By David C. Weldon Jr.
Creative Director & Cinematographer
At this point, the argument between HP and Mac is starting to get a little one-sided. Trust me, I’ve been a Mac person for a little over a decade. It was hard for me to even look at a Windows computer for anything related to video production. In the last year and a half, that’s all changed for me.
I’m convinced Apple is abandoning their professional line of video production. Their latest MacBook Pro laptops have convinced me to move on and I’m looking into a few different options, mostly looking at HPs laptops based on how well the HP Z840s work at Hurlbut Visuals.
In the video above, you will see some simple tests being run where HP has setup doing a head-to-head test of the Z840 workstation versus the Mac Pro. They are able to showcase that the HP Z840 workstation is able to transcode 6K RAW R3D footage 37% faster than the Mac Pro. The Z840 is also able to playback 6K R3D files at 29.5 fps versus the Mac Pro’s 16.5 fps. Being able to playback at the higher frame rate allows the Z840 to play a smoother file at full resolution, where the Mac shows playback being an issue.
I am using all of HP’s material in this article and their layout of the material because I feel it is an unbiased test. It is simple straight to the basics type of testing. There are no hidden “we added this and we added that and didn’t tell you.”
I want to show the comparisons of what most people would do with a Mac Pro in maxing it out, seeing the cost and then seeing what a nearly maxed out HP would be, for the same price point. The idea is that you wouldn’t have to max out an HP to get the performance you are looking for and you will be able to save a lot of money in doing so.
The Mac Pro Setup
Let’s take what the specs are of the Mac Pro at a “fully kitted” out version, like what is showcased in the video:
- 2.7GHz 12-core with 30MB of L3 Cache (+$3,000)
- 64GB (4x16GB) of 1866MHz DDR3 ECC (+$1,200)
- 1TB PCI-e Flash based storage (+$600)
- Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each (+$600)
- Final Price = $9,399 (Original base price near $2,999)
$10,000 for a fully loaded Mac Pro, that you are maxed out, there is no way to expand beyond that. Now, we haven’t even included things like a RED Rocket-X Card or a Blackmagic Decklink card, which are PCI based and you cannot put them into the computer, you would need an external chassis in order to have those cards connect via thunderbolt to the MacPro. Most chassis are going to be around $1,500 and then the cards vary as well.
Let’s also keep one thing in mind. If you’re using a setup like what we have a Hurlbut Visuals, we are editing and coloring off a G-Technology G-RACK 12 server via 10GbE. The Mac Pro only comes standard with a Gigabit connection. Our HPs came standard with a Gigabit connection but we were able to add 10GbE cards via the PCI slots, those PCI slots no longer exist on a Mac Pro.
If you’re editing or coloring footage, you’re most likely dealing with something that goes beyond 1080p. While you may only be connecting via Thunderbolt drives or USB 3.0, you will want to consider the speeds of your Operating System drive (normally known as the “C” drive on a PC). Your CPU and GPU play a large role in speed/performance. The GPU (your video card) is becoming more and more important as computer hardware and software compete and work together. Let’s look at both Adobe Creative Cloud and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. Both pieces of software offer GPU Acceleration with NVIDIA Graphics cards. With Apple continuing to use only ATI Graphics cards, you become limited. Now there is the possibility of building out your Mac Pro with the external chassis and adding a 2nd graphics card (the NVIDIA card) connected via thunderbolt. At this point, why not just consider moving away from Mac? This is also something that I have not tested, nor have I worked with anyone who has, but I have heard of this being a possibility.
Ok, let’s take a look at what HP is promoting in the video above that rivals the Mac Pro. This version would be able to handle multiple streams of 6K R3D files from RED and could easily handles Blackmagic URSA Mini CinemaDNG Files or Alexa RAW footage.
- Intel Xeon E5-2650 v4 12-Core
- Second Intel Xeon 2.2 GHz E5-2650 v4
- 128GB RAM
- HP NVIDIA Quadro M6000 (24GB)
- OS Hard drive: 512GB Z Turbo Drive G2 PCIe SSD
- Includes 3 x 6TB SATA III 3.5” HDDs
- Blu-ray Disc Rewriter
- Thunderbolt 2 PCIe I/O Card
- Final Price: $11,098.80
Now this Workstation setup still isn’t the max. You can upgrade almost everything in it. You also wouldn’t really need the 3 x 6TB SATA HDDs for additional storage, you don’t have to use a 24GB NVIDIA video card, you also don’t have to use a 2nd Intel Xeon Core or 128GB of RAM. The idea is that the options are available to you.
A base model of a HP Workstation, even if it wasn’t a Z840 but perhaps a lower model, will put you between $1200 and $2400. That’s the cost of a Macbook Pro laptop, but with real power.
Don’t Listen to Me, Listen to Them
My hope is to help you see options that might interest you, not to sell you on something. So don’t listen to me, listen to the industry professionals who are editing and coloring with HP Workstations. Go to the trade shows, NAB, CES, etc and get your hands onto the systems, see it in person.
Rob Legato, one example on HP’s website, is “a two-time Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor and second unit director of photography. He won his first Academy Award for his work on Titanic, and his second for Hugo. Rob has also been awarded for his work on Apollo 13 and the Star Trek franchise.”
“I started using HP Workstations, because anything that made the work faster gave me more chances to make it better.” – Rob Legato
The HP Z Turbo Drive
A large part of what makes the HP Workstations stand out is the Z Turbo Drive. The ability to increase your performance by utilizing one of your PCIe slots, no other computer system does this.
On one of the fastests SSDs on the market, you will see speeds somewhere between 500 MB/s and 600 MB/s. With the Z Turbo Drive, you are at a minimum of 1,000 MB/s and oftentimes you are reaching 1,500 MB/s and above.
This would compare to the latest servers on the market today. Even a G-Technology G-Speed Studio XL with 64TB of storage over Thunderbolt 2 will max out around 700 MB/s.
Take a Look at a company like Brain Farm. They are doing some of the most aggressive video production out there today. They offer some great insight into why they chose to work on HP Workstations.