Tag Archives: Workstations

Review: Boxx’s Apexx 4 7404 workstation

By Brady Betzel

The professional workstation market has been blown open recently with companies like HP, Apple, Dell, Lenovo and others building systems containing i3/i5/i7/i9 and Xeon processors, and  AMD’s recent re-inauguration into the professional workstation market with their Ryzen line of processors.

There are more options than ever, and that’s a great thing for working pros, but for this review, I’m going to take a look at Boxx Technologies Apexx 4 7404, which the company sent me to run through its paces over a few months, and it blew me away.

The tech specs of the Apexx 4 7404 are:
– Processor: Intel i7-6950X CPU (10 cores/20 threads)
– One core is overclocked to 4.3GHz while the remaining nine cores can run at 4.1GHz
– Memory: 64GB DDR4 2400MHz
– GPUs: Nvidia Quadro P5000 (2560 CUDA cores, 16GB GDDR5X)
– Storage drive: NVMe Samsung SSD 960 (960GB)
– Operating system drive: NVMe Intel SSDPEDMW400 (375GB)
– Motherboard: ASUS X99-E WS/USB3.1

On the front of the workstation, you get two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, audio out/mic in, and on the rear of the 7404 there are eight USB 3.0, two USB 3.1, two Gigabit Ethernet, audio out/mic in, line in, one S/PDIF out and two eSATA. Depending on the video card(s) you choose, you will have some more fun options.

This system came with a DVD-RW drive, which is a little funny these days but I suppose still necessary for some people. If you need more parts or drives there is plenty of room for all that you could ever want, both inside and out. While these are just a few of the specs, they really are the most important, in my opinion. If you purchase from Boxx all of these can be customized. Check out all of the different Boxx Apexx 4 flavors here.

Specs
Right off the bat you will notice the Intel i7-6950X CPU, which is a monster of a processor and retails for around $1,500, just by itself. With its hefty price tag, this Intel i7 lends itself to niche use cases like multimedia processing. Luckily for me (and you), that is exactly what I do. One of the key differences between a system like the Boxx workstation and ones from companies like HP is that Boxx takes advantage of the X or K series Intel processors and overclocks them, getting the most from your processors all while still being backed by Boxx’s three-year warranty. The 7404 has one core overclocked to 4.3GHz which can sometimes provide a speed increase for apps that don’t use multiple cores. While this isn’t a lot of cases it doesn’t hurt to have that extra boost.

The Apexx 4 case is slender (at 6.85-inches wide) and quiet. Boxx embraces liquid cooling systems to keep your enterprise-class components made by companies like Samsung, Intel, etc. running smoothly. Boxx systems are built and fabricated in Texas from aircraft grade aluminum parts and steel strengthening components.

When building your own system you might pick a case because the price is right or it is all that is available for your components (or that is what pcpartpicker.com tells you that is what fits). This can mean giving up build quality and potentially bad airflow. Boxx knows this and has gone beyond just purchasing other companies cases — they forge their own workstation case masterpieces.

Boxx’s support is based in Austin – no outsourcing — and their staff knows the apps we use such as Autodesk, Adobe and others.

Through Its Paces
I tested the Apexx 4 7404 using Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Media Encoder since they are really the Swiss Army knives of the multimedia content creation world. I edited together a 10-minute UHD (3840×2160) sequence using an XAVC MP4 I shot using a Sony a6300. I did a little color correction with the Lumetri Color tools, scaled the image up to 110% and exported the file through Media Encoder. I exported it as a 10-bit DNxHQX, UHD, QuickTime MOV.

It took seven minutes and 40 seconds to export to the OS drive (Intel) and about six minutes and 50 seconds to go to the internal storage drive (Samsung). Once I hit export I finally got the engines to rev up inside of the Boxx, the GPU fans seemed to kick on a little; they weren’t loud but you could hear a light breeze start up. On my way out of Premiere I exported an XML to give me a headstart in Resolve for my next test.

My next test was to import my Premiere XML into Blackmagic’s Resolve 14 Studio and export with essentially the same edits, reproduce the color correction, and apply the same scaling. It took a few minutes to get Resolve 14 up and running, but after doing a few uninstalls, installing Resolve 12.5.6 and updating my Nvidia drivers, Resolve 14 was up and running. While this isn’t a Boxx problem, I did encounter this during my testing so I figured someone might run into the same issue, so I wanted to mention it.

I then imported my XML, applied a little color correction, and double checked that my 110% scaling came over in the XML (which it did), and exported using the same DNxHQX settings that I used in Premiere. Exporting from Resolve 14 to the OS drive took about six minutes and 15 seconds, running at about 41 frames per second. When exporting to the internal storage drive it took about six minutes and 11 seconds, running between 40-42 frames per second. For those keeping track of testing details, I did not cache any of the QuickTimes and turned Performance Mode off for these tests (in case Blackmagic had any sneaky things going on in that setting).

After this, I went a little further and exported the same sequence with some Spatial Noise Reduction set across the entire 10-minute timeline using these settings: Mode: Better; Radius: Medium; Spatial Threshold: 15 on both Luma and Chroma; and Blend: 0. It ran at about nine frames per second and took about 25 minutes and 25 seconds to export.

Testing
Finally, I ran a few tests to get some geeky nerd specs that you can compare to other users’ experiences to see where this Boxx Apexx 4 7404 stands. Up first was the AJA System Test, which tests read and write speeds to designated disks. In addition, you can specify different codecs and file sizes to base this test off of. I told the AJA System Test to run its test using the 10-bit Avid DNxHQX codec, 16GB file size and UHD frame size (3860×2140). I ran it a few times, but the average was around 2100/2680 MB/sec write and read to the OS drive and 1000/1890 MB/sec write and read to the storage drive.

To get a sense of how this system would hold up to a 3D modeling test, I ran the classic Cinebench R15 app. OpenGL was 215.34 frames per second with 99.6% ref. match, CPU scored 2121cb and CPU (single core) cored 181cb with MP Ratio of 11.73x. What the test really showed me when I Googled Cinebench scores to compare mine to was that the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 was in the top of the heap for all categories. Specifically, within the top 20 for overall render speed being beaten only by systems with more cores and placed in the top 15 for single core speed — the OpenGL fps is pretty incredible at over 215fps.

Summing Up
In the end, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 custom-built workstation is an incredible powerhouse for any multimedia workflow. From rendering to exporting to transcoding, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 with dual Nvidia Quadro P5000s will chew through anything you throw at it.

But with this power comes a big price: the 7404 series starts at $7,246! The price of the one I tested lands much higher north though, more like just under $14,000 — those pesky Quadros bump the price up quite a bit. But if rendering, color correcting, editing and/or transcoding is your business, Boxx will make sure you are up and running and chewing through every gigabyte of video and 3D modeling you can run through it.

If you have any problems and are not up and running, their support will get you going as fast as possible. If you need parts replaced they will get that to you fast. Boxx’s three-year warranty, which is included with your purchase, includes getting next day on-site repair for the first year but this is a paid upgrade if you want it to continue for years two and three of your warranty. But don’t worry. If you don’t upgrade your warranty you still have two years of great support.

In my opinion, you should really plan for the extended on-site repair upgrade for all three years of your warranty — you will save time, which will make you more money. If you can afford a custom-built Boxx system, you will get a powerhouse workstation that makes working in apps like Premiere and Resolve 14 snappy and fluid.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Choosing the right workstation set-up for the job

By Lance Holte

Like virtually everything in the world of filmmaking, the number of available options for a perfect editorial workstation are almost infinite. The vast majority of systems can be greatly customized and expanded, whether by custom order, upgraded internal hardware or with expansion chassis and I/O boxes. In a time when many workstations are purchased, leased or upgraded for a specific project, the workstation buying process is largely determined by the project’s workflow and budget.

One of Harbor Picture Company’s online rooms.

In my experience, no two projects have identical workflows. Even if two projects are very similar, there are usually some slight differences — a different editor, a new camera, a shorter schedule, bigger storage requirements… the list goes on and on. The first step for choosing the optimal workstation(s) for a project is to ask a handful of broad questions that are good starters for workflow design. I generally start by requesting the delivery requirements, since they are a good indicator of the size and scope of the project.

Then I move on to questions like:

What are the camera/footage formats?
How long is the post production schedule?
Who is the editorial staff?

Often there aren’t concrete answers to these questions at the beginning of a project, but even rough answers point the way to follow-up questions. For instance, Q: What are the video delivery requirements? A: It’s a commercial campaign — HD and SD ProRes 4444 QTs.

Simple enough. Next question.

Christopher Lam from SF’s Double Fine Productions/ Courtesy of Wacom.

Q: What is the camera format? A: Red Weapon 6K, because the director wants to be able to do optical effects and stabilize most of the shots. This answer makes it very clear that we’re going to be editing offline, since the commercial budget doesn’t allow for the purchase of a blazing system with a huge, fast storage array.

Q: What is the post schedule? A: Eight weeks. Great. This should allow enough time to transcode ProRes proxies for all the media, followed by offline and online editorial.

At this point, it’s looking like there’s no need for an insanely powerful workstation, and the schedule looks like we’ll only need one editor and an assistant. Q: Who is the editorial staff? A: The editor is an Adobe Premiere guy, and the ad agency wants to spend a ton of time in the bay with him. Now, we know that agency folks really hate technical slowdowns that can sometimes occur with equipment that is pushing the envelope, so this workstation just needs to be something that’s simple and reliable. Macs make agency guys comfortable, so let’s go with a Mac Pro for the editor. If possible, I prefer to connect the client monitor directly via HDMI, since there are no delay issues that can sometimes be caused by HDMI to SDI converters. Of course, since that will use up the Mac Pro’s single HDMI port, the desktop monitors and the audio I/O box will use up two or three Thunderbolt ports. If the assistant editor doesn’t need such a powerful system, a high-end iMac could suffice.

(And for those who don’t mind waiting until the new iMac Pro ships in December, Apple’s latest release of the all-in-one workstation seems to signal a committed return for the company to the professional creative world – and is an encouraging sign for the Mac Pro overhaul in 2018. The iMac Pro addresses its non-upgradability by futureproofing itself as the most powerful all-in-one machine ever released. The base model starts at a hefty $4,999, but boasts options for up to a 5K display, 18-core Xeon processor, 128GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Vega GPU. As more and more applications add OpenCL acceleration (AMD GPUs), the iMac Pro should stay relevant for a number of years.)

Now, our workflow would be very different if the answer to the first question had instead been A: It’s a feature film. Technicolor will handle the final delivery, but we still want to be able to make in-house 4K DCPs for screenings, EXR and DPX sequences for the VFX vendors, Blu-ray screeners, as well as review files and create all the high-res deliverables for mastering.

Since this project is a feature film, likely with a much larger editorial staff, the workflow might be better suited to editorial in Avid (to use project sharing/bin locking/collaborative editing). And since it turns out that Technicolor is grading the film in Blackmagic Resolve, it makes sense to online the film in Resolve and then pass the project over to Technicolor. Resolve will also cover any in-house temp grading and DCP creation and can handle virtually any video file.

PCs
For the sake of comparison, let’s build out some workstations on the PC side that will cover our editors, assistants, online editors, VFX editors and artists, and temp colorist. PC vs. Mac will likely be a hotly debated topic in this industry for some time, but there is no denying that a PC will return more cost-effective power at the expense of increased complexity (and potential for increased technical issues) than a Mac with similar specs. I also appreciate the longer lifespan of machines with easy upgradability and expandability without requiring expansion chassis or external GPU enclosures.

I’ve had excellent success with the HP Z line — using z840s for serious finishing machines and z440s and z640s for offline editorial workstations. There are almost unlimited options for desktop PCs, but only certain workstations and components are certified for various post applications, so it pays to do certification research when building a workstation from the ground up.

The Molecule‘s artist row in NYC.

It’s also important to keep the workstation components balanced. A system is only as strong as its weakest link, so a workstation with an insanely powerful GPU, but only a handful of CPU cores will be outperformed by a workstation with 16-20 cores and a moderately high-end GPU. Make sure the CPU, GPU, and RAM are similarly matched to get the best bang for your buck and a more stable workstation.

Relationships!
Finally, in terms of getting the best bang for your buck, there’s one trick that reigns supreme: build great relationships with hardware companies and vendors. Hardware companies are always looking for quality input, advice and real-world testing. They are often willing to lend (or give) new equipment in exchange for case studies, reviews, workflow demonstrations and press. Creating relationships is not only a great way to stay up to date with cutting edge equipment, it expands support options, your technical network and is the best opportunity to be directly involved with development. So go to trade shows, be active on forums, teach, write and generally be as involved as possible and your equipment will thank you.

Our Main Image Courtesy of editor/compositor Fred Ruckel.

 


Lance Holte is an LA-based post production supervisor and producer. He has spoken and taught at such events as NAB, SMPTE, SIGGRAPH and Createasphere. You can email him at lance@lanceholte.com.

A look at HP’s new entry-level Z240, Z240 SFF

By Nam Tran

If you’ve been thinking about building your own PC workstation, you might want to consider two new options from HP in the form of the HP Z240, which comes in two flavors: the bigger ToweHP Z240 SFF Workstation and HP Z240 Tower Workstationr workstation and the Small Form Factor workstation (SFF). The only real differences between the two are size and fewer expansion slots on the SFF, so if you’re looking for a future-proof system, and size is not an issue, the bigger Tower workstation will be the better choice.

HP touts the new HP Z240 as the company’s “most affordable workstation.” Although the only price point known so far is $879, I’m willing to bet editors will need a minimum of a $1,300 configuration, if we use its predecessor, the HP Z230, as reference. Even then, you will probably also need to include a graphics card — either a workstation card or the much more affordable Nvidia gaming card (not included in the factory installed configurations).

The HP Z240 Tower and Z240 SFF offer a choice of future Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 v5 product families, Intel Core, or Intel Pentium processors (three) and two ultra-fast HP Z Turbo Drive G2s. The Z240 offers a choice of Windows 7, Windows 10 or Linux operating systems.

HP Z240 SFF's Interior

HP Z240 SFF’s Interior

Features of the HP Z240 include:
– A 100 percent increase in max RAM at 64GB DDR4 ECC memory.
– An M.2 slot, which allows the user to attach small form factor devices or SSDs, freeing up a PCIe slot for other parts.
– A USB 3 charging port that you can use even when the workstation is turned off.
– An amazingly convenient dust-filter that you can easily pop off the machine to clean, and then plop it back on.
– Up to 92 percent energy efficient power supply options.

I tried using the $949 configuration of the HP Z230 to estimate what we might expect in the HP Z240 at $879. With only an integrated Intel HD graphics P4600, a 3.3GHz 4-core Intel Xeon proc, and 4GB of ECC RAM, it’s just not quite enough of a starting point for entry level editors. If the new HP Z240 starts out with at least 8GB of ECC RAM for $879, I think that would instantly upgrade the machine to the best workstation for the price point. But you would still need to install your own GPU in order to make it a real workhorse.

Nam Tran is a New York City-based colorist, editor and motion graphic design artist.

 

 

Quick Chat: ProMAX’s Jess Hartmann on purchase of Cache-A

By Randi Altman

ProMAX Systems, makers of high-performance video storage servers and editing workstations, this week announced its purchase of Cache-A, providers of network-attached video archive libraries and appliances. The deal has been in the works for the past few months.

According to ProMAX CEO Jess Hartmann, “This acquisition builds on our strategy of improving the content creation process by developing a unified and integrated toolset for our clients. More efficient, connected workflows enable our clients to improve project timelines and deliver better content for their customers.”

While ProMAX will continue to sell the Cache-A appliances — including Prime-Cache, Pro-Cache, Power Cache as well as the associated libraries and expansion chassis — independently, Continue reading

Ted Schilowitz tackles supercomputing that targets M&E

By Randi Altman

As history shows, when Ted Schilowitz finds a product he believes in, he’s all in.

Shortly after his retirement last year from Red Digital Cinema, where he had been the public face of the company since its inception, Schilowitz began talks with Silverdraft, a company known for its on-set services truck housing a supercomputer for post production needs, including rendering.

He was impressed with the technology and what it offered, but knew the strategy of the company needed to focus more on what he calls “the flattening out of the entertainment Continue reading

AMD, Dell hold user event in New York City

NICK ? ROY

Technicolor Postworks Nick Marucci and Steve Grillo from Brightshot.

AMD and Dell held an event last week in New York City designed to better position themselves in the post production market. While they had technology to show — including AMD FirePro graphics cards and the Dell Precision rack workstation R7610, the tower workstation  T7610 and the mobile workstation M6800 — for the post pros in attendance, the key part of the intimate event was to share information. This included asking questions about what pros need day to day from their technology and workflow, what their pain points are, how Dell (www.dell.com) and AMD (www.amd.com) can help, and what they could do better.

David from Prime Focus

Prime Focus senior editor David Gauff, who won a FirePro graphics card at the event.

It was an open and honest discussion intended to help the product makers as well as the users, who also took the opportunity to mingle with peers from the New York area.  Guests included artist from studios of all sizes, working in a variety of aspects of the industry, including visual effects, editing and finishing.

“It was great to meet with the team behind the machines,” said Fred Ruckel, creative director at Rucksack NY. “With so many options today, being able to discuss my company’s needs at length was refreshing. When the conversation switched to innovation and future workflows, they took copious notes for implementation in future releases. It felt nice to actually be heard.”

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