Category Archives: Workstations

Review: HP’s double-hinged ZBook Studio x360 mobile workstation

By Mike McCarthy

I recently had the opportunity to test HP’s ZBook Studio x360 mobile workstation over the course of a few weeks. HP’s ZBook mobile workstation division has really been thinking outside the box lately, with the release of the ZBook X2 tablet, the HP Z-VR backpack-mounted system and now the ZBook Studio x360.

The ZBook Studio x360 is similar in design functionality to HP’s other x360 models — the Pavilion, Spectre, Envy, ProBook and Elitebook x360 — in that the display is double-hinged. The keyboard can be folded all the way behind the screen, allowing it to be used similarly to a tablet or placed in “tent” or “presentation” mode with the keyboard partially folded behind it. But the ZBook is clearly the top-end option of the systems available in that form factor. And it inherits all of the engineering from the rest of HP’s extensive product portfolio, in regards to security, serviceability, and interface.

Performance-wise, this Studio x360 model sits somewhere in the middle of HP’s extensive ZBook mobile workstation lineup. It is above the lightweight ZBook 14U and 15U and X2 tablet with their low-voltage U-Series CPUs and the value-oriented 15v. It is similar to the more traditional clamshell ultrabook ZBook Studio, and has less graphics power and RAM than the top-end ZBook 15 and 17.

It is distinguished from the ZBook Studio by its double-hinged 360 folding chassis, and its touch and pen inking capability. It is larger than the ZBook X2 with more powerful internal hardware. This model is packed with processing power in the form of a 6-core 8th generation Xeon processor, 32GB RAM and an Nvidia Quadro P1000 GPU. The 15-inch UHD screen boosts up to 400 nits at full brightness and, of course, supports touch and pen input.

Configuration Options
The unit has a number of interesting configuration options with two M.2 slots and a 2.5-inch bay allowing up to 6TB of internal storage, but most users will forgo the 2.5-inch SATA bay for an extended 96whr battery. There is the option of choosing between a 4G WWAN card or DreamColor display, giving users a wide selection of possible capabilities.

Because of the work I do, I am mostly interested in answering the question: “How small and light can I go, and still get my work done effectively?” In order to answer that question, I am reviewing a system with most of the top-end options. I started at a 17-inch Lenovo P71 last year, then tried a large 15-inch PNY PrevailPro and now am trying out this much lighter 15-inch book. There is no compromise with the 6-core CPU, as that is the same as in a 17-inch beast. So the biggest difference is in the GPU, with the mobile Quadro P1000 only having the 512 CUDA core, one third the power of the Quadro P4000 I last tested. So VR is not going to work, but besides heavy color grading, most video editing tasks should be supported. And 32GB of RAM should be enough for most users, but I installed a second NVMe drive, giving me a total of 2TB of storage.

Display
The 15.6-inch display is available in a number of different options, all supporting touch and digital pen input. The base-level full-HD screen can be upgraded to a Sure View screen, allowing the user to selectively narrow the viewing angle at the press of a key in order to increase their privacy. Next up is the beautiful 400-nit UHD screen that my unit came with. And the top option is a 600-nit DreamColor calibrated UHD panel. All of the options fully support touch and pen input.

Connectivity
The unit has dual-Thunderbolt 3 ports, supporting DisplayPort 1.3, as well as HDMI, dual-USB3.1 Type-A ports, an SDXC card slot and an audio jack. The main feature I am missing is an RJ-45 jack for Gigabit Ethernet. I get that there are trade-offs to be made in any configuration, but that is the item I am missing from this unit. On the flip side, with the release of affordable Thunderbolt-based 10GbE adapters, that is probably what I would pair with this unit if I was going to be using it to edit assets I have stored on my network. So that is a solvable problem.

Serviceability
Unlike the heavier ZBook 15 and 17 models, it does not have a tool-less chassis, but that is an understandable a compromise to reduce size and weight, and totally reasonable. I was able to remove the bottom cover with a single torx screwdriver, giving me access to the RAM, wireless cards, and M.2 slots I was populating with a second NVMe drive to test. The battery can also be replaced that way should the need arise, but the 96whr long-life battery is fully covered by the system warranty, be that three or five years depending on your service level.

Security
There are a number of unique features that this model shares with many others in HP’s lineup. The UEFI-based HP Sure Start BIOS and pre-boot environment provide a host of options for enterprise-level IT management, and make it less likely that the boot process will get corrupted. HP Sure Click is a security mechanism that isolates each Chromium browser tab in its own virtual machine, protecting the rest of your system from any malware that it might otherwise be exposed to. Sure Run and Sure Recover are designed to prevent and recover from security failures that render the system unusable.

The HP Client Security Manager brings the controls for all of this functionality into one place and uses the system’s integrated fingerprint reader. HP Workwise is a utility for integrating the laptop with one’s cell phone, allowing automatic system lock and unlock when the cell phone leaves or enters Bluetooth range and phone notifications from the other “Sure” security applications.

Thunderbolt Dock
HP also supplied me with their new Thunderbolt dock. The single most important feature on that unit from my perspective is the Gigabit Ethernet port, since there isn’t one built into the laptop. It also adds two DisplayPorts and one VGA output and includes five more USB ports. I was able to connect my 8K display to the DisplayPort output and it ran fine at 30Hz, as is to be expected from a single Thunderbolt connection. The dock should run anything smaller than that at 60Hz, including two 4K displays.

The dock also supports an optional audio module to facilitate better conference calls, with a built-in speaker, microphone and call buttons. It is a nice idea but a bit redundant since the laptop has a “world-facing” microphone for noise cancellation or group calling and even has “Collaboration Keys” for controlling calls built into the top of the keyboard. Apparently, HP sees this functionality totally replacing office phones.

I initially struggled to get the dock to work — besides the DisplayPorts — but this was because I connected it before boot-up. Unlike docking stations from back in the day, Thunderbolt is fully hot-swappable and actually needs to be powered on the first time it is connected in order to trigger the dialog box, which gives it low-level access to your computer for security reasons. Once I did that, it has worked seamlessly.

The two-part cable integrates a dedicated power port and Thunderbolt 3 connection, magnetically connected for simple usage while maintaining flexibility for future system compatibility. The system can receive power from the Thunderbolt port, but for maximum power and performance uses a 130W dedicated power plug as well, which appears to be standardized across much of HP’s line of business products.

Touchscreens and Pens
I had never seriously considered tablets or touchscreen solutions for my own work until one of HP’s reps showed me an early prototype of the ZBook X2 a few years ago. I initially dismissed it until he explained how much processing power they had packed into it. Only then did I recognize that HP had finally fulfilled two of my very different and long-standing requests in a way that I hadn’t envisioned. I had been asking the display team for a lightweight battery-powered DreamColor display, and I had been asking the mobile workstation team for a 12- or 14-inch Nvidia-powered model — this new device was both.

I didn’t end up reviewing the X2 during its initial release last year, although I plan to soon. But once the X2 shifted my thinking about tablet and touch-based tools, I saw this ZBook Studio x360 as an even more powerful implementation of that idea, in a slightly larger form factor. While I have used pens on other people’s systems in the past, usually when doing tech support for other editors, this is my first attempt to do real work with a pen instead of a mouse and keyboard.

One of the first obstacles I encountered was getting the pen to work at all. Unlike the EMR-based pens from Wacom tablets and the ZBook X2, the x360 uses an AES-based pen, which requires power and a Bluetooth connection to communicate with the system. I am not the only user to be confused by this solution, but I have been assured by HP that the lack of documentation and USB-C charging cable have been remedied in currently shipping systems.

It took me a while (and some online research) to figure out that there was a USB-C port hidden in the pen and that it needed to be charged and paired with the system. Once I did that, it has functioned fine for me. The pen itself works great, with high precision and 4K levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt support. I am not much of a sketcher or painter, but I do a lot of work in Photoshop, either cleaning images up or creating facial expressions for my Character Animator puppets. The pen is a huge step up from the mouse for creating smooth curves and natural lines. And the various buttons worked well for me once I got used to them. But I don’t do a lot of work that benefits from having the pen support, and trying to adapt other tasks to the pen-based input was more challenging than I anticipated.

The other challenge I encountered was with the pen holder, which fits into the SD card slot. The design is good and works better than I would have expected, but removing the original SD plug that protects the slot was far more difficult than it should be. I assume the plug is necessary for the system to pass the 13 MilSpec type tests that HP runs all of its ZBooks through, but I probably won’t be wedging it back in that slot as long as I have the system.

Inking
I am not much of a tablet user as of yet since this was my first foray into that form factor, but the system is a bit large and bulky when folded back into tablet mode. I have hit the power button by accident on multiple occasions, hibernating the system while I was trying to use it. This has primarily been an issue when I am using it in tablet mode and holding it with my left hand in that area by default. But the biggest limitation I encountered in tablet mode was recognizing just how frequently I use the keyboard during the course of my work. While Windows Inking does allow for an onscreen keyboard to be brought up for text entry, functions like holding Alt for anchor-based resizing are especially challenging. I am curious to see if some of these issues are alleviated on the X2 by the buttons they built into the edge of the display. As long as I have easy access to Shift, Ctrl, Alt, C, V and a couple others, I think I would be good to go, but it is one of those things that you can’t know for sure until you try it yourself. And different people with varying habits and preferences might prefer different solutions to the same tasks. In my case, I have not found the optimal touch and inking experience yet.

Performance
I was curious to see what level of performance I would get from the Quadro P1000, as I usually use systems with far more GPU power. But I was impressed with how well it was able to handle the animating and editing of the 5K assets for my Grounds of Freedom animated series. I was even able to dynamically link between the various Adobe apps with a reasonable degree of interactive feedback. That is where you start to see a difference between this mobile system and a massive desktop workstation.

eGPU
Always looking for more power, I hooked up Sonnet’s Breakaway Box 550 with a variety of different Nvidia GPUs to accelerate the graphics performance of the system. The Quadro P6000 was the best option, as it used the same Quadro driver and Pascal architecture as the integrated P1000 GPU but greatly increased performance.

It allowed me to use my Lenovo Explorer WMR headset to edit 360 video in VR with Premiere Pro, and I was able to playback 8K DNxHR files at full resolution in Premiere to my Dell 8K LCD display. I was also able to watch 8K HEVC files in Windows movie player smoothly. Pretty impressive for a 15-inch convertible laptop, but the 6-Core Xeon processor pairs well with the desktop GPU, making this an ideal system to harness the workflow possibilities offered by eGPU solutions.

Media Export Benchmarks
I did extensive benchmark testing, measuring the export times of various media at different settings with different internal and external GPU options. The basic conclusion was that currently simple transcodes and conversions are not much different with an eGPU, but that once color correction and other effects are brought into the equation, increasing GPU power makes processing two to five times faster.

I also tested DCP exports with Quvis’ Wraptor plugin for AME and found the laptop took less than twice as long as my top-end desktop to make DCPs, which I consider to be a good thing. You can kick out a 4K movie trailer in under 10 minutes. And if you want to export a full feature film, I would recommend a desktop, but this will do it in a couple of hours.

Final Observations
The ZBook Studio x360 is a powerful machine and an optimal host for eGPU workflows. While it exceeded my performance expectations, I did not find the touch and ink solution to be optimal for my needs as I am a heavy keyboard user, even when doing artistic tasks. (To be clear, I haven’t found a better solution. This just doesn’t suitably replace my traditional mouse and keyboard approach to work.) So if buying one for myself, I would personally opt for the non-touch ZBook Studio model. But for anyone to whom inking is a critical part of their artistic workflow, who needs a powerful system on the go, this is a very capable model that doesn’t appear to have too many similar alternatives. It blends the power of the ZBook Studio with the inking experience of HP’s other x360 products.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with over 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.

Sonnet intros four-port SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps PCI adapter cards

Sonnet is offering two new four-port, dual-controller SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps PCIe adapter cards: the Allegro Pro USB 3.1 PCIe and Allegro USB-C 4-Port PCIe. The Allegro cards add four powered USB-A or USB-C ports, respectively, to Mac, Windows or Linux computers with PCI Express (PCIe) slots, and to Mac and Windows computers with Thunderbolt ports when installed in a Thunderbolt-to-PCI Express card expansion chassis.

Both Sonnet adapter cards feature dual USB 3.1 Gen 2 controllers and support the fastest SSD-based USB drives available with file transfer speeds up to 800MB/s from a single drive, and up to 1,200MB/s aggregate from four drives. Both cards support USB bus-powered SSD, SSD RAID and hard drive devices with up to 7.5 watts of power per port, without the user having to connect auxiliary power to the card or AC power adapters to the devices. Hubs and other USB-IF-compliant devices are also supported.

“Although they feature modern CPUs, so many current desktop and workstation computers are equipped only with generations-old USB interfaces or, at best, a single modern USB port,” says Sonnet’s Greg LaPorte. “For broadcasters, post and AV professionals, the ability to move files quickly from and between multiple USB drives is critical; onboard I/O is too slow. Sonnet’s latest USB adapter cards make it easy for users to add four super-fast 10Gbps USB-A or USB-C ports to their setups and benefit from significantly faster data transfers.”

Sonnet designed the Allegro cards with a focus on intelligent power management and delivery for powering attached drives through its ports. Allegro incorporates advanced technologies, including independent power regulation that isolates each port to prevent cross-coupled power glitches — such as when a hard drive spins up after connection — that may cause accidental disconnects and resettable port power fuses. Additionally, the cards are optimized for Thunderbolt, offering full performance when installed in any of Sonnet’s Thunderbolt-to-PCIe card chassis.

The Allegro Pro USB 3.1 PCIe card is now available for $149. The Allegro USB-C 4-Port PCIe card is also now available for the same price.

DigitalGlue 3.7

Review: eGPUs and the Sonnet Breakaway Box

By Mike McCarthy

As a laptop user and fan of graphics performance, I have always had to weigh the balance between performance and portability when selecting a system. And this usually bounces back and forth, as neither option is totally satisfactory. Systems are always too heavy or not powerful enough.

My first laptop when I graduated high school was the 16-inch Sony Vaio GRX570, with the largest screen available at the time, running 1600×1200 pixels. After four years carrying that around, I was eager to move to the Dell XPS M1210, the smallest laptop with a discrete GPU. That was followed by a Quadro-based Dell Precision M4400 workstation, which was on the larger side. I then bounced to the lightweight Carbon Fiber 13-inch Sony Vaio Z1 in 2010, which my wife still uses. This was followed by my current Aorus X3 Plus, which has both power (GF870M) and a small form factor (13 inch), but at the expense of everything else.

Some More History
The Vaio Z1 was one of the first hybrid graphics solutions to allow users to switch between different GPUs. Its GeForce 330M was powerful enough to run Adobe’s Mercury CUDA Playback engine in CS5, but was at the limit of its performance. It didn’t support my 30-inch display, and while the SSD storage solution had the throughput for 2K DPX playback, the GPU processing couldn’t keep up.

Other users were upgrading the GPU with an ExpressCard-based ViDock external PCIe enclosure, but a single-lane of PCIe 1.0 bandwidth (2Gb/s) wasn’t enough to make is worth the effort for video editing. (3D gaming requires less source bandwidth than video processing.) Sony’s follow-on Z2 model offered the first commercial eGPU, connected via LightPeak, the forerunner to Thunderbolt. It allowed the ultra-light Z series laptop to use an AMD Radeon 6650M GPU and Blu-ray drive in the proprietary Media Dock, presumably over a PCIe x4 1.0 (8Gb/s) connection.

Thunderbolt 3
Alienware also has a propriety eGPU solution for their laptops, but Thunderbolt is really what makes eGPUs a marketable possibility, giving direct access to the PCIe bus at x4 speed, in a standardized connection. The first generation offered a dedicated 10Gb connection, while Thunderbolt 2 increased that to a 20Gb shared connection. The biggest thing holding back eGPUs at that point was lack of PC adoption of the Apple technology licensed from Intel, and OS X limitations on eGPUs.

Thunderbolt 3 changed all of that, increasing the total connection bandwidth to 40Gb, the same as first-generation PCIe x16 cards. And far more systems support Thunderbolt 3 than the previous iterations. Integrated OS support for GPU switching in Windows 10 and OS X (built on laptop GPU power saving technology) further paved the path to eGPU adoption.

Why eGPUs Now?
Even with all of this in my favor, I didn’t take the step into eGPU solutions until very recently. I bought my personal system in 2014. This was just before Thunderbolt 3 hit the mainstream. The last two systems I reviewed had Thunderbolt 3, but didn’t need eGPUs with their mobile Quadro P4000 and P5000 internal GPUs. So I hadn’t had the opportunity to give it a go until I received an HP Zbook Studio x360 to review. Now, its integrated Quadro P1000 is nothing to scoff at, but there was significantly more room for performance gains from an external GPU.

Sonnet Breakaway Box
I have had the opportunity to review the 550W version of Sonnet’s Breakaway Box PCIe enclosure over the course of a few weeks, allowing me to test out a number of different cards, including four different GPUs, as well as my Red-Rocket-X and 10GbE cards. Sonnet has three different eGPU enclosure options, depending on the power requirements of your GPU.

They sent me the mid-level 550 model, which should support every card on the market, aside from AMD’s power-guzzling Vega 64-based GPUs. The base 350 model should support GF1080 or 2080 cards, but not overclocked Titanium or Titan versions. The 550 model includes two PCIe power cables that can be used in 6- or 8-pin connectors. This should cover any existing GPU on the market, and I have cards requiring nearly every possible combo — 6-pin, 8-pin, both, and dual 8-pin. Sonnet has a very thorough compatibility list available, for more specific details.

Installation
I installed my Quadro P6000 into the enclosure, because it used the same drivers as my internal Quadro P1000 GPU and would give me the most significant performance boost. I plugged the Thunderbolt connector into the laptop while it was booted. It immediately recognized the device, but only saw it as a “Microsoft Basic Display Adapter” until I re-installed my existing 411.63 Quadro drivers and rebooted. After that, it worked great, I was able to run my benchmarks and renders without issue, and I could see which GPU was carrying the processing load just by looking in the task manager performance tab.

Once I had finished my initial tests, safely removed the hardware in the OS and disconnected the enclosure, I swapped the installed card with my Quadro P4000 and plugged it back into the system without rebooting. It immediately detected it, and after a few seconds the new P4000 was recognized and accelerating my next set of renders. When I attempted to do the same procedure with my GeForce 2080TI, it did make me install the GeForce driver (416.16) and reboot before it would function at full capacity (subsequent transitions between Nvidia cards were seamless).

The next step was to try an AMD GPU, since I have a new RadeonPro WX8200 to test, which is a Pro version of the Vega 56 architecture. I was a bit more apprehensive about this configuration due to the integrated Nvidia card, and having experienced those drivers not co-existing well in the distant past. But I figured: “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Initially, plugging it in gave me the same Microsoft Basic Display Adapter device until I installed the RadeonPro drivers. Installing those drivers caused the system to crash and refuse to boot. Startup repair, system restore and OS revert all failed to run, let alone fix the issue. I was about to wipe the entire OS and let it reinstall from the recovery partition when I came across one more idea online. I was able to get to a command line in the pre-boot environment and run a Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) command to see which drivers were installed — DISM /image:D:\ /Get-Drivers|more.

This allowed me to see that the last three drivers — oem172.inf through oem174.inf —were the only AMD-related ones on the system. I was able to remove them via the same tool — DISM /Image:D:\ /Remove-Driver /Driver:oem172.inf”) — and when I restarted, the system booted up just fine.

I then pulled the card from the eGPU box, wiped all the AMD files from the system, and vowed never to do something like that again. Lesson of the day: Don’t mix AMD and Nvidia cards and drivers. To AMDs credit, the WX8200 does not officially support eGPU installations, but extraneous drivers shouldn’t cause that much problem.

Performance Results
I tested Adobe Media Encoder export times with a variety of different sources and settings. Certain tests were not dramatically accelerated by the eGPU, while other renders definitely were. The main place we see differences between the integrated P1000 and a more-powerful external GPU is when effects are applied to high-res footage. That is when the GPU is really put to work, so those are the tests that improve with more GPU power. I had a one-minute sequence of Red clips with lots of effects (Lumetri, selective blur and mosaic: all GPU FX) that took 14 minutes to render internally, but finished in under four minutes with the eGPU attached. Exporting the same sequence with the effects disabled took four minutes internally and three minutes with the GPU. So the effects cost 10 minutes of render time internally, but under one minute of render time (35 seconds to be precise) when a powerful GPU is attached.

So if you are trying to do basic cuts-only editorial, an eGPU may not improve your performance much, but if you are doing VFX or color work, it can make a noticeable difference.

VR Headset Support
The external cards, of course, do increase performance in a measurable way, especially since I am using such powerful cards. It’s not just a matter of increasing render speeds, but about enabling functionality that was previously unavailable on the system. I connected my Lenovo Explorer WMR headset to the RTX2080TI in the Breakaway Box and gave it a shot. I was able to edit 360 video in VR in Premiere Pro, which is not supported on the included Quadro P1000 card. I did experience some interesting ghosting on occasion, where if I didn’t move my head everything looked perfect, but movement caused a double image — as if one eye was a frame behind the other — but the double image was appearing in each eye, as if there was an excessive motion blur applied to the rendered frames.

I thought this might be a delay based on extra latency in the Thunderbolt bus, but other times the picture looked crisp regardless of how quickly I moved my head. So it can work great, but there may need to be a few adjustments made to smooth things out. Lots of other users online report it working just fine, so there is probably a solution available out there.

Full-Resolution 8K Tests
I was able to connect my 8K display to the card as well, and while the x360 happens to support that display already (DP1.3 over Thunderbolt), most notebooks do not — and it increased the refresh rate from 30Hz to the full 60Hz. I was able to watch HEVC videos smoothly at 8K in Windows, and was able to playback 8K DNxHR files in Premiere at full res, as long as there were no edits or effects.

Just playing back footage at full 8K taxed the 2080TI at 80% compute utilization. But this is 8K we are talking about, playing back on a laptop, at full resolution. 4K anamorphic and 6K Venice X-OCN footage played back smoothly at half res in Premiere, and 8K Red footage played back at quarter. This is not the optimal solution for editing 8K footage, but it should have no problem doing serious work at UHD and 4K.

Other Cards and Functionality
GPUs aren’t the only PCIe cards that can be installed in the Breakaway Box, so I can add a variety of other functionality to my laptop if desired. Thunderbolt array controllers minimize the need for SATA or SAS cards in enclosures, but that is a possibility. I installed an Intel X520-DA2 10GbE card into the box and was copying files from my network at 700MB/s within a minute, without even having to install any new drivers. But unless you need to have SFP ports, most people looking for 10GbE functionality would be better served to look into Sonnet’s Solo 10G for smaller form factor, lower power use, and cheaper price. There are a variety of other options for Thunderbolt 3 to 10GbE hitting the market as well.

The Red-Rocket-X card has been a popular option for external PCIe enclosures over the last few years, primarily for on-set media transcoding. I installed mine in the Breakaway Box to give that functionality a shot as well.

I ran into two issues, both of which I was able to overcome, but are worth noting. First, the 6-pin power connector is challenging to fit into the poorly designed Rocket power port, due to the retention mechanism being offset for 8-pin compatibility. But it can fit if you work at it a bit, although I prefer to keep a 6-pin extension cable plugged into my Rocket since I move it around so much. Once I had all of the hardware hooked up, it was recognized in the OS, but installing the drivers from Red resulted in a Code-52 error that is usually associated with USB devices. The recommended solution online was to disable Windows 10 driver signing, in the pre-boot environment, and that did the trick. (My theory is that my HP’s SureStart security functionality was hesitating to give direct memory access to an external device, as that is the level of access Thunderbolt devices get to your system, and the Red Rocket-X driver wasn’t signed for that level of security.)

Anyhow, the card worked fine after that, and I verified that it accelerated my renders in Premiere Pro and AME. I am looking forward to a day when CUDA acceleration allows me to get that functionality out of my underused GPU power instead of requiring a dedicated card.

I did experience an issue with the Quadro P4000, where the fans spun up to 100% when the laptop went to shut off, hibernated, or went to sleep. None of the other cards had that issue, instead they shut off when the host system did and turned back on automatically when I booted up the system. I have no idea why the P4000 acted differently than the architecturally very similar P6000. Manually turning off the Breakaway Box or disconnecting the Thunderbolt cable solves the problem with the P4000, but then you have to remember to reconnect again when you are booting up.

In the process of troubleshooting the fan issue, I did a few other driver installs and learned a few tricks. First off, I already knew Quadro drivers can’t run GeForce cards (otherwise why pay for a Quadro), but GeForce drivers can run on Quadro cards. So it makes sense you would want to install GeForce drivers when mixing both types of GOUs. But I didn’t realize that apparently GeForce drivers take preference when they are installed. So when I had an issue with the internal Quadro card, reinstalling the Quadro drivers had no effect, since the GeForce drivers were running the hardware. Removing them (with DDU just to be thorough) solved the issue, and got everything operating seamlessly again. Sonnet’s support people were able to send me the solution to the problem on the first try. That was a bit of a hiccup, but once it was solved I could again swap between different GPUs without even rebooting. And most users will always have the same card installed when they connect their eGPU, further simplifying the issue.

Do you need an eGPU?
I really like this unit, and I think that eGPU functionality in general will totally change the high-end laptop market for the better. For people who only need high performance at their desk, there will be a class of top-end laptop with high-end CPU, RAM and storage, but no GPU to save on space and weight (CPU can’t be improved by external box, and needs to keep up with GPU).

There will be another similar class with mid-level GPUs to support basic 3D work on the road, but massive increases at home. I fall in the second category, as I can’t forego all GPU acceleration when I am traveling or even walking around the office. But I don’t need to be carrying around an 8K rendering beast all the time either. I can limit my gaming, VR work and heavy renders to my desk. That is the configuration I have been able to use with this ZBook x360.: enough power to edit un-tethered, but combining the internal 6-core CPU with a top -end external GPU gives great performance when attached to the Breakaway Box. As always, I still want to go smaller, and plan to test with an even lighter weight laptop as soon as the opportunity arises.

Summing Up
The Breakaway Box is a simple solution to a significant issue. No bells and whistles, which I initially appreciated. But the eGPU box is inherently a docking station, so there is an argument to be made for adding other functionality. In my case, once I am setup at my next project, using a 10GbE adapter in the second TB3 port on my laptop will be a better solution for top performance and bandwidth anyway.

So I am excited about the possibilities that eGPUs bring to the table, now that they are fully supported by the OS and applications I use, and I don’t imagine buying a laptop setup without one anytime in the foreseeable future. The Sonnet Breakaway Box meets my needs and has performed very well for me over the last few weeks.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with over 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 adds new Apexx S-class workstations with 9th-gen Intel processors

Boxx Technologies is offering a new line of Apexx S-class workstations featuring the company’s flagship Apexx S3. Purpose-built for 3D design, CAD and motion media workflows requiring CPU frequencies suitable for lightly threaded apps, the compact Apexx S3 now features a 9th-generation, eight-core Intel Core i7 or i9 processor (professionally overclocked to 5.1GHz) to support more heavily threaded applications as well.

Designed to optimize Autodesk tools, Adobe Creative Cloud, Maxon Cinema 4D and other applications, the overclocked and liquid-cooled Apexx S3 sustains its 5.1GHz frequency across all cores. With increased storage and upgradability, as well as multiple Nvidia Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro graphics cards, S3 is also ideal for light GPU compute or virtual reality.

New to the S-class line is Apexx Enigma S3. Built to accelerate professional 3D applications, Enigma S3 is also configurable with 9th-generation, eight-core Intel Core i7/i9 processors overclocked to 5.1GHz and up to three professional GPUs, making it suitable for workflows that include significant GPU rendering or GPU compute work.

The compact Apexx S3 and Enigma S3 are joined by the Apexx S1. The S1 also features an overclocked, eight-core Intel Core i7 for 3D content creation, CAD design and motion media. With its ultra-compact chassis, the S1 is a good solution for limited desktop space, an open environment or workflows where a graphics card is used primarily for display.

Rounding out the S-class family is the Apexx S4, a rack-mount system designed for heavy rendering or GPU compute.


You can now export ProRes on a PC with Adobe’s video apps

By Brady Betzel

Listen up post pros! You can now natively export ProRes from a Windows 10-based PC for $20.99 with the latest release of Adobe’s Premiere, After Effects and Media Encoder.

I can’t overstate how big of a deal this is. Previously, the only way to export ProRes from a PC was to use a knock-off reverse-engineered codec that would mimic the process — creating footage that would often fail QC checks at networks — or be in possession of a high-end app like Fusion, Nuke, Nucoda or Scratch. The only other way would be to have a Cinedeck in your hands and output your files in realtime through it. But, starting today, you can export native ProRes 4444 and ProRes 422 from your Adobe Creative Cloud Suite apps like Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Media Encoder. Have you wanted to use those two or three Nvidia GTX 1080ti graphics cards that you can’t stuff into a Mac Pro? Well, now you can. No more being tied to AMD for ProRes exports.

Apple seems to be leaving their creative clients in the dust. Unless you purchase an iMac Pro or MacBook Pro, you have been stuck using a 2013 Mac Pro to export or encode your files to ProRes specifications. A lot of customers, who had given Apple the benefit of the doubt and stuck around for a year or two longer than they probably should have waiting for a new Mac Pro — allegedly being released in 2019 — began to transition over to Windows-based platforms. All the while, most would keep that older Mac just to export ProRes files while using the more powerful and updated Windows PC to do their daily tasks.

Well, that day is now over and, in my opinion, leads me to believe that Apple is less concerned with keeping their professional clients than ever before. That being said, I love that Apple has finally opened their ProRes codecs up to the Adobe Creative Cloud.

Let’s hope it can become a system-wide feature, or at least added to Blackmagic’s Resolve and Avid’s Media Composer. You can individually rent Adobe Premiere Pro or After Effects for $20.99 month, rent the entire Adobe Creative Cloud library for $52.99 a month or, if you are a student or teacher, you can take advantage of the best deal around for $19.99 a month, which gives you ALL the Creative Cloud apps.

Check out Adobe’s blog about the latest Windows ProRes export features.


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: 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.

 


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.