UPDATED WITH CORRECTED MATH. See, this is why I’m an editor, not a mathematician!
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.
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.
UPDATE: I have confirmed through OWC.com that the 27″ iMac can take 32GB of RAM.
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
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.
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.
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……