What Hard Drive Should I Buy?

Brian Beach, at the Backblaze Blog writes:

My last two blog posts were about expected drive lifetimes and drive reliability. These posts were an outgrowth of the careful work that we’ve done at Backblaze to find the most cost-effective disk drives. Running a truly unlimited online backup service for only $5 per month means our cloud storage needs to be very efficient and we need to quickly figure out which drives work.

Because Backblaze has a history of openness, many readers expected more details in my previous posts. They asked what drive models work best and which last the longest. Given our experience with over 25,000 drives, they asked which ones are good enough that we would buy them again. In this post, I’ll answer those questions.

Good data.

The Difference Between UHD and 4K

I haven’t paid much attention to news surrounding ‘4K’ or Ultra-HD (UHD) video resolutions up until very recently. I’d largely ignored the topic until the Mac Pro’s were released in December and it became a topic of discussion on ATP much to Casey’s dismay.

The topic of 4K video has crossed my radar from time to time over the past 4 or 5 years, such as when Youtube announced their support for 4K video back in July of 2010. At the time I didn’t think much of this as there was hardly any 4K content out and even fewer ways to see it in 4K. I thought of this as Google being Google in their typical way of allowing their engineers to drive their product development despite the fact that few if any of their customers would use this feature.

As a part of my job, I am responsible for all digital content at a major trade show once per year throughout whatever convention center we’re at. The trade show has between 25,000–30,000 attendees each year which means I’m usually dealing with 30–50 screens spread out around the buildings all with different content on them. To a non-green building professional this content won’t excite you but nevertheless, our marketing department find new and fun ways to make my life difficult each year in terms of formatting etc.

Over the last few years however, things have progressively gotten easier as all of the displays we rent or are given through donations (we’re a non-profit) and the computers we rent from our AV vendors have unified around 1080P for resolution and HDMI connectors. I’m able to tell our marketing folks to “just make everything 1920 x 1080” and this works for 95% of our content. [1]

You’d be surprised as how many college educated marketing & design-related people are starting new jobs, are fully versed in using Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign yet have no idea what 4:3 or 16:9 means without further explanation. I’m going to risk sounding like an old man when I said I wish college professors were teaching these people practical skills. [2]

Back to the main subject: 4K vs UHD. Recently I have seen these terms interchanged and I assumed they meant the same thing. They do not. Dylan Seeger at VS Forum writes:

Like 2K, 4K is a professional format used on the commercial side of video production most often seen by everyday consumers at commercial movie theaters equipped with the latest digital projectors. Unlike UHD, 4K has a different native aspect ratio. A true 4K image (4096x2160) has an aspect ratio of 1.9:1, while a true UHD image (3840x2160) is 1.78:1. We can see here that a 4K panel is actually wider by 256 pixels. This is a trivial number and doesn’t do much in terms of overall resolution or clarity of the image. I’m fairly certain that this minimal difference in resolution is what’s fueling many of us to call UHD “4K.”

This 256 horizontal pixel difference causes at least one major issue when dealing with consumer content. The problem is that almost all television content is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. If we were to view this content on a true 4K display, we would see black bars on the left and right side of the display to keep that original aspect ratio intact. While enthusiasts understand the reasoning behind this, most everyday viewers would find their TV content annoyingly masked with black bars, very similar to how they find black bars on their 1080p televisions annoying while viewing ’scope films. This is one of the main reasons for choosing 3840x2160 as the next-gen consumer resolution. It makes sense to keep that 1.78:1 aspect ratio as most content made for broadcast TV is presented this way.

True 4K is the resolution specified by the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) commercial standard. This is another area where UHD and 4K differ. Much like Blu-ray is the 1080p standard for encoding and presentation, 4K has its own set of standards that the DCI dictates. These standards are high end, resulting in exemplary image quality. While it isn’t totally clear yet what kind of video encoding standards the new UHD video format will use, all rumors point to sub-par encoding. DCI 4K uses JPEG2000 video compression, up to 250Mbps video bitrate, 12-bit 4:4:4 video, and a much wider color gamut. HDMI 2.0 will most likely dictate the standards for UHD Blu-ray (or whatever they decide to call it). Unfortunately, HDMI has very little left to give as an interconnect standard. As a result, there is no way to transport the amount of information needed to exceed or even match the 4K DCI standard. Those in the know are under NDA (non-disclosure agreements), which means we won’t know the specifics for at least another month or two. Rumors point to 10-bit 4:2:2 video for UHD video content at 24 frames per second and a doubling of the throughput to support higher bitrates.
Reading the entirety of Dylan’s article is worth it to understand the differences between the two formats and the implications of those differences. This was the first time that I had seen those differences outlined in detail and thought it best to spread the word.

  1. I still get curveballs thrown at me such as sponsor supplied videos given to me in 4:3 aspect ratios in WMV format or those awful 29:8 aspect ratio screens going into the exhibit halls in Moscone North and South.  ↩

  2. It would also help if they knew HTML and to never copy & paste content out of Microsoft Word into a WYSIWYG editor in a CMS.  ↩

Apple Event Predictions

Update: Post event - I've striked out the things I predicted incorrectly.

First of all, I want to state that I do not write this post with insider tips of what is going to be released on Tuesday. I am also not arrogant enough to think that more than 5 people who read this post really care what i have to say on the subject. Instead, I write this mainly for my own amusement and enjoyment to publicly state what I think will be announced so as to see how right or wrong I was afterward. If any of this is interesting to you, then so much the better. A lot of what I'm to say you've probably read elsewhere already. By typing these words to pixel, I'm forcing myself to be honest and serious about what I want to commit to and not.

Getting that preamble out of the way, I am going to categorize my predictions into:

  1. What will be announced (Confident Yes)
  2. What won't be announced (Confident No)
  3. What might be announced (Unsure)

Confidently Yes

  • Two new phone models: iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C.
  • iPhone 5S in: White/Champagne, White/Silver, Black/Silver, Black/Black
  • iPhone 5C with plastic backs in assorted colors
  • iPhone 5C contains mostly or all iPhone 5 internals, with possible "weaker" components here and there.
  • iOS 7 GM demoed (and released to developers for download)
  • Sell and ship dates; pre-order Sept. 13 starting early in the morning, and delivered(FedEx/UPS) or on sale in store on Sept. 20.
  • iTunes 11.1 + iTunes Radio demoed; available for download late Sept 19/early Sept 20
  • AppleTV will receive some type of software update. Not sure on exact features as I haven't payed much attention to it in this beta period. AllThingsD said enchanced Home Sharing functionality to easily access your own content on foreign AppleTVs (as in ones at work or a friend's house). This plus whatever updates are being done to it to work with functionality being added in iOS 7.
  • iPhone 5S will be faster, have a better camera, support new AC Wifi spec....you get the picture. Almost all existing hardware components will improve in some way.

Confidently No

  • OS X 10.9 Mavericks will not be released
  • No 'iWatch' or whatever it is to be called (and I'm still not convinced this will ever be a product)
  • No new Apple TV hardware
  • No Mac Pro or any updates to any Macs

Not So Sure About

  • 128GB option for iPhone 5S Leaning yes. Somewhat confident
  • I'm not sure if we'll see new iPads and iPad minis, but I'm leaning towards a no given that would be a lot to announce during a single event and we've seen very little to no rumors about these. I believe the iPad event will be in October along with the new Macs and Mavericks. Leaning no. Somewhat confident.
  • iPhone 5S (maybe 5C too???) finger print scanner on the Home Button. There has been a lot of smoke about this one. Code for it was event found in the iOS 7 SDK. Leaning yes but not confident.
  • Pricing shift with regards to storage due to the 5C being introduced:
  • iPhone 5C will come in 2 sizes - 16GB and 32GB
  • iPhone 5S will come in 3 sizes too - 32GB, 64GB, and 128GB at the existing pricepoints we're used to. Leaning yes but not confident. I can't help but feel that 16GB is much too small of a storage size on their premium model 6 years in. Adding the "cheaper" iPhone 5C for casual customers allows them to keep a 16GB option and to entice those same people to spring for the 5S due to 32GB size option on the low end. While everything I’ve listed above are a lot of things, something seems missing. Perhaps there is some sort of surprise related to any of these things - or something else entirely? Only Apple knows for sure. And they tell us one way or the other, tomorrow.

Photos Of Possible "Graphite" iPhone 5S Rear Shell Surface

Sonny Dockson, at his blog writes:

Up to this point, it has widely been thought that the iPhone 5S will only come in 3 colors: Gold, Slate, and white with silver trim. According to a new images we’ve obtained, however, it appears the iPhone 5S may also come in a 4th color – a grey or graphite color with a black trim. You can check out samples in the below gallery! Richard Padilla, at Macrumors writes: Sonny Dickson has posted new photos showing alleged parts from a "graphite" colored iPhone 5S, which could be a fourth color choice for the phone in addition to the expected black and white choices, as well as the all but confirmed "champagne" color option. The photos show the device from numerous angles with the back, front, and screen housing assembled, and also show it next to the champagne iPhone 5S and iPhone 5S screen assembly. These all seem quite plausible.

Elevation Dock With Lightning Adapter

Marco Arment, writes:

The primary appeal of the original Elevation Dock was the ease of removing your iPhone from it. Apple’s crappy little docks were so lightweight that you’d need to annoyingly hold them down while removing the phone, often requiring two hands. Elevation Lab made a great video on Kickstarter demonstrating how frustrating other docks were, and showing how easily the iPhone lifted out of their heavy base with their custom, low-friction connector. We all saw that video and knew that frustration, and that’s why they were able to far surpass their Kickstarter goal so easily. And with the iPhone 4S, it really did work that well, once we eventually got our Elevation Docks. But with the Lightning adapter, the Elevation Dock works like all of the other docks in that video. Marco summed up my exact experiences with our adapters. While I'm glad it looks good sitting on my desk, the grippiness of the Lightning cable into the iPhone 5's Lightning port is tight. This would be a good thing, normally, just not in this situation. Read his entire piece.

New iMacs Go On Sale

This morning, as promised, Apple made available the new iMacs to order. My primary home machine is a 1st generation 27" iMac that I bought in November of 2009 when they were first released. It reached 3 years old this week, and boy does it feel it. The percentage of time that I beach ball increases on a monthly basis and compared to my new (as of 8 months ago) iMac I use at work, this machine feels like a dinosaur. I've been waiting for Apple to release this machine for a while now, but ever since they announced them in October I was unsure of one thing: storage options. The allure of the new Fusion Drive appeals to me, but after giving it some thought, I had decided that I would rather have the same configuration as the iMac I have on my desk in the office at work. That machine is configured with a 256GB SSD + 1TB HD combo. It's fantastic - lots of secondary storage for archiving videos, and other large sized files, while having the performance of the SSD as the primary drive. I was hoping that the new configuration options for the iMacs would allow for the following scenarios: HD, FD, SSD, SSD + HD, SSD + FD. Ideally I wanted a 512GB SSD + a 3 TB Fusion Drive. Sadly, the configuration options are HD or FD or SSD. No two drive options are available. Given this, I think the best option for myself is the 3TB Fusion Drive or either the 768GB SSD and then for me to pickup an external 3TB Thunderbolt drive. I plan to wait a few weeks for Anandtech to get their hands on one of these Fusion Drives to benchmark it to see how it performs.

How To Build An iPad Competitor

Jason Kottke, at Kottke.org:

Set aside for now that Surface does look genuinely interesting, that the price hasn't been set, and the thing isn't even out yet. For a piece of portable networking technology like a smartphone or tablet to be successful on the scale at which Apple operates, you need to have an ecosystem, a network of interacting devices, software, products, and services that work together...hardware + software is not enough. Apple, Google (and partners), Amazon, and possibly Microsoft are the only companies with the expertise and pockets deep enough to build their own ecosystems. Ok, maybe Facebook in a couple years or if Nokia can dig themselves out of their current hole, but that's really about it. Jason Kottke lays out all of the things Microsoft needs to do to make the surface successful, if their goal is to directly compete with the iPad.