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Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration

COW Blogs : walter biscardi's Blog : Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration
If you’ve been following along the past few months, you know we’re testing a very nice Dell Workstation as we plan the immediate future of our company and what computers might replace all the Mac Pros we currently run. Since we’re an Adobe / Avid centric shop now, the Dell shows us how we might work in a cross platform world.

But as I have been using an almost 2 year old 27″ iMac in both my Adobe and Avid testing for the past 6 months, the thought dawned on me, why not consider replacing some of the Mac Pros with iMacs? Particularly now that Thunderbolt add ons are becoming more prevalent and giving us the same capabilities as all those internal cards we’ve used through the years. In particular the AJA IoXT which is essentially a Kona 3 in a small box.

I purposely have been testing on the iMacs with an eye towards setting up a cluster of them for our Assistant Editors on upcoming series. But this older one is performing so well, it got me to thinking of even replacing many of our primary edit systems with iMacs too.

While Adobe keeps touting the added advantages of the nVidia CUDA based graphics cards, I have to say their software runs very well on the ATI based iMacs. In fact our entire shop, except the new Dell and the Resolve workstation all run on ATI cards and the entire Adobe Suite runs brilliantly on all of them. We honestly don’t miss the CUDA “extra realtime features” because we’ve never had them.

Avid doesn’t have any sort of CUDA requirements at this time (not sure if they ever will) so I see the same snappy interface operation across the board no matter which machine its running on. Avid is definitely the most efficient software we’ve edited with to date, it runs faster on the iMacs that FCP ever did, even on the Mac Pros.

Now before we move forward, keep in mind my situation with my facility. We have 5 edit suites currently running along with our ProTools / Resolve Theater. We’re set up for 9 total edit suites at the moment and can expand to 18 or more at any time, so we need a bunch of machines whenever we upgrade. So from a business standpoint, I have to look at the most effective way to spend our dollars.

If you are a one man band, a 1 or 2 machine shop, then you really want to buy THE fastest and most powerful system you can afford because you’re asking that machine to do everything for you. Edit, Graphics, Render, Output, etc…. I always recommend to anyone that’s a single or two machine shop to have a powerful desktop system unless you absolutely must have the portability of a laptop for your work. Desktop machines, while much more expensive when configured for video editing, will always give you the fastest performance. So keep in mind that my thoughts here are more about me replacing a series of machines vs. a smaller shop that might only need to replace one or two systems.

So what do I give up by dropping a bunch of Big Iron machines in favor of the iMac? Render speed primarily. Big iron will always render faster than an all-in-one ever will because there’s a lot more room for processors and large power supplies to drive those processors. Not to mention a ton more RAM for the same reasons. But for the type of work we’re doing day in, day out, we don’t need super fast rendering all the time on every single workstation.

For the most part we’re doing documentaries and very soon, reality programming. Projects that are storyteller driven, not fx or even transition heavy. So for my situation and with the amount of machines I need to upgrade, do I really need to have all powerful systems in every single edit suite? Based on the performance of my 2 year old iMac, that answer appears to be”no.” I’m thinking a new strategy will be to outfit every single edit suite with a 27″ iMac and then have one or two “big iron” systems, maybe running Avid Symphony, Autodesk Smoke and the Adobe Creative Suite, which will be the “finishing systems” if you will. We’ll still keep the ProTools system and the Resolve system as stand alone Big Iron as well, so I’ll have four Big Iron systems and a whole cluster of iMacs to do most of the work.

All of the machines will connect directly to our 48TB (soon to be larger) SAN because it’s all ethernet based. Unlike some earlier iMacs that crippled the Ethernet port, Apple finally replaced the ethernet port with a unit that again supports Jumbo frames so we don’t lose that connectivity.

Let’s take a look at how the iMacs compare to several Big Iron systems in terms of cost. I’ve tried to make all of the Big Iron systems similarly spec’d so it’s somewhat of an even comparison. They’re all Dual Processor, 12 Core machines except where noted because when I buy a Big Iron machine, I buy one of the fastest I can afford. Note that the Dell Precision T5500 is the unit we’re testing here in the shop and the HP Z800 was chosen because it’s the machine most recommended to me by my Windows based colleagues to compare to the Mac Pro.



27″ iMac priced on Apple.com 4/8/2012: $3218.00

3.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7; 16GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 4x4GB; 2TB Serial ATA Drive; AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB GDDR5; AppleCare 3 year warranty



Mac Pro priced on Apple.com 4/8/2012 – $9958.00*

Two 2.93GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon “Westmere” (12 cores): 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s hard drive: ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB (standard Card): AppleCare 3 year plan. *nVidia Quadro 4000 purchased separately – $810



Dell Precision T5500 Workstation priced on Dell.com 4/8/2012 – $8,268.00*

3.46GHz 6-Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X569: nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives; Firewire PCIe card: 3 year On Site ProService: *included “instant savings” of $620 according to the website, no BluRay Writer option, single processor, all USB Ports are 2.0 standard.



Dell Precision T7500 Workstation priced on Dell.com 4/8/2012 – $11,348.00

Two – 3.46GHz 6-Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X569 (12 Core) : nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives; 16X DVD Writer: Firewire PCIe card: 3 year On Site ProService: *included “instant savings” of $615 according to the website, no BluRay Writer option, All USB ports are 2.0 standard.



HP Z800 FF825AV Workstation priced on HP.com 4/8/2012 – $13,667.00

Two 3.46 6-core Intel Xeon X5690 processors (12 cores): nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives: BluRay Writer; Broadcom 5761 Gigabit PCIe card: Firewire PCIe card: 24×7 On Site response – 3 years. ($239) Note: All USB ports are 2.0 standard. It’s an upgrade to USB 3.0



And because I know someone will ask about the HP All In One workstation, ala iMac, here’s their 27″ configuration….

HP Omni 27 Quad series priced on HP.com 4/8/2012- $2049

Intel(R) Core(R) i7-2600S processor [2.8Ghz, 8MB Shared Cache, DMI 5GT/s]: 8GB RAM: 2TB 7200 rpm SATA hard drive: 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M: Slim Slot Blu-Ray writer: HP Total Care 3 Years: Note: No Thunderbolt or Firewire 800 option.

I just don’t see this in the same class as the iMac for a video workstation. The specs look very underwhelming vs. the 27″ iMac I spec’d out first.



So let’s do the math based on replacing all 5 of my current edit suites. Just what we’ve spec’d here. No software, no add-ons, nothing, just the boxes as I spec’d them above.

5 iMacs: $3218 x 5 = $16,090

5 Mac Pros: $9958 x 5 = $49,490

5 Dell Precision T5500: $8,268 x 5 = $41,340 (note this is a single processor machine)

5 Dell Precision T7500: $11,348 x 5 = $56,740

5 HP Z800: $13,667 x 5 = $68,335

Base cost for the 5 iMacs alone is over $33,000 less than the nearest Tower and over $24,000 less than the nearest Dual Processor machine, though honestly, the odds of me purchasing that particular 12 Core Mac Pro are slim to none. So in reality, I’m over $40,000 cheaper than the lowest cost 12 Core Dual Processor machines I would consider buying.

Now I need to add 5 AJA Io XT boxes to those systems for Video I/O because we still use a ton of tape in our work and they will also feed our Flanders Scientific reference monitors.

5 AJA IoXT: $1,495 x 5 = $7,475

Grand Total now $16,405 + $7,475 = $23,880

I’m still sitting over $32,000 below the 5 Dell T7500s. Or in other words, I can get 5 brand new iMacs with the IoXTs, and get 1 Dell T7500s for our “Big Iron” finishing station and still be about $12,000 ahead. Switch that to the HP and I’m still about $21,000 ahead. But with 6 workstations instead of 5. Heck I can even buy two of the Dell Big Iron systems and still come out ahead.

I already own a slew of 24″ monitors so each iMac can run in dual screen configuration without the need to purchase any new monitors at this time. And as I add more iMacs to the mix, not every single one of them will require the IoXT if they are doing primarily offline work. So that will save me some more money moving forward.

One other expense I would have to explore is re-engineering our shop so the primary controls for everything are in the edit suite and not in the Machine Room as they are now. All of the machines are side by side with video I/O, machine control and everything tied together via patch panels. Now the primary patch panels / machine control will stay in the machine room, but the video I/O devices will be in each suite. So that will require some re-wiring, but not a whole lot.

With numbers like these, and the high quality performance of the iMacs, you can see why I’m strongly considering making the iMacs our primary workstations throughout the facility. And while they might cost a bit more, I think our “Big Iron” systems will be Wintel moving forward. Just too many good options out there vs the limited choices from Apple. And who knows, we just might be running OS X on a PC soon.

So yep, even more for us to consider as we move forward, “Post FCP” in our facility. The options are almost endless and there’s no need to rush into a decision we’ll regret later. Now instead of just putting the fastest most powerful workstation in every single situation, I have more options to put machines more tailored to the task and spend the extra money where I actually need to.

More food for thought……


Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 9, 2012 at 5:55:52 amComments (7) Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid

Comments

Re: Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration
by Mark Suszko
Walter: new imac just debuted... your thoughts?

"Oh, you wanted to RECORD that?"
Re: Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration
by martin fuller
HI Walter,

Very useful information, thank you.

I just started a thread about IMAC expansion capabiltiies.... I don't know why I just didn't comment on your thread directly, duh, but here it is if you have any comments they are appreciated, thanks:

http://forums.creativecow.net/readpost/240/678
Re: Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration
by Liam Gilmour
Hey Walter,
Forgive me if i am posting this in the wrong thread (I am new to this) i just signed up to ask you a question actually. I am a DP from Melbourne Australia, shooting predominantly RED and ALEXA and i have decided i want to colour grade myself as opposed to always farming it out to a Post House. I noticed on one of your other threads that you said you had Davinci working on an imac i7 and that it run smoothly even with an ATI card. I was wondering if you could share your secrets as to getting this running as my davinci (imac is booted in 64 bit) continually asks for a nvidia cuda based card. (I have the latest version of Cuda installed). Any tips or tricks would be greatly appreciated.

Mine crashes every time on login as a result.

Thanks in advance
@Liam Gilmour
by walter biscardi
Resolve 8.2 worked just fine on the iMac and I was having fun with that. No secrets there, just launch the app and go. That's how I trained on it at home.

Resolve 9.0 kernel panics constantly so I can't get that to run. But it never asked for an nVidia card. Not sure why it's asking you for one.

We do have a brand new iMac here at the shop with 32GB RAM and I'm going to try installing it on there as soon as the machine is available. It's cutting a documentary project at the moment.

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

"This American Land" - our new PBS Series.

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Re: Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration
by Brooks Tomlinson
I too have thought about the iMac, I just wonder what you think about the potential downtime with an iMac if something fails. We make how-to car tv, so the producers machines are in a caustic environment. (we have 4 studios, each with roll around video suite) I have looked online, and saw what you have to do to replace an iMac harddrive and it is scary. (pull out your suction cup, yikes) So if a harddrive, or graphic card fails, there is no quick fix. It looks like to me that in your post facility, you would have other computers you can lean on.
I was just wondering if that though has crossed your mind, and if it has, what you decided.

Thanks,

Brooks Tomlinson
"I dream in 32bit float"
@Brooks Tomlinson
by walter biscardi
I have a two year old iMac at my house that has yet to fail. But all computers fail. We have 7 fully functional edit suites so if something goes down, odds are that we'll be able to move it over to another suite.

Or at the very worst, run down to the Apple store and pick up another unit. :)

On my company blog, I posted a new article "Anatomy of an iMac Suite" as folks were asking me what we're actually using in that room.

http://www.biscardicreative.com/blog/2012/08/anatomy-of-an-imac-suite/

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Editor, Colorist, Director, Writer, Consultant, Author, Chef.
HD Post and Production
Biscardi Creative Media

"This American Land" - our new PBS Series.

Blog Twitter Facebook
Re: Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration
by Mark Suszko
This post of yours really interests me, Walter, since I've been saving up for a totally "maxed-out" large imac as a home machine for modest personal video side-projects as well as daily general use. The idea was to run a used copy of FCS3 and FCP-x/Motion-X on it, then maybe later, Premiere. My current imac is a 13-year-old one, the kind that looks like "Luxo Jr.".

The only thing holding me back from pulling the trigger on the new imac is persistent rumors Apple is about to refresh this model and maybe do a big upgrade. Big enough that I'll have Buyer's Remorse unless I wait. I decided to at least wait until after NAB for this purchase. I know I'll love the maxed-out current model, but it keeps nagging me that there might be something coming from Apple worth holding off for, just around the bend. Once I have it, I'll probably run it for a decade like the last one.

I've got a choice of processors and video cards on this big imac, their performance specs seem not that far apart, so how important is buying the more expensive of the two processors and video cards, if I've maxed out the RAM and drives?

"Oh, you wanted to RECORD that?"


Professional Video Editor, Producer, Creative Director, Director since 1990.

Credits include multiple Emmys, Tellys, Aurora and CableAce Awards.

Creative Director for Georgia-Pacific and GP Studios, Atlanta. Former Owner / Operator of Biscardi Creative Media. The show you knew us best for was "Good Eats" on the Food Network. I developed the HD Post workflow and we also created all the animations for the series.

Favorite pastime is cooking with pizza on the grill one of my specialties. Each Christmas Eve we serve the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian seafood meal with approx. 30 items on the menu.

If I wasn't in video production I would either own a restaurant or a movie theater.

 




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