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June 9th, 2012

Mini-PCIe SSD in MacMini

Been playing with ports/drives/SSDs in MacMinis recently and I thought I would attempt something that I hadn’t seen anyone else try.

Replace the Mini-PCIe Airport card in an Intel MacMini with an SSD. The idea being that this would become the boot device to the 2 mirrored drives internally.

So I picked up this item off eBay: SuperTalent 32 GB,Internal (FEM32GFDL) (SSD) Solid State Drive

These are primarily meant for a Dell Mini 9, but I hoped the Mac would see it as a regular drive. This MacMini is running 10.6.8 Server.

Tore MacMini open, installed card, put everything back together and booted the system.

Unfortunately the drive was not recognized.

It didn’t show up in Disk Utility. I did look through the device tree with IORegistryExplorer and found what looked like an entry for the card, but apparently there aren’t any drivers for this type of device (essentially a PATA bus/drive presented via the PCIe interface).

Next 2 stops down the road of MacMini Mania are the hack of connecting one of the internal SATA ports out through the case to an eSATA device. (Drobo S likely) and trying the Mini PCIe card that adds 2 SATA ports (same external eSATA connection)




Posted by Brian Blood as Hardware at 4:03 PM UTC

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May 23rd, 2011

Differences in Hardware/Software for a Database Server

I previously posted about the migration we performed for a customer for their email server.

This weekend we performed a cutover for another client from an older dedicated MySQL database server to a newer piece of hardware. First, the graph:


And so where the system was under an almost continuous load of 1.0, the system now seems almost bored.

Specs for old DB Server

Specs for new DB Server

The client is understandably very happy with the result.


Posted by Brian Blood as Database, Hardware, Linux, MySQL, Servers at 11:31 AM UTC

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March 31st, 2011

Debian 6.0 Squeeze on Xserve G5 with 4TB

As far as Apple servers go, Xserve G5s are now in a tight spot.

  1. Good: Reasonably fast CPUs, they are certainly powerful enough for most any internet based web site
  2. Good: They can take 8/16GB of RAM
  3. Good: They support SATA disks so at least you can buy modern replacements.
  4. Bad: Mac OS X Server support halted at Leopard
  5. Good/Bad: Hardware RAID works, for the most part.
  6. Good: FireWire 800
  7. Bad: Only one power supply
  8. Bad: Only 2 slots for expansion cards. No built-in video.
  9. Good/Bad: Market value is pretty low right now.

I’m not one to let extra server hardware lay around. I’ll find a use for it. I still have Xserve G4s in production. However, I’d like to see a more up to date, leaner OS run on it and Debian keeps a very good port up to date for PowerPC. With the latest rev, 6.0, just released, I thought I would combine the two and see what results. My main goal is to be able to continue to use these machines for certain specific tasks and not have to rely on Apple to keep the OS up to date, as Leopard support will surely drop pretty soon.

Some uses I can think of immediately:

  1. Dedicated MySQL replication slave – with enough disk space and RAM, I can create multiple instances of MySQL configured to replicate from our different Master Servers and perform mysqldumps for backup purposes on the slaves instead of the masters.
  2. Dedicated SpamAssassin, ClamAV scanners.
  3. Bulk mail relay/mailing list server.
  4. DNS resolver
  5. Bulk File Delivery/FTP Server
  6. Bulk Backup storage.
  7. iSCSI target for some of the Xen-based virtualization we have been doing. Makes it easy to backup the logical volume for a domU. Just mount the iSCSI target from within dom0 and dd the domU’s LV over to an image file on the Xserve G5.

First goal is to determine how easy it is to install/manage this kind of setup. Second is to define how well the system performs under load.

As for configuration, the main thing I’m curious about is whether the Hardware RAID PCI card works and is manageable from within Debian. I would likely choose to not use that card, as doing so would require more stringent/expensive disk options and would take another PCI slot. In the end, I’ll likely lean towards a small SSD to use for the Boot volume and then software RAID mirror 2 largish SATA drives in the other bays. I don’t expect to use this system for large amounts of transaction work, so something reliable and large is the goal as we want to extend the life of this system another couple of years.

Partitioning and Basic Install

Using just a plain 80GB SATA disk in Bay 1, I was able to install from the NetInstall CD without issue. The critical item appears to be creating a set of partitions correctly to make sure the OpenFirmware will boot the system correctly:

  1. 32k Apple partition map – created automatically by the partitioner
  2. 1MB partition for the yaboot boot loader
  3. 200MB partition for /boot
  4. 78GB partition for /
  5. 1.9GB partition for swap

Things installed smoothly and without issue. Worked like a normal Debian install should. System booted fairly quickly; shutdown and cold-boot worked as expected.

This partitioning setup comes from: XserveHowTo

Hardware RAID PCI card compatibility

I dropped in one of these cards and a set of 3 Apple firmware drives I have laying around and booted the system off the CD. Unfortunately, I immediately started getting some spurious failures with the keyboard/video/network. No problem, to keep using that card with bigger drives will require buying expensive Apple-firmware drives. No thanks. This is a simple bulk data server, so I pull the card out and now that leaves me a slot for another NIC or some other card.

Software RAID and the SSD Boot disk

Linux also has a software RAID 5 capability, so the goal will be to use 2TB SATA disks in each of the three drive bays. Then use software RAID5 to create a 4TB array. One important thing to note when putting these newer bigger disks into the Xserve: make sure to put the jumper on the drives pins to force SATA 1 (1.5Gps) mode. Otherwise the SATA bus on the Xserve will not recognize the drive. Your tray will simply have a continuously lit activity LED.

With the 3 drive bays occupied by the 2TB drives, instead of configuring and installing the OS on the RAID5 array, I thought I would be clever and put a simple little 2.5″ SSD into a caddy that replaces the optical drive and that would serve as my boot drive.

The optical drive in the Xserve G5 is an IDE model, but no worry, you can purchase a caddy with an IDE host interface and a SATA disk interface. The caddy has a IDE/SATA bridge built into it.

I happened to have a 32GB IDE 2.5″ SSD, so I got a straight IDE/IDE caddy. Ultimately, you will want to have that drive in place when you run the installer which turns out to not be so easy, but it is doable.

The general outline for this install is: perform a hard drive media install with an HFS formatted SATA disk in Bay 1. Install to the SSD in the optical caddy, then setup the MD RAID5 device comprising of the 3 x 2TB disks AFTER you get the system setup and running on the SSD. Because of the peculiarities of OpenFirmware and the yaboot boot loader, it’s much simpler to get the system installed on a setup that will be the final configuration.

Hard Disk Based Install

Basic outline:

  1. Format new HFS volume on a SATA disk
  2. copy the initrd.gz, vmlinux, yaboot and yaboot.conf files onto the disk.
  3. Place disk into ADM tray and insert into bay 1.
  4. Have a USB stick with the broadcom firmware deb package on it plugged into the server.
  5. Boot the machine into OpenFirmware (Cmd-Apple-O-F)
  6. issue command: boot hd:3,yaboot; If that doesn’t work try: boot hd:4,yaboot
  7. choose “install” from yaboot screen
  8. perform standard Debian installation

From this point, on there aren’t really any differences between this system and any other debian install.


After installation is complete, shut the system down and insert the three 2TB disks and boot back up.

Install MDADM and LVM packages:

apt-get install mdadm lvm2

Basic steps for creating the RAID 5 array:

  1. setting up partition table and single linux RAID partition on each 2TB drive
  2. creating RAID5 array with:   mdadm –level=raid5 –raid-devices=3/dev/sda2/dev/sdb2/dev/sdc2

Logical Volume Manager setup:

The idea here is to grab the entire 4TB logical disk designate it as a “physical volume” upon which we will put a single “Logical Volume Group” for LVM to manage. That way we can create seperate Logical Volumes within the VG for different purposes. iSCSI target support will want to use a LV, so we can easily carve out a 1TB  section of the Logical Volume Group and do the same for potentially other purposes.

Basic LVM setup commands:

  1. pvcreate /dev/md0
  2. vgcreate vg1 /dev/md0

Here is the resulting disks and volume group:

root@debppc:~# df -h
Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/hda4              26G  722M   24G   3% /
tmpfs                 492M     0  492M   0% /lib/init/rw
udev                  486M  204K  486M   1% /dev
tmpfs                 492M     0  492M   0% /dev/shm
/dev/hda3             185M   31M  146M  18% /boot
root@debppc:~# vgs
 VG   #PV #LV #SN Attr   VSize VFree
 vg1    1   0   0 wz--n- 3.64t 3.64t


lvcreate --size=1T --name iSCSIdiskA vg1

So to recap the layers involved here:

  1. 3 physical 2TB disks, sda, sdb, sdc
  2. Linux RAID type partition on each, sda2, sdb2, sdc2 (powerpc partitioning likes to put a 32K Apple partition at the start)
  3. Software RAID5 combining the three RAID partitions into a single multi-disk device: md0
  4. LVM taking the entire md0 device as a Physical Volume for LVM
  5. A single Volume Group: vg1 built on that md0 Physical Volume
  6. A single 1TB Logical Volume carved out of the 4TB Volume Group
  7. iSCSI could then share that Logical Volume out as a “disk” which is seen as a block-level device to be mounted on another computer which can format/partition as it sees fit. Even a Mac with iSCSI initiator driver, which could be in another country since it’s mounted over an IP network.


Used to be that running RAID5 in software was “inconceivable!”, but the Linux folks have latched onto the great SIMD engines that the chip manufacturers have put into their products over the years and are using that hardware directly to support RAID xor/parity operations. From dmesg:

[   14.298984] raid6: int64x1   1006 MB/s
[   14.370982] raid6: int64x2   1598 MB/s
[   14.442974] raid6: int64x4   1769 MB/s
[   14.514972] raid6: int64x8   1697 MB/s
[   14.586965] raid6: altivecx1  2928 MB/s
[   14.658965] raid6: altivecx2  3631 MB/s
[   14.730951] raid6: altivecx4  4550 MB/s
[   14.802961] raid6: altivecx8  3859 MB/s
[   14.807759] raid6: using algorithm altivecx4 (4550 MB/s)
[   14.816033] xor: measuring software checksum speed
[   14.838951]    8regs     :  5098.000 MB/sec
[   14.862951]    8regs_prefetch:  4606.000 MB/sec
[   14.886951]    32regs    :  5577.000 MB/sec
[   14.910951]    32regs_prefetch:  4828.000 MB/sec
[   14.915087] xor: using function: 32regs (5577.000 MB/sec)

So, running software RAID 5 should have minimal effect on the overall performance of this machine.


I’ve been running the system for a couple of weeks and a couple of observations:

  1. the software RAID 5 has not been a big deal as far as I can tell.
  2. after installing the hfsplus debian package I was able to attach and mount a firewire drive with data I wanted to move over quickly from a Mac OS X Server.
  3. I installed and compiled in the iscsitarget kernel module and started creating iscsi target volumes for use on some other servers. very nice.
  4. I configured my network interfaces using some clever ip route statements I found to attach and dedicate a different gigabit NIC for iSCSI purposes even though both interfaces are on the same subnet.
  5. The performance on the system is adequate, but not stupendous. I was copying about 300GB worth of MySQL tables from a database server using an iSCSI target volume and the load on the Xserve stayed around 8 for a couple of hours. Whether that’s good/bad I’m not sure.

Overall, it’s been an interesting exercise and I’m really glad I could repurpose the machine into such a useful item.

Posted by Brian Blood as Hardware, Linux, Servers at 12:47 PM UTC

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February 14th, 2011

Differences in Hardware/Software for an Email Server

One of our customers is running our ECMSquared Email server solution and recently decided they had outgrown the platform it was installed on. Mailbox access was slow, webmail was slow and it felt constantly overloaded.

When planning for an upgrade like this you have to allot for not only the hardware, but the expert’s time and this customer was on a tight budget, so they decided that spending money on our services making sure the transition was a higher priority than getting the biggest fanciest hardware rig. After all this is email, a service that may not seem critical, but it’s the first thing that people notice is not functioning correctly. So we put together a proposal for the migration.

Old system: Apple Xserve G5 – 2x 2.0Ghz G5 – 6GB RAM – 3 x 250GB SATA H/W RAID 5 running Tiger Server.

Upgrading the OS on the system from Tiger to Leopard Server should have yielded some performance gains, especially with the finer grained kernel locking that was introduced in Leopard, but with the main issue being slow mailbox access, we felt that the file system was going to continue to be the biggest bottleneck. HFS+ doesn’t handle 1000s of files in a single directory very efficiently and having the enumerate a directory like that on every delivery and every POP3/IMAP access was taking it’s toll. Also with Apple discontinuing PPC support along with the demise of the Xserve, the longevity of this hardware was assessed as low.

The decision was made to go to a Linux based system running ext3 as the file system. Obviously this opened up the hardware choices quite a bit.

A mail server is very much like a database server in that the biggest bottleneck is almost always disk throughput, not CPU or network. Based on the customers budget concerns we wanted to get them the biggest fastest drive array in the eventual system for the budget allowed. There aren’t a lot of choices when it comes to bigger/faster hard drives within a reasonable budget, so we ended up choosing a 3 x 146GB 10k rpm SCSI drives in a RAID 5 array.

New System: Dell PowerEdge 1750 – 2x 3.2Ghz Xeon – 8GB RAM – 3x 146GB NEW SCSI drives in HW RAID 5

Obviously this is relatively old hardware, but we were able to get everything procured along with some spare drives for ~$600

We installed Debian Lenny and custom-compiled version of Exim onto the system and ran several days of testing.
Then we migrated their system over late one night and everything went smoothly.

The change in that hardware/OS/file system stack produced the following graphic for the Load Average for the system:

Load Average

You can see how dramatic the difference in how loaded the server was from before. The customer is very happy in the snappiness of the system now.

Even though the server hardware is a bit older, it’s applying the right resources in the right spot that makes thing run very smoothly.

We expect many more years of usage from this system.

Posted by Brian Blood as Hardware, Linux, Mail Server, Servers at 10:48 PM UTC

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November 4th, 2010

First Dead MacMini Power Supply

I was at the datacenter we are moving out of this evening rearranging power connections for some straggler customers so I could free up some power feeds. As part of that process I was unplugging and replugging power supplies in a load balanced set of MacMinis and I went to turn one of them back on and it would not power on. Turns out the power supply must have died, perhaps from a spike. I’ve worked with MacMinis of varying designed for many years now, easily over 50 of them and this is the first one I’ve had that died.

I guess that’s a good track record.

Posted by Brian Blood as Hardware at 12:11 AM UTC

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July 26th, 2010

Ubuntu Server 10.04 on a Dell PowerEdge 2450

We have a Dell PowerEdge 2450 laying around doing nothing, and my friend asked to set up a server for him so he has a dedicated system to do some Drupal work. I said, no problem….. Boy was I in for it.

I downloaded the Server ISO and burned it. After upgrading the RAM from 1GB to 2GB and setting up the 3 x 18GB 10k rpm SCSI disks in a RAID 5, I booted from the fresh disc and the Ubuntu installer came up and when it dropped into the Debian base installation and tried to load components from CD, it would get stuck about 17% of the way through saying it could not read the CD-ROM any longer. So, I tried burning another copy…. Same thing.

OK, this system is pretty old, so I swap out the older CD-ROM for a tray-load DVD-ROM. Same thing, but at 21%. Grrr.

I try a THIRD CD burn in a different burner and still halts at 21%. I pop into the psuedo-shell in the Installer and try to do a ls on the /cdrom directory. I get some Input/Output error lines for docs, isolinux and some other items, but do get some output lines from that directory….

OK, now I’m wondering if my ISO didn’t perhaps get corrupted in the initial download. Unfortunately, Ubuntu does NOT provide MD5 checsums on their ISO images at least not directly on their website where you download it.

Let’s ask the Google. Apparently others have had the same issue since at least the 7.0 series. The Minimal CD works, but there doesn’t seem to be a way to install into the Server version from that.

I finally find a post (see link below) where success was had by using a SECOND copy of the Installer in a USB connected CD-ROM drive. The system boots off the internal CD but pulls all the material off the CD on the USB drive.

It is finishing the install as I type this.

Wow, what a Rabbit-hole!

Just another example of: “Linux is Free if you’re time is worth nothing”

Posted by Brian Blood as Hardware, Linux, Servers at 9:05 PM UTC

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May 17th, 2010

The Great Leap Beyond One – Creating Scalable PHP Web Applications

I gave a presentation to the Dallas PHP user group on May 11, 2010 on Creating Scalable PHP Web Applications.

Download the presentation in PDF.

Here is a basic outline:

Posted by Brian Blood as Content Networking, Database, Hardware, MySQL, php, Servers, Web App Development at 11:47 PM UTC

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January 8th, 2009

noatime for Mac OS X Server boot disk

The new G4 MacMini with the SSD is running beautifully. However, there is one little detail I’d like to take care of to help prolong the life of the SSD: disable the atime updating in the file system.

When we build out Linux servers, one of the configuration changes we always make is to add a noatime flag to the mount options for the file systems. atime is the Last Access Timestamp and really is useless in a server environment.

After some empirical testing…..

Under Tiger:

# mount -uvw -o noatime /
/dev/disk0s3 on / (local, journaled)

no effect. Even produced this entry in the system.log:

Jan 8 14:19:27 vpn KernelEventAgent[34]: tid 00000000 received
unknown event (256)


# mount -vuw -o noatime /
/dev/disk4 on / (hfs, local, journaled, noatime)

where it looks to be supported…

The test is to check the last access time with a ls -lu , then simply cat the file, then ls -lu again.

I guess I’ll need to upgrade the Mini to Leopard Server!

Posted by Brian Blood as Hardware, OS X Server at 3:27 PM UTC

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December 20th, 2008

Solving the MySQL on Windows Open File limit – VMWare Linux

This is a continuation of the saga of helping a customer of ours with their MySQL on Windows issues.

The basic premise is that MySQL 5 running under Windows has problems with large numbers of connections/open files.

We initially presented our client with 2 choices for solving their problem:

  1. Setup MySQL on a different server running Linux
  2. Move their database backend from MySQL to Microsoft SQL Server

Option 1 would require a non-trivial capital outlay and time to setup and migrate the data over

Option 2 held more interest for them as a longer term solution as they were interested in some of the powerful reporting and analysis tools. However, the server that all of this was running on turned out to present a problem in the following way:

The system is a Dell PowerEdge 2950 with dual dual-core Xeons (with HyperThreading enabled, resulting in 8 logical cpus), 8GB RAM and running Windows 2003 Server x64. For a general ballpark estimate of pricing for MS SQL Server, I went to the Dell website and configured a similar machine and went to select a SQL Server as an add-on. Due to the way that Microsoft prices SQL Server for a web environment, you must license it for each processor you have installed in your server. A dual-processor licensed SQL Server 2005 running under Windows x64 turned out to be in excess of $14,000 on that page.

Needless to say, the customer had a bit of sticker shock. Not only would they have to plop down FOURTEEN grand, they would still need man-hours to work out kinks in transitioning the backend of the app from MySQL. Getting a fully loaded separate server for half that cost running Linux/MySQL was looking more attractive.

I was chatting with a friend about the customers dilemma and he had a brilliant suggestion: Run a Linux instance under VMWare on the existing hardware.

I broached the idea with the client and they were game to give it a shot. The server was at this point extremely underutilized and was only limited by the specific software implementations. They were already running MySQL here anyway, so putting a different wrapper around it in order to escape those limits was worth investigating.

The server needed some more disk space so they ordered 6 more of the 146GB 2.5″ SAS drive modules like the 2 that were already installed in a mirrored pair. These are great little devices for getting a decent number of spindles into a database server.

While they did that I installed the latest Release Candidate of VMWare Server 2.0 and went about setting up a Debian based Linux install with the latest MySQL 5.0 binary available. During testing we had some interesting processor affinity issues for the VM environment and after a very good experience and excellent responses in the VMWare community forums, I tweaked the config to have that VirtualMachine attach itself to processors 5-8 which correspond to all of the logical cpus on the second socket. This left the first socket’s worth of cpus for OS and IIS/ASP usage. Doing this would help avoid the cache issues that occur with multi-cpu systems and multi-threaded processes.

I ended up configuring the VM for 3.5GB RAM, 2 processors and tweaking the MySQL config to make good use of those resources for their INNOdb based tables.

The system has been running very reliably for over 2 months and is making very good use of the resources on that system. Load Average in the VM stays well under 1.0 and the cpus in the Windows system are easily handling all the different loads.

Overall I spent probably 8-10 hours installing and tweaking the config and helping them migrate their data. This was much less expensive to the other options and they got to make use of their existing hardware and software configurations.

A very positive experience and outcome.

Posted by Brian Blood as Database, Hardware, Linux, MySQL, Servers at 2:41 PM UTC

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Mac Mini VPN Server with internal SSD

In our continuing adventures of putting the highly versatile Apple MacMini to work in all sorts of applications:

A customer of ours has a specialized application that is extremely low bandwidth, but needs to be able to be accessed through a VPN connection to a protected network resource. All the usual suspects for providing this kind of service (Netscreen/SSG, Netopia) all have artificial limits on the number of concurrent VPN connections. In order to service the number of concurrent users (anywhere from 1 to 200), the customer would be looking at least $5,000 for a capable device. Again, this system is very low bandwidth, so these kinds of devices would be serious overkill.

In comes the MacMini running Tiger Server with the built-in VPN service.

However… the MacMini has always had a single weak spot: the hard drive. Even with a very low disk based usage that a dedicated VPN Server would entail that vulnerability to a disk failure has always bothered me and I wanted this VPN server to be on par in terms of reliability as much as possible compared to a hardware device. Even the MacMinis that we build out for customers in a load balanced environment, we always replace with a extended use rated drive, as the extra $100 is a nominal expenditure compared to the time that would be involved in dealing with a failed system.

In comes the Solid State Disk. A 32GB SSD with a IDE interface runs just under $100. For a system running primarily as a VPN Server, this is PLENTY of space as the only real ongoing writes will be log files. I chose a MLC (Multi-Level Cell) device over a SLC (Single Level Cell) based device as the differences in speed and longevity between the two variations of SSD just were not a factor in this application. A MLC SSD already has a useful lifetime/MTBF an order of magnitude greater than a standard Winchester based disk with it’s moving parts.

In the end I used a 1.33Ghz G4 (PowerPC, not Intel) MacMini with 1GB of RAM, as that CPU should be able to easily handle the tasks of handling a couple hundred concurrent VPN connections using 1-2Kbits/sec each. Again, VERY low bandwidth application.

I took the MacMini with it’s original 40GB Seagate drive and installed Tiger Server so I could get it updated and setup while I waited for the SSD to arrive from the online vendor. When I was ready to install the SSD, I used Disk Utility to save the installed system to a disk image. Installing the SSD was straightforward and not any different that replacing the internal drive on a MacMini. I then booted from CD, formatted the new SSD device and then performed a Restore operation of the installed Tiger Server onto the new SSD.

One thing that was very interesting to watch… SSDs perform their best with you throw a large amount of sequential reads/writes at them. When doing a Restore with Disk Utility it’s best to use the “Erase Destination” option as that will enable the imaging system the best opportunity to use a Block level Restore, instead of a File based Restore. A Block level Restore streams data at the disk and the SSD just ate this up. I Restored the 3.2GB installed System image in about 3 minutes. This is about 3 times faster than restoring back to the 40GB Seagate (I went back and tried it for comparison)

As always, when deploying a new type of setup we test the power utilization and found that 1) the G4 MacMini uses a ridiculously low amount of Amps; 2) the SSD didn’t really save much power usage.

Some anecdotes from my ammeter (we use 120V here in the States):

Max CPU/Disk 0.25A 0.24A
Cold Start spike 0.26A 0.25A
Idle 0.13A 0.12A

Adding a USB Ethernet Adapter increased all values by about 0.06A
This is necessary for the backside network resource routing.

Some pictures

Transcend 32GB SSD

Transcend 32GB SSD

Transcend 32GB SSD upright

Transcend 32GB SSD upright

Transcend 32GB SSD in Apple System Profiler

Transcend 32GB SSD in Apple System Profiler

And of course the obligatory speed of boot/login videos:



We have several more G4 MacMinis and are looking for appropriate applications to utilize them especially with an ultra-reliable drive installed.

Posted by Brian Blood as Colocation, Hardware, OS X Server, Routers and Firewalls, Servers at 1:41 PM UTC

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