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Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc

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Sven Hölder
Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc
on Jan 28, 2012 at 1:51:20 pm

Hi guys,

I currently use a Macbook Pro which has become too limiting (performance, storage, io etc.). I am also not very happy with the performance of FCPX on it (and FCPX in general) but that's a different story.
So my plan is to step up my game and move most of my editing, encoding and motion graphics work to a PC workstation in the near future, using either Premiere, Edius or Avid (still using the trial versions, I haven't decided yet which one it'll be).
I have been looking at HP, Lenovo, some other vendors in comparison with the current Mac Pro. Since you seem to have experience in both camps: what are the pros, cons, gotchas, advantages, how stable are they under heavy load?
I couldn't find eSata in the specs of the HP for example. Would be nice to have that. I'd like good graphics (Cuda), lots of internal storage (possibly external RAID storage in the future) and video IO.


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Michael Gissing
Re: Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc
on Jan 28, 2012 at 10:08:58 pm

Not sure about the HP specifically but most PC motherboards for many years have had esata connections on the motherboard. I always found it strange that you had to lose a PCI slot for esata on MacPros.


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Paul Jay
Re: Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc
on Jan 28, 2012 at 11:56:48 pm

Mbp with thunderbolt isnt limiting at all with i/o or hi speed storage.


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Chris Harlan
Re: Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc
on Jan 29, 2012 at 5:17:45 am

[Paul Jay] "Mbp with thunderbolt isnt limiting at all with i/o or hi speed storage.
"


Unfortunately, there's no TBolt on a Mac Pro. And, we don't really know if there ever will be. It's great that smaller, more portable TBolt RAIDS are finally coming to market. But, Michael's point is about the unavailability over the last several years.


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Jeremy Garchow
Re: Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc
on Jan 29, 2012 at 7:08:55 am

[Michael Gissing] " I always found it strange that you had to lose a PCI slot for esata on MacPros."

There's two extra sata ports, they are just hard to get to, and not super easy to implement. Single drive only, not port multipliers.


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Frank Gothmann
@ Jeremy
on Jan 29, 2012 at 11:04:51 am

[Jeremy Garchow] "There's two extra sata ports, they are just hard to get to, and not super easy to implement. Single drive only, not port multipliers."

There used to be two extra sata ports on pre-Nehalem MacPros, where optical drives were pata only, located in the middle of the mb for which there were breakout brackets available from 3rd party.
They are not there anymore. What's left are the two ports at the very front which connect to the optical drives but you'd loose those plus they are virtually impossible to route to the back. The design is retarded. Looks nice from the outside unless you want to modify anything.


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Frank Gothmann
Re: Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc
on Jan 28, 2012 at 10:40:20 pm

I am not familiar with the Lenovo boxes so I cannot comment on them. As far as HP, specifically the z800 is concerned, I am extremely happy with it.
If you need eSata that's easy. All the sata headers on the HP motherboard are switchable via bios to work as esata ports. You can get an esata breakout bracket from HP (10 dollars or so) and then you can have as many esata ports as you want (or have sata ports on your mb left).

The really nice thing about it is the flexibility and expandability. 9 USB ports plus 3 additional headers on the mb, Firewire. Raid5 capable controllers for Sata and SAS drives built in. You can have hot swap drive bays, in theory you could have up to 9 internal drives plus you have 6 PCIe and one legacy PCI slot.
The power supply can be pulled out without any tools required and can be upgraded to a beefier one if you need more power for several high-end gpus.
As far as gpus go, you are only limited by your budget really. A Quadro 4000 will probably be a good start for Premiere.

Not terribly important but there is an nice HP tweaking app included that will scan your applications and, if you wish, adjusts how the system talks to ram, cpu settings etc. for best performance (it recognizes Avid and Adobe apps and has specific settings for them).
As far as stability is concerned. It's been running pretty much 24/7 for encoding jobs, so that means full whack, it hasn't been rebooted in weeks.

Gotchas: dunno, it doesn't have wifi or bluetooth built in so you'd have to add that via usb if it's needed.
Hope that helps. If you have any specific questions feel free to ask.


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Walter Soyka
Re: Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc
on Jan 30, 2012 at 4:08:00 pm

Sven, it looks like Frank answered most of your questions. I'll add a few general thoughts.

HP sent me a Z800 so I could evaluate its use in cross-platform workflows.

The machine itself, like the Mac Pro, is easy to work on and both well-designed and well-built. You also have quite a few more configuration options available from HP than you do from Apple. If you want performance, you can buy it -- there are faster CPUs and GPUs available on the PC platform than there are on the Mac platform.

I've been running the Z800 twenty-four-seven for a couple months now. It's built for that and has been rock-solid since the day I installed it, even under heavy load from AE and C4D. I trust it enough to VPN in and drive it via Remote Desktop for faster renders when I'm on the road.

Once you're in a cross-platform app like the Adobe Creative Suite, Avid Media Composer or Maxon Cinema 4D, the differences between Mac and PC from a user perspective are negligible -- although you will have to remember to use your pinky on the Control key rather than your thumb on the Command key for most keyboard shortcuts.

Contrary to what you might hear from a lot of Mac-only users or Mac/PC users with outdated PC experience, Windows 7 works very well -- period. I used to prefer Mac OS X over Windows hands down because I felt it required less work and stayed out of my way better, but now that I've got a couple months of near full-time use of Windows 7, I have changed my opinion. Now I'd call it a draw. It may take you a couple weeks to get used to Windows, and you may have to Google (or Bing!) a couple things if you do run into a glitch, but I think it's important to remember that we didn't come from the womb knowing how to repair permissions or clear the system cache on Mac OS X, either. You can learn what you need to know about Windows in very little time, and you can use it all day long for creative work.

Regarding the other PC manufacturers: I think one of the greatest strengths of the PC platform is that you have multiple options. A friend of mine uses a BOXX workstation and speaks very highly of it. I own a few recent Lenovo ThinkPads, and the build quality is stellar, bit I don't have any direct experience with the Lenovo workstations. I have no current experience with Dells, so I won't comment.

Overall, I think the difference between actually working on a Mac and working on a PC has become pretty small. My laptop is still a Mac, and I still hop over onto a Mac Pro for the occasional FCP7 project, but I've found that after a little practice, bouncing back and forth between platforms is easily doable.

Walter Soyka
Principal & Designer at Keen Live
Motion Graphics, Widescreen Events, Presentation Design, and Consulting
RenderBreak Blog - What I'm thinking when my workstation's thinking
Creative Cow Forum Host: Live & Stage Events


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Sven Hölder
Re: Workstation question for Walter S, Frank etc
on Jan 30, 2012 at 5:02:57 pm

Hi guys,

thanks a lot for the info. Looks like the z800 it will be.
I have zero worries about moving to Windows. I have used Win7 on several occasions-it's my wife's main OS-and liked it very much. She never had issues beyond what I experienced with the Mac. I am actually looking forward to using it, exploring it and being more open with my soft- and hardware choices.
Thanks again, keep the discussion roaring. It's good to have some balanced, informed voices beyond the usual Apple dogmatism.


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