Category Archives: Workstations

Review: Puget Systems Genesis I custom workstation

By Brady Betzel

With so many companies building custom Windows-based PCs these days, what really makes for a great build? What would make me want to pay someone to build me a PC versus building it myself? In this review, I will be going through a custom-built PC sent to me to review by Puget Systems. In my opinion, besides the physical components, Puget Systems is the cream of the crop of custom -built PCs. Over the next few paragraphs I will focus on how Puget Systems identified the right custom-built PC solution for me (specifically for post), how my experience was before, during and after receiving the system and, finally, specs and benchmarks of the system itself.

While quality components are definitely a high priority when building a new workstation, the big thing that sets Puget Systems’ apart from the rest of the custom-built PC pack is the personal and highly thorough support. I usually don’t get the full customer experience when reviewing custom builds. Typically, I am sent a workstation and maybe a one-sheet to accompany the system. To Puget System’s credit they went from top to tail when helping me put together the system I would test. Not only did I receive a completely newly built and tested system, but I talked to a customer service rep, Jeff Stubbers, who followed up with me along the way.

First, I spoke with Jeff over the phone. We talked about my price range and what I was looking to do with the system. I usually get told what I should buy — by the way, I am not a person that likes to be told what I want. I have a lot of experience not only working on high-end workstations but have been building and supporting them essentially my entire life. I actively research the latest and greatest technology. Jeff from Puget Systems definitely took the correct approach; he started by asking which apps I use and how I use them. When using After Effects, am I doing more 3D work or simple lower thirds and titles. Do I use and do I plan to continue using Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro or Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve the most?

Essentially, my answers were that I use After Effects sparingly, but I do use it. I use Avid Media Composer professionally more than Premiere, but I see more and more Premiere projects coming my way. However, I think Resolve is the future, so I would love to tailor my system toward that. Oh and I dabble in Maxon Cinema 4D as well. So in theory, I need a system that does everything, which is kind of a tall order.

I told Jeff that I would love to stay below $10,000, but need the system to last a few years. Essentially, I was taking the angle of a freelance editor/colorist buying an above mid-range system. After we configured the system, Jeff continued to detail benchmarks that Puget Systems performs on a continuing basis and why two GTX 1080ti cards are going to benefit me instead of just one, as well as why an Intel i9 processor would specifically benefit my work in Resolve.

After we finished on the phone I received an email from Jeff that contained a link to webpage that continually would update me on the details and how my workstation was being built — complete with pictures of my actual system. There are also some links to very interesting articles and benchmarks on the Puget System’s website. They perform more pertinent benchmarks for post production pros than I have seen from any other company. Usually you see a few generic Premiere or Resolve benchmarks, but nothing like Puget System’s, even if you don’t buy a system from them you should read their benchmarks.

While my system went through the build and ship process, I saw pictures and comments about who did what in the process over at Puget Systems. Beth was my installer. She finished and sent the system to Kyle who ran benchmarks. Kyle then sent it to Josh for quality control. Josh discovered the second GTX 1080ti was installed in a reduced bandwidth PCIe slot and would be sent back to Beth for correction. I love seeing this transparency! It not only gives me the feeling that Puget Systems is telling me the truth, but that they have nothing to hide. This really goes a long way with me. Once my system was run through a second quality control pass, it was shipped to me in four days. From start to finish, I received my system in 12 days. Not a short amount of time, but for what Puget Systems put the system through, it was worth it.

Opening the Box
I received the Genesis I workstation in a double box. A nice large box with sturdy foam corners encasing the Fractal Design case box. There was also an accessories box. Within the accessories box were a few cables and an awesome three-ring binder filled with details of my system, the same pictures of my system, including thermal imaging pictures from the website, all of the benchmarks performed on my system (real-world benchmarks like Cinebench and even processing in Adobe Premiere) and a recovery USB 3.0 drive. Something I really appreciated was that I wasn’t given all of the third-party manuals and cables I didn’t need, only what I needed. I’ve received other custom-built PCs where the company just threw all of the manuals and cables into a Ziploc and called it a day.

I immediately hooked the system up and turned it on… it was silent. Incredibly silent. The Fractal Design Define R5 Titanium case was lined with a sound-deadening material that took whatever little sound was there and made it zero.

Here are the specs of the Puget System’s Genesis I I was sent:
– Gigabyte X299 Designare EX motherboard
– Intel Core i9 7940X 3.1GHz 14 Core 19.25MB 165W CPU
– Eight Crucial DDR4-2666 16GB RAM
– EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 TI 11GB gaming video card
– Onboard sound card
– Integrated WiFi+Bluetooth networking
– Samsung 860 Pro 512GB SATA3 2.5-inch SSD hard drive — primary drive
– Samsung 970 Pro 1TB M.2 SSD hard drive — secondary drive.
– Asus 24x DVD-RW SATA (Black) CD / DVD-ROM
– Fractal Design Define R5 titanium case
– EVGA SuperNova 1200W P2 power supply
– Noctua NH-U12DX i4 CPU cooling
– Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal compound
– Windows 10 Pro 64-bit operating system
– Warranty: Lifetime labor and tech support, one-year parts warranty
– LibreOffice software: courtesy install
– Chrome software: courtesy install
– Adobe Creative Cloud Desktop App software: courtesy Install
– Resolve 1-3 GPU

System subtotal: $8,358.38. The price is right in my opinion, and mixed with the support and build detail it’s a bargain.

System Performance
I ran some system benchmarks and tests that I find helpful as a video editor and colorist who uses plugins and other tools on a daily basis. I am becoming a big fan of Resolve, so I knew I needed to test this system inside of Blackmagic’s Resolve 15. I used a similar sequence between Adobe Premiere and Resolve 15: a 10-minute, 23.98fps, UHD/3840×2160 sequence with mixed format footage from 4K and 8K Red, ARRI Raw UHD and ProRes4444. I added some Temporal Noise Reduction to half of the clips, including the 8K Red footage, resizes to all clips, all on top of a simple base grade.

First, I did a simple Smart User cache test by enabling the User Cache at DNxHR HQX 10-bit to the secondary Samsung 1TB drive. It took about four minutes and 34 seconds. From there I tried to playback the media un-cached, and I was able to playback everything except the 8K media in realtime. I was able to playback the 8K Red media at Quarter Res Good (Half Res would go between 18-20fps playback). The sequence played back well. I also wanted to test the export speeds. The first test was an H.264 export without cache on the same sequence. I set the H.264 output in Resolve to 23.98fps, UHD, auto-quality, no frame reordering, force highest quality debayer/resizes and encoding profile: main. The file took 11 minutes and 57 seconds. The second test was a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime with the same sequence, it took seven minutes and 44 seconds.

To compare these numbers I recently ran a similar test on an Intel i9-based MacBook Pro and with the Blackmagic eGPU with Radeon Pro 580 attached, the H.264 export took 16 minutes and 21 seconds, while a ProRes4444 took 22 minutes and 57 seconds. While not comparing apples to apples, this is still a good comparison in terms of a speed increase you can have with a desktop system and a pair of Nvidia GTX 1080ti graphics cards. With the impending release of the Nvidia GTX 2080 cards, you may want to consider getting those instead.

While in Premiere I ran similar tests with a very similar sequence. To export an H.264 (23.98fps, UHD, no cache used during export, VBR 10Mb/s target rate, no frame reordering) it took nine minutes and 15 seconds. Going a step further it took 47 minutes to export an H.265. Similarly, doing a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime export took 24 minutes.

I also ran the AJA System test on the 1TB spare drive (UHD, 16GB test file size, ProRes HQ). The read speed was 2951MB/sec and the write speed was 2569MB/sec. Those are some very respectable drive speeds, especially for a cache or project drive. If possible you would probably want to add another drive for exports or to have your RAW media stored on in order to maximize input/output speeds.

Up next was Cinebench R15: OpenGL — 153.02fps, Ref. Match 99.6%, CPU — 2905 cb, CPU (single core) — 193cb and MP Ratio 15.03x. Lastly, I ran a test that I recently stumbled upon: the Superposition Benchmark from Unigine. While it is more of a gaming benchmark, I think a lot of people use this and might glean some useful information from it. The overall score was 7653 (fps: min 45.58, avg 57.24, max 72.11, GPU degrees Celsius: min 36, max 85, GPU use: max 98%.

Summing Up
In the end, I am very skeptical of custom-build PC shops. Typically, I don’t see the value in the premium they set when you can probably build it yourself with parts you choose from PCpartpicker.com. However, Puget Systems is the exception — their support and build-quality are top notch. From the initial phone conversation to the up-to-the minute images and custom-build updates online, to the final delivery, and even follow-up conversations, Puget Systems is by far the most thorough and worthwhile custom-build PC maker I have encountered.

Check out their high-end custom build PCs and tons of benchmark testing and recommendations on their website.


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.

AMD Radeon Vega mobile graphics coming to MacBook Pro

New AMD Radeon Vega Mobile graphics processors — including the AMD Radeon Pro Vega 20 and Radeon Pro Vega 16 graphics — will be available as configuration options on Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro starting in late November.

AMD Radeon Vega Mobile graphics offers performance upgrades in 3D rendering, video editing and other creative applications, as well as 1080p HD gaming at ultra settings in the most-used AAA and eSports games.

Built around AMD’s Vega architecture, the new graphics processors were engineered to excel in notebooks for cool and quiet operation. In addition, the processor’s thin design features HBM2 memory (2nd-generation high-bandwidth memory), which takes up less space in a notebook compared to traditional GDDR5-based graphics processors.

 

DG 7.9, 8.27, 9.26

HP offerings from Adobe Max 2018

By Brady Betzel

HP workstations have been a staple in the post community, especially for anyone not using a Mac or the occasional DIY/custom build from companies like Puget Systems or CyberPower PCs. The difference comes with customers who need workstation-level components and support. Typically, a workstation is run through much tougher and stringent tests so the client can be assured of 24/7/365 up-time. HP continues to evolve and become, in my opinion, a leader for all non-Apple dedicated workflows.

At Adobe Max 2018, HP announced updated components to its Z by HP line of mobile workstations, including the awesome ZBook Studio x360, ZBook Studio, ZBook 15 and ZBook 17. I truly love HP’s mobile workstation offerings. The only issue I constantly come up against is can I — or any freelance worker for that matter — justify the cost of their systems?

I always want the latest and greatest, and I feel I can get that with the updated performance options in this latest update to the ZBook line. They include the increased 6-core Intel i9 processors; expanded memory of up to 32GB (or 128GB in some instances); a really interesting M.2 SSD RAID-1 configuration from the factory that allows for constant mirroring of your boot drive (if one drive fails, the other will take over right where you left off); the ZBook Studio and Studio x360 getting a GPU increase with the Nvidia Quadro P2000; and the anti-glare touchscreen on the x360. This is all in addition to HP’s DreamColor option, which allows for 100% Adobe RGB coverage and 600 nits of brightness. But again, this all comes at a high cost when you max out the workstation with enough RAM and GPU horsepower. But there is some good news for those that don’t have a corporate budget to pull from: HP has introduced the pilot program Z Club.

The Z Club is essentially a leasing program for HP’s Z series products. At the moment, HP will take 100 creators for this pilot program, which will allow you to select a bundle of Z products and accessories that fit your creative lifestyle for a monthly cost. This is exactly how you solve the problem of getting prosumer and freelance workers who can’t quite justify a $5,000 price tag for purchase, but can justify a $100 a month payment. HP has touted categories of products for editors, photographers and many others. With monthly payments that range from $100 to $250, depending on what you order, this is much more manageable for mid-range end users who need the power of a workstation but up until now couldn’t afford it.

So what will you get if you are accepted to the Z Club pilot program? You can choose the products you want and not pay for three months. And you can continue or return your products, you can switch products and you will have access to a Z Club concierge service for any questions and troubleshooting.

On the call I had with HP, they mentioned that a potential bundle for a video editor could be an HP Z series mobile workstation or desktop, along with a DreamColor display, and an external RAID storage system to top it off.

In the end, I think HP (much like Blackmagic’s Resolve in the NLE/color world) is at the front of the pack. They are listening to what creatives are saying about Apple — how this giant company is not listening to their customers in an efficient and price-conscious way. Creating essentially a leasing program for mid- to high-range products with support is the future. It’s essentially Apple’s own iPhone program but with computers!

Hopefully this program takes off, and if you are lucky enough to be accepted into the pilot program, I would be curious to hear your experience, so please reach out. But with HP making strides in the workstation security initiatives like Sure Start, a privacy mode for mobile systems, and military-grade testing known as MIL-spec, HP is going from being a standard in the media and entertainment post industry. For those leaving Apple for a Windows-based PC, you should apply for the Z Club pilot program. Go to www.hp.com to find out more or follow along on Twitter @AdobeMax, @HP or using #AdobeMax.


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: Blackmagic’s eGPU and Intel i9 MacBook Pro 2018

By Brady Betzel

Blackmagic’s eGPU is worth the $699 price tag. You can buy it from Apple’s website, where it is being sold exclusively for the time being. Wait? What? You wanted some actual evidence as to why you should buy the BMD eGPU?

Ok, here you go…

MacBook Pro With Intel i9
First, I want to go over the latest Apple MacBook Pro, which was released (or really just updated) this past July. With some controversial fanfare, the 2018 MacBook Pro can now be purchased with the blazingly fast Intel i9, 2.6GHz (Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz) six-core processor. In addition, you can add up to 32GB of 2400MHz DDR4 onboard memory. The Radeon Pro 560x GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 memory and even a 4TB SSD storage drive. It has four Thunderbolt 3 ports and, for some reason, a headphone jack. Apple is also touting its improved butterfly keyboard switches as well as its True Tone display technology. If you want to read more about that glossy info head over to Apple’s site.

The 2018 MacBook Pro is a beast. I am a big advocate for the ability to upgrade and repair computers, so Apple’s venture to create what is essentially a leased computer ecosystem that needs to be upgraded every year or two usually puts a bad taste in my mouth.

However, the latest MacBook Pros are really amazing… and really expensive. The top-of-the-line MacBook Pro I was provided with for this review would cost $6,699! Yikes! If I was serious, I would purchase everything but the $2,000 upgrade from the 2TB SSD drive to the 4TB, and it would still cost $4,699. But I suppose that’s not a terrible price for such an intense processor (albeit not technically workstation-class).

Overall, the MacBook Pro is a workhorse that I put through its video editing and color correcting paces using three of the top four professional nonlinear editors: Adobe Premiere, Apple FCP X and Blackmagic’s Resolve 15 (the official release). More on those results in a bit, but for now, I’ll just say a few things: I love how light and thin it is. I don’t like how hot it can get. I love how fast it charges. I don’t like how fast it loses charge when doing things like transcoding or exporting clips. A 15-minute export can drain the battery over 40% while playing Spotify for eight hours will hardly drain the battery at all (maybe 20%).

Blackmagic’s eGPU with Radeon Pro 580 GPU
One of the more surprising releases from Blackmagic has been this eGPU offering. I would never have guessed they would have gone into this area, and certainly would never have guessed they would have gone with a Radeon card, but here we are.

Once you step back from the initial, “Why in the hell wouldn’t they let it be user-replaceable and also not brand dependent” shock, it actually makes sense. If you are Mac OS user, you probably can do a lot in terms of external GPU power already. When you buy a new iMac, iMac Pro or MacBook Pro, you are expecting it to work, full stop.

However, if you are a DIT or colorist that is more mobile than that sweet million-dollar color bay you dream of, you need more. This is where the BMD eGPU falls nicely into place. You plug it in and instantly see it populate in the menu bar. In addition, the eGPU acts as a dock with four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports and an HDMI port. The MacBook Pro will charge off of the eGPU as well, which eliminates the need for your charger at your docking point.

On the go, the most decked out MacBook Pro can handle its own. So it’s no surprise that FCP X runs remarkably fast… faster than everything else. However, you have to be invested in an FCP X workflow and paradigm — and while I’m not there yet, maybe the future will prove me wrong. Recently, I saw someone on Twitter who developed an online collaboration workflow, so people are excited about it.

Anyway, many of the nonlinear editors I work with can also play on the MacBook Pro, even with 4K Red, ARRI and, especially, ProRes footage. Keep in mind though, with the 2K, 4K, or whatever K footage, you will need to set the debayer to around “half good” if you want a fluid timeline. Even with the 4GB Radeon 560x I couldn’t quite play realtime 4K footage without some sort of compromise in quality.

But with the Blackmagic eGPU, I significantly improved my playback capabilities — and not just in Resolve 15. I did try and plug the eGPU into a PC with Windows 10 I was reviewing at the same time and it was recognized, but I couldn’t get all the drivers sorted out. So it’s possible it will work in Windows, but I couldn’t get it there.

Before I get to the Resolve testing, I did some benchmarking. First I ran Cinebench R15 without the eGPU attached and got the following scores: OpenGL – 99.21fps, reference match 99.5%, CPU – 947cb, CPU (single core) 190cb and MP ratio of 5.00x. With the GPU attached: Open GL — 60.26fps, reference match 99.5%, CPU — 1057 cb, CPU (single core) 186cb and MP ratio of 5.69x. Then I ran Unigine’s Valley Benchmark 1.0 without the eGPU, which got 21.3fps and a score of 890 (minimum 12.4fps/maximum 36.2fps). With the eGPU it got 25.6fps and a score of 1073 (minimum 19.2 fps/max 37.1fps)

Resolve 15 Test
I based all of my tests on a similar (although not exact for the different editing applications) 10-minute timeline, 23.98fps, 3840×2160, 4K and 8K RAW Red footage (R3D files) and Alexa (.ari and ProRes444XQ) UHD footage, all with edit page resizes, simple color correction and intermittent sharpening and temporal noise reduction (three frames, better, medium, 10, 10 and 5).

Playback: Without the eGPU I couldn’t play 23.98fps, 4K Red R3D without being set to half-res. With the eGPU I could playback at full-res in realtime (this is what I was talking about in sentence one of this review). The ARRI footage would play at full res, but would go between 1fps and 7fps at full res. The 8K Red footage would play in realtime when set to quarter-res.

One of the most re-assuring things I noticed when watching my Activity Monitor’s GPU history readout was that Resolve uses both GPUs at once. Not all of the apps did.

Resolve 15 Export Tests
In the following tests, I disabled all cache or optimized media options, including Performance Mode.

Test 1: H.264 at 23.98fps, UHD, auto-quality, no frame reordering, force highest-quality debayer/resizes and encoding profile Main)
a. Without eGPU (Radeon Pro 560x): 22 minutes, 16 seconds
b. With BMD eGPU (Radeon Pro 580): 16 minutes and 21 seconds

Test 2: H.265 10-bit, 23.98/UHD, auto quality, no frame reordering, force highest-quality debayer/resizes)
a. Without eGPU: stopped rendering after 10 frames
b. With BMD eGPU: same result

Test 3:
ProRes4444 at 23.98/UHD
a. Without eGPU: 27 min and 29 seconds
b. With BMD eGPU: 22 minutes and 57 seconds

Test 4:
– Edit page cache – enabled Smart User Cache at ProResHQ
a. Without eGPU: 17 minutes and 28 seconds
b. With BMD eGPU: 12 minutes and 22 seconds

Adobe Premiere Pro v.12.1.2
I performed similar testing in Adobe Premiere Pro using a 10-minute timeline at 23.98fps, 3840×2160, 4K and 8K RAW Red footage (R3D files) and Alexa (DNxHR SQ 8-bit) UHD footage, all with Effect Control tab resizes and simple Lumetri color correction, including sharpening and intermittent denoise (16) under the HSL Secondary tab in Lumetri applied to shadows only.

In order to ensure your eGPU will be used inside of Adobe Premiere, you must use Metal as your encoder. To enable it go to File > Project Settings > General and change the renderer to Mercury Playback Engine GPU acceleration Metal — (OpenCL will only use the internal GPU for processing.)

Premiere did not handle the high-resolution media as aptly as Resolve had, but it did help a little. However, I really wanted to test the export power with the added eGPU horsepower. I almost always send my Premiere sequences to Adobe Media Encoder to do the processing, so that is where my exports were processed.

Adobe Media Encoder
Test 1: H.264 (No render used during exports: 23.98/UHD, 80Mb/s, software encoding doesn’t allow for profile setup)
a. Open CL with no eGPU: about 140 minutes (sorry had to chase the kids around and couldn’t watch this snail crawl)
b. Metal no eGPU: about 137 minutes (chased the kids around again, and couldn’t watch this snail crawl, either)
c. Open CL with eGPU: wont work, Metal only
d. Metal with eGPU: one hour

Test 2: H.265
a. Without eGPU: failed (interesting result)
b. With eGPU: 40 minutes

Test 3: ProRes4444
a. Without eGPU: three hours
b. With eGPU: one hour and 14 minutes

FCP X
FCP X is an interesting editing app, and it is blazing fast at handling ProRes media. As I mentioned earlier, it hasn’t been in my world too much, but that isn’t because I don’t like it. It’s because professionally I haven’t run into it. I love the idea of roles, and would really love to see that playout in other NLEs. However, my results speak for themselves.

One caveat to using the eGPU in FCP X is that you must force it to work inside of the NLE. At first, I couldn’t get it to work. The Activity Monitor would show no activity on the eGPU. However, thanks to a Twitter post, James Wells (@9voltDC) sent me to this, which allows you to force FCP X to use the eGPU. It took a few tries but I did get it to work, and funny enough I saw times when all three GPUs were being used inside of FCP X, which was pretty good to see. This is one of those use-at-your-own risk things, but it worked for me and is pretty slick… if you are ok with using Terminal commands. This also allows you to force the eGPU onto other apps like Cinebench.

Anyways here are my results with the BMD eGPU exporting from FCP X:

Test 1: H.264
a. Without eGPU: eight minutes
b. With eGPU: eight minutes and 30 seconds

Test 2: H.265: Not an option

Test 3: ProRes4444
a. Without eGPU: nine minutes
b. With eGPU: six minutes and 30 seconds

Summing Up
In the end, the Blackmagic eGPU with Radeon Pro 580 GPU is a must buy if you use your MacBook Pro with Resolve 15. There are other options out there though, like the Razer Core v2 or the Akitio Node Pro.

From this review I can tell you that the Blackmagic eGPU is silent even when processing 8K Red RAW footage (even when the MacBook Pro fans are going at full speed), and it just works. Plug it in and you are running, no settings, no drivers, no cards to install… it just runs. And sometimes when I have three little boys running around my house, I just want that peace of mind and I want things to just work like the Blackmagic eGPU.


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: HP z38c ultra-wide curved display

By Dariush Derakhshani

Dude, seriously, who needs a 38-inch display? The obvious answer is me. HP’s z38c is a 38-inch ultra-wide curved professional monitor sporting good color accuracy and an effortless display. But ultra-wide? Isn’t that better for gaming? At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this new form factor on my desk. I’m used to two screens, a large 32-inch 4K and a color-accurate 27-inch at 1440p, side by side. That’s a lot of screen space to be sure, so changing it up for me to a single ultra-wide was a little odd at first.

You might be asking yourself, “Didn’t that display premiere months and months ago?” Well, it did. Yes. Instead of rushing a review, I decided to live with this monitor for a while to get an even better feel for how it would fit in with my graphics work.

I knew this display was quite different to how I have worked for many years now, so I felt it was really important to be comfortable with this new idea: a single, ultra-wide curved display. Ultra-wide was a little odd at first.

The first thing I noticed is the fact that my desktop is practically as wide as my dual-screen setup, but there is no gap, no air, in between. Seamless and unbroken, I can easily stretch a single window out and not worry that it kinks in the middle where the bezels rub up against each other on my desk. This is supremely satisfying!

With an aspect ratio of 21:9, as opposed to the 16:9 we are used to with HD displays, the ultra-wide real estate gives me a comfortable workspace to stack apps side by side. With a 4K resolution horizontally (3840×1600), you could get 4k (UHD) content on the screen, though it would crop about 500 pixels off the top and bottom (full UHD is 3840×2160). So, for editing 4K content, you’d be looking at your footage scaled down, unless you cast it to another screen entirely.

One of my professional responsibilities is to read and cross-compare several technical documents to assess accurate content and suggest improvements, as well as write new content to increase educational reach. I used to just hang a couple windows on my main screen and a third window on my side monitor, and I never thought twice about looking back and forth between the screens.

But something psychologically makes this workflow easier when I have all three docs on the same screen; it is less fatiguing to read and go back and forth writing, highlighting and editing. This is the first workflow improvement I noticed, and quite likely what HP means when they proudly declare that their goal is to immerse the user.

When I fire up Autodesk Maya for some CG work, it’s nice having a little more horizontal elbow room in my view panels. My shelves display more tool icons, and I can fatten up the Attribute Editor on the side of the UI to see more information in one sitting. This becomes even more helpful when I jump in After Effects for compositing work. This is where the z38c’s aspect ratio really shines for me: my timeline/comp view makes it much easier to see what’s going on.

As a matter of fact, hopping into Adobe Premiere to cut some sequences together, which I do for educational videos on CG, is a joy! Seriously, this is an instant winner. I always tore off panels in Premiere to my side screen to work my edits, but with this ultra-wide view the timeline feels free and unfettered in 21:9. That is for sure my number one workflow improvement, and undoubtedly will be for anyone needing to edit or composite using timelines.

I have to admit, I had to fight back the urge to install Rainbow Six Siege on my workstation and play it with this wide aspect ratio. It was practically begging me to, and who am I to ignore my basest instincts? So I did! Playing a first-person shooter in this aspect ratio is pretty awesome, though I still suck at the game, and my 11-year-old easily trounces me every round.

Having said that, this is a professional-minded screen. It’s response time of 5ms is actually not too bad, but hard-core gamers want faster and the ability to sync, which is fine as I’m not a gamer per se. Only when I’m rendering and have nothing better to do. As a graphics professional, what interests me is in color accuracy first and foremost.

To that end, the z38c sports 10-bit color using frame rate control (FRC), which is basically a dithered 10-bit color — not quite as hardcore as a non-dithered, full 10-bit DreamColor, but pretty excellent for color-accurate work, though perhaps not color-critical work. Either way, it displays color much better than typical 8-bit displays to be sure, giving you far more than the typical 16.7 million colors in 8-bit. This makes color banding a thing of the past, allowing you to push your colors more comfortably.

Tuned to sRGB by default, the IPS screen is really beautiful to look at, and represents imagery extremely well without being overly saturated or too bright. The screen is eminently comfortable to look at, and I feel comfortable that I am looking at accurate colors, even when comparing it side by side to my full 10-bit screen. Though I admit it does have ever-so-slightly better contrast than the z38c.

The unit has a DisplayPort, HDMI and USB-C connectivity, as well as a headphone audio jack and three regular USB ports and one USB-C port for peripherals. The bezel is pleasingly thin around the top and sides, and a bit thicker along the bottom, giving it an elegant overall look. Don’t forget, this is 38-inch diagonal: this is a large screen. But the thin bezels keep it all about the images on the screen, so the unit doesn’t feel heavy on my desk, despite the 30 pounds weight and its solid build-quality. Adjustments to angle and height are easy with the sturdy base that is over 10 pounds, and I’m sure I could eventually mount this to a monitor arm without much trouble.

Summing Up
I really enjoy the minimalist look; not having to stare at a slew of buttons and LED lights and dials. For control, the on-screen menus are easy to operate with nested menus, and get you to switch between sRGB and Rec709 presets easily enough, as well as switching inputs between multiple sources. You’ll also be able to calibrate the screen as you need, making it all the more valuable to professional users.

Now, did I mention the screen is curved? Yup, there is a nice curve to the screen that is meant to immerse the user in their work, which I can certainly appreciate. I was skeptical of the curve at first, prejudging that it would distort the image, which would be very unsightly in wireframe views of CG models. But I am pleasantly surprised to say that is not the case. It does limit undistorted viewing angles a little bit when off-axis, but it’s really meant for someone burying their head into their work. As it is now, my dual-screen setup is in a V shape, angled around my head anyway, trying to make an immersive curve of sorts to make viewing back and forth easier.

The curve of the z38c makes that side-to-side viewing and working, honestly, effortless. Working in Maya in wireframe feels a bit odd to be blunt; I need more time to get used to working with a curve with CG. But with stretched-out timelines and multiple side-by-side windows for my writing and editing duties, I have to hand it to the z38c. The curved ultra-wide screen doesn’t necessarily revolutionize the way I work at my desk, but it does make it effortless and seamless to have a lot on my screen, and that is something I got used to pretty quick.


 


MSI’s new Intel Core i9 ultra-thin WS65 mobile workstation, curved monitors

MSI has introduced its new WS65 mobile workstation and announced the availability of its PS42 professional laptop and Optix MAG241C and MAG271C gaming monitors.

The WS65 mobile workstation features a chassis similar to that of the GS65 Stealth Thin, with attractive styling and 15.6-inch, ultra-thin bezel display. With up to Intel’s 8th Generation Core i9 processor and up to Nvidia Quadro P4200 graphics, the WS65 is up to 40 percent faster than the previous-generation model. Although it is designed for portability, the WS65 also incorporates an 82Whr battery for up to eight hours of battery life.

The WS65 features a 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display with 72 percent coverage of the NTSC color gamut. For storage, the workstation offers one PCI-e SSD / SATA combo and one PCI-e SSD. Ports include three USB 3.1 Type-A, one USB 3.1 Type-C, one HDMI 2.0, one mDP 1.4, one mic-in and a headphone out. The WS65 will be available this September, and it will bear the new elegant and minimalistic MSI workstation logo tailored to the business environment.

The PS42 notebook is the newest member of the MSI Prestige series. Measuring 0.63 inches thick, weighing 2.6 pounds and featuring a nearly bezel-free screen, the notebook offers high performance. The PS42 is powered by an Intel 8th Generation Core i7 processor and an Nvidia MX150 GPU and provides 10 hours of battery life, plus a Windows Hello Certified fingerprint sensor. It is now available at major e-tailers, starting at $899.

The Optix MAG271C and MAG241C feature a 144Hz curved VA LED display and fast -ms response time. The series also uses MSI’s Gaming On-Screen Display software to allow users to control monitor settings, including contrast ratio and brightness, from their Windows desktops. The software also supports hotkey options, so users can switch profiles while in-game or use the MSI remote display app on their Android phones. The MAG271C and MAG241C are now available on Amazon for $299.99 and $229.99, respectively.


Dell EMC’s ‘Ready Solutions for AI’ now available

Dell EMC has made available its new Ready Solutions for AI, with specialized designs for Machine Learning with Hadoop and Deep Learning with Nvidia.

Dell EMC Ready Solutions for AI eliminate the need for organizations to individually source and piece together their own solutions. They offer a Dell EMC-designed and validated set of best-of-breed technologies for software — including AI frameworks and libraries — with compute, networking and storage. Dell EMC’s portfolio of services include consulting, deployment, support and education.

Dell EMC’s Data Science Provisioning Portal offers an intuitive GUI that provides self-service access to hardware resources and a comprehensive set of AI libraries and frameworks, such as Caffe and TensorFlow. This reduces the steps it takes to configure a data scientist’s workspace to five clicks. Ready Solutions for AI’s distributed, scalable architecture offers the capacity and throughput of Dell EMC Isilon’s All-Flash scale-out design, which can improve model accuracy with fast access to larger data sets.

Dell EMC Ready Solutions for AI: Deep Learning with Nvidia solutions are built around Dell EMC PowerEdge servers with Nvidia Tesla V100 Tensor Core GPUs. Key features include Dell EMC PowerEdge R740xd and C4140 servers with four Nvidia Tesla V100 SXM2 Tensor Core GPUs; Dell EMC Isilon F800 All-Flash Scale-out NAS storage; and Bright Cluster Manager for Data Science in combination with the Dell EMC Data Science Provisioning Portal.

Dell EMC Ready Solutions for AI: Machine Learning with Hadoop includes an optimized solution stack, along with data science and framework optimization to get up and running quickly, and it allows expansion of existing Hadoop environments for machine learning.

Key features include Dell EMC PowerEdge R640 and R740xd servers; Cloudera Data Science Workbench for self-service data science for the enterprise; the Apache Spark open source unified data analytics engine; and the Dell EMC Data Science Provisioning Engine, which provides preconfigured containers that give data scientists access to the Intel BigDL distributed deep learning library on the Spark framework.

New Dell EMC Consulting services are available to help customers implement and operationalize the Ready Solution technologies and AI libraries, and scale their data engineering and data science capabilities. Dell EMC Education Services offers courses and certifications on data science and advanced analytics and workshops on machine learning in collaboration with Nvidia.


Review: Using an eGPU with an Apple MacBook Pro (Thunderbolt 2)

By Twain Richardson

When I’m on set, I use my MacBook Pro to backup data and do quick edits, but it’s a laptop and lacks the power needed to handle RAW files in that environment. With Mac OS High Sierra, Apple introduced connecting eGPUs to Macs via Thunderbolt 3, but my big question was: “Will this work with a Thunderbolt 2 Mac?” Doing a bit of Google research, I couldn’t find any concrete evidence that told me it could work. So the best way to find out was to test it, but I knew I was jumping head-on into a situation that might not work.

For my test, I wanted to go with a fairly inexpensive graphics card and eGPU unit. Through my research, I found it very helpful that OWC offers a very complete list of GPU cards they have tested. That saved a lot of early guesswork, research and missteps. I ended up going with the OWC Mercury Helios FX and the AMD Radeon Pro WX7100.

My first impression of the Helios FX is that it is very light, which I did not expect. When I saw the heft of the fan included in the Helios FX, I was a little concerned that it would be noisy, but it really is whisper-quiet. The package comes with a Thunderbolt 3 cable, so you don’t have to go out and get one. Lastly, I needed a Thunderbolt-3-to-Thunderbolt-2 adapter. To play it safe, I went with the official Apple offering.

Installing the card was easy. I just removed the screws from the back of the unit. One thing I must commend OWC on is that you don’t need a screwdriver to remove the screws; you simply screw them out with your hands and remove the outer casing by sliding it backwards and up. The next step is to insert the card and fasten it in place, connecting the cable from the unit to the card. Replace the outer casing and you’re done.

Connecting the unit to my computer was simple as well. A message popped up that it detected an external GPU, and that I needed to log out to start using it. When logging back in I found a little icon that looked like a CPU in my menu bar, showing that I had the card connected.

Set-up and installation took almost no time, and once the case was closed the eGPU was really plug-and-play. It’s like having a desktop system you can take with you and use anywhere. It’s interesting to note that my MacBook Pro specs are a 2013 13-inch with 16GB RAM, Core i5 running Mac OS 10.13.3.

Now for the fun part: testing it in the real world. The two applications I use the most are Adobe Premiere Pro and Blackmagic Resolve, so that’s what I ran the test with.

Premiere Pro
Premiere doesn’t allow you to select the card, but using Metal as the renderer with a one-minute Sony A7sii UHD clip, exporting to 1080, the results are:
No GPU = 1920×1080/H.264 = 7 minutes, 17 seconds
With GPU = 1920×1080/H.264 = 3 minutes, 19 seconds

That’s fast. I was able to also open an old UHD timeline of a TV show I’ve edited with all effects unrendered, and it played back like butter.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve
Resolve gives you the option to select the card in your preferences.

Using the same one-minute Sony A7sii UHD Clip, exporting to 1080, the results are:
No GPU = 1920×1080/H.264 = 5 minutes, 25 seconds
With GPU = 1920×1080/H.264 = 35 seconds

Now that’s fast, wow.

Summing Up
With Apple opening up the OS to support external GPUs, they have acknowledged that the laptop is the go-to solution for most filmmakers and producers who want to begin working on their content on set as opposed to waiting until they get back to their workstation.

The external GPU gives you a fast, easy and surprisingly economic way of upgrading the performance of MacBook Pros like mine. While it does add another item you have to bring with you to begin work immediately, it is very light and probably as compact as it can be given it is supporting a power-hungry GPU that puts off considerable heat and needs the space and whisper-quiet, temperature-controlled fan to perform the fast data crunching.

Today’s laptops — both Mac and PC — have powerful enough CPUs to do most of the work quickly and easily, but when it comes to the data-intensive workflows you really need a GPU.

By adding OWC’s Helios FX with a GPU card, you really can boost the performance and capabilities of your system. It really does let you take your post workflow with you. It also saves a lot of time and frustration, and we all know that in this industry, time is money.


Twain Richardson is co-founder of Jamaica-based post house Frame of Reference. At FoR, he assumes the roles of chief executive officer, director of video editing, colorist and many others. Follow him on Twitter @forpostprod and Instagram @twainrichardson


HP intros new entry-level HP Z lineup

HP is offering new entry-level workstations with their HP Z lineup, which is designed to help accelerate performance and secure pros’ workflows.

The HP Z2 Mini, HP Z2 Small Form Factor and HP Z2 Tower, as well as the HP EliteDesk 800 Workstation Edition, feature built-in end-to-end HP security services, providing protection from evolving malware threats with self-healing BIOS and an HP endpoint security controller. Users get protection from hardware-enforced security solutions, including HP Sure Start Gen4 and HP Sure Run, which help keep critical processes running, even if malware tries to stop them. Additionally, HP’s Manageability Kit Gen 2 manages multiple devices.

All HP Z2 workstations can now connect with Thunderbolt for fast device connections and offer an array of certifications for the apps pros are using in their day-to-day work lives. HP Performance Advisor is available to optimize software and drivers, and users can deploy Intel Xeon processors and ECC memory for added reliability. The customization, expandability, performance upgradeability and I/O options help future-proof HP Z workstation purchases.

Here are some details about the fourth-generation entry HP Z workstation family:

The HP Z2 Mini G4 workstation features what HP calls “next-level performance” in a small form factor (2.7 liters in total volume). Compared to the previous generation HP Z2 Mini, it offers two times more graphics power. Users can choose either the Nvidia Quadro P600 or Nvidia Quadro P1000 GPU. In addition, there is the option for AMD Radeon Pro WX4150 graphics.

Thanks to its size, users can mount it under a desk, behind a display or in a rack — up to 56 HP Z2 Mini workstations will fit in a standard 42U rack with the custom rackmount bracket accessory. With its flexible I/O, users can configure the system for connectivity of legacy serial ports, as well as support for up to six displays for peripheral and display connectivity needs. The HP Z2 G4 Mini comes with six core Intel Xeon Processors.

The HP Z2 Small Form Factor (SFF) G4 workstation offers 50 percent more processing power than the previous generation in the exact same compact size. The six-core CPU provides significant performance boosts. The HP Z2 SFF takes customization to the next level with flexible I/O options that free up valuable PCIe slots, while providing customization for legacy or specialized equipment, and for changing display needs.

The HP Z2 G4 SFF ships with four PCIe slots and dual M.2 storage slots. Its flexible I/O option enables users to customize networking, I/O or display needs without taking up PCIe slots or adding external adapters.

The HP Z2 Tower G4 workstation is designed for complex workloads like rendering with up to Ultra 3D graphics and the latest Intel Core or Intel Xeon processors. The HP Z2 tower can handle demanding 3D projects with over 60 percent more graphics power than the previous generation. With high clock speeds, users can get full, unthrottled performance, even with heavy workloads.

The HP EliteDesk 800 workstation Edition targets users who want to upgrade to a workstation-class desktop with integrated ISV certified applications experience.

Designed for 2D/3D design, it is also out-of-the box optimized for leading VR engines and features the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080.

The HP Z2 Mini is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $799; the HP Z2 Small Form Factor is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of
$749; the HP Z2 Tower is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $769; and the HP EliteDesk 800 is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $642, including Nvidia Quadro P400 graphics.

New Dell Precision workstations offer smaller footprint

Dell’s new Precision 3930 rack is a 1RU workstation that delivers better rack density through its short depth. Extended operating temperatures and features such as dust filters and legacy ports allow it to integrate seamlessly into complex medical imaging and industrial automation solutions.

With the debut of Intel Xeon E processors, and recently introduced 8th generation Intel Core processors, the rack provides up to 64GB of 2666MHz DDR4 memory. In addition, the Intel Xeon E processor supports Error Correcting Code (ECC) for increased reliability.

The Precision 3930 rack provides the flexibility of up to 250W of double-wide Nvidia Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro graphics, and scalability with up to 24TB of storage. It offers three PCIe slots, and an optional PCI slot. It also features secure and fast remote 1:1 user access, with optional Teradici PcoIP technology and support for up to quad-display zero clients.

Dell has purpose-built these new entry-level workstations to focus on data- and graphics-intensive work. The Dell Precision 3630 tower is 23 percent smaller than the previous generation with more expandability. It features a range of easy-to-reach ports that make it possible to connect to external data sources, storage devices and more. It is VR-ready. 8th Generation Intel Core i and new professional-grade Xeon E processors provide faster memory speeds up to 2666MHz 64GB and up to 225W of Nvidia Quadro and AMD Radeon Pro graphics support.

Dell Precision 3630

The Dell Precision 3630 tower offers scalable storage featuring SATA and PCIe NVMe SSDs, which can be configured for up to 14TB with RAID support. The new Precision 3430 small form factor tower offers the same benefits as the Precision 3630, but in an even smaller footprint, and up to 55W of graphics support. It’s also expandable with up to 6TB of storage with RAID support.

Dell now supports Intel Core X-series processors, in addition to the Intel Xeon W processor options already available on the Dell Precision 5820 Tower. On all Dell Precision 3000 series workstations, adding Intel Optane memory will keep responsiveness high.

Dell continues to partner with application providers for ISV certifications. Dell workstations provide professional features such as Dell’s Reliable Memory Technology Pro (with ECC memory), to protect from potential crashes by mapping out bad memory locations, and Dell Precision Optimizer AI software, which optimizes the system automatically to run applications faster.

The Dell Precision 3430 small form factor tower, which starts at $649, and the Dell Precision 3630 tower, which starts at $749 are both available now. The Dell Precision 3930 rack starts at $899 and will be available worldwide on July 26. The Dell Precision 5820 tower workstation starts at $1,1190 and is also available now.