Mac Pro takes a bullet, brings justice

Brett Terpstra
B. Terpstra|11.23.09

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Mac Pro takes a bullet, brings justice

This piece isn't about shooting Mac Pros, but it is about how the Mac Pro is helping forensics professionals solve cases faster and more accurately. Pyramidal Technologies produces a system called ALIAS (Advanced balLIstics Analysis System), a replacement for standard ballistic investigation systems that offers faster ramp-up times, increases data accuracy in ballistics investigations, and lowers operator error.

Pyramidal's tagline, "Solve more crimes, Convict more criminals, Save more lives" sums up their mission pretty succinctly. ALIAS will help to convict more criminals with more accuracy, and should even solve some previously-unsolvable cold cases. Helping to proactively build a civil society by identifying wrongdoers and exposing them to justice is among the many socially conscious goals of Pyramidal Technologies.

I found this story of interest because, in my limited experience, the world of law enforcement does not lean very heavily toward the Apple side of the computing spectrum. I assume that this is for the same primary reason that any agency, organization or company tends to stick with Windows: the software they depend on is Windows-based and often proprietary. What intrigued me here was the fact that the benefits of various systems, both hardware and operating system, were weighed in an OS-agnostic fashion, and the Mac won. Here's what I learned about the reasons why ...

ShareThe ALIAS bench-top is a combination of an interferometer, used for mapping the surface of an expended cartridge, and advanced software -- developed entirely on OS X -- for data interpretation, visualization and comparison. The heart of the system is a well-stocked Mac Pro: the current base system, which starts at $375,000US, contains a Mac Pro with two 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Xenon processors, 16GB of RAM, Two NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 and one NVIDIA GTX 285 graphics cards, a RAID card, two 640GB hard drives, SuperDrive, 30" Cinema display, and wireless keyboard and mouse. The ALIAS software started development back on Tiger, but is now optimized for the Snow Leopard OS that comes with the bench-top.

What made Pyramidal Technologies decide to go with a Mac Pro over other systems? That was the question I asked the system's architect and Pyramidal's CTO, Ardavan Tajbakhsh. He came across as very knowledgeable in all areas of computer science and, while not a Mac-fanatic, was able to weigh the options from what he called a "non-religious" stance.

In comparing the Mac and OS X to other available options, the primary benefits he found were on the technical end of the spectrum, but that's what you need in forensics, right? Ardavan had plenty of prior experience with UNIX systems (which OS X is based on), and already knew that they were more stable and secure than other options. He also considered pedigree important, and UNIX has had plenty of time to mature. Here's an abbreviated list of some of the many additional considerations:

  • Superior plug-and-play capabilities (the Mac "Just Works")
  • A more robust file system, data protection
  • Superior memory management
  • Multi-core architecture
  • Easy computation with the GPU, OpenCL
  • OS X is, essentially, founded on Open Source software, versus the proprietary nature of Windows.
  • Mac hardware has maintained high quality, while Windows hardware has been a race to the bottom of the price gamut and quality has suffered.
  • 64-bit computing
  • Superior application development tools
  • On the Mac, form does follow function. "Why shouldn't things be beautiful?"

When you put all of that together, it really does make sense that the high-tech system sitting in some forensics labs now is built around a Mac Pro. Given that a benchtop, single-workstation system starts at $375,000US, it's probably not a purchase many of our readers are going to be making. It does, however, shed some bright light on why so many people are making the switch to Mac in general these days. It's great to know that our justice system is a little more accurate and our society may be safer, thanks to some amazing computer engineering ... and a Mac Pro.

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