By Brady Betzel
As far as graphics cards go, Nvidia and AMD are at the head of the pack. Given Apple’s recent inclusion of AMD only on their latest Mac Pro, the competition is heating up.
For the longest time I built my own computers, not really focusing on my graphics card solution because in the end they all achieved relatively the same level of greatness, as far as I was concerned.
Years ago it was my ATI All-In-Wonder card that helped me get started in editing. However, today we are being forced to choose sides, and not all graphics cards are created equal. Trying to see what graphics card will suit you isn’t always clear: Do I want the AMD card that has 6GB of 384-bit GDDR5 or will the Nvidia card with 3GB of 192-bit GDDR5 memory do the trick? Everyone has their own needs and budget.
So full disclosure: I’m an Nvidia guy. On a daily basis I use Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop, and Avid’s Media Composer/Symphony.
With Nvidia Quadro pro graphics solutions combined with the Adobe CC or CS6 you are definitely working with the powerhouse of teams. Adobe leverages the parallel processing power in the Nvidia Quadro GPUs such as in After Effects with its Optix raytracing engine and in Premiere with the Mercury Playback Engine providing great realtime video effect playback. At the moment Adobe does not support raytracing with an AMD card, not even the cards in the newest Mac Pro. You will get a little error message when you try and enable it, big bummer.
I was sent the Nvidia Quadro K4000 graphics card (which sells for around $800) pre-installed inside of a HP Z420 workstation. First off let me tell you, if you aren’t tired of me pumping up the HPs by now, the HP workstations are incredible. I’ve used the Z820s and now the Z420s. They are beautifully engineered and extremely easy to open and modify.
Once I received the workstation I wanted to take it apart because if I am a small business owner I don’t know if I can necessarily afford to send my workstation out to get upgraded. It’s almost like fixing your car yourself as opposed to bringing it to the dealership to get fixed. Yes the dealership will most likely do it right and stand behind their work with name brand parts but at what cost? So don’t tell HP, but I disassembled the entire system, including the Quadro K4000 graphics card, scrambled all the parts around (on an anti-static mat of course), and let my two-year-old try and build his first workstation. Kidding. But I really did take all the components out and reassemble the machine. It was easy; with a little bit of techno-nerdiness anyone will be able to fix their system, or at least have a part sent to them by HP and be walked through the repair. Truly easy, and the case doesn’t have razor sharp edges, a definite plus.
Power & Performance
On the tech side, the Quadro K4000 was built on the Kepler architecture, which is a significant improvement over the past Fermi architecture. In simple terms it dramatically brought down the power consumption and increased the performance, delivering approximately three times the performance per watt of Fermi. Who doesn’t love to add, “We’re an energy conscious company” to their Twitter profile?
The K4000 contains 768 CUDA cores, 3GB 192-bit GDDR5 memory providing a bandwidth of 134GB/s, max power consumption of 80W (versus 142W from the Fermi architecture), one DVI-D output, and two Display Port 1.2 outputs — all ports can now be used at the same time as well as one Display Port to support a total of four displays using a connection hub. That’s an incredible package just in the nerd-stats section.
Once I reassembled my HP Z420 I turned on my 27-inch LED backlit IPS monitor and booted into Windows 7. I immediately downloaded and installed Avid Media Composer 7.0.3 and the Adobe CC Suite — since I mostly wanted to focus on NLE speed with the Quadro K4000 I jumped into Media Composer and Premiere first.
Media Composer takes advantage of Nvidia graphics cards such as the Quadro K4000. You won’t necessarily see outright labels on what effects will be sent to the GPU for processing but Avid and Nvidia have come together to harness the parallel distributing power to process effects that would normally be sent to the CPU[s] and process them concurrently on the K4000.
Naturally, the more processing power you have the faster your machine will run. I didn’t really notice the power of the Quadro K4000 inside of Media Composer with just a few effects and a title. However, I did notice a tremendous difference when processing effects on multiple layers of video with multiple titles. It went from being able to barely play the timeline to being able to add more than double the amount of video layers and titles without a slowdown. To be fair, these were realtime effects that we all know don’t usually play in realtime if they are layered on top of each other, but they played with the Quadro K4000 installed, definitely a breath of fresh air.
I’ve always loved Adobe Premiere. I used it when I was in high school and I used it in college. Professionally, I haven’t had paid opportunities to use it yet, but I think that is about to change. So anyway, inside of Premiere is where you will see a huge speed increase with a graphics card such as the Quadro K4000. When using effects such as the three-way color corrector, multiple blur types, track mattes, the warp stabilizer, and many more, the Quadro K4000-powered Mercury Playback Engine really clicks into gear.
You will see some significant ability in multicam viewing, however, don’t forget to take into account that when working with multiple streams of HD video, you will also be limited by your internal/external hard drive’s disk speed and connection speed. The better the connection speed and speedier the RAID, the more likely you will be running 12 streams of HD video at once in a split screen for a live switch.
Finally, when exporting QuickTimes from the Adobe suite, I noticed a speedier of an export when using a high-end Nvidia Quadro card like the K4000. Since technically the GPU doesn’t do anything to speed up the export, the stress it takes off of the CPU helps gain a little speed on the export, and we could always use faster exports.
I will only touch on After Effects since it really wasn’t a focus of this review, but how could I not emphasize the ability of raytracing with the Nvidia OptiX technology (one of the few vendor-specific features Adobe relies on)? In addition, one of my favorite plug-ins to use on a daily basis is Video Co-Pilot’s Element 3D, which works with Nvidia as well as AMD cards, but seems to love the Quadro K4000. If you’ve ever worked with Element3D you know how easy it makes working with 3D objects inside of After Effects, and the better your graphics card is the easier it is to light, move, dolly, and finesse your creations.
In the end, the benefits that the workstation class graphics cards of Nvidia provide are worth the price of admission. If you have the money to purchase an Nvidia Quadro card such as the K4000, or even the behemoth K6000, do it. You can dramatically speed up a fading system with the purchase of a high-end, workstation-class graphics card from Nvidia.
In addition, many application crashes can be a result of low-level graphics cards and/or faulty drivers. So if you are looking to increase your abilities in your workstation, then go find a Quadro K4000 to throw into that machine and feel the difference for yourself. It will shave time off of your renders and outputs, which means more money in your wallet.
Brady Betzel is an editor at Bunim Murray Productions, a reality television production company. He is one of the editors on Bad Girls Club. His typical tools at work are Avid Symphony, Adobe After Effects CC, and Adobe Photoshop CC. You can email Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter, @allbetzroff.