To the power of 12

Anyone that’s been reading my blog for a while will know that I’ve been waiting for a new Mac Pro to be announced before upgrading, well now that the fancy 12 core machines are available to buy I’ve placed an order for my next workstation.

I’m a big believer in buying the best you can afford in a computer and making it last as long as possible, for me this means three years if possible. My current Mac Pro, a quad core 2.66 Ghz machine was the first Intel based Mac Pro and has served me well over the years. In the time I’ve owned this mac it’s needed a new GFX card and some RAM upgrades but even now it’s still a usable machine. The time comes however when even the trustiest hardware has to give way to the latest technology.

My new mac is going to consist of the following…

– Two 2.93 Ghz 6-Core Intel Xeon ‘Westmere’ Processors (12 core)
– ATI Radeon 5870 GPU
– 16GB RAM
– 512 GB Solid State ‘SSD’ drive

This should provide quite a boost over my existing machine, once it arrives I’ll be sure to do some side by side rendering comparisons.

Why SSD?

Well according to apple they performed a side by side test using a 7200rpm hard drive and an SSD drive. Apple used compressor to encode some ProRes video in a 12 core mac and the files stored on the SSD were encoded twice as fast as those on the hard drive. That’s not something you can ignore when you do as much encoding as I do.

Of course the encoded files will then have to be moved on to normal drives anyway, but I can do that whilst working, whereas encoding tends to stop me from editing.

I didn’t order any additional drives so I guess the OS will be installed on the SSD when the machine arrives, I’m not sure yet if that will be the best way to run the system or whether I’ll install the OS on one of the additional 2TB HD’s that I’m moving from my old machine and save the SSD for encoding duties alone.


The other decision i was unsure about was the graphics card. With Adobe’s CS5 needing nvidia cards for it’s new mercury engine technology I would have liked to have gone with nvidia, but there’s only two options with the mac Pro in the form of ATI’s 5770 and 5870. As the machine needs to have one of these cards in it when it’s delivered I decided to go for the additional power of the 5870 for now as I’m still not upgraded to CS5 so my need for mercury engine support isn’t great at the moment.


Everything else on the mac is standard with the exception of Applecare which I think is worth buying for such a high cost machine. Like I said earlier I expect this new mac to last three years and with three years Applecare I know any problems will be dealt with by apple during it’s active lifespan in my business.

I also ordered one of the new magic trackpads just because I’m curious to know if they offer any advantages for video editing etc. The mac comes with apple magic mouse but I’ve never been a fan of wireless mice, they always feel a bit less precise than mu logitech G5 gaming mouse.

And the bad news?

Of course all of this mac goodness comes at a price. Configure it on the apple store this machine comes in at a little over £7,030 inc VAT. I recommend contacting apple business though as buying through them can result in quite a saving.

The machine is due for delivery in two weeks, I’ll be sure to share it’s arrival with you!

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  1. Hi Paul,

    That hardware is really too cool, I must say. We have a couple of machines in the office that are similar (but PCs). However, something most people seem to ignore is really the hard drives. Granted SSD are faster than 7200rmp drives but here is what the problem is really (or the bottleneck)
    1. Memory is about 1 million times slower than the typical CPU
    2. Hard drives are about 1 million times slower than memory.

    For anything to happen on a computer, data from the drives has to be brought into memory. If you don’t have enough memory then the hard drives are used to as a swap drive. But even under normal circumstances the hard drives are used to swap application specific memory. So the hard drives are always being used.

    Most computers can be made a lot faster by simply using a RAID array for hard drives. For example a RAID 0 comprised of 4-5 Western Digital VelociRaptors (probably the fastest drives in terms of disk I/O currently) will speed up 90% of your operations on a computer by 4-6 times, including mundane things like browsing the Internet. Add more hard drives to the array and you get approximately a proportional increase in speed up to about 16 drives (in tests I ‘ve conducted).

    Now as far as encoding is concerned, yes, 12 cores are better than 4 or 8. But encoding is an embarrassingly parallelizable word load and so the best solution is really GPU enabled encoding. GPUs have between 112-512 cores and you get a really good graphics card between $240-600. Adobe PPro CS4 actually uses the GPU for encoding, not sure about FCP. So really for jobs like encoding, GPU encoding (or hardware encoding) is really the solution if you do it often.

    So even on your new MAC Pro, if you invest in a good External ESATA RAID controller, you ‘ll find your machines simply flies. That is no matter what the configuration, because hard drives are the weakest link (by orders of magnitude) you can increase the speed of any computer.

  2. I should add…software RAID is nowhere as performant as hardware RAID. And there are a variety of hardware RAID controlers (just the card) ranging from $45-9000. So if you or any of your readers is thinking about going in for RAID, do your research.

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