Review: SpeedDoubler 2
Published By: Connectix Corp.
2655 Campus Drive
San Mateo, CA 94403
Phone: (800) 950-5880
Fax: (415) 571-5195
Street Price: $50
Macintosh with a 68030, 68040 or PowerPC processor
System 7.0 or greater
8MB of physical RAM
There are so many “doubler” products out there that it’s hard to tell which are real, and which are hype. So far though, a good rule of thumb has been, “If it comes from Connectix Corp., it’s real.” Actually, neither of the company’s “doubler” products really doubles. RAMDoubler triples your RAM. SpeedDoubler increases the performance of your computer, but unfortunately doesn’t double it.
Apple’s disk caching software, built into Mac OS, decreases the time it takes to access files on volumes. Recently accessed information is stored in RAM. When a file on the disk needs to be accessed, the system software first checks to see if that file has been recently read. If so, it might reside in the RAM cache which is much quicker to access than a disk. Theoretically, the larger the RAM cache, the greater the chance that the needed part of the file will be stored within it. SpeedDoubler’s Speed Access component operates in a similar, but more efficient way. The caching definitely does not double the speed of disk accesses, but it does increase the rate of many tasks. In practice, using the minimum size cache was noticably different than a large cache, but SpeedDoubler’s cache didn’t seem to be any faster or slower than Apple’s.
In my opinion, this is the most useful feature of SpeedDoubler. Speed Copy gives you control of your Mac while file copies are being made in the Finder. While a copy is in progress, you can perform other tasks in the Finder or any other application. You can even initiate additional copies. Multiple copies are performed simultaneously. In addition, SpeedDoubler provides an improved progress window that shows throughput and an estimate of how long the copy will take to complete. Finally, you can pause certain copies to give the most important one priority.
Besides allowing multiple simultaneous copies, SpeedDoubler increases the rate of copy operations. While it doesn’t actually double the speed, the improvement is substantial, especially when copying very large files or transferring files over networks. With SpeedDoubler installed, LocalTalk and dialup AppleTalk connection file transfers proceeded almost twice as fast.
The “Smart Replace” feature increases speed when replacing folders containing multiple files. It checks files within the folders and ensures that only modified files are copied. Another option is to synchronize two folders, which places files with the most recent modification dates into each folder.
SpeedDoubler lets you empty the Trash in the background. You can copy files and empty the Trash at the same time. However, don’t move files to the trash while they’re being copied by SpeedDoubler. Some of you may use Symantec’s CopyDoubler, which allows you to do this (I actually found it quite handy), but SpeedDoubler will give you an error if you try it.
If you have the “Warn when emptying” checkbox (in the Trash can’s Get Info window) checked, SpeedDoubler presents a dialog asking which files you want to erase when you empty the Trash. This is handy if you want to delete a large file to free up disk space, but have some smaller ones which you aren’t ready to get rid of (since there’s a chance you’ll need them later). Finally, you can security-erase files upon emptying the Trash. Normally, when files are deleted, the space they occupy on the disk is marked as “free.” However, until new data is written over the deleted file’s sectors, the data is still intact. Security erasure writes garbage data over the file’s disk sectors. Two levels of security deletion are available. The less secure option writes over the file once, while the more secure option repeats the procedure three times. I tried recovering files that had been security deleted using the less secure method. I tried FirstAid HFS, Norton Utilities and MacTools Pro. None were successful. Security erasing is much slower than normal erasing, but if you have sensitive data, it might be useful.
I find the selective deletion feature of SpeedDoubler very useful. However, I remember a shareware program that was even more useful. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the name of it right now, but it allowed you to empty the trash for selected volumes. This was useful when you wanted to free up space on a floppy or Zip without emptying the Trash for your main hard disk. Technically, this is possible with SpeedDoubler, but it’s tedious to manually select individual files and folders. It also means you need to know the disk origin for each file.
Speed Emulator is the only part of the SpeedDoubler package that can truly double the speed of your computer. If you sacrifice about 700K of RAM (the amount that active Speed Emulator consumes), SpeedDoubler will install a software replacement for the built in 68K emulator, which allows PowerMacs to run non-native software. The new emulator works magic with old applications. Specifically, Word 5, Excel 4, and the Finder launch far more quickly on my machine and feel a bit more responsive. MacBench, a benchmark program from Ziff-Davis, reports that overall system speed is improved when SpeedDoubler’s Emulator is installed. By contrast, I haven’t noticed a speed improvement in PowerPC native applications, even though they execute emulated system code.
A Single Control Panel
I suppose I dated myself a bit referring to the components of SpeedDoubler as Speed Access, Speed Copy, and Speed Emulator. With SpeedDoubler 1.x, these three components were separate extensions. There were very few user-configurable settings. Now, all three components are rolled into a single SpeedDoubler 2 control panel. Though some options (such as the size of the disk cache) are still set in other parts of the system, almost all the configuration options are available in one control panel.
When SpeedDoubler was first introduced, it became instantly popular because Speed Emulator greatly improved the performance of almost every application. Few programs were PowerPC native then, and even native programs used decade-old code to draw to the screen. SpeedDoubler 2 puts more emphasis on the other components. This is probably a good idea, because its utility as an improved 68K emulator is limited. Newer PowerMacs (those later than the first-generation NuBus machines) use an improved DR (Dynamic Recompiling) emulator that offers performance nearly identical to Speed Emulator. Newer hardware has improved emulation speeds, and software rewritten for the PowerPC chip has lessened the need for a 68K emulator.
The Finder for Mac OS 8, to be released this July, is completely revamped. Among other things, it supports multiple simultaneous copies, allows background “Empty Trash...” operations (it is unlikely that selective deletion and security erasure will be supported, however) and gives time estimates for copy jobs. It is also supposed to be native, making it much faster. Just visible on the horizon is Rhapsody, under which SpeedDoubler will probably run only in the blue box, if at all. These advances limit SpeedDoubler’s longevity.
SpeedDoubler is an excellent product. I’ve been using it happily since the day version 1 was released to the public. A few months ago, I would have recommended it in a heartbeat. Now, one has to consider its future utility. Disk-cache improvements with recent Mac OS upgrades have almost negated the performance boost of Speed Access. Speed Emulator remains a useful component, but if you use mostly native software on a PCI PowerMac (which has a better emulator than older PowerMacs), you might not need it. Speed Copy, heavily tuned in this release, is the best copy enhancer on the market. If you need background copying features, yet plan on immediately upgrading to Mac OS 8 upon its release, it might be better to forgo purchasing SpeedDoubler. If you need speed now, or if network copying and security erasing are important to you, then SpeedDoubler might be a good investment. It’s a top-notch product.