Tag Archives: workstation

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.

Review: HP’s ZBook Studio G4 mobile workstation

By Brady Betzel

It seems like each year around this time, I offer my thoughts on an HP mobile workstation and how it serves multimedia professionals. This time I am putting the HP ZBook Studio G4 through its paces. The ZBook Studio line of HP’s mobile workstations seems to fit right in the middle between ease of mobility, durability and power. The ZBook 14u and 15u are the budget series mobile workstations that run Intel i5/i7 processors with AMD FirePro graphics and top out at around $1,600. The ZBook 15 and 17 are the more powerful mobile workstations in the line with the added ability to include Intel Xeon processors, ECC memory, higher-end Nvidia Quadro graphics cards and more. But in the this review we will take the best of all models and jam them into the light and polished ZBook Studio G4.

The HP ZBook Studio G4 I was sent to test out had the following components:
– Windows 10 64 bit
– Intel Xeon 1535M (7th gen) quad-core processor – 3.10GHz with 4.2 Turbo Boost
– 4K UHD DreamColor/15.6-inch IPS screen
– 32GB ECC (2x16GB)
– Nvidia Quadro M1200 (4GB)
– 512GB HP Z Turbo Drive PCIe (MLC)
– 92Whr fast charging battery
– Intel vPro WLAN
– Backlit keyboard
– Fingerprint reader

According to the info I was sent directly from HP, the retail price is $3,510 on hp.com (US webstore). I built a very similar workstation on http://store.hp.com and was able to get the price at $3,301.65 before shipping and taxes, and $3,541.02 with taxes and free shipping. So actually pretty close.

So, besides the natural processor, memory and hard drive upgrades from previous generations, the ZBook Studio G4 has a few interesting updates, including the higher-wattage batteries with fast charge and the HP Sure Start Gen3 technology. The new fast charge is similar to the feature that some products like the GoPro Hero 5/6 cameras and Samsung Galaxy phones have, where they charge quicker than “normal.” The ZBook Studio, as well as the rest of the ZBook line, will charge 50% of your battery in around 30 minutes when in standby mode. Even when using the computer, I was able to charge the first 50% in around 30 minutes, a feature I love. After the initial 50% charge is complete, the charging will be at a normal rate, which wasn’t half bad and only took a few hours to get it to about 100%.

The battery I was sent was the larger of the two options and provided me with an eight-hour day with decent usage. When pushed using an app like Resolve I would say it lasted more like four hours. Nonetheless it lasted a while and I was happy with the result. Keep in mind the batteries are not removable, but they do have a three-year warranty, just like the rest of the mobile workstation.

When HP first told me about its Sure Start Gen 3, I thought maybe it was just a marketing gimmick, but then I experienced its power — and it’s amazing. Essentially, it is a hardware function available on only 7th generation Intel processors that allows the BIOS to repair itself upon identification of malware or corruption. While using the ZBook Studio G4, I was installing some software and had a hard crash (blue screen). I noticed when it restarted the BIOS was running through the Sure Start protocol, and within minutes I was back up and running. It was reassuring and would really set my mind at ease if deciding between a workstation-level solution or retail store computing solution.

You might be asking yourself why you should buy an enterprise-level mobile workstation when you could go buy a laptop for cheaper and almost as powerful at Best Buy or on Amazon? Technically, what really sets apart workstation components is their ability to run 24/7 and 365 days a year without downtime. This is helped by Intel Xeon processors that allow for ECC (Error Correcting Code memory), essentially bits don’t get flipped as they can with non-ECC memory. Or for laymen, like me, ECC memory prevents crashing by fixing errors itself before we see any repercussions.

Another workstation-level benefit is the environmental testing that HP runs the ZBooks through to certify their equipment as military grade, also known as MIL-810G testing. Essentially, they run multiple extreme condition tests such as high and low temperatures, salt, fog and even high-vibration testing like gunfire. Check out a more in-depth description on Wikipedia. Finally, HP prides itself on its ISV (Independent Software Vendors) verification. ISV certification means that HP spends a lot of time working with software vendors like Adobe, Avid, Autodesk and others to ensure compatibility with their products and HP’s hardware so you don’t have to. They even release certified drivers that help to ensure compatibility regularly.

In terms of warranty, HP gives you a three-year limited warranty. This includes on-site service within the Americas, and as mentioned earlier it covers the battery, which is a nice bonus. Much like other warranties it covers problems arising from faulty manufacturing, but not intentional or accidental damage. Luckily for anyone who purchases a Zbook, these systems can take a beating. Physically, the computer weighs in around 4.6lbs and is 18mm thin. It is machined aluminum that isn’t sharp, but it can start to dig into your wrists when typing for long periods. Around the exterior you get two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI port, three USB 3.1 ports (one on left and two on the right), an Ethernet port and Kensington Lock port. On the right side, you also get a power port — I would love for HP to design some sort of break-away cable like the old Magsafe cables on the MacBook Pros — and there is also a headphone/mic input.

DreamColor Display
Alright, so now I’ll go through some of the post-nerd specs that you might be looking for. Up first is the HP DreamColor display, which is a color-critical viewing solution. With a couple clicks in the Windows toolbar on the lower right you will find a colored flower — click on that and you can immediately adjust the color space you want to view your work in: AdobeRGB, sRGB, BT.709, DCI-P3 or Native. You can even calibrate or backup your own calibration for later use. While most colorists or editors use an external calibrated monitoring solution and don’t strictly rely on your viewing monitor as the color-critical source, using the DreamColor display will get you close to a color critical display without purchasing additional hardware.

In addition, DreamColor displays can play back true 24fps without frame rate conversion. One of my favorite parts of DreamColor is that if you use an external DreamColor monitor through Thunderbolt 3 (not using an SDI card), you can load your color profile onto the second or third monitor and in theory they should match. The ZBook Studio G4 seems to have been built as a perfect DIT (digital imaging technician) solution for color critical work in any weather-challenged or demanding environment without you having to worry about failure.

Speed & Testing
Now let’s talk about speed and how the system did with speed tests. When running a 24TB (6TB-4TB drives) G-Speed ShuttleXL with Thunderbolt 3 from G-Technology, I was able to get write speeds of around 1450MB/s and read speeds of 960MB/s when running the AJA System Test using a 4GB test file running RAID-0. For comparison, I ran the same test on the internal 512GB HP Z Turbo Drive, which had a write speed of 1310MB/s and read speed 1524MB/s. Of course, you need to keep in mind that the internal drive is a PCIe SSD whereas the RAID is 7200RPM drives. Finally, I ran the standard benchmarking app Cinebench R15 that comes from the makers of Maxon Cinema 4D, a 3D modeling app. For those interested, the OpenGL test ran at 138.85fps with a Ref. Match of 99.6%, CPU 470cb and CPU (Single Core) 177cb with an MP Ratio of 2.65x.

I also wanted to run the ZBook through some practical and real-world tests, and I wanted to test the rendering and exporting speeds. I chose to use Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 14.2 software because it is widely used and an easily accessible app for many of today’s multimedia pros. For a non-scientific yet important benchmark, I needed to see how well the ZBook G4 played back R3D files (Red camera files), as well as QuickTimes with typical codecs you would find in a professional environment, such as ProRes and DNxHD. You can find a bunch of great sample R3D files on Red’s website. The R3D I chose was 16 seconds in length, shot on a Red Epic Dragon at 120fps and UHD resolution (3840×2160). To make sure I didn’t have anything skewing the results, I decided to clear all optimized media, if there was any, delete any render cache, uncheck “Use Optimized Media If Available” and uncheck “Performance Mode” just in case that did any voodoo I wasn’t aware of.

First was a playback test where I wanted to see at what decode quality I could playback in at realtime without dropping frames when I performed a slight color correction and added a power window. For this clip, I was able to get it to playback in a 23.98/1080p timeline in realtime when it was set to Half Resolution Good. At Half Resolution Premium I was dropping one or two frames. While playing back and at Full Resolution Premium, I was dropping five or six frames —playing back at around 17 or 18fps. Playing back at Half Resolution Good is actually great playback quality for such a high-quality R3D with all the head room you get when coloring a raw camera file and not a transcode. This is also when the fans inside the ZBook really kicked in. I then exported a ProRes4444 version of the same R3D clip from RedCine-X Pro with the LUT info from the camera baked in. I played the clip back in Resolve with a light color treatment and one power window with no frames dropped. When playing back the ProRes4444 file the fans stayed at a low pitch.

The second test was a simple DNxHD 10-bit export from the raw R3D. I used the DNxHD 175x codec — it took about 29 seconds, which was a little less than double realtime. I then added spatial noise reduction on my first node using the following settings: Mode: Better, Radius: Medium, Spatial Threshold (luma/chroma locked): 25. I was able to playback the timeline at around 5fps and exported the same DNxHD 175x file, but it took about 1 minute 27 seconds, about six times realtime. Doing the same DNxHD 175x export test with the ProRes4444 file, it took about 12 seconds without noise reduction and with the noise reduction about 1 minute and 16 seconds — about 4.5 times realtime. In both cases when using Noise Reduction, the fans kicked on.

Lastly, I wanted to see how Resolve would handle a simple one minute, 1080p, ProRes QuickTime in various tests. I don’t think it’s a big surprise but it played back without dropping any frames with one node of color correction, one power window and as a parallel node with a qualifier. When adding spatial noise reduction I started to get bogged down to about 6fps. The same DNxHD 175x export took about 27 seconds or a little less than half realtime. With the same spatial noise reduction as above it took about 4 minutes and 21 seconds, about 4.3 times realtime.

Summing Up
The HP ZBook Studio G4 is a lightweight and durable enterprise-level mobile workstation that packs the punch of a color-critical 4K (UHD — 3840×2160) DreamColor display, powered by an Nvidia Quadro M1200, and brought together by an Intel Xeon processor that will easily power many color, editing or other multimedia jobs. With HP’s MIL-810G certification, you have peace of mind that even with some bumps, bruises and extreme weather your workstation will work. At under 5lbs and 18mm thin with a battery that will charge 50% in 30 minutes, you can bring your professional apps like DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Premiere and Avid Media Composer anywhere and be working.

I was able to use the ZBook along with some of my Tangent Element color correction panels in a backpack and have an instant color critical DIT solution without the need for a huge cart — all capable of color correction and transcoding. The structural design of the ZBook is an incredibly sturdy, machined aluminum chassis that is lightweight enough to easily go anywhere quickly. The only criticisms are I would often miss the left click of the trackpad leaving me in a right-click scenario, the Bang & Olufsen speakers sound a little tin-like to me and, finally, it doesn’t have a touch bar… just kidding.


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.

Appex 1

Boxx offers two new workstations with Kaby Lake Intel processors

Boxx Technologies has introduced Apexx workstations featuring the new seventh-generation Kaby Lake Intel Core i7 processors. The integration of these processors provides the Apexx 1 1202 a base clock speed of 4.2GHz with a turbo boost of 4.5GHz. The ultra-compact Apexx 1 also features advanced liquid cooling and professional graphics. Apexx 1 (pictured in our main image) is designed for users working in visualization, 3D animation, modeling and motion media.

Apexx 2

The latest Intel Core i7 processor is also included in the new, compact, liquid-cooled Apexx 2 2203 workstation. Featuring the same base clock speed of 4.2GHz (and 4.5GHz turbo boost), Apexx 2 2203 is configurable with up to two full-size, pro GPUs and is optimized for software such as Autodesk’s 3ds Max and Maya and Maxon’s Cinema 4D, as well as other CAD and 3D design applications.

“Because Boxx specializes in high-performance workstations, we know that for greater efficiency and productivity, organizations require the latest technology and innovation,” says VP of marketing and business development Shoaib Mohammad. “The integration of new Intel Kaby Lake processors coupled with our space-saving chassis, liquid cooling, professional GPUs and other features, provides architects, engineers and motion media pros with maximum performance.”

Pricing for these new models is not yet available. The company says both these units have non-overclocked processors and would typically be priced lower than models with overclocked processors.