iMacs to replace desktops, moving closer.

A few weeks ago I mused on replacing my Mac Pros with iMacs in part because of cost and in part because so much software can run incredibly well on these machines.

Well NAB 2012 definitely validated that idea.   iMacs dominated the show floor in South Hall running just about every software imagineable.   Autodesk made the iMac the center of their Smoke 2013 roll-out with the software running incredibly fast on that system.   With the advent of super fast RAIDs via Thunderbolt connections, there’s not a whole lot you can’t edit on an iMac.

Then AJA delivered literally what I asked for a few weeks ago.  A simple Thunderbolt to SDI adapter to allow quality video reference to our Flanders Scientific monitors.   The T-Tap gives us both SDI and HDMI output so I can feed the Flanders and Plasma Screen simultaneously.

This is awesome because I don’t need an I/O device for all of my iMacs at all times.   In my case, I’ll start out with 5 iMacs and what I’ll do is pick up two AJA IoXT’s and three T-Taps.   They both run off the same drivers so we can literally just swap the devices around so if you need input, you take the IoXT and hand off the T-Tap.

Word is that Windows machines will start rolling out with Thunderbolt anytime now so these devices will be able to swap right around between all the machines.

This is just so remarkable where we’ve gone in just one year.   Last year I was pining for Apple to hurry up and get some really nice new Mac Pros out.   Now I’m on the cusp of selling off 5 of our Mac Pros and replacing them with iMacs to run Avid Symphony through Autodesk Smoke 2013.

This really HAS been a long strange year…..   But I like it!

11 Comments

  1. I’ve been debating back and forth the direction to go hardware wise. I was able to work the entire year of 2011 on my MacBook Pro (bought the machine early 2011), but towards the end of the year, I started wondering if it was going to work for me in 2012. It’s a fast machine, but every single port was maxed out and that gets frustrating quickly. One of my complaints with some manufacturers making TB compatible products is VERY FEW bother to put a second port in for daisy chaining. With limited ports on MBP’s or even iMac’s you run out of TB connectivity fast.

    I recently got a used 2009 MacPro 2.93Ghz 8-Core with 26GB RAM, etc. and it’s a very fast machine, runs quite under heavy loads, and can pretty much do whatever I want. However, the speed boost for the price over my 2011 MBP isn’t mind-blowing. It doesn’t sound like a jet-engine and almost levitate when I hit render like the laptop does, but the cost of the machine is high. A 27inch iMac with TB is tempting, even though the CPU is inferior to this machine (even the current maxed out version). With TB connected I would be curious to see the render times compared to this machine.

    The other issue (for me personally) when it comes to TB is besides output cards and i/o devices, the TB hard drives are out of reach. I could get them I suppose, but the cost right now is very high compared to traditional storage or GRAID’s that use FW800 or e-sata. Mentioning the cost of the MacPro almost becomes irrelevant when you consider the cost of a 2011 MBP or iMac with proper TB drives.

    None of this is easy to weigh out. Apple would make things far easier on folks if they would just release new desktops so everyone doesn’t feel so off-balance about their hardware/software choices. My new MacPro can eat up anything I throw at it but I’m a little concerned about how newer 2012 iMac’s or MBP’s could stake up to it. The difference in render time for an identical FCPX timeline between the 2011 MBP and this new MacPro is only 30%. Now on a longer timeline, 30% could mean an extra 30minutes of render time, but for shorter projects (which is the typical length) 30% isn’t a TON. With new Ivy Bridge chips in 2012, it wouldn’t shock me to see that 30% gap get MUCH smaller. Depending on what Apple does and how the new machines stack up, the MacPro I just got might go up on Ebay ASAP.

    Decisions…decisions… :)

    • The reason why you don’t see too many devices with thunderbolt loop through is because you can max out the bandwidth very quickly on Thunderbolt. It’s not a never ending supply of speed. Put a RAID on there and a Monitor and you’re almost maxed out. The Thunderbolt port is equal to approx. a single 16 lane PCIe slot in your Mac Pro.

      One of the engineers I spoke to at NAB said the real way we’re going to be able to use a lot of thunderbolt devices is for Apple and the other computer manufacturers to put more T-Bolt ports on the computers. Just like you see four or more USB ports, he said we need to see four or more T-Bolt ports.

      As for the prices, well this just follows every other connection path. Each “new” form of connection results in a premium for 12 to 24 months and then prices comes down.

    • We had one running in the Small Tree Communications booth during NAB. While they give you options they certainly don’t turn your iMac into a Mac Pro. A thunderbolt port is essentially equivalent to a 16 lane PCIe slot in your Mac Pro. So whatever speed you could get from that is what you’re going to get from the Thunderbolt expansion chassis.

      So it’s not like you can load up an HBA, Video Card, nVidia graphics card and expect all of those to work well. For Thunderbolt to really work, Apple and other manufacturers will have to start loading up the ports like they have USB. The iMac now has two ports on it which make it more viable to do multiple chassis or multiple devices. In our case, we’ll just go with the IoXT and T-Tap to start with. Then evaluate if we need an expansion chassis for whatever reason down the line.

  2. Walter,
    First off I would like to say that unfortunately I did not get a chance to meet you at the Turner broadcasting cutters meeting, but I was there and it was alot of fun. That being said I really enjoy your technology breakdowns and ideas when it comes to where editing / content creation is going in the near future. Tickets seemed to go fast for the upcoming meeting and that is unfortunate as I am in the northern Atlanta area working during the week and would love to see your facility.

    Back to topic :) I noticed that IMAC as well as many many other apple products besides IPAD are on the refresh list according to macrumors. Will you wait on the product update cycle that will probably happen in May, or will you go ahead and purchase? (I assume the former instead of the latter) I am trying to decide for myself whether or not to purchase an Imac for my editing / compositing/ 3D needs. This also coincides with whether or not I will request a license change for my Adobe production premium, which is currently a windows license. I was talking to another editor / photographer friend the other day and he mentioned that he also uses an Imac for lightroom and premiere. I have always assumed since being an all in one, they did not possess the power to do what I needed. That was until I read your blog about upgrading, not to mention the fact you currently use Imacs. Thanks for the blogs, and the great information that you provide the editing community. Also do you guys do much 3D animation rendering? I am curious how well the Imac would handle a fairly complex scene in say blender or 3Ds max.

    Thanks in advance! :)

    • We currently don’t do any 3D animation in house, that’s all subcontracted out. But our After Effects comps are generally 100 to 1400 layers so we do push our machines quite hard in the compositing realm.

      There’s no question the iMac will render slower than a Big Iron system as I mentioned in my original article. If render speed is a top priority, then you want to look at Big Iron. For Windows certainly the HP Z800 is a popular machine and I’ve been impressed both with the Dell Precision we have here now and definitely the new lineup of machines they just announced.

      As for waiting for the refresh, I really pay little attention to any Rumor sites. When I need a machine, I buy the fastest machine I can get that day. What happens tomorrow really doesn’t matter. Machines get faster all the time. With an iMac the out of pocket expense is so small I can literally upgrade it each year if I really wanted to.

  3. I’ve been trying to remind people that while fast, thunderbolt doesn’t have unlimited speed. Whenever I complain about the lack of a new mac pro people just say “thunderbolt, dude.” No! First, that’s too many cables hanging around, and it pretty much negates the portability of a laptop… but more, we’re talking big bandwidth devices that often max out buses on their own. Thunderbolt is faster, sure, but a GPU is more serious than a hard drive, too.

    More ports would be nice, but we need a whole full bus – the firewire and USB ports on macs have traditionally been on a shared bus – so a port is nice but it doesn’t help bandwidth. I’d have to expect a whole separate TB bus would add some cost to a system, no (as would more PCI slots)?

    • Yep, thunderbolt is not unlimited as it can’t replace 5 slots of a Mac Pro through one cable. That’s one of the big lessons I got this year while out at NAB.

  4. I found your blog awhile back after reading your tips for attending NAB, it was my first time and they helped, thanks.

    Great posting on this. I have read your previous post on switching to iMacs and thought I might share the similar decision I made for my studio.

    I have 3 workstations that needed the updates as well, and the infuriating wait for Apple to get updated Pros was killing us in time and money. So last year we made the decision to update to 27″ iMacs rather than wait for new Pros. We opted for the the 3.4 i7 with the stock ram, base 1TB drive (local Macs dont really need the extra storage), but updated 6970 with the 2GB of video. $2300 each. What a surprise to me was that the ram for these iMacs was so inexpensive. Apple has notoriously way overcharged for ram, and they state 16 gigs of ram as the max, but they can actually take more. I was able to boost all 3 of my iMacs to 32 gigs of ram for about $300 each.

    The power that they bring over our previous workstations is amazing. I wasnt expecting much but *wow* they really fly.

    I expect you will be just as happy.

  5. Just a couple notes: Mac Pros only have 4 PCIe slots with only 2 full speed x16 and the other 2 are only x4. This ‘reduction’ in PCIe slots and lanes is why I will never buy a Mac Pro so long as everyone else produces motherboards with 6-7 PCIe slots and multiple x16 slots such as the HP Z800/820. There is absolutely no excuse for having only 4 slots and only 2 with x16 speed. Its good ole Apple limiting their hardware to force consumers into purchasing more Macs.

    With my HP Z800, I can easily run a fully-fledged editing & compositing system and Resolve. However, I learned that I must use a dual-boot because Resolve and Premiere Pro use different BlackMagic drivers.

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