut Pro 2 Editing Workshop.
Tom graduated with honors from the London School of Film Technique, spent several years as a screenwriter; then worked at ABC News' London Bureau and in New York as a producer and operations manager for nearly 20 years at World News Tonight, World News Now, and Good Morning America. He's been teaching Television and Video in Northern California since 1992 and added Final Cut Pro to his editing repertoire last year.
He has his own production company, South Coast Productions, which is based on the Media 100, and is currently working on a short documentary for the Mendocino Land Trust.


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So far in this “pimp my ride” series, we have looked at upgrading the video subsytem of our Power Macintosh 7300/200 with an ATI Radeon 7000 Mac Edition video card (not much impact) and upgrading the CPU from the stock 200 MHz PowerPC 604e to a 400 MHz PowerPC G3 (BIG impact). In this last installment of our upgrade saga, we will look at upgrading the stock SCSI hard drive to an ATA-66 interfaced IDE drive.

The stock SCSI hard drive that shipped with the Power Macintosh 7300/200 may be many things, but FAST was not one of them. Using the Intech Hard Disk Speed Tools benchmarking program, I was able to measure the maximum transfer rate of the SCSI drive in my 7300 at about 9 MB/s. The graph below tells the tale.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this number. 10 MB/s is the advertised speed for Apple’s “Fast SCSI”, but to put this number in context, today’s SATA hard drives operate in the GB/s transfer range. Even the older IDE technology delivered up to 133 MB/s transfer speeds. 9 MB/s, while absolutely in spec, is simply SLOW!

To overcome this, I purchased on eBay a Sonnet Tempo ATA-66 IDE interface card. This PCI interfaced internal expansion card promised up to 66 MB/s transfer speeds, a worthy jump in performance vs. the existing SCSI drive. I happened to have a Seagate 3120814A 120 GB IDE hard drive in stock, and so I installed that into the second drive bay of the 7300.

I then installed the Sonnet Tempo ATA-66 into a spare PCI slot and connected an IDE cable from it to the newly installed Seagate IDE drive. For those that know about such things, I was careful to use the higher speed double conductor type of IDE cable, so as to get maximum speed out of the interface.

I restarted the machine and went into Drive Setup (the standard Apple utility, usually found in the Utilities folder of the boot drive). It obligingly found the drive and offered to initialize it. I will spare you the gory details of that process, but I partitioned the physical drive into several logical drives (one for use as a general files partition, one for use as a second Mac OS partition, and finally, two for a later Linux install on this machine) and initialized each one. That done, I now had no fewer than 5 logical drives showing up on my Mac OS desktop.

How fast was this new disk? Had I accomplished the 66 MB/s I was hoping for? I reran the Hard Disk Speed Tools benchmark, and got a disappointing 31 MB/s.

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This is still more than 3X the speed of the stock SCSI drive, but was only half of what should have been possible. I swapped IDE cables, I swapped out the Tempo ATA-66 for another Tempo and generally tried everything I could think of, but nothing would induce the interface to run any faster. I still haven’t solved this mystery, but 31 MB/s IS still a lot better than 9 MB/s, and so I decided to proceed with the testing based on this slower, but still much faster, hard drive and interface.

Clearly, to do any meaningful testing, I needed to be able to boot from, and run applications from, the IDE drive. The Sonnet Tempo ATA-66 box and documentation was very clear that this interface supported booting of the Macintosh and so I proceeded under that premise.

It was MUCH too much work to install a new version of Mac OS onto this new drive just for the purposes of testing, and so I took a very convenient shortcut. I simply copied my entire SCSI boot volume, folder by folder, to a partition of the IDE disk. I then “blessed” the system folder of this copy of my boot disk (if “blessing” of a system folder is a mystery to you, it is the arcane but simple process of making a Mac OS system folder bootable). Finally, I went into the Startup Disk X control panel and selected the new drive to boot from.

Windows

All set and ready to boot! Stop watch in hand, I hit the power button and timed the boot sequence. It clocked in at 1 minute and 40 seconds, or 100 seconds, from power up chime to the appearance of the control strip on the booted desktop. This may sound slow to you when examined through the lens of today, but this was GOOD! Prior to all of the upgrades undertaken as a part of this series, the equivalent boot time was 2 minutes and 57s, or 177 seconds.

However, I must note that after just the CPU upgrade undertaken earlier in this series, the boot time was already down to 2 minute and 5s, or 125s. Compared to the new time of 100 seconds this implies that booting from the 3X faster IDE hard drive hadn’t really bought me anything close to a 3X improvement. How could this be? As we noted in the CPU upgrade part of this series, it seems that booting is both CPU bound and disk bound.

What about other performance metrics? After the machine was booted, I tested a few programs that I had comparative metrics for:

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– Photoshop 6.0 Load Time: 12 seconds (vs. 27 seconds from SCSI drive)

– Corel Word Perfect 3.5e Load Time: 2 seconds (vs. 3 seconds from SCSI drive)

The improvement in Photoshop load time was impressive; Word Perfect less so, but still good.

Looking at the above, the net result of this decidedly unscientific examination of the relative speed impact of using a 3X faster IDE hard drive vs. the stock SCSI hard drive is that it had an observable impact. Booting was faster, but not THAT much faster, implying that booting was bound by more than just disk I/O. Some program launches were more than 2X faster, while others were only 50% faster or so.

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In summary, I think we can conclude that upgrading the hard drive of your Power Macintosh from SCSI to IDE is a worthy step, and one that will deliver you observable performance gains. Critically, booting is faster and program launching is faster. These two areas factor large in the subjective impression of the “speed” of a machine, and this all by itself makes a SCSI -> IDE upgrade well worth considering.

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That’s it for this installment! Stay tuned for final post in this series, a wrap up of all of the upgrade steps taken to date.