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Category Archives: Workstations & Accessories

Review: HP’s zBook x2 mobile workstation

By Brady Betzel

There are a lot of laptops and tablets on the market these days that can seemingly power a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing. If you work in media and entertainment like I do, these days you might even be asked to edit and color correct that Falcon 9 footage that could have been filmed in some insane resolution like 8K.

So how do you edit that footage on the go? You need to find the most powerful mobile solution on the market. In my mind there are only a few that can power editing 8K footage (even if the footage is transcoded into manageable ProRes proxies). There is Razer, which offers a 4K/UHD “gaming” laptop with its Razer Blade Pro. It sports a high-end Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU and i7 processor; Dell’s high-end Precision 7720 mobile workstation allows for a high-end Quadro GPU; and HP offers high-quality mobile workstations via its zBook line.

For this review, I am focusing on the transforming HP zBook x2 mobile workstation, complete with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 32GB memory, Nvidia Quadro and much more.

The zBook x2 allows you to go laptop-style to tablet by removing the keyboard. If you’ve ever used a Wacom Cintiq mobile tablet, you’ve likely enjoyed the matte finish of the display, as well as the ability to draw directly on screen with a stylus. Well, the zBook x2 is a full touchscreen as well as stylus-enabled matte surface compatible with HP’s own battery-less pen. The pen from HP is based off of Wacom’s Electro Magnetic Resonance technology, which essentially allows for cable- and battery-free pens.

In addition, the display bezel has 12 buttons that are programmable for apps like Adobe’s Creative Cloud. For those wondering, HP partnered with Adobe when designing the x2, so you will notice that Creative Cloud comes pre-installed on the system, and the quick access buttons around the bezel are already programmed for use in Adobe’s apps. However, they don’t give you a free subscription with purchase — Hey, HP, this would be a nice touch. Just a suggestion.

Digging In
I was sent the top-of-the-line version of the zBook x2, complete with a DreamColor UHD touchscreen display. Here are the specs under the hood:

– Windows 10 64-bit
– Intel Core i7 8650 (Quad Core — 8th gen)
– 4K UHD DreamColor Touch with anti-glare
– 32GB (2×16 GB) DDR4 2133 memory
– Nvidia Quadro M620 (2GB)
– 512GB HP Z-Turbo Drive PCIe
– 70Whr fast charging battery
– Intel vPro WLAN
– Backlit Bluetooth Keyboard
– Fingerprint reader
– One- or three-year warranty, including the battery
– Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
– HDMI 1.4 port
– USB 3.0 charging port
– SD card slot
– Fingerprint reader
– Headset/microphone port
– External volume controls

The exterior hardware specs are as impressive as the technical specs. I’ve got to be honest, when I first received the x2, I was put off by the sharp edged-octagon design. I’m so used to either square shaped tablets or rounded edges, so the octagon-edged sides were a little strange. After using it for a month, I got used to how sturdy and well built this machine is. I kind of miss the octagon shape now that I had to ship the x2 back to HP.

In addition, the zBook x2 I received weighed in at around 5lbs (with the bluetooth keyboard attached), which isn’t really lightweight. Part of that weight is the indestructible-feeling magnesium and aluminum casing that surrounds the x2’s internal components.

I’ve reviewed a few of these stylus-based workstations before, such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Wacom’s mobile Cintiq offering, and they each have their positives and negatives. One thing that consistently sticks out to me is the kickstand used to prop these machines up. When you use a stylus on a tablet you will have a height and angle you like to work at. Some tablets have a few specified heights like the Wacom offering. The Surface Pro has a somewhat limited angle, but the zBook x2 has the strongest and best working built-in stand that I have used. It is sturdy when working in apps, like Adobe Photoshop, with the stylus.

HP’s Wacom-infused stylus is very lightweight. I personally like a stylus that is a little hefty, like the Wacom Pro Pen, but don’t get me wrong, HP’s pen works well. The pen has a similar pressure sensitivity to the Wacom’s pens many multimedia pros are used to at 4,096 levels and includes tilt sensitivity. When using tablets, palm rejection is a very important feature, and the x2 has excellent palm rejection. HP’s fact sheets and website all have different information on whether the pen is included with the x2 or not, but when ordering it looks like it is bundled with your purchase. As it should be).

One final note on the build quality of HP’s zBook x2: the detachable Bluetooth keyboard is excellent. The keyboard not only acts like a full-sized keyboard, complete with numerical keypad (a favorite of mine when typing in specific timecodes), but it also folds up to protect the screen when not in use.

If you are looking at the zBook x2 to purchase, you are probably also comparing it to a Microsoft Surface Pro, a Wacom Cintiq mobile computer and maybe an iPad Pro. In my opinion, there is no contest. Te x2 wins hands down. However, you are also going to be paying a lot more for it. For instance, the x2 can be purchased with the latest Intel 8th gen i7 processors, an Nvidia Quadro GPU built into the tablet —not the keyboard like on the Microsoft Surface Book systems — it has the ability to be packed with 32GB of RAM as opposed to 16GB in all other tablets. And most importantly, in my opinion, this system offers a color-accurate UHD 10-bit-HP DreamColor display. As I said, it is definitely the beefiest mobile workstation/tablet that you will find out there, but will cost you.

One of my favorite practices that HP is starting to standardize among its mobile workstations is the use of quick charging, where you can charge 50% of your battery in a half an hour and the rest over a few more hours. I can’t tell you how handy this is when you are running around all day and don’t have four hours to charge your computer between appointments. When running apps like Blackmagic’s Resolve 14.3 with UHD video, you can drain the battery fast — something like four hours — but being able to quickly charge back up to 50% is a lifesaver in a lot of circumstances.

In the real world, I use my mobile workstation/tablets all the time. I surf the web, listen to music, edit in Adobe Premiere Pro or color correct in Resolve. This means my systems have to have some high-end processors to keep up. The HP zBook x2 is a great addition to your workstation lineup when you need to take your work on the road and not lose any features, like the HP DreamColor display with 100% Adobe RGB color accuracy. While it’s not a truly calibrated work monitor, DreamColor displays will, at the very least, give you a common calibration among all DreamColor monitors that you can rely on for color critical jobs on the run. In addition, DreamColor displays can display different color spaces like BT. 709, DCI-P3 and more.

Putting it to the Test
To test the x2, I ran a few tests using one of the free clips that Red offers to download from: http://www.red.com/sample-r3d-files. It is the Red One Mysterium clip with a resolution of 4096×2304 and runs at 29.97fps. For a mobile workstation this is a pretty hefty clip to run in Resolve or Premiere. In Premiere, the Red clip would play at realtime when dumbed down to half quality. Half quality isn’t bad to work in, but when spending $3,500 I would like to work in a better-quality Red files. Maybe the technology will be there in a year.

If you are into the whole offline/online workflow (a.k.a. proxy workflow — a.k.a. transcoding to a interframe codec like DNxHR or ProRes — then you will be able to play down the full 4K clip when transcoding to something like DNxHR HQ. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a 10-bit DNxHR HQX clip to play at realtime, and with the sweet 10-bit display that could have been a welcome success. To test exporting speed I trimmed the R3D file (still raw Red) to 10 seconds and exported it as a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime (in the files native resolution and frame rate) and highly compressed H.264 at around 10,000mb/s.

The DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime took 1 minute and 25 seconds to export. I then added a 110% resize and a color grade to really make sure the Quadro GPU kicked in, and unfortunately the export failed. I tried multiple times with different Lumetri color grades and all of them failed, probably a sweet bug.

Next, I exported an uncolored 10,000mb/s H.264 MP4 (a clip perfect for YouTube) in 2 minutes and 41 seconds. I then resized the clip to 110% and performed a color grade using the Lumetri tools inside of Premiere Pro. The MP4 exported in 1 minute and 30 seconds. This was pretty incredible and really showed just how important that Nvidia Quadro M620 with 2GB of memory is. And while things like resizing and color correcting will make sure your GPU kicks in to help, the HP zBook x2 was relatively quiet with the active cooling fan system that kicks all of the hot air up and out of the magnesium case.

Inside of Resolve 14.3, I performed the same tests on the same Red clip. I was able to play the Red clip at about 16fps in 1/16 debayer quality in realtime. Not great, but for a mobile tablet workstation, maybe it’s ok, although I would expect more from a workstation. When exporting the DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime took 2 minutes and the same clip resized to 110% and color graded also took 2 minutes. The H.264 took 2 minutes and 33 seconds without any color grading and resizing, but it also took 2 minutes and 33 seconds when resized 110% and color graded. I had all caching and performance modes disabled when performing these tests. I would have thought Resolve would have performed better than Premiere Pro, but in this case Adobe wins.

As a bonus, I happen to have Fusion, GoPro’s 360 video camera, and ran it through Fusion Studio, GoPro’s stitching and exporting software. Keep in mind 360 video is a huge resource hog that takes lots of time to process. The 30-second test clip I exported in flat color, with image stabilization applied, took an hour to export. The resulting file was a 1.5GB – 4992×2496 4:2:2 Cineform 10-bit YUV QuickTime with Ambisonic audio. That’s a big and long render in my opinion, although it will also take a long time on many computers.

Summing up
In the end, the HP zBook x2 is a high-end mobile workstation that doubles as a stylus-based drawing tablet designed to be used in apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Premiere Pro.

The x2 is profoundly sturdy with some high-end components, like the Intel i7 8th gen processor, Nvidia Quadro M620 GPU, 4K/UHD HP DreamColor touchscreen display and 32GB of RAM.

But along with these high-end components comes a high price: the setup in this review retails for around $3,500, which is not cheap. But for a system that is designed to be run 24 hours a day 365 days a year, it might be the investment you need to make.

Do you want to use the table at the office when connected to a Thunderbolt 3 dock while also powering a 4K display? The x2 is the only mobile table workstation that will do this at the moment. If I had any criticisms of the HP zBook x2 it would be the high cost and the terrible speakers. HP touts the Bang & Olufsen speakers on the x2, but they are not good. My Samsung Galaxy S8+ has better speakers.

So whether you are looking to color correct on the road or have a Wacom-style table at the office, the HP zBook x2 is a monster that HP has certified with companies like Adobe using their Independent Software Vendor verifications to ensure your drivers and software will work as well as possible.


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.

Review: Wacom Mobile Studio Pro 16

By Sophia Kyriacou

As a designer who appreciates how products are packaged, my first impression of the Mobile Studio Pro when it arrived was very positive. I loved the minimalism of the design and how everything was carefully considered and placed within the box. It felt special and aimed at a creative who had earned it.

While I have been using Wacom tablet products professionally for over 20 years, I had never previously used a Wacom PC tablet. I didn’t have any expectations or preconceived ideas of what this box of tricks was capable of. It was great to stumble across things by accident, and it felt very intuitive.

The Mobile Studio Pro is a self-contained computer tablet device. You don’t need a laptop or a desktop to use it, as everything is within one handy box. You can, however, plug the device into a separate monitor should you need the additional screen. While I haven’t done this yet myself, I would imagine a second monitor would be handy when you need to spread out your application interface.

The tablet arrives with Windows 10 pre-installed. It’s essentially a PC computer rather than a mobile tablet device. You simply install your software as you would on your laptop or desktop workstation, and off you go. It’s as simple as that. I installed my Adobe Creative Cloud, with a special interest in Photoshop, as it was perfect for painting and drawing, and even sketching initial ideas. I also installed Allegorithmic’s Substance Painter, a brilliant painting package I use for my texture mapping. I also have my Studio version of Maxon Cinema 4D installed, which I predominately use for exporting my geometry that is ready for texture mapping in Substance Painter.

Digging In
Immediately, I liked the idea of being able to see where my pen was pointing at the screen before the pen had literally touched the screen itself. The little circular indicator was very simple and very useful, as it allowed me to target my pen exactly where it was going. Simple things count. The pen is very comfortable to hold, slightly weightier but not heavier than other tablet pens. It has a sturdy rubber grip and attachment should I want to let the pen hang from the tablet itself.

 

The overall design is minimal with a set of function keys and a wheel to one side. All can be easily changed to suit your needs. The screen is semi matte and perfectly smooth, although I personally prefer a glossy screen as the blacks look more crushed, but I appreciate that is also a personal preference. The screen is super-smooth and easy to glide without the pen slipping as it could on a glossed shiny surface. I did notice some minor light bleeding at the bottom edge in three places, but this didn’t impact my actual workflow and was only slightly noticeable on start-up rather than actually interfering with my workflow.

The 16-inch model is perfect for working between 3D and 2D texturing, although again a personal choice. The full-size version comes with a Quadra Nvidia Quadro M1000M 4GB GDDRS card, which is super-punchy — working with high-resolution imagery and geometry with no lag. Texturing in 4K+ is demanding, so this high-spec box of tricks is essential. The pixel resolution is highly respectable at 3,840×2,160 and along with an i7-6567U processor and 16GB RAM you have a very powerful tablet that perhaps provides more power than you may need but it is there to be taken advantage of when you do need it. The Pro Pen 2 is very accurate with no lag and comfortable, switching between using the pen and touch function feels very natural.

One of the drawbacks for me is the weight of the top-spec model — my MacBook Pro weighs 4.46 pounds and the Mobile Studio Pro weights 4.85 pounds. As the name suggests, it’s a “mobile studio.” For me it felt only mobile from room to room, and is not a device I could carry around with me for too long. The battery drains very quickly (four hours battery time), but given the amount of hardware inside this punchy unit, it is to be expected. The battery brick is very large, so if you are carrying the Mobile Studio out and about, you have to consider this and all the peripherals. While USB-C is still new compared to the USB design, I would have preferred to see perhaps two USB-C and one USB ports, but I guess this is a forward-thinking product and an adapter will do the trick, so this can be forgiven.

I found it very useful using an inexpensive wireless Logitech keyboard with a trackpad as constantly going back and forth between the tablet keyboard and the application was a little cumbersome as it was breaking up my workflow. What I would like to see is a simple button in the top corner that you click once that brings the keyboard up and press again and it’s gone, rather than having to go into bottom menus.

Real-World Work
When I took on the task of reviewing the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro, I thought it would be best suited on a project that benefitted from heavy use of texture mapping and texture painting. I decided to start working on a “concept film” where I would use the tablet to texture all the 3D assets. As this is a work in progress project, I have attached with my review an asset I textured using the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro and plan to finish the film this year, so please come back to see the results.

I am often inspired by sounds and music. Concepts have always been my main focus and I was inspired by a piece of cinematic music, which I thought would work incredibly well. It’s a short sequence about emotion. I want to take the viewer through a series of emotions and leave them thinking and stay with them. At the moment I am inspired by concept art and surrealism and like how chain reactions take you to places. Some scenes may be logical, others not, but will have a thread that links them all together. The opening of the track has a piano piece and the keys travel downwards. To express this I built a spiral staircase travelling in a downward motion taking the viewer into another world.

Pricing
For the MobileStudio Pro 13, prices vary with storage capacity: $1,500 for a 64GB SSD, $1,800 for 128GB, $2,000 for 256GB and $2,500 for 512GB.

As for the MobileStudio Pro 16, the less expensive $2,400 model incorporates an Nvidia Quadro M600M processor with 2GB of video RAM and a 256GB SSD, while the $3,000 model has an Nvidia Quadro M1000M with 4GB of video RAM and a 512GB SSD.

Summing Up
Would I recommend the Mobile Studio Pro? Absolutely. It’s powerful and it’s a computer, so I am able to install and use my software with ease. It works very well within my wider workflow, which is how I prefer to work. I think its success also comes down to the fact that this is a computer tablet device and not just a tablet that relies only on apps.


Sophia Kyriacou is an award-winning motion designer and 3D artist with over 20 years working in the broadcast industry. She is also a full voting member at BAFTA and has presented her various projects on the international stage at IBC for Maxon. She splits her time between freelancing and the BBC in London. Follow her on Twitter (@SophiaKyriacou) and Instagram (@sophiakyriacou).

 

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Review: Dell’s 8K LCD monitor

By Mike McCarthy

At CES 2017, Dell introduced its UP3218K LCD 32-inch monitor, which was the first commercially available 8K display. It runs 7680×4320 pixels at 60fps, driven by two DisplayPort 1.4 cables. That is over 33 million pixels per frame, and nearly 2 billion per second, which requires a lot of GPU power to generate. Available since March, not long ago I was offered one to review as part of a wider exploration of 8K video production workflows, and there will be more articles about that larger story in the near future.

For this review, I will be focusing on only this product and its uses.

The UP3218K showed up in a well-designed box that was easy to unpack — it was also easy getting the monitor onto the stand. I plugged it into my Nvidia Quadro P6000 card with the included DisplayPort cables, and it came up as soon as I turned it on… at full 60Hz and without any issues or settings to change. Certain devices with only one DisplayPort 1.4 connector will only power the display at 30Hz, as full 60Hz connections saturate the bandwidth of two DP 1.4 cables, but the display does require a Displayport 1.4 connection, and will not revert to lower resolution when connected to a 1.2 port. This limits the devices that can drive it to Pascal-based GPUs on the Nvidia side, or top-end Vega GPUs on the AMD side. I have a laptop with a P5000 in it, so I was disappointed to discover that the DisplayPort connector was still only 1.2, thereby making it incompatible with this 8K monitor.

Dell’s top Precision laptops (7720 and 7520) support DP1.4, while HP and Lenovo’s mobile workstations do not yet. This is a list of every device I am aware of that explicitly claims to support 8K output:
1. Quadro P6000, P5000, P4000, P2000 workstation GPU cards
2. TitanX and Geforce10 Series graphics cards
3. RadeonPro SSG, WX9100 & WX7100 workstation GPU cards
4. RX Vega 64 and 56 graphics cards
5. Dell Precision 7520 and 7720 mobile workstations
6. Comment if you know of other laptops with DP1.4

So once you have a system that can drive the monitor, what can you do with it? Most people reading this article will probably be using this display as a dedicated full-screen monitor for their 8K footage. But smooth 8K editing and playback is still a ways away for most people. The other option is to use it as your main UI monitor to control your computer and its applications. In either case, color can be as important as resolution when it comes to professional content creation, and Dell has brought everything it has to the table in this regard as well.

The display supports Dell’s PremierColor toolset, which is loosely similar to the functionality that HP offers under their DreamColor branding. PremierColor means a couple of things, including that the display has the internal processing power that allows it to correctly emulate different color spaces; it can also be calibrated with an X-Rite iDisplay Pro independent of the system driving it. It also interfaces with a few software tools that Dell has developed for its professional users. The mo

st significant functionality within that feature set is the factory-calibrated options for emulating AdobeRGB, sRGB, Rec.709 and DCI-P3. Dell tests each display individually after manufacturing to ensure that it is color accurate. These are great features, but they are not unique to this monitor, and many users have been using them on other display models for the last few years. While color accuracy is important, the main selling point of this particular model is resolution, and lots of it. And that is what I spent the majority of my time analyzing.

Resolution
The main issue here is the pixel density. Ten years ago, 24-inch displays were 1920×1200, and 30-inch displays had 2560×1600 pixels. This was around 100 pixels per inch, and most software was hard coded to look correct at that size. When UHD displays were released, the 32-inch version had a DPI of 140. That resulted in applications looking quite small and hard to read on the vast canvas of pixels, but this trend increased pressure on software companies to scale their interfaces better for high DPI displays. Windows 7 was able to scale things up an extra 50%, but a lot of applications ignored that setting or were not optimized for it. Windows 10 now allows scaling beyond 300%, which effectively triples the size of the text and icons. We have gotten to the point where even 15-inch laptops have UHD screens, resulting in 280 DPI, which is unreadable to most people without interface scaling.

Premiere Pro

With 8K resolution, this monitor has 280 DPI, twice that of a 4K display of similar size. This is on par with a 15-inch UHD laptop screen, but laptops are usually viewed from a much closer range. Since I am still using Windows 7 on my primary workstation, I was expecting 280 DPI to be unusable for effective work. And while everything is undoubtedly small, it is incredibly crisp, and once I enabled Windows scaling at 150%, it was totally usable (although I am used to small fonts and lots of screen real estate). The applications I use, especially Adobe CC, scale much smoother than they used to, so everything looks great, even with Windows 7, as long as I sit fairly close to the monitor.

I can edit 6K footage in Premiere Pro at full resolution for the first time, with space left over for my timeline and tool panels. In After Effects, I can work on 4K shots in full resolution and still have 70 layers of data visible in my composition. In Photoshop, setting the UI to 200% causes the panel to behave similar to a standard 4K 32-inch display, but with your image having four times the detail. I can edit my 5.6K DSLR files in full resolution, with nearly every palette open to work smoothly through my various tools.

This display replaces my 34-inch curved U3415W as my new favorite monitor for Adobe apps, although I would still prefer the extra-wide 34-inch display for gaming and other general usability. But for editing or VFX work, the 8K panel is a dream come true. Every tool is available at the same time, and all of your imagery is available at HiDPI quality.

Age of Empires II

When gaming, the resolution doesn’t typically affect the field of view of 3D applications, but for older 2D games, you can see the entire map at once. Age of Empires II HD offers an expansive view of really small units, but there is a texture issue with the background of the bottom quarter of the screen. I think I used to see this at 4K as well, and it got fixed in an update, so maybe the same thing will happen with this one, once 8K becomes more common.

I had a similar UI artifact issue in RedCine player when I full-screened the Window on the 8K display, which was disappointing since that was one of the few ways to smoothly play 8K footage on the monitor at full resolution. Using it as a dedicated output monitor works as well, but I did run into some limitations. I did eventually get it to work with RedCine-X Pro, after initially experiencing some aspect ratio issues. It would playback cached frames smoothly, but only for 15 seconds at a time before running out of decoded frames, even with a Rocket-X accelerator card.

When configured as a secondary display for dedicated full-screen output, it is accessible via Mercury Transmit in the Adobe apps. This is where it gets interesting, because the main feature that this monitor brings to the table is increased resolution. While that is easy to leverage in Photoshop, it is very difficult to drive that many pixels in real-time for video work, and decreasing the playback resolution negates the benefit of having an 8K display. At this point, effectively using the monitor becomes more an issue of workflow.

After Effects

I was going to use 8K Red footage for my test, but that wouldn’t play smoothly in Premiere, even on my 20-core workstation, so I converted it to a variety of other files to test with. I created 8K test assets that matched the monitor resolution in DNxHR, Cineform, JPEG2000, OpenEXR and HEVC. DNxHR was the only format that offered full-resolution playback at 8K, and even that resulted in dropped frames on a regular basis. But being able to view 8K video is pretty impressive, and probably forever shifts my view of “sharp” in the subjective sense, but we are at a place where we are still waiting for the hardware to catch up in regards to processing power — for 8K video editing to be an effective reality for users.

Summing Up
The UP3218K is the ultimate monitor for content creators and artists looking for a large digital canvas, regardless of whether that is measured in inches or pixels. All those pixels come at a price — it is currently available from Dell for $3,900. Is it worth it? That will depend on what your needs and your budget are. Is a Mercedes Benz worth the increased price over a Honda? Some people obviously think so.

There is no question that this display and the hardware to drive it effectively would be a luxury to the average user. But for people who deal with high resolution content on a regular basis, the increased functionality that it offers them can’t be measured in the same way, and reading an article and seeing pictures online can’t compare to actually using the physical item. The screenshots are all scaled to 25% to be a reasonable size for the web. I am just trying to communicate a sense of the scope of the desktop real estate available to users on an 8K screen. So yes, it is expensive, but at the moment, it is the highest resolution monitor that money can buy, and the closest alternative (5K screens) does not even come close.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

 


Boxx intros next-gen workstation with new Intel Coffee Lake processors

Boxx Technologies, makers of computer workstations, rendering systems and servers, will be at Autodesk University next week showing its new Apexx S3 workstation, featuring an overclocked, 8th generation, Intel Core i7 processor. Along with the immediate availability of the new Intel Coffee Lake processor, Boxx is showing the workstation in a next-generation chassis — as well as a new Apexx workstation nomenclature based upon the Intel scalable processor platform. According to the company, the workstation is designed to accelerate 3ds Max, Maya and other creative apps.

Apexx S3 replaces the Boxx flagship workstation, Apexx 2 2403, and features the latest Intel Core i7 processor overclocked to 4.8 GHz. The liquid-cooled system sustains that frequency across all cores. The 8th generation Intel processors offer a significant performance increase over previous Intel technology and Boxx is offering a three-year warranty. Boxx also removed unused, outdated technology (like optical drive bays) in order to maximize productive space. Inside its new, compact, industrial chassis, the computationally dense Apexx S3 supports up to two dual-slot Nvidia or AMD Radeon Pro pro graphics cards, an additional single slot card and features solid-state drives and faster memory at 2600MHz DDR4.

 

 


Review: OWC’s USB-C dock

By Brady Betzel

Whether you have a MacBook Pro with only one USB 3.1 Gen 1 port (a.k.a. USB-C) or a desktop PC and aren’t fond of reaching around the back of your tower to plug in peripherals, you’ll need a dock. At first you might think a dock isn’t necessary, but it is. With the popularity of the USB-C connection you can use one single cable to plug in your dock and connect with many different devices, including HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, SD cards and multiple other USB connected devices.

OWC has a reputation for having high-quality, Mac-focused products like external RAID storage solutions. OWC branded SSD drives, memory upgrades and even refurbished Mac OS-based systems. One of the company’s latest products is the USB-C dock that is compatible with both Mac OS- and Windows-based computer systems. The OWC USB-C dock comes in two versions: Mini DisplayPort and HDMI. Otherwise, the rest of the ports are identical.

In the front of the dock is an SD card reader, 3.5 headphone/microphone combo port and high-powered USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB port. On the back are three USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (one of those is another high-powered charging port), one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, Gigabit Ethernet, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 connection for your system, HDMI or MiniDP port, and the DC power connection. The docks come in four different colors that match Apple’s MacBook Pros, including space gray, silver, gold and rose gold. The Mini DisplayPort version costs $148.75, and the HDMI version costs anywhere from $127.99 to $148.75.

What I really love about the USB-C dock from OWC, aside from the abundance of ports, is the addition of high-powered charging ports. I have a Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone, which can charge at a high speed with ports like these, so having them on the dock is extra handy. Besides the S8+, other electronics like the GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition can benefit from these ports.

Where the USB-C dock will really shine is in an environment where you don’t want to carry around all your peripherals and you use a newer MacBook Pro that features USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C connections. Keep in mind that the dock will supply up to 60W of power for your computer in addition to the 20W for other peripherals, so if your computer needs more than 60W to charge it may charge slowly or not at all.

For us desktop users, the USB-C dock expands our connections by adding multiple USB ports, an HDMI connection, and even add a Gigabit network adapter all at close range instead of having to reach around the back of your workstation.

The HDMI port supports connection via HDMI 1.4b-enabled displays or televisions: and a high-speed HDMI cable is required for display resolutions of 1080p or higher. Most HDMI cables these days are high-speed, you can even find the AmazonBasics high-speed HDMI cables for $7.99.

As mentioned earlier, the OWC USB-C dock is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS systems, but a driver is required if using the Gigabit Ethernet port on Mac OS X system 10.10 and 10.11. You can find that driver here.

In a Windows-based environment you will not have to update the Ethernet driver, but in both Mac OS and Windows environments if you have the HDMI version, you will need to install the following firmware update.

Summing Up
Out of selfishness, I wish there was one more USB port on the back of the USB-C dock to host my four Tangent Element color correction panels, each of which has its own USB connections. Instead, I have one poking out of the front. In addition, it would be nice to have a Thunderbolt 1/2 port on the dock for my legacy Thunderbolt-connected RAIDs; instead, I will have to buy an additional adapter. Other than those two suggestions, the dock is awesome and works great. It measures just over an inch tall, 3.5 inches wide, and just under 8 inches long. It weighs .9 lbs and comes with a power supply that is actually heavier than the dock, and what I think is a way-too-short Type-C cable measuring at about 20 inches. Obviously, for those using the dock with a laptop this is sufficient, but for those using this dock with a tower something triple that length is needed.

The USB-C dock comes with a two-year limited warranty which in simple terms means that if anything goes wrong with the product because of bad manufacturing they will fix or replace it. They will not cover your data or shipping, so keep that in mind.

The dock’s manual features tips, like the Type-C USB 3.1 port between the traditional USB ports and the Ethernet port is for data and power only; it will not support video signals or video adapters. In addition, this dock is not compatible with Apple’s USB-C Digital AV multiport adapter or USB-C VGA multiport adapter. There are plenty of other usage notes you will want to read, so make sure that you check the manual out before you use the dock.

If you not only want a dock. but also want to update an older MacBook Pro, OWC has some great SSD and memory bundles.


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.


Sonnet intros Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort adapter for Mac, PC

Sonnet has introduced the Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort adapter, a compact, bus-powered device that allows users to connect up to two 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD) DisplayPort monitors, or one 5K DisplayPort monitor to a single Thunderbolt 3 port on their computers.

This allows desktop users to work with multiple monitors without having to connect to multiple ports on their computer. For many users of thin and light notebook computers wanting to connect two large UHD monitors, an adapter to connect them is required.

Users can plug in the Sonnet adapter to their computers, connect the monitors with standard DisplayPort cables (sold separately) and then configure the displays through the operating system.

Although the Sonnet Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort adapter supports up to two 4K DisplayPort monitors at 60Hz or one 5K DisplayPort monitor at 60Hz, it also supports monitors with lower resolutions, such as full HD 1080p (1920×1080) and 1920×1200, making it well-suited for different home and office workspace applications. Plus, with the Sonnet adapter’s built-in audio support users don’t need to connect additional cables to hear sound from the monitors.

The Sonnet adapter is also compatible with “active” DisplayPort-to-HDMI, DisplayPort-to-DVI, and DisplayPort-to-VGA adapters, enabling the connection of a wider variety of monitors.

The Dual DisplayPort adapter is available now and costs $89.


Boxx Apexx 4 features i9 X-Series procs, targets post apps

Boxx’s new Apexx 4 6201 workstation features the new 10-core Intel Core i9 X-Series processor. Intel’s most scalable desktop platform ever, X-Series processors offer significant performance increases over previous Intel technology.

“The Intel Core X-Series is the ultimate workstation platform,” reports Boxx VP of engineering Tim Lawrence. “The advantages of the new Intel Core i9, combined with Boxx innovation, will provide architects, engineers and motion media creators with an unprecedented level of performance.”

One of those key Intel X-Series advantages is Intel Turbo Boost 3.0. This technology identifies the two best cores to boost, making the new CPUs ideal for multitasking and virtual reality, as well as editing and rendering high-res 4K/VR video and effects with fast video transcode, image stabilization, 3D effects rendering and animation.

When comparing previous-generation Intel processors to X-Series processors (10-core vs.10-core), the X-Series is up to 14% faster in multi-threaded performance and up to 15% faster in single-threaded performance.

The first in a series of Boxx workstations featuring the new Intel X-Series processors, Apexx 4 6201 also includes up to three professional-grade Nvidia or AMD Radeon Pro graphics cards, and up to 128GB of system memory. The highly configurable Apexx 4 series workstations provide support for single-threaded applications, as well as multi-threaded tasks in applications like 3ds Max, Maya and Adobe CC.

“Professionals choose Boxx because they want to spend more time creating and less time waiting on their compute-intensive workloads,” says Lawrence. “Boxx Apexx workstations featuring new Intel X-Series processors will enable them to create without compromise, to megatask, support a bank of 4K monitors and immerse themselves in VR — all faster than before.”

 


New AMD Radeon Pro Duo graphics card for pro workflows

AMD was at NAB this year with its dual-GPU graphics card designed for pros — the Polaris-architecture-based Radeon Pro Duo. Built on the capabilities of the Radeon Pro WX 7100, the Radeon Pro Duo graphics card is designed for media and entertainment, broadcast and design workflows.

The Radeon Pro Duo is equipped with 32GB of ultra-fast GDDR5 memory to handle larger data sets, more intricate 3D models, higher-resolution videos and complex assemblies. Operating at a max power of 250W, the Radeon Pro Duo uses a total of 72 compute units (4,608 stream processors) for a combined performance of up to 11.45 TFLOPS of single-precision compute performance on one board, and twice the geometry throughput of the Radeon Pro WX 7100.

The Radeon Pro Duo enables pros to work on up to four 4K monitors at 60Hz, drive the latest 8K single monitor display at 30Hz using a single cable or drive an 8K display at 60Hz using a dual cable solution.

The Radeon Pro Duo’s distinct dual-GPU design allows pros the flexibility to divide their workloads, enabling smooth multi-tasking between applications by committing GPU resources to each. This will allow users to focus on their creativity and get more done faster, allowing for a greater number of design iterations in the same time.

On select pro apps (including DaVinci Resolve, Nuke/Care VR, Blender Cycles and VRed), the Radeon Pro Duo offers up to two times faster performance compared with the Radeon Pro WX 7100.

For those working in VR, the Radeon Pro Duo graphics card uses the power of two GPUs to render out separate images for each eye, increasing VR performance over single GPU solutions by up to 50% in the SteamVR test. AMD’s LiquidVR technologies are also supported by the industry’s leading realtime engines, including Unity and Unreal, to help ensure smooth, comfortable and responsive VR experiences on Radeon Pro Duo.

The Radeon Pro Duo’s planned availability is the end of May at an expected price of US $999.


Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel

By Brady Betzel

If you’ve never used a color correction panel like the Tangent Element, Tangent Ripple, Avid Artist Color, or been fortunate enough to touch the super high-end FilmLight Blackboard 2, Blackmagic Advanced Panel or the Nucoda Precision Control Panel, then you don’t know what you are missing.

If you can, reach out to someone at a post house and sit at a real color correction console; it might change your career path. I’ve talked about it before, but the first time I sat in a “real” (a.k.a. expensive) color correction/editing bay I knew that I was on the right career path.

Color correction can be done without using color correction panels, but think of it like typing with one hand (maybe even one finger) — sure it can be done, but you are definitely missing out on the creative benefit of fluidity and efficiency.

In terms of affordable external color correction panels, Tangent makes the Ripple, Wave and Element panel sets that range from $350 to over $3,300, but work with pretty much every color correction app I can think of (even Avid if you use the Baselight plug-in). Avid offers the Artist Color panel, which also works with many apps, including Avid Media Composer, and costs about $1,300. Beyond those two, you have the super high-end panels that I mentioned earlier; they range from $12,000 to $29,999.

Blackmagic recently added two new offerings to their pool of color correction panel hardware: the DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel and DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel. The Micro is similar in size and functionality to the Avid Artist panel, and the Mini is similar to the center part of most high-end color correction panels.

One important caveat to keep in mind is that you can only use these panels with Blackmagic’s Resolve, and Resolve must be updated to at least version 12.5.5 to function. They connect to your computer via USB 3 Type C or Ethernet.

I received the Resolve Mini Panel to try out for a couple of weeks, and immediately loved it. If you’ve been lucky enough to use a high-end color correction panel like Blackmagic’s Advanced Panel, then you will understand just how great it feels to control Resolve with hardware. In my opinion, using hardware panels eliminates almost 90 percent of the stumbling when using color correction software as opposed to using a keyboard and mouse. The Resolve Mini Panel is as close as you are going to get to professional-level color correction hardware panel without spending $30,000.

Digging In
Out of the box, the panel feels hefty but not too heavy. It’s solid enough to sit on a desk and not have to worry about it walking around while you are using it. Of course, because I am basically a kid, I had to press all the buttons and turn all the dials before I plugged it in. They feel great… the best-feeling wheels and trackballs on a $3,000 panel I’ve used. The knobs and buttons feel fine. I’m not hating on them, but I think I like the way the Tangent buttons depress better. Either way, that is definitely subjective. The metal rings and hefty trackballs are definitely on the level of the high-end color correction panels you can see in pro color bays.

Without regurgitating Blackmagic’s press release in full, I want to go over what I think really shines on this panel. I love the two five-inch LCD panels just above the main rings and trackballs. Below the LCDs and above the row of 12 knobs are eight more knobs that interact with the LCDs. Above the LCDs are eight soft buttons and a bunch of buttons that help you navigate around the node tree and jump into different modes, like qualifiers and tracking.

Something I really loved when working with the Mini Panel was adding points on a curve and adjusting those individual points. This is one of the best features of the Mini Panel, in my opinion. Little shortcuts like adding a node + circle window in one key press are great features. Directly above the trackballs and rings are RGB, All and Level buttons that can reset their respective parameters for each of the Lift Gamma and Gain changes you’ve made. Above those are buttons like Log, Offset and Viewer — a quick way to jump into Log mode, Offset mode and full-screen Viewer mode.

When reading about the user buttons and FX buttons in the Resolve manual it states that they will be enabled in future releases, which gets me excited about what else could be coming down the pike. NAB maybe?

Of course, there can be improvements. I mean, it is a Version 1 product, but everything considered Blackmagic really hit it out of the park. To see what some pros think needs to be changed and/or altered troll over to the holy grail of color correction forums: Lift Gamma Gain. You’ll even notice some Blackmagic folks sniffing around answering questions and hinting at what is coming in some updates. In addition, Blackmagic has their own forum where an interesting post popped up titled DaVinci Mini Panel Suggestion Box. This is another great post to hang around.

Wishlist/Suggestions
When using the panels, when I would exit Resolve the LCDs didn’t dim or go into screen-saver mode like some other panels I’ve used. Furthermore, there isn’t a dimmer for the brightness of the LCD screens and backlit buttons. In the future, I would love the ability to dim or completely shut off the panels when I am in other apps or presenting to a client and don’t want the panel glowing. The backlit keys aren’t terribly bright though, so it’s not a huge deal.

While in the forums, I did notice posts about the panel’s inability to do the NLE-style of transport control: double tapping fast forward to go faster. Furthermore, a wheel might be a nice transport addition for scrubbing. In the node shortcut buttons, I couldn’t find an easy way to delete a node or add an outside node directly from the panel. On other panels, I love moving shapes/windows around using the trackballs but, unfortunately, you can only move/adjust the windows around with knobs, which isn’t terrible but is definitely less natural than using the trackballs. Lastly, I kind of miss the ability to set and load memories from a panel, with the Mini Panel we don’t have that option….yet. Maybe it will come in an update since there are buttons with numbers on them, but who knows.

Mini and Micro Panel
Technically, the Mini Panel is the Micro Panel but with the addition of the top LCDs and buttons. It also has the ability to connect the panel not just by USB-C but also via Ethernet. If connecting via Ethernet, there has been some talk of power over Ethernet (PoE) compatibility, which powers your panel without the need for a power cable. Some folks have had less success with standard PoE, but have had success using PoE+ appliances — something to keep in mind.

Both the Micro and Mini Panels have the standard three trackballs and rings, 12 control knobs and 18 keys hard coded for specific tasks and transport controls. In addition, the Mini Panel has two 5-inch screens, eight additional soft buttons, eight additional soft knobs and 30 additional hard-coded buttons that focus on node navigation and general mode navigation.

Both the Micro and Mini Panels are powered via USB-C, but the Mini Panel also adds PoE connection as mentioned earlier, as well as a 4-pin XLR DC power connection. Something to note: I thought that when I received the Mini Panel I might have been missing a power cable from the box because I had a test unit, but upon more forum reading I found that you do not get a power cable with the Mini Panel. While Blackmagic does ship a USB 3.0 to USB-C adapter cable with the Mini and Micro Panels, they do not ship a power cable, which is unfortunate and an odd oversight, but since the panels are affordable I guess it’s not that big of a deal. Plus, if you are a post nerd like me, you probably have a few 5-15 to C13 power cables lying around the house.

I can’t shake the feeling that Blackmagic is going to be adding some additional external panels to piece together something like the Advanced Panel set-up (much like how the Tangent Element panel set can be purchased). Things like an external memory bank or an X-Keys type set-up seem not too far off for Blackmagic. I would even love to be able to turn the LCD screens into scopes if possible, and even hook up an Ultrascope via the panel so I don’t have to purchase additional hardware. Either way, the Mini Panel gets me real excited about the path Blackmagic is carving for their Resolve users.

Summing Up
In the end, if you are a professional colorist looking for a semi-portable panel and haven’t committed to the Tangent Element ecosphere yet, the Resolve Mini Panel is for you … and your credit card. The Mini Panel is as close to a high-end color correction panel that I have seen, and has a wallet-friendly retail price of $2,995. It is very solid and doesn’t feel like a substitute for a full-sized panel — it can hold its own.

One thing I was worried about when I began writing this review was questioning whether or not tying myself down to one piece of software was a good idea. When you invest in the Mini Panel, you are wholeheartedly dedicating yourself to DaVinci Resolve, and I think that is a safe bet.


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.

Review: LogicKeyboard’s Astra PC keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5

By Brady Betzel

I love a good keyboard. In fact, my favorite keyboards have always been mechanical, or pseudo-mechanical, like those old Windows keyboards you can find at thrift stores for under 10 bucks — in fact, I went back and bought one just the other day at a Goodwill. I love them because of the tactile response and click you get when depressing the keys.

Knowing this, you can understand my frustration (and maybe old-man bitterness) when all I see in the modern workplace are those slimline Apple keyboards, even on Windows PCs! I mean I can get by on those, but at home I love using this old Avid keyboard that is as close to mechanical as I can get.

LogicKeyboard’s Astra latest Resolve-focused backlit keyboard answers many problems in one slick keyboard. Logic’s scissor switch designed keys give me the tactile feedback that I love while the backlit keyboard itself is sleek and modern.

After being a primarily Avid Media Composer-focused editor with keyboards emblazoned with Avid shortcuts for many years, I started using other apps like Adobe After Effects and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and realized I really like to see shortcuts displayed on my keyboard. Yeah, I know, I should pretend to be able to blaze through an edit without looking at the keyboard but guess what, I look down. So when learning new apps like Resolve it is really helpful to have a keyboard with shortcuts, moreover with keys that have backlighting. I don’t usually run into many Resolve-focused keyboards so when I heard about Logic’s backlit version, I immediately wanted to try it out.

While this particular keyboard has Resolve-specific shortcuts labeled on the keys it will work as a standard keyboard and will run backlit regardless of what app you are in. If you are looking for a keyboard with shortcuts for a specific app check out LogicKeyboard’s site where you can find Windows and Ma OS keyboards for Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Smoke and even non-video-based apps like Pro Tools or Photoshop.

Taking it for a Drive
The Astra keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5 is awesome. First off, there are two USB 2.0 cables you need to plug into your PC to use this keyboard: one for the keyboard itself and one for the two USB 2.0 ports on the back. I love that LogicKeyboard has created a self-powered USB hub on the back of the keyboard. I do wish it was USB 3.0, but to have the ability to power external hard drives from the keyboard and not have to fumble around the back of the machine really helps my day-to-day productivity, a real key addition. While the keyboard I am reviewing is technically for a Windows-based machine it will work on a Mac OS-based system, but you will have to keep in mind the key differences such as the Windows key, but really you should just buy the Mac OS version.

The Astra keyboard is sleek and very well manufactured. The first thing I noticed after I plugged in the keyboard was that it didn’t walk along the desk as I was using it. Maybe I’m a little hard on my equipment, but a lot of keyboards I use start to move across my desk when typing; the Logic keyboard stays still and allows me to pound on that keyboard all day long.

As a testament to the LogicKeyboard’s durability, one day I came home after work and one of the shift keys on the keyboard had come off (it may or may not have been my two year old — I have no concrete evidence). My first thought was “great, there goes that keyboard,” but then I quickly tried to snap the key back on and it went on the first try. Pretty amazing.

What sets the LogicKeyboard backlit keyboard apart from other application-specific keyboards, or any for that matter, is not only the solid construction but also the six levels of brightness for the backlit keys that can be controlled directly from the keyboard. The brightness can be controlled in increments of 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% brightness. As a professional editor or colorist, you might think that having backlit keys in a dark room is both distracting and/or embarrassing, but LogicKeyboard has made a beautiful keyboard that glows softly. Even at 100% brightness it feels like the Astra keyboard has a nice fall off, leaving the keyboard almost unnoticeable until you need to see it and use it. Furthermore, it kicks into what Logic calls “smoothing light” after three minutes of non-use — basically it dims to a dull level.

In terms of shortcuts on the Resolve 12/12.5-specific Astra keyboard, you get four levels of shortcuts: normal, shift + key, control + key, and alt + key. Normal is labeled in black, shift + key are labeled in red just like the shift key, control + key are labeled in blue just like the control key, and alt + key are labeled green just like the alt key. While I love all of these shortcuts I do think that it can sometimes get a little overwhelming with so many visible at the same time. It’s kind of a catch-22; I want every shortcut labeled for easy and fast searches, but too many options lead me, at times, to search too long.

On the flip side, after about a week I noticed my Resolve keyboard shortcuts getting more committed to memory than before, so I was less worried about searching each individual key for the shortcut I needed. I am a big proponent for memorizing keyboard shortcuts and the Astra keyboard for Resolve helped cement those into my memory way faster than any normal non-backlit keyboard. Usually, my eyes have a hard time going back and forth between a bright screen and a super dark keyboard; it’s pretty much impossible to do efficiently. The backlit Astra solved my problem of hunting for keys in a dark room with a bright monitor.

The Windows version is compatible with pretty much any version of Windows from the last 10 years, and the Mac version is compatible with Mac OS 10.6 and higher. I tested mine on a workstation with Windows 10 installed.

Summing Up
In the end, I love Logic’s Astra backlit keyboard for DaVinci Resolve 12/12.5. The tactile feedback from each key is essential for speed when editing and color correcting, and it’s the best I’ve felt since having to give up my trusty mechanical-style keyboards. I’ve been through Apple-like low-profile keyboards for Media Composer, going back to the old-school ps/2-style mechanical-ish keyboards, and now to the Astra backlit keyboard and loving it.

The backlit version of LogicKeyboards don’t necessarily come cheap, however, this version retails for $139.90-plus $11.95 for shipping. The Mac version costs the same.

While you may think that is high for a keyboard, the Astra is of the highest manufacturing quality, has two fully powered USB 2.0 ports (that come in handy for things like the Tangent Ripple or Element color correction panels), and don’t forget the best part: is also backlit! My two-year-old son even ripped a key off of the keyboard (he wants me to add, allegedly!) and I fixed it easily without having to send it in for repairs. I doubt the warranty will cover kids pulling off keys, but you do get a free one-year warranty with the product.

I used this keyboard over a few months and really began to fall in love with the eight-degree angle that it is set at. I use keyboards all day, every day and not all keyboards are the same. Some have super flat angles and some have super high angles. In my opinion, the LogicKeyboard Astra has a great and hurt-free angle.

I also can’t overstate how awesome the backlit element of this keyboard is, it’s not just the letters that are backlit, each key is smoothly backlit in its entirety. Even at 100% brightness the keys look soft with a nice fall off on the edges, they aren’t an eyesore and in fact are a nice talking point for many clients. If you are barely thinking about buying a keyboard or are in desperate need of a new keyboard and you use Resolve 12 or 12.5 you should immediately buy the Astra. I love it, and I know you will not regret it.

Check out my footage of the LogicKeyboard Astra backlit keyboard for Resolve on my YouTube page:

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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.

Review: Dell Precision 7910 tower workstation

By Mike McCarthy

While I started my career on Dell Precision workstations, I have spent the last 10 years with HP workstations under my desk. They have served me well, which is why I used them for five generations. At the beginning of 2016, I was given the opportunity to do a complete hardware refresh for director Scott Waugh’s post house, Vasquez Saloon, to gear up our capabilities to edit the first film shot for Barco Escape and edited fully in 6K. This time we ended up with Dell Precision 7910 workstations under our desks. After having a chance to use them for a year, I decided it was time to share some of my experiences with the top-end Precision workstation.

My 7910 has two Xeon E5-2687W V3 processors, each with 10 cores running at 3.1Ghz. Regardless of which CPU speed you select, always fill both sockets of a high-end workstation, as that doubles your memory bandwidth and enables the last two PCIe slots. Therefore, choose dual 4-core CPUs instead of a single 8-core CPU, if that is the performance level you are after. It has 128GB of DDR4 memory, divided across eight sticks that are 16GB each. Regardless of size, maximum performance is achieved with at least as many sticks of RAM since there are memory channels. This system has four memory channels per CPU, for a total of eight channels. I would recommend at least 64GB of RAM for most editing systems, with more for larger projects. Since we were cutting an entire feature with 6K source files, 128GB was a reasonable choice that served us well.

Both our systems are usually pretty quiet, which is impressive considering how powerful they are. They do generate heat, and I don’t recommend running them in a room without AC, but that was outside of our control. Air-cooled systems are only as effective as the environment they are in, and our situation wasn’t always optimal.

PCIe SSDs are a huge leap forward for storage throughput. This workstation came with a PCIe x16 Gen3 card that supports up to four M.2 NVMe https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NVM_Express SSDs at full speed. This allows up to 2500MB/s from each of the four ports, which is enough bandwidth to play back 6K DPXs at 24p in Premiere without dropping frames.

Now capacity is limited with this new expensive technology, topping out at 1TB per $700 card. My 512GB card can only store seven minutes of data at maximum throughput, but for smaller data sets, like VFX shots, this allows a system to cache meaningful quantities of data at very high speed without needing a large array of disks to sustain the required I/Os.

Once we open the tool-less case, one of the obvious visual differences between the Dell and HP solutions is that the Precision 7910 splits the PCIe slots, with two above the CPUs and five below. I assume the benefits to this are shorter circuit paths to the CPUs, and better cooling for hot cards. It hasn’t made a big difference to me, but it is worth noting. Like other dual-socket systems, two of the slots are disabled if the second CPU is not installed.

In my case, I have the SSD card in the top slot, and a Red Rocket-X in the next one down. The Thunderbolt 2 card has to be installed in the slot directly below the CPUs. Then I installed my SAS RAID card and the Intel X540 10GbE NIC, leaving space at the bottom for my Quadro GPU.

Another unique feature of the case layout is that the power supply is located behind the motherboard, instead of at the top or bottom of the system. This places the motherboard at the center of the chassis, with components and cards on one side, and power and storage bays on the other. There are a variety of integrated ports, with dual-Gigabit NICs, PS/2, audio, serial, and six USB ports. The only aspect I found limiting was the total of four USB 3.0 ports, one in front and three in back. I have on occasion been using all of them at once for my external drive transfers, but having a USB 3.0 hub in most of Dell’s monitors can help with this issue. Hopefully, we will see USB-C ports with double that bandwidth in the next generation, as well as integrated Thunderbolt 3 support to free up another PCIe slot.

Besides the slim DVD drive, there are four 3.5-inch hard drive bays with tool-less cages, and a 5.25-inch bay, which can be optionally reconfigured to hold four more 2.5-inch drives. The next model down, the Precision 7810, is similar, but without the top two PCIe slots and only two 3.5-inch drive bays. My drive bays are all empty because the PCIe SSD is my only internal storage, but that means that I could easily add four 8TB SAS drives for 32TB of internal storage with no other accessories required. And I may use the 5.25-inch bay for an LTO drive someday, if I don’t end up getting an external one.

If I do get an external SAS drive, it could be connected to one of the two SFF 8643 connectors on the motherboard. These new connectors each support four channels of 12Gb SAS, with one of them hooked to the 3.5-inch drive back plane by default. The integrated SAS controller supports up to eight channels of SAS or SATA data, capable of RAID-0 or -1. Using RAID-5 or -6 requires a separate dedicated card, in my case the Areca 1883x. At least one integrated M.2 slot would be great to see in the next refresh, as those SSDs become more affordable.

Dell also includes their system management software Dell Precision Optimizer to help you get the maximum performance from the system. It allows users to monitor and chart CPU and GPU use as well as memory and disk usage. It can configure system settings like Hyperthreading, Power Usage and V-Sync, using pre-built profiles for various industry applications. It won’t tune your system for video editing as well as an expert who knows what they are doing, but it is better than doing nothing right out of the box.

Real-World Use
Over the last year, we have run two of these workstations on a 6K feature film, taking them right to the limit on a regular basis. It was not uncommon to be encoding R3D dailies to H264 in AME, while rendering a VFX shot in AE, and playing back in Premiere, on both systems simultaneously, pulling data from each other’s local storage arrays over the network. And while I won’t say that they never crashed, stability was not an issue that seriously impacted our workflow or schedule. I have been quite impressed by what we were able to accomplish with them, with very little other infrastructure. The unique split chassis design makes room for a lot of internal storage, and they run reliably and quietly, even when chock full of powerful cards. I am looking forward to getting a couple more solid years of use out of them.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor and workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been on the forefront of pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and now multi-screen and surround video experiences. If you want to see more specific technical details about these topics, check out techwithmikefirst.com.

Review: Nvidia’s new Pascal-based Quadro cards

By Mike McCarthy

Nvidia has announced a number of new professional graphic cards, filling out their entire Quadro line-up with models based on their newest Pascal architecture. At the absolute top end, there is the new Quadro GP100, which is a PCIe card implementation of their supercomputer chip. It has similar 32-bit (graphics) processing power to the existing Quadro P6000, but adds 16-bit (AI) and 64-bit (simulation). It is intended to combine compute and visualization capabilities into a single solution. It has 16GB of new HBM2 (High Bandwidth Memory) and two cards can be paired together with NVLink at 80GB/sec to share a total of 32GB between them.

This powerhouse is followed by the existing P6000 and P5000 announced last July. The next addition to the line-up is the single-slot VR-ready Quadro P4000. With 1,792 CUDA cores running at 1200MHz, it should outperform a previous-generation M5000 for less than half the price. It is similar to its predecessor the M4000 in having 8GB RAM, four DisplayPort connectors, and running on a single six-pin power connector. The new P2000 follows next with 1024 cores at 1076MHz and 5GB of RAM, giving it similar performance to the K5000, which is nothing to scoff at. The P1000, P600 and P400 are all low-profile cards with Mini-DisplayPort connectors.

All of these cards run on PCIe Gen3 x16, and use DisplayPort 1.4, which adds support for HDR and DSC. They all support 4Kp60 output, with the higher end cards allowing 5K and 4Kp120 displays. In regards to high-resolution displays, Nvidia continues to push forward with that, allowing up to 32 synchronized displays to be connected to a single system, provided you have enough slots for eight Quadro P4000 cards and two Quadro Sync II boards.

Nvidia also announced a number of Pascal-based mobile Quadro GPUs last month, with the mobile P4000 having roughly comparable specifications to the desktop version. But you can read the paper specs for the new cards elsewhere on the Internet. More importantly, I have had the opportunity to test out some of these new cards over the last few weeks, to get a feel for how they operate in the real world.

DisplayPorts

Testing
I was able to run tests and benchmarks with the P6000, P4000 and P2000 against my current M6000 for comparison. All of these test were done on a top-end Dell 7910 workstation, with a variety of display outputs, primarily using Adobe Premiere Pro, since I am a video editor after all.

I ran a full battery of benchmark tests on each of the cards using Premiere Pro 2017. I measured both playback performance and encoding speed, monitoring CPU and GPU use, as well as power usage throughout the tests. I had HD, 4K, and 6K source assets to pull from, and tested monitoring with an HD projector, a 4K LCD and a 6K array of TVs. I had assets that were RAW R3D files, compressed MOVs and DPX sequences. I wanted to see how each of the cards would perform at various levels of production quality and measure the differences between them to help editors and visual artists determine which option would best meet the needs of their individual workflow.

I started with the intuitive expectation that the P2000 would be sufficient for most HD work, but that a P4000 would be required to effectively handle 4K. I also assumed that a top-end card would be required to playback 6K files and split the image between my three Barco Escape formatted displays. And I was totally wrong.

Besides when using the higher-end options within Premiere’s Lumetri-based color corrector, all of the cards were fully capable of every editing task I threw at them. To be fair, the P6000 usually renders out files about 30 percent faster than the P2000, but that is a minimal difference compared to the costs. Even the P2000 was able to playback my uncompressed 6K assets onto my array of Barco Escape displays without issue. It was only when I started making heavy color changes in Lumetri that I began to observe any performance differences at all.

Lumetri

Color correction is an inherently parallel, graphics-related computing task, so this is where GPU processing really shines. Premiere’s Lumetri color tools are based on SpeedGrade’s original CUDA processing engine, and it can really harness the power of the higher-end cards. The P2000 can make basic corrections to 6K footage, but it is possible to max out the P6000 with HD footage if I adjust enough different parameters. Fortunately, most people aren’t looking for more stylized footage than the 300 had, so in this case, my original assumptions seem to be accurate. The P2000 can handle reasonable corrections to HD footage, the P4000 is probably a good choice for VR and 4K footage, while the P6000 is the right tool for the job if you plan to do a lot of heavy color tweaking or are working on massive frame sizes.

The other way I expected to be able to measure a difference between the cards would be in playback while rendering in Adobe Media Encoder. By default, Media Encoder pauses exports during timeline playback, but this behavior can be disabled by reopening Premiere after queuing your encode. Even with careful planning to avoid reading from the same disks as the encoder was accessing from, I was unable to get significantly better playback performance from the P6000 compared to the P2000. This says more about the software than it says about the cards.

P6000

The largest difference I was able to consistently measure across the board was power usage, with each card averaging about 30 watts more as I stepped up from the P2000 to the P4000 to the P6000. But they all are far more efficient than the previous M6000, which frequently sucked up an extra 100 watts in the same tests. While “watts” may not be a benchmark most editors worry too much about, among other things it does equate to money for electricity. Lower wattage also means less cooling is needed, which results in quieter systems that can be kept closer to the editor without being distracting from the creative process or interfering with audio editing. It also allows these new cards to be installed in smaller systems with smaller power supplies, using up fewer power connectors. My HP Z420 workstation only has one 6-pin PCIe power plug, so the P4000 is the ideal GPU solution for that system.

Summing Up
It appears that we have once again reached a point where hardware processing capabilities have surpassed the software capacity to use them, at least within Premiere Pro. This leads to the cards performing relatively similar to one another in most of my tests, but true 3D applications might reveal much greater differences in their performance. Further optimization of CUDA implementation in Premiere Pro might also lead to better use of these higher-end GPUs in the future.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor and workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been on the forefront of pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and now multiscreen and surround video experiences. If you want to see more specific details about performance numbers and benchmark tests for these Nvidia cards, check out techwithmikefirst.com.

Review: Apple’s new MacBook Pro

By Brady Betzel

What do you need to know about the latest pro laptop from Apple? Well, the MacBook Pro is fast and light; the new Touch Bar is handy and sharp but not fully realized; the updated keys on the keyboard are surprisingly great; and working with ProRes QuickTime files in resolutions higher than 1920×1080 inside of FCP X, or any NLE for that matter, is blazing fast.

When I was tasked with reviewing the new MacBook Pro, I came into it with an open mind. After all, I did read a few other reviews that weren’t exactly glowing, but I love speed and innovation among professional workstation computers, so I was eager to test it myself.

I am pretty open-minded when it comes to operating systems and hardware. I love Apple products and I love Windows-based PCs. I think both have their place in our industry, and to be quite honest it’s really a bonus for me that I don’t rely heavily on one OS or get too tricked by the Command Key vs. Windows/Alt Key.

Let’s start with the call I had with the Apple folks as they gave me the lowdown on the new MacBook Pro. The Apple reps were nice, energetic, knowledgeable and extremely helpful. While I love Apple products, including this laptop, it’s not the be-all-end-all.

The Touch Bar is nice, but not a revolution. It feels like the first step in an evolution, a version 1 of an innovation that I am excited to see more of in later iterations. When I talked with the Apple folks they briefed me on what Tim Cook showed off in the reveal: emoji buttons, wide gamut display, new speakers and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.

NLEs
They had an FCPX expert on the call, which was nice considering I planned on reviewing the MacBook Pro with a focus on the use of nonlinear editing apps, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer and Blackmagic’s Resolve. Don’t get me wrong, FCPX is growing on me — it’s snappy jumping around the timeline with ProRes 5K footage; assigning roles are something I wish every other app would pick up on; and the timeline is more of a breeze to use with the latest update.

The other side to this is that in my 13 years of working in television post I have never worked on a show that primarily used FCP or FCPX to edit or finish on. This doesn’t mean I don’t like the NLE, it simply means I haven’t relied on it in a professional working environment. Like I said, I really like the road it’s heading down, and if they work their way into mainstream broadcast or streaming platforms a little more I am sure I will see it more frequently.

Furthermore, with the ever-growing reduction in reliance on groups of editors and finishing artists apps like FCPX are poised to shine with their innovation. After all that blabbering, in this review I will touch on FCPX, but I really wanted to see how the MacBook Pro performed with the pro NLEs I encounter the most.

Specs
Let’s jump into the specs. I was sent a top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which costs $3,499 if configured online. It comes with a quad/-core Intel Core i7 2.9GHz (up to 3.8 GHz using Turbo Boost) processor, 16GB of 2133MHz memory, 1TB PCI-e SSD hard drive and Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB of memory. It’s loaded. I think the only thing that can actually be upgraded beyond this configuration would be to include a 2TB hard drive, which would add another $800 to the price tag.

Physically, the MacBook Pro is awesome — very sturdy, very thin and very light. It feels great when holding it and carrying it around. Apple even sent along a Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, which costs an extra $29 and a USB-C to Lightning Cable that costs an extra $29.

So yes, it feels great. Apple has made a great new MacBook Pro. Is it worth upgrading if you have a new-ish MacBook Pro at home already? Probably not, unless the Touch Bar really gets you going. The speed is not too far off from the previous version. However, if you have a lot of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C-connected peripherals, or plan on moving to them, then it is a good upgrade.

Testing
I ran some processor/graphics card intensive tests while I had the new MacBook Pro and came to the conclusion that FCPX is not that much faster than Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 when working with non-ProRes-based media. Yes, FCPX tears through ProRes QuickTimes if you already have your media in that format. What about if you shoot on a camera like the Red and don’t want to transcode to a more edit-friendly codec? Well, that is another story. To test out my NLEs, I grabbed a sample Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps clip from the Red sample footage page, strung out a 10-minute-long sequence in all the NLEs and exported both a color-graded version and a non-color-graded version as ProRes HQ QuickTimes files matching the source file’s specs.

In order to work with Red media in some of the NLEs, you must download a few patches: for FCPX you must install the Red Apple workflow installer and for Media Composer you must install the Red AMA plug-in. Premiere doesn’t need anything extra.

Test 1: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute sequence (no color grade or FX) exported as ProRes HQ matching the source file’s specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = 1 hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = 1 hour, 57 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 42 minutes (Good news, Media Composer’s interface and fonts display correctly on the new display).

You’ll notice that Resolve is missing from this list and that is because I installed Resolve 12.5.4 Studio but then realized my USB dongle won’t fit into the USB-C port — and I am not buying an adapter for a laptop I do not get to keep. So, unfortunately, I didn’t test a true 6K ProRes HQ export from Resolve but in the last test you will see some Resolve results.

Overall, there was not much difference in speeds. In fact, I felt that Premiere Pro CC 2017 played the Red file a little smoother and at a higher frames-per-second count. FCPX struggled a little. Granted a 6K Red file is one of the harder files for a CPU to process with no debayer settings enabled, but Apple touts this as a MacPro semi-replacement for the time being and I am holding them to their word.

Test 2: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence exported as ProRes HQ matching the source files specs. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 55 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 58 minutes. Media Composer = two hours, 34 minutes.

It’s important to note that the GPU definitely helped out in both Adobe Premiere and FCPX. Little to no extra time was added on the ProRes HQ export. I was really excited to see this as sometimes without a good GPU — resizing, GPU-accelerated effects like color correction and other effects will slow your system to a snail’s pace if it doesn’t fully crash. Media Composer surprisingly speed up its export when I added the color grade as a new color layer in the timeline. By adding the color correction layer to another layer Avid might have forced the Radeon to kick in and help push the file out. Not really sure what that is about to be honest.

Test 3: Red 6K 6144×3160 23.98fps R3D — 10-minute color-graded sequence resized to 1920×1080 on export as ProRes HQ. Premiere > Media Encoder = one hour, 16 minutes. FCPX = one hour, 14 minutes. Media Composer = one hour, 48 minutes. Resolve = one hour, 16 minutes

So after these tests, it seems that exporting and transcoding are all about the same. It doesn’t really come as too big of a surprise that all the NLEs, except for Media Composer, processed the Red file in the same amount of time. Regardless of the NLE, you would need to knock the debayering down to a half or more to start playing these clips at realtime in a timeline. If you have the time to transcode to ProRes you will get much better playback and rendering speed results. Obviously, transcoding all of your files to a codec, like ProRes or Avid DNX, takes way more time up front but could be worth it if you crunched for time on the back end.

In addition to Red 6K files, I also tested ProRes HQ 4K files inside of Premiere and FCPX, and both played them extremely smoothly without hiccups, which is pretty amazing. Just a few years ago I was having trouble playing down 10:1 compressed files in Media Composer and now I can playback superb-quality 4K files without a problem, a tremendous tip of the hat to technology and, specifically, Apple for putting so much power in a thin and light package.

While I was in the mood to test speeds, I hooked up a Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID (OWC Thunderbay 4 mini) configured in RAID-0 to see what kind of read/write bandwidth I would get running through the Apple Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter. I used both AJA System Test as well as the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. The AJA test reported a write speed of 929MB/sec. and read speed of 1120MB/sec. The Blackmagic test reported a write speed of 683.1MB/sec. and 704.7MB/sec. from different tests and a read speed of 1023.3MB/sec. I set the test file for both at 4GB. These speeds are faster than what I have previously found when testing this same Thunderbolt 2 SSD RAID on other systems.

For comparison, the AJA test reported a write speed of 1921MB/sec. and read speed of 2134MB/sec. when running on the system drive. The Blackmagic test doesn’t allow for testing on the system drive.

What Else You Need to Know
So what about the other upgrades and improvements? When exporting these R3D files I noticed the fan kicked on when resizing or adding color grading to the files. Seems like the GPU kicked on and heated up which is to be expected. The fan is not the loudest, but it is noticeable.

The battery life on the new MacBook Pro is great when just playing music, surfing the web or writing product reviews. I found that the battery lasted about two days without having to plug in the power adapter. However, when exporting QuickTimes from either Premiere or FCPX the battery life dropped — a lot. I was getting a battery life of one hour and six minutes, which is not good when your export will take two hours. Obviously, you need to plug in when doing heavy work; you don’t really have an option.

This leads me to the new USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports — and, yes, you still have a headphone jack (thank goodness they didn’t talk with the iPhone developers). First off, I thought the MagSafe power adapter should have won a Nobel Peace Prize. I love it. It must be responsible for saving millions of dollars in equipment when people trip over a power cord — gracefully disconnecting without breaking or pulling your laptop off the table. However, I am disappointed Apple didn’t create a new type of MagSafe cable with the USB-C port. I will miss it a lot. The good news is you can now plug in your power adapter to either side of the MacBook Pro.

Adapters and dongles will have to be purchased if you pick up a new MacBook Pro. Each time I used an external peripheral or memory card like an SD card, Tangent Ripple Color Correction panel or external hard drive, I was disappointed that I couldn’t plug them in. Nonetheless, a good Thunderbolt 3 dock is a necessity in my opinion. You could survive with dongles but my OCD starts flaring up when I have to dig around my backpack for adapters. I’m just not a fan. I love how Apple dedicated themselves to a fast I/O like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, but I really wish they gave it another year. Just one old-school USB port would have been nice. I might have even gotten over no SD card reader.

The Touch Bar
I like it. I would even say that I love it — in the apps that are compatible. Right now there aren’t many. Adobe released an update to Adobe Photoshop that added compatibility with the Touch Bar, and it is really handy especially when you don’t have your Wacom tablet available (or a USB dongle to attach it). I love how it gives access to so many levels of functionality to your tools within your immediate reach.

It has super-fast feedback. When I adjusted the contrast on the Touch Bar I found that the MacBook Pro was responding immediately. This becomes even more evident in FCPX and the latest Resolve 12.5.4 update. It’s clear Apple did their homework and made their apps like Mail and Messages work with the Touch Bar (hence emojis on the Touch Bar). FCPX has a sweet ability to scrub the timeline, zoom in to the timeline, adjust text and more from just the Touch Bar — it’s very handy, and after a while I began missing it when using other computers.
In Blackmagic’s latest DaVinci Resolve release, 12.5.4, they have added Touch Bar compatibility. If you can’t plug in your color correction panels, the Touch Bar does a nice job of easing the pain. You can do anything from contrast work to saturation, even adjust the midtones and printer lights, all from the Touch Bar. If you use external input devices a lot, like Wacom tablets or color correction panels, the Touch Bar will be right up your alley.

One thing I found missing was a simple application launcher on the Touch Bar. If you do pick up the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, you might want to download Touch Switcher, a free app I found via 9to5mac.com that allows you to have an app launcher on your Touch Bar. You can hide the dock, allowing you more screen real estate and the efficient use of the Touch Bar to launch apps. I am kind of surprised Apple didn’t make something like this standard.

The Display
From a purely superficial and non-scientific point of view, the newly updated P3-compatible wide-gamut display looks great… really great, actually. The colors are rich and vibrant. I did a little digging under the hood and noticed that it is an 8-bit display (data that you can find by locating the pixel depth in the System Information > Graphics/Display), which might limit the color gradations when working in a color space like P3 as opposed to a 10-bit display displaying in a P3 color space. Simply, you have a wider array of colors in P3 but a small amount of color shades to fill it up.

The MacBook Pro display is labeled as 32-bit color meaning the RGB and Alpha channels each have 8 bits, giving a total of 32 bits. Eight-bit color gives 256 shades per color channel while 10-bit gives 1,024 shades per channel, allowing for much smoother transitions between colors and luminance values (imagine a sky at dusk going smoothly from an orange to light blue to dark blue — the more colors per channel allows for a smoother gradient between lights and darks). A 10-bit display would have 30-bit color with each channel having 10 bits.

I tried to hook up a 10-bit display, but the supplied Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 dongle Apple sent me did not work with the mini display port. I did a little digging and it seems people are generally not happy that Apple doesn’t allow this to work, especially since Thunderbolt 2 and mini DisplayPort are the same connection. Some people have been able to get around this by hooking up their display through daisy chaining something like a Thunderbolt 2 RAID.

While I couldn’t directly test an external display when I had the MacBook Pro, I’ve read that people have been able to push 10-bit color out of the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports to an external monitor. So as long as you are at a desk with a monitor you can most likely have 10-bit color output from this system.

I reached out to Apple on the types of adapters they recommend for an external display and they suggest a USB-C to DisplayPort adapter made by Aukey. It retails for $9.99. They also recommend the USB-C to DisplayPort cable from StarTech, which retails for $39.99. Make sure you read the reviews on Amazon because the experience people have with this varies wildly. I was not able to test either of these so I cannot give my personal opinion.

Summing Up
In the end, the new MacBook Pro is awesome. If you own a recent release of the MacBook Pro and don’t have $3,500 to spare, I don’t know if this is the update you will be looking for. If you are trying to find your way around going to a Windows-based PC because of the lack of Mac Pro updates, this may ease the pain slightly. Without more than 16GB of memory and an Intel Xeon or two, however, it might actually slow you down.

The battery life is great when doing light work, one of the longest batteries I’ve used on a laptop. But when doing the heavy work, you need to be near an outlet. When plugged into that outlet be careful no one yanks out your USB-C power adapter as it might throw your MacBook Pro to the ground or break off inside.

I really do love Apple products. They typically just work. I didn’t even touch on the new Touch ID Sensor that can immediately switch you to a different profile or log you in after waking up the MacBook Pro from sleep. I love that you can turn the new MacBook Pro on and it simply works, and works fast.

The latest iteration of FCPX is awesome as well, and just because I don’t see it being used a lot professionally doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be. It’s a well-built NLE that should be given a fairer shake than it has been given. If you are itching for an update to an old MacBook Pro, don’t mind having a dock or carrying around a bunch of dongles, then the 2016 MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar is for you.

The new MacBook Pro chews through ProRes-based media from 1920×1080 to 4K, 6K and higher will play but might slow down. If you are a Red footage user this new MacBook Pro works great, but you still might have to knock the debayering down a couple notches.


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.

Review: Lenovo ThinkStation P410

By Brady Betzel

With the lukewarm reaction of the professional community to the new Apple MacBook Pro, there are many creative professionals who are seriously — for the first time in their careers — considering whether or not to jump into a Windows-based world.

I grew up using an Apple II GS from 1986 (I was born in 1983, if you’re wondering), but I always worked on both Windows and Apple computers. I guess my father really instilled the idea of being independent and not relying on one thing or one way of doing something — he wanted me to rely on my own knowledge and not on others.

Not to get too philosophical, but when he purchased all the parts I needed to build my own Windows system, it was incredibly gratifying. I would have loved to have built my own Apple system, but obviously never could. That is why I am so open to computer systems of any operating system software.

If you are deciding whether or not to upgrade your workstation and have never considered solutions other than HP, Dell or Apple, you will want to read what I have to say about Lenovo‘s latest workstation, the P410.

When I set out on this review, I didn’t have any Display Port-compatible monitors and Lenovo was nice enough to send their beautiful Think Vision Pro 2840m — another great piece of hardware.

Digging In
I want to jump right into the specs of the ThinkStation P410. Under the hood is an Intel Xeon E5-1650 v4, which in plain terms is a 6-core 3.6GHz 15MB CPU that can reach all the way up to 4.0GHz if needed using Intel’s Turbo Boost technology. The graphics card is a medium-sized monster — the Nvidia Quadro M4000 with 8GB of GDDR5 memory and 1664 CUDA cores. It has 4 DisplayPort 1.2 ports to power those four 30-bit 4096×2160 @60Hz displays you will run when editing and color correcting.

If you need more CUDA power you could step up to the Nvidia M5000, which runs 2048 CUDA cores or the M6000, which runs 3072 CUDA cores, but that power isn’t cheap (and as of this review they are not even an option from Lenovo in the P410 customization — you will probably have to step up to a higher model number).

There is 16GB of DD4-2400 ECC memory, 1TB 2.5-inch SATA 6Gb/s SSD (made by Macron), plus a few things like a DVD writer, media card reader, keyboard and mouse. At the time I was writing this review, you could configure this system for a grand total of $2,794, but if you purchase it online at shop.lenovo.com it will cost a little under $2,515 with some online discounts. As I priced this system out over a few weeks I noticed the prices changed, so keep in mind it could be higher. I configured a similar style HP z440 workstation for around $3,600 and a Dell Precision Tower 5000 for around $3,780, so Lenovo’s prices are on the low end for major-brand workstations.

For expansion (which Windows-based PCs seem to lead the pack in), you have a total of four DIMM slots for memory (two are taken up already by two 8GB sticks), four PCIe slots and four hard drive bays. Two of the hard drive bays are considered Flex Bays, which can be used for hard drives, hard drive + slim optical drive or something like front USB 3.0 ports.

On the back there are your favorite PS/2 keyboard port and mouse port, two USB 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, audio in/out/mic and four DisplayPorts.

Testing
I first wanted to test the P410’s encoding speed when using Adobe Media Encoder. I took a eight-minute, 30 second 1920×1080 23.98fps ProRes HQ QuickTime that I had filmed using a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera, did a quick color balance in Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2017 using the Lumetri Color Correction tools and exported a Single Pass, variable bit rate 25Mb/s H.264 using Media Encoder. Typically, CUDA cores kick in when you use GPU-accelerated tools like transitions, scaling in Premiere and when you export files with GPU effects such as Lumetri Color tools. Typically, when exporting from tools, like Adobe Premiere Pro CC or Adobe Media Encoder, the GPU acceleration kicks in only if you’ve applied GPU-accelerated effects, color correction with something like Lumetri (which is GPU accelerated) or a resize effect. Otherwise if you are just transcoding from one codec to another the CPU will handle the task.

In this test, it took Media Encoder about six minutes to encode the H.264 when Mercury Playback Engine GPU Acceleration (CUDA) was enabled. Without the GPU acceleration enabled it took 14 minutes. So by using the GPU, I got about a 40 percent speed increase thanks to the power of the Nvidia Quadro M4000 with 8GB of GDDR5 RAM.

For comparison, I did the same test on a newly released MacBook Pro with Touch Bar i7 2.9Ghz Quad Core, 16GB of 2133 MHz LPDDR3 memory and AMD Radeon Pro 460 4GB of RAM (uses OpenCL as opposed to CUDA); it took Media Encoder about nine minutes using the GPU.

Another test I love to run uses Maxon’s Cinebench, which simply runs real-world scenarios like photorealistic rendering and a 3D car chase. This taxes your system with almost one million polygons and textures. Basically, it makes your system do a bunch of math, which helps in separating immature workstations from the professional ones. This system came in around 165 frames per second. In comparison to other systems, with similar configurations to the P410, it placed first or second. So it’s fast.

Lenovo Performance Tuner
While the low price is what really sets the P410 apart from the rest of the pack, Lenovo has recently released a hardware tuning software program called Lenovo Performance Tuner. Performance Tuner is a free app that helps to focus your Lenovo workstation on the app you are using. For instance, I use Adobe CC a lot at home, so when I am working in Premiere I want all of my power focused there with minimal power focused on background apps that I may not have turned off — sometimes I let Chrome run in the background or I want to jump between Premiere, Resolve and Photoshop. You can simply launch Performance Tuner and click the app you want to launch in Lenovo’s “optimized” state. You can go further by jumping into the Settings tab and customize things like Power Management Mode to always be on Max Performance. It’s a pretty handy tool when you want to quickly funnel all of your computing resources to one app.

The Think Vision Pro Monitor
Lastly, I wanted to quickly touch on the Think Vision Pro 2840m LED backlit LCD monitor Lenovo let me borrow for this review. The color fidelity is awesome and can work at a resolution up to 3840×2160 (UHD, not full 4K). It will tilt and rotate almost any way you need it to, and it will even go full vertical at 90 degrees.

When working with P410 I had some problems with DisplayPort not always kicking in with the monitor, or any monitor for that matter. Sometimes I would have to unplug and plug the DisplayPort cable back in while the system was on for the monitor to recognize and turn on. Nonetheless, the monitor is awesome at 28 inches. Keep in mind it has a glossy finish so it might not be for you if you are near a lot of light or windows — while the color and brightness punch through, there is a some glare with other light sources in the room.

Summing Up
In the end, the Lenovo ThinkStation P410 workstation is a workhorse. Even though it’s at the entry level of Lenovo’s workstations, it has a lot of power and a great price. When I priced out a similar system using PC Partpicker, it ran about $2,600 — you can check out the DIY build I put together on PCPartpicker.com: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/r9H4Ps.

A drawback of DIY custom builds though is that they don’t include powerful support, a complete warranty from a single company or ISV certifications (ISV = Independent Software Vendors). Simply, ISVs are the way major workstation builders like HP, Dell and Lenovo test their workstations against commonly used software like Premiere Pro or Avid Media Composer in workstation-focused industries like editing or motion graphics.

One of the most misunderstood benefits of a workstation is that it’s meant to run day and night. So not only do you get enterprise-level components like Nvidia Quadro graphics cards and Intel Xeon CPUs, the components are made for durability as well as performance. This way there is little downtime, especially in mission-critical environments. I didn’t get to run this system for months constantly, but I didn’t see any sign of problems in my testing.

When you buy a Lenovo workstation it comes with a three-year on-site warranty, which covers anything that goes wrong with the hardware itself, including faulty workmanship. But it won’t cover things like spills, drops or electrical surges.

I liked the Lenovo ThinkStation P410. It’s fast, does the job and has quality components. I felt that it lacked a few of today’s necessary I/O ports like USB-C/Thunderbolt 3.

The biggest pro for this workstation is the overwhelmingly low price point for a major brand workstation like the ThinkStation P410. Check out the Lenovo website for the P410 and maybe even wander into the P910 aisle, which showcases some of the most powerful workstations they make.

Check out this video I made that gives you a closer look at (and inside) the workstation.

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.