Running programs from an external hard drive: good or bad idea?
April 8, 2006 7:18 PM   Subscribe

Running programs from an external hard drive... good idea or bad idea, and why?

I have a first-generation iMac, and I'm just about out of space on the hard drive. I'm picking up an external drive (probably this one), and will transfer all of my files, music projects, mp3s and so forth to it.

My question: I'm using music appplications with this computer (Audacity and GarageBand, and will upgrade to Logic soon), and GarageBand occasionally freezes up. I was told that part of the problem is the relatively slow rotational speed of the iMac's drive (I have adequate RAM). The speed of the external hard drive I want is pretty fast, so I shouldn't encounter the same problem with GarageBand if I can run it from the external drive.

I talked briefly with someone at the Mac Store who said that running programs from an external drive is "not recommended," but didn't elaborate. Is there a good reason for this, or is he just trying to get me to buy another computer? If I were to run programs from there how would I do it... and if it's a bad idea, why?
posted by the_bone to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
 
In my experience, OSX won't let you install Apple software (iLife etc.) on a different drive from the system software. I think GarageBand applies here. But you can teach iMovie, at least, to use an external drive as a scratch disk, which would solve the slow-drive-speed problem (it's struggling to keep up with writing the data, not with reading the application file itself, which is trivial). You can do the same with GarageBand by saving your songs to the external drive rather than the default folder.
posted by argybarg at 7:29 PM on April 8, 2006


Chances are, you don't need to run the program itself from the external drive. I'd expect that the code for the application is loaded into memory at startup time and isn't much touched again while you're using it, so placing it on an external disk wouldn't help much anyway.

Now, placing your sound and project files on a faster disk -- that's likely to have some benefits, especially if the disk is considerably speedier and firewire.

So, run GarageBand from your machine, but save your stuff out to your external disk.
posted by weston at 7:31 PM on April 8, 2006


Makes sense. Thanks!
posted by the_bone at 7:45 PM on April 8, 2006


Or you could just spend another couple hundred bucks and get an intel mac mini, thus solving the rest of the problems you described.
posted by zerolives at 7:57 PM on April 8, 2006


They probably don't want you to install programs on an external drive because if you do, you can duplicate the drive, and then use the programs on another computer, without re-purchasing them.

It's basically a simple DRM system.

There is no technical reason why a program couldn't be installed on a removable drive, although if you removed it while the program was running it could cause problems.

Although the program itself will be loaded into memory (memory which will probably be swapped back out to the main hard drive at some point in a virtual memory system) a program may need to go back and grab some files stored in it's primary folder. If those are on a hard drive which has been removed, it could cause unexpected behavior.

But if you're sure the drive will remain connected, there is no technical reason (other then DRM) why a program can't be run from an external drive.
posted by delmoi at 8:11 PM on April 8, 2006


Or you could just spend another couple hundred bucks and get an intel mac mini, thus solving the rest of the problems you described.

Not really. The mac mini's only have 5400-rpm hard drives, which is still pretty slow. An external drives would probably be a fast 7200-rpm.

(For the record, the G4 mini I have uses a 4500-rpm one, which is just depressing.)
posted by smackfu at 8:43 PM on April 8, 2006


Truly first-gen iMacs (Rev A.) didn't have FireWire, just USB 1.1. For that performance reason alone I would avoid running anything but the tiniest-footprint apps from an external USB 1.1 drive.

If you are using a later-gen iMac with FireWire, the answer is "it depends on the application developer." Some developers let you install apps on any drive. Others (usually for valid performance reasons) code the installers to force you to install on the boot drive. Circumventing this usually works against you.
posted by markmillard at 1:01 AM on April 9, 2006


5400 RPM internal HDs are adequate for audio recording, depending on the processor and RAM situation. Certainly for stereo recording and editing (probably up to about 8 tracks) on a Mac Mini.

The big problem is the old iMac's processor -- probably a 233 or 300 MHz G3, and likely a limited amount of RAM as well (I recall 512MB as the max on a rev A iMac?), no USB 2 or firewire, etc. Logic will not run well on that machine no matter what hard drive setup you've got. Time for a nice new intel mini. You could use an external 7200 RPM USB 2 or FW HD with that as a scratch drive for max performance with audio. Running Logic on a Rev A iMac makes no sense.

Also, you always want to run an audio recording app from the boot drive if possible, but write to a fast second drive as a scratch disk. In general, leave your apps on the boot drive and save files to other drives for audio work. But it's time to retire the iMac. Life goes on.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:51 AM on April 9, 2006


5400 RPM internal HDs are adequate for audio recording, depending on the processor and RAM situation. Certainly for stereo recording and editing (probably up to about 8 tracks) on a Mac Mini.

The big problem is the old iMac's processor -- probably a 233 or 300 MHz G3, and likely a limited amount of RAM as well (I recall 512MB as the max on a rev A iMac?), no USB 2 or firewire, etc. Logic will not run well on that machine no matter what hard drive setup you've got. Time for a nice new intel mini. You could use an external 7200 RPM USB 2 or FW HD with that as a scratch drive for max performance with audio. Running Logic on a Rev A iMac makes no sense.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:51 AM on April 9, 2006


Also, what kind of audio interface are you using with the iMac? Lacking firewire or USB 2 or PCI slots, there is really no good modern way to get more than two tracks of audio into that machine without serious latency problems, at best. If you're upgrading to Logic, one presumes you also either have or intend to get a good audio interface unit. You'll want a computer to match.
posted by fourcheesemac at 10:01 AM on April 9, 2006


Skallas: Rev A iMac's don't have a "proprietary" SATA bus. I don't think they even take standard PCI cards. I don't see any way you could put an internal SATA drive on an iMac. (or do you mean something else?

In my experience, a 5200 RPM ATA hard drive can handle 4-8 tracks of simultaneous 16 bit audio if the signal never flows across a slow bus (USB 1, for example) and you have enough RAM and a fast enough processor for multitrack recording. 7200 is nice. SATA is nicer. Or Firewire 800. All of those are necessary if you get into 8+ tracks with a lot of onboard signal processing.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:38 PM on April 9, 2006


Ah, thanks. I didn't bother to look at the La Cie. It requires a PCI card interface, as you note. I wouldn't buy ANY La Cie drive, but that's another subject (search askme to hear all the horror stories). In any case, we all seem to agree. A Rev A iMac is a museum piece at this point. Anything you spend to try to extend its life is a waste. It can retire to become a nice fileserver or music playing jukebox.

I believe the Rev A iMacs came with 10GB hard drives, so if the OP still has the original config, s/he would possibly be advised to simply put a bigger ATA drive in his/her machine's boot drive slot for the cheapest temporary fix. Max the RAM, shut down all unnecessary applications and services, and see how you do for audio.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:36 PM on April 9, 2006


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