HI MY NAME IS CHRIS AND I’M A DIE HARD MAC FAN WHO JUST DISCOVERED THE MAGIC OF ORIGIN PC AND WINDOWS 8
My Love Affair and Slow Breakup With The Mac
When I graduated college in 1999 and started working in the entertainment business I quickly realized that there were all these great things starting to happen in digital video, and I wanted to learn all about the software and get hip to it all.
The TV network I was working at put low-end pc computers on desks for basic office work. But 100 percent of the creative work; video editing, graphics, and marketing, was all done on macs back then. I had grown up in a Mac home and it all just seemed a given that this was the way to go.
So in the spring of 2000, I got a loan and went shopping on the apple web store for a new computer setup. I ended up ordering a 400 mgz Power Mac with 64 Megs of ram and the stock ATI rage 128 pro GPU. This thing was a BEAST in 2000. I started using Adobe premiere, but then someone gave me a copy of a then-new program called Final Cut Pro, version 1.2.5. It was amazing, and I soon was dong work for broadcast in the software.
The subsequent years would see me replace that first Power Mac a few times. I upgraded to a dual 1ghz G4, then a dual 2ghz G5, then years later a 2009 Mac Pro 8 core 2.25 ghz. These machines were all fine for editing video, but from the beginning graphics were a big part of what interested me. And doing grahics jobs on the Mac was always painfully slow.
(From top to bottom, my G4 dual 1ghz in 2003, G5 dual 2ghz in 2005, and Mac Pro 8 core 2.23ghz in 2013)
One of my first freelance jobs was to create POCs “Picture over credits” for television. When the end credits of a show play, and a split screen appears showing a promotion for an upcoming show on one side, and the credits squeezed onto the other, that’s a POC. On that first 400 mhz Power Mac, the 10 or so of these POCs that I needed to render in Adobe After Effects at standard definition 480i would take around 20 hours. I would rent a Digibeta tape deck for the weekend to get a single-day rate on it, and then sleep in the office all weekend getting these simple graphics done. Granted this was 16 years ago and computers in general were much slower than they are today, but this was my life. Around the same time, I got a starter 3D app called Cinema 4D Go. It was the basic features of Cinema 4D, for beginners. You can imagine how much this crippled that first G4.
Throughout the years, each new Mac was a disappointment when it came to its ability to render graphics. Rendering simple things like end credits crawls for film would take HOURS if done properly from an adobe illustrator file in Adobe After Effects. One time I was editing a low budget horror film and the script called for a ring of fire to engulf the ghost town at the finale. I bought the full version of Cinema 4D, learned how to make 3D fire, and spent a full month watching the dual 1ghz G4 render 2 short shots, 24 hours a day, for a month.
Years later things were no different, in the summer of 2010 I had to upgrade to the 8 core Mac Pro because I got thrown into cutting a feature from home and needed a quick upgrade to handle the mountains of Pro Res HD in Final Cut 7. This system was similarly crippled by some basic rotoscoping work I had to do on that movie.
Around that time I met Tim Schultz, a computer expert and fellow editor. We started having in-depth conversations about computer hardware and software, which prompted me to get interested in the more techie aspects of computers and start doing my own research online.
At the very least I wanted to be able to contribute to the conversation and not just ask questions all the time. Around 2011, my beloved Apple announced that they were replacing Final Cut Pro, the software I had used and loved for 12 years, with a brand new app called Final Cut Pro X. As part of the announcement, they ended sales and support for a slew of apps that I actually used all the time for work… DVD Studio Pro, Cinema Tools, and Soundtrack Pro. I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to learn a new editing app that would be missing most of the tools that had been essential to my workflow. At the same time, I had been using Avid for several years already in my tv series work, and figured I should just start using that at home as well.
The watershed moment came when Tim invited me to an Adobe seminar in 2012. One of JJ Abrams’ graphic artists was demoing the 3D planet fly through he had created for the ending of Star Trek: Into Darkness. The sequence was created in an Adobe After Effects plugin he helped create called Element 3D. During the demo he was scrubbing through this massive 4K 3D composition like it was nothing. Jaws were dropping all over the room, not just because this $300 plugin was good enough for a 100 million dollar movie, but because he seemed to be working on a computer from the year 3012! Someone in the audience asked what hardware he was running. He explained that it was a Windows PC with Nvidia Tesla accelerators. The person asked how to get that kind of speed on a Mac. The guy onstage chuckled, and simply said, “you can’t”.
There’s so much misinformation out there as to which components in a computer are responsible for speeding up which processes in various apps. Part of the confusion is that every app works differently. Some apps use your GPU for live previews, and then only use your CPU for the final render. Some use the GPU for all of the heavy lifting, but rely on proprietary tech like Nvidia’s CUDA. So if you have a computer using AMD graphics cards, it ain’t gonna work. Still other apps are tailor made to work best with expensive workstation GPUs, and their special drivers. And still other apps may only recognize one of your CPU cores at render time. Got a 50 core beast that runs at 2 ghz in each core? In a single threaded app, it’s going to get bested by a laptop with a higher clock speed per core.
It can all be very confusing. And the confusion is compounded by misleading marketing that over simplifies and over promises the capabilities of certain systems.
I still wasn’t sure that I wanted to take a risk and switch to a PC. I wanted to wait and see what Apple did with the Mac Pro. Maybe the next version would be a graphics monster!
In the meantime, I dutifully upgraded the 2009 mac pro on several occasions to get the most out of the system. Learning what I had about GPUs convinced me to spring for a Radeon 7950. This thing seemed like a beast! I was in the middle of doing yet another Cinema 4D project that was crippling my Mac Pro, and I couldn’t wait to see the performance improvement over the 5780 I was replacing. I’ll cut to the chase, there was only a tiny improvement in viewport performance in Cinema 4D with this card. That was when I started to learn about graphics drivers. Apple doesn’t use the native drivers from AMD or Nvidia, they make their own drivers. And they are not necessarily optimized for any particular graphics card or app. Apple isn’t lying, “it just works”.
Then finally when the new Mac Pro came out I was intrigued. The thing looks gorgeous! But then I started doing the research.
It’s a single CPU Xeon system, which defeats the purpose of using Xeon CPUs. Xeons are not the highest clocked CPUs in the world, but they allow you to have dual CPUs with tons of cores between them to accelerate multithreaded apps. The custom D700 GPUs in the NMP are underclocked, probably to keep the computer from over heating. Cinebench benchmarks available online show that the NMP does not score well for its price range. Similarly priced PC systems run circles around it. There has been discussion about using external thunderbolt chasis to add GPU power to the NMP, but a quick read of the reviews of those chasis on the B&H website reveals that they are a very expensive gamble. One of those chasis costs $1000 before you put anything into it. And there is no guarantee that an app will recognize a GPU plugged into an external chassis on a thunderbolt port. And because of its custom nature, it’s still not clear that the NMP is internally upgradeable. And even if it is, what will those custom upgraded parts cost?
There are many things I still love about the mac, but at this point it seems that Apple is more about style than substance. It comes in gold! It’s so cool it only needs one port! And that port is so cool it won’t work with anything you own! They took the word “computer” out of the company name. I finally took the hint.
The biggest thing keeping me on the Mac was Final Cut Pro. After switching to Avid and learning about the shortcomings of Mac hardware and drivers, I was ready to go for it.
Finding My PC
I was so used to just going to apple.com and picking from those options that I was overwhelmed once I started looking at the endless options in the PC world. There are the big vendors, HP, Dell and so on, and then there are a slew of boutique custom manufacturers out there. The more I learned about the various CPUs and GPUs, the more convinced I became that what I actually want is a “gaming GPU” paired with 2 Xeon CPUs. I spent many evenings over several months perusing websites, and trying to configure my dream PC. I toyed with the idea of building my own rig from scratch. But that just seemed like going a step too far for this Mac user looking for his first PC. The minute I read the words “thermal paste”, I was out.
What I found is that most companies seem to draw a hard line in the sand between workstation and gaming systems on their websites. You want a gaming system? Great! You get to choose from the full range of Nvidia gaming GeForce cards, usually up to 4 of them in a system if you’re so inclined. But your CPU options top out at an 8-core i7 CPU, not bad by any means. But no Xeons or ECC memory for you.
On the other hand, If you click on the workstation configurations you open up in a world of dual Xeon CPUs. Again Intel’s Xeon line of CPUs are the only chips that support multiple chips on the same motherboard. And EEC ram is best if you plan to do a lot of graphics rendering and simulation calculations, as this form of ram catches and fixes errors that could otherwise lead to your render being ruined. But on most sites, once you go workstation you’re limited to Nvidia’s professional Quadro GPUs. These GPUs are perfect if you’re using an app optimized for them. Nvidia writes special drivers for certain apps like Avid to accelerate performance. But they lag behind the Nvidia gaming cards in apps NOT optimized for them. And they are VERY expensive. Keep in mind, as Mac users we have been using gaming cards in Mac workstations for years. All of Apple’s Power Macs and Mac Pros before the current 2013 NMP came with a gaming card, not a workstation card. Some of these companies may have offered the combo I was looking for if I called them and asked for a custom config, but I didn’t go that far.
I kept coming back to Origin PC because on their website it was possible to configure a dual Xeon system with Nvidia Geforce cards at a great price. And I liked the look of the system as well.
Setting The Thing Up
I ordered Origin’s Genesis Pro with dual 10 core Xeons running at 3.1ghz ( 20 cores… 40 threads total with hyper threading), dual Nvidia 980’s with 4 gigs ram each, 1 TB fusion drive for the system, a 2TB standard HD for basic additional storage, 64 gigs of next-gen DDR4 ram, internal RAID card, space for up to 24 drives, and 16x Blu Ray burner. It cost $9590, compared to $9678 for the 12 core New Mac Pro with the old DDR3 ram, no RAID card, and no Blu Ray. None of these are cheap options, but with the PC, I can upgrade it down the line to keep it fresh for years to come.
I ordered 8 3TB internal drives from Amazon and set up 2 4-drive RAIDs myself once the system arrived. It was pretty easy and inexpensive, and the performance matches those expensive external thunderbolt solutions.
Origin PC was AWESOME, and helped me out a lot. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for competitively priced, sick PC. The hardware and case are gorgeous. The cables are wrapped with love. You get a personal point of contact at the company who works with you throughout the process. I’ve read some reviews online from people complaining that they take a while to ship you the computer. I can confirm it took about 4 weeks to get mine. Expect to wait a few weeks if you order a custom, hand crafted computer! It will be worth the wait.
By the way, if you haven’t tried Windows in a while, you’ll be surprised at how good it’s become. Windows 8.1 is stable and a pleasure to use. There are differences in how it works compared to the Mac. Some things, like how apps are organized in the Metro interface are strange, but overall I really like Windows 8.1. And Windows 10 promises to solve most of the little issues and add some great new features.
I’m new to the PC, so I had to read a couple manuals to figure out the RAID card. But it was fine and works great now. It’s been fun experimenting with PC gaming as well. I’ve been playing Battlefield: Hardline in 4K! It’s unbelievable how much better it looks than my PS4.
But mostly, for the first time in my life I can work with 3D animation on a system that just cuts through the work load like a hot knife to butter. I couldn’t be happier. And Windows 10 holds the promise of giving me back most of the niceties I miss from Mac OSX.
For raw numbers, this PCs CPU is about 300% faster than the 8-core Mac Pro in both tests I’ve ran. I ran the Cinebench test below and then did an After Effects test with the same comp on both machines. The NMP took 5 mins to render the After Effects comp while the Origin took 2 mins to render the same. With 40 threads on the Origin vs 16 threads on the 8 core Mac Pro, that’s in line with what one would expect.
8 core new Mac Pro
New 5k iMac
Graphics: 101 fps
Origin PC – Windows PC
Graphics: 139.9 fps
My old Mac Pro
Graphics: 43 fps
For me it has always been more important to me to be creative than be a techie. But I realized at some point that I wasn’t going to get to the creative freedom part until I found the right technical balance. Along the way I came to appreciate the beauty of the numbers.