Hardware & Software:
Digital production and post-production has always been demanding on hardware and software. A stable standard definition workflow existed for a blink before it jumped to high definition. Now we need systems that will hack through 2K, 4K, 5K and higher resolutions for both 2D and 3D deliverables.
Each of these systems has become simpler and more complex over the years. Tape has given way to tapeless but is still seeking standardization amid a dizzying array of formats. We are hovering very close to QuickTime Pro Res 4:4:4:4 and Avid DNxHD 45 becoming the inheritors of Sony SR tape deliverables. Ironically, as a tapeless production and post workflow is embraced, archiving projects has gone back to LTO tape technology. GPU technology is taking over visualization tasks from CPUs. The kind of fluid workflow that only expensive machines could do two years ago is now possible for less cost. That benefit has been offset by shorter post production schedules and more competition for work. The net result is that as the products get more amazing it gets ever more challenging to make a profit in this environment.
This blog series covers a few aspects of this new reality. It's a snapshot of some gear and software sitting on my desk. Specifically the Adobe CS5.5 Premiere Pro and After Effects upgrade, the Hewett Packard Z800 computer, the Nvidia Quadro 5000 and Nvidia 3D Vision Pro kit, along with some incredibly cool footage from the Red Epic in 3D and HDR from Red and Local Hero Post.
HPZ800- Part 1: Some Benchmarks
Released in 2009 the HP Z800 line of workstations is well documented as cutting edge workstations. My top-of-the-line model, housed in a 17.5 x 8.0 x 20.7-inch box, contains two "Westmere" 3.33GHz Intel Xeon (X5680) CPUs with six cores each containing 12MB L3 cache. Each chip uses 32nm high-k metal gate technology, and has a 133MHz base clock. My workstation has 24GBs of memory but has the capacity of taking 12 x 16GB DIMMs DDR3-1333 for a mind boggling 192GB of RAM. Bandwidth per memory controller is 1333MHz * 8Bytes * 3 Channels = (approximately) 32GB/s for each memory controller. You can set the chips in the BIOS for simultaneous "hyper-threading" which takes each processor and logically divides it into two cores theoretically allowing you to run more apps without losing processor speed. So this 12 actual core machine is transformed into a beast, with 24 working virtual cores.
This unit also has 500GB Seagate Barracuda 7,200-rpm SATA drive for the operating system. There's also two 1.5 TB Seagate Barracuda 7,200-rpm SATA2 RAID 0 drives for data. The motherboard has an integrated 3Gbps SATA controller with support for RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 as well as an integrated 8-channel SAS controller with RAID 0, 1, and 10 support. The Z800 can handle 10TB of internal storage.
We used PassMark Performance Test 7.0 and Futuremark's PCMark 7 Professional to benchmark the Z800 with the Nvidia Quadro 5000 card.
Passmark conducts a series of CPU, 2D graphics, 3D graphics and disk tests comparing them to a baseline machine. Passmark gave it a summary score of 3023.8. As expected when compared to a generic machine with similar hardware, it did considerably better. However, machines with the same processors overclocked, like the Boxx, logically did perform better than the Z800.
When we ran Futuremark's PCMark 7 Professional benchmarking software we got an overall score of 2963 (details at http://3dmark.com/pcm7/92473). This score is an aggregate of modules that test workloads related to entertainment, creativity, computation, productivity and storage. Individual tests include recording, importing, organizing, viewing, editing, streaming, transcoding, and storing video footage, images, and audio files, several gaming related tasks, DirectX functionality, and the computation performance of the system.
In this case the machine performed okay. There is another machine (details: http://3dmark.com/pcm7/57596) running eVGA Classified SR-2 motherboard that is comparable that got a 5063. This machine is however equipped with higher throughput, faster hard drives and hard drive controllers so it performed better.
From an editing and effects standpoint what would improve the machine's functionally would be to max out the RAM as much as possible, adding dedicated cards like AJA Kona, Blackmagic, or Red Rocket if you are working with Red footage and upgrading all drives ideally to SSD drives, particular for the boot drive. Regular hard drives should be at least 7,200rpm and preferably 10,000rpm or 15,000rpm.
The HP Z800 Workstation is well optimized for post production because it has been designed to take into account the entire post workflow: hardware, applications, operating system and most critically the people interacting with that system.
The mission of the engineers who built the Z800 was to realize better performance by eliminating internal system bottlenecks. After running real applications and thoroughly analyzing system interactions, they invented an I/O logjam busting design - one that connects the Intel CPU and Intel chipset into a uniquely balanced configuration that achieves greater parallelism within the system. In particular, the six core machines using the Intel Xeon Six-Core E5645, E5649, X5650 chips are there with the technology to make any software optimized to take advantage of multi processor functionality perform incredibly well.The result is a robust dynamic that puts everything in the workstation that the user needs to deliver the project under the most demanding deadlines.