Mac Pros, Hacks, Video Cards, and NLEs

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by jasonvp, Jul 6, 2013.

  1. jasonvp macrumors 6502a


    Jun 29, 2007
    Northern VA
    I'm not sure if the Mac Pro section is really the right one or if I should punt this to the Video Editing section. Bear with me while I text-vomit out various thoughts regarding some of the latest announcements from Apple and Adobe. This'll get a little long-winded, so have a cup of joe handy while you read it.

    Tutor and I have been chatting about this via PM for the last week or so. Hopefully he doesn't mind me making it public so that I can get some other eyeballs and thoughts on it. Knowing him, I doubt he'll mind whatsoever; bear in mind I'm not belittling his suggestions in the least regarding video cards (summary: he said stick w/nVidia. That'll make more sense in a moment).

    First and foremost: I think Apple's new Mac Pro looks like a great piece of machinery. But I don't want it and am not going to buy it. Instead, as I've mentioned in Tutor's "CPU Performance" thread, I'm going to wait for the Ivy Bridge Xeons to be released and build a dual-proc Hack. It's likely that'll require waiting for 10.9 Mavericks to also be released as the present OS X probably doesn't have the necessary unlocks for those chips. Tutor has already pointed me at a suggested motherboard (when it becomes available...). It'll require a specific type of case as it's not an ATX-sized board.

    The challenge is: Which video card or cards? I've always been an nVidia fan. My current modified Mac Pro 5,1 has one of Dave's flashed GTX570s in it, and I use it quite a bit with Adobe's Premiere Pro (CS5.5 and CS6). Apple is making a clear statement that OpenCL, not CUDA, is the wave of their future. Adobe acknowledged that last summer when they released CS6 on the Mac with both CUDA and OpenCL support. We know nVidia cards can do both, but so far they've been very weak with OpenCL.

    Is that a driver thing specific to the nVidia cards? Is it a more generic driver within the OS? Will we see an improvement in OpenCL performance with nVidia cards and drivers? Or, perhaps, is it the actual hardware on the cards? Are AMD's cards better suited for OpenCL than nVidia's?

    The other interesting variable to bear in mind: the NLE. Premiere CS5.5 only supports CUDA and will never be updated again. Premiere CS6 does support both, but from now on will only be patched to fix bugs (for however long Adobe deems). Neither version can address multiple GPUs and never will. Worse, CS6 has a nasty AVCHD bug (I shoot in all AVCHD) making it utterly unusable to me until Adobe patches it... if they ever patch it.

    Their new CC version of Premiere has fixed the AVCHD issue, and has better OpenCL support, and supports multiple GPUs. But, it's rental-only software, and I'm not interested in signing for that. It was almost perfect, too...

    Then there's Apple's Final Cut Pro X. Personally, I don't have a problem with their big UI change and have been able to use it quite easily. It only supports OpenCL-enabled cards, but it can also make use of Intel's AVX extensions. AVX is something that was introduced with Sandy Bridge; my "old" Mac Pro's Westmere's don't have it. My new Macbook Pro Retina does. What I can't find from Apple or any of the user forums is: what specifically does FCPX throw at the GPUs for acceleration? Adobe makes it very clear what they can and can't do with GPUs; the lists are out there. But the same lists for FCPX don't appear to exist.

    How much faster is FCPX with a good card? What can it do with a good card? What IS a good card for it?

    Here are some interesting homemade benchmarks I did with a couple of my machines and the various NLEs: I have a 20 minute AVCHD clip that I import into the NLE, edit it, then export it to 720p h.264 MP4. Assume time t is the length of the footage. With Premiere Pro CS5.5 and Dave's GTX570, the export is 1/2t. CS6 is a non-starter since I can't edit AVCHD footage with it. FCPX on the same machine: 2t. And with FCPX specifically: I did not transcode to ProRes upon import; I wanted to speed things up.

    Just to make things a little interesting, I installed FCPX on my Retina MBP and cut the same chunk of AVCHD footage. It performed the export in time t. Basically: twice as fast as my Mac Pro. What's interesting is I had the GT 650M in the laptop disabled (accidentally) when I did the test. I think the speed-up may have been due to the AVX extensions, but I'm not 100% positive of that.

    Lots to digest, and I appreciate that you're still with me here. Some would say, "Apparently CS5.5 works for you and is fast. Stick with it!" I would be glad to, but while playing in the present, I'm watching the future. Adobe has already promised they'll make sure CS6 works in one more future version of Apple's OS (ie: Mavericks). After that, they're done patching it. CS5.5 is basically dead to them. And of note: I already know that After Effects CS6 won't work in Mavericks until Adobe patches it (which they're working on). The same may be true for Premiere, but I don't know yet. Basically, I think staying with the CS* train of Adobe's software is a dead end if I want to use newer hardware and operating systems. That leaves me with Adobe's software rental or the uncertainty of FCPX's performance with various pieces of hardware.

    Of importance: I do not and never will game with my Mac Pro. I have a Windows gaming rig for that (which will always have an nVidia card or two in it). I'm less set on nVidia for my Mac Pro and will move to AMD's boards if it makes performance sense to do so with my NLE.
  2. Tutor macrumors 65816


    Jun 25, 2009
    Home of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute
    No problem whatsoever. Good job setting up the considerations and issues.
  3. Midphase macrumors newbie

    Jul 21, 2011
    I know there are a lot of negative feelings about CC, but honestly it's just the way things are going and despite the distrust of the system, it does make sense, especially if you invoice at least $600/year.

    So yeah, my advice would be to stick with nVidia, get yourself a Hackintosh, and subscribe to CC.

    FYI, I'm running a i7 6-core 3930k Hackintosh with wonderful results with Premiere and AE....oh, and I use an nVidia GTX 770 card.
  4. jasonvp thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Jun 29, 2007
    Northern VA
    Ah HA! I knew I forgot something.

    As it turns out, my NLE usage is purely as a hobbyist. I'll never make any money on what I do with it. :)

    I won't be going to a subscription model. That's off the table.
  5. Inconsequential macrumors 68000

    Sep 12, 2007
    I have also been considering a Hackintosh.

    However I have yet to find a solution that works as well as an actual Mac would.

    Sleep, updates etc would all have to work without making it fall over.
  6. DJenkins macrumors 6502


    Apr 22, 2012
    Sydney, Australia
    Lots of good points made there Jasonvp.

    I too am in a similar situation in thinking about Dual CPU Ivy Bridge hacks but I don't have the AVCHD issues as a deal breaker for the software choice.

    One thing I would like to ask, is if you are planning to spend $5,000+ on a high end hack build, could you not spare $600/yr for the software too? Do they not have an upgrade path if you already own a retail CS6?

    If this is just a hobby, you could still get exceptional performance out of a single CPU build and save more than enough money to lease the software for a while.

    When I built my hack and started buying my own software for freelance use, I thought of it this way - a real mac pro with the same performance would cost a lot more than the price of a hack with new software!

    Although I didn't really like Adobe's move to CC monthly rental, unfortunately I'm not shocked that they would abandon CS5/CS6 and try and get people to upgrade. :(

    So from what I'm saying you can probably tell that I'm leaning towards suggesting you find a way to stick with Adobe software for editing.

    Now for some reasoning and controversial comments regarding software choice-
    Even though FCP X may be tuned to work with ATI cards and performs very well at a lot of tasks, I think Apple are revealing themselves more and more in that they are only interested in simplifying things so much that people are only able to get these benefits when working within Apple's ideal requirements.

    This may not cater to the innovative people who are pushing the boundaries of workflow and production who need a platform that can adjust and expand alongside their ideas. I think Adobe and Avid have grown well to support this style.

    If you think you can work in the way that Apple says you should work, go with FCP X it will probably be quite fast.
    If you ever think you will need to step outside the boundaries to solve a problem, I think Adobe will be much more flexible - and still just as fast at everything else.

    Now after re-reading all that it sounds like a negative hate-fest! But really I hope and want you to get as much as possible out of your build and I will probably have plenty of questions to ask you when you make the jump!
  7. jasonvp thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Jun 29, 2007
    Northern VA
    A perfectly fair question, and I hesitate to turn this into an Adobe-bashing or NLE-based discussion, as there are other sub-forums for that. But the long and short of it is: Yes they do have an upgrade path (you get a reduced rate for rental, but only for a year), but ultimately you never own the software. If you stop renting it, you have to stop using it. To me, that's just utterly unacceptable.

    True, but again: I want to own the software, not rent it. If I don't want to upgrade my software along the way, I don't want to have to pay for it. Hell, had I known the CS6 version of Premiere Pro was such a disaster, I'd not have ponied up the money for it. I had that choice but made the wrong one. With CC I wouldn't have the choice.

    Of course. It's a nice, steady income stream vs a front-heavy one. And since it'll be developed actively, it'll be easier to support.

    Noted, and I appreciate the input. CC in its present rental form off the table though. Once its 30-day trial runs out, I'm removing it from my Mac.

    Generally I think I can agree with that statement. Apple has a well-known and easily(?)-supported walled garden of hardware and software. That's not a bad thing necessarily, but for those of us that want to push a little more: it may not be completely suitable.

    I agree WRT Adobe; I have no experience with Avid so I can't comment on that one.

    As I mentioned previously: I found Apple's change to the standard NLE UI to be easy to understand. But: I haven't been working with NLEs for years and years like other industry experts have. It's easy to see how the shift in UI and controls could very well torque a lot of folks off. Since I'm a relative newbie to it, it was easy to pick up. That said, I'd rather have some more technical details about what exactly FCPX does with OpenCL. How much faster is it? Does the combination of OpenCL and AVX actually help or hurt? Which effects can FCPX throw at the GPU? I can't get answers to those questions, and as a techie/engineer, that frustrates me.

    Thanks, and pay attention to this and other threads. I strongly suspect Tutor will beat me to the punch with the Hack build and I'll be standing on his giant shoulders when I build mine.
  8. DJenkins macrumors 6502


    Apr 22, 2012
    Sydney, Australia
    Yeh what adobe is doing feels pretty intrusive. The user really should have a choice.

    I've found that a lot of processing done by NLE systems is also codec dependent. Some codecs take advantage of multiple CPU cores on import/export/render and some don't, even if the NLE is capable. Probably the same case with some GPU effects but I've not tested this.

    I have a feeling that's why it's so hard to find good data about what hardware helps speed things up and by how much... it can depend on more than the hardware alone.

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