The GPU: Accelerate Your Workflow
The GPU has been around a while now and has evolved at a rapid pace of knots from humble beginnings driving the arcade games of my youth. While it was arguably the computer game industry that drove initial development of the dedicated graphics processing unit, the massive parallel processing power and programmable flexibility of these chips has established massive new markets. From weather pattern modelling to space exploration to building design and animated films, the GPU is our worlds computational workhorse.
In film & television, the GPU is used to accelerate the software you use, rendering video effects in the timeline, transcoding files for distribution and delivering faster previews of your 3D models and textures. While all computers have ‘a’ GPU, the performance gained (and by extension, the time saved) by having certified, compatible hardware is several fold. It is not easy to understand the impact such things can have, as they tend to operate transparently in the background, but if every time you render a transition or preview it happened in seconds rather than minutes, how much more productive would you be? The faster a project turns around the faster you get paid and the faster you move on to the next project. The GPU may only be a part of the overall system architecture, but it is a surprisingly important one.
From low cost gaming cards to high-end server and workstation class GPU’s, the options are varied and the right choice is not always clear. The terminology is alien and changes with each generation, the acronyms are many and the numbers attached to them don’t necessarily translate as ‘bigger = better’. Broadcast Bruce can help with the selection of the right hardware, installing it and ensuring your system is optimised and running reliably. Whether a simple upgrade to your existing workstation, or a custom system built from scratch, Broadcast Bruce can accelerate your workflow without breaking the bank.
AMD Radeon Pro Workstation GPU
While AMD lost ground over recent years to NVIDIA – particularly in the professional space – they appear to be making a resurgence with some clever system design and the delivery of impressive performance at very competitive pricing when measured against comparable NVIDIA cards. While the WX7100 is being pitched as ‘The World’s Most Powerful Single-Slot Workstation Card’, it is worth remembering that it is comparable to the mid-ranged NVidia Quadro cards – not the high-end, double-width cards. It is possible we will be seeing more developers working with AMD and the new Radeon Pro architecture in the coming months. If you’re looking for budget friendly GPU power, Radeon Pro could be your solution.
NVIDIA Quadro Workstation GPU
NVIDIA is undeniably the benchmark in the GPU world. With a broad spectrum of solutions ranging from budget friendly integrated circuits, through to massively scale-able server architecture and even solutions targeting self-driving cars, they have a technology equal to most tasks and budgets. The Quadro range is widely recognised and broadly supported by software developers such as Adobe, Avid and Autodesk. The range continues to evolve and has a card at a price point to suit most budgets, delivering on a fairly linear performance scale. In some instances, their GeForce consumer cards may be sufficient, but in terms of raw performance and rock-solid reliability, the Quadro cards won’t let you down.
Portability does not necessarily require that you sacrifice power. With the latest generation CPU’s, solid state storage, UHD/HDR capable displays, high speed interfaces and, of course, workstation class GPU’s, mobile workstations can handle any task in the creative world and still be carried under your arm. Take your work with you and deliver services in the field without compromising quality or reliability and still run all your video editing, 3D modelling and CAD packages on certified portable platforms.
There are several leading manufacturers of workstation class portable computers each with different strengths. Broadcast Bruce can discuss your requirements with you and recommend a solution, complete with your creative tools installed, peripherals connected and configured.
Tower / Rack-Mount Workstations…
When it comes to delivering power and complete flexibility, you need a big enough box to house the best components and peripherals without compromise. Whether it’s a full-length SDI video card, a 40Gb network interface or multiple GPU’s, the box will determine how each component performs individually and how stable the overall system is when put to the test. Ensuring there are the right slots, sufficient air flow for cooling and reliable power for all these hungry devices requires an engineers level of understanding, which is why Broadcast Bruce does the heavy lifting for you. Whatever your expectations for performance, connectivity, budget or physical dimensions, there is a solution that can be ‘Built by Bruce‘ from scratch, or based on certified configurations from leading manufacturers including HP, Supermicro and Dell.
HP Z Series Workstations
Probably the most recognised, and definitely the most widely certified, workstations in the creative world in recent years. While not as pretty as the Mac Pro, their flexibility and expand-ability made them the workhorse of choice for those that demanded function over form. That said, they are not ugly and there is some cleverness in the tool-less chassis design. Certified by most software vendors and with clearly defined, unchanging base configurations, they delivered performance and the security of knowing that they would just work. Lots of space for PCIe cards, RAM, the latest CPU’s and a decent number of drive bays, they are also convertible from tower to rack-mount configuration.
While perhaps not as well known a brand as HP or Dell, Supermicro are quite widely recognised as they are often used by 3rd party manufacturers and developers as the basis for turn key systems, but re-branded. This is because they offer an incredibly broad range of configurations, with variations on physical dimensions, chipsets and components to suit literally any requirement. The 7048GR is a behemoth and has space for the most demanding component specifications. While not as ‘user-friendly’ as HP and Dell, Supermicro delivers the ultimate flexibility and performance at surprising value. SuperWorkstation is convertible to a rack-mount configuration, but if you are heading that way, the SuperServers may offer a better solution.
Dell Precision Workstations
Dell need no introduction being one of the most recognised IT brands. They dominate in consumer, corporate and back-end server rooms, but have not been as visible in the creative space. This is not because their workstations are any less capable or lack ISV certification, but probably just that they lack glamour. There is something to be said for function over form, but if Apple proved anything, its that form trumps if done well. Dell will win on price when measured against a similar spec HP across most of the portfolios they both manufacture – PC, Laptop, Workstation, Server, Storage, Networking – they also have seemed more responsive to negotiation on projects in the professional space.
The All-in-One (AIO) Workstation…
All-In-One computers are not new – Apple did it first and did it best with the iMac and since they have been growing in popularity as personal computers. In the ‘Workstation’ class of computer however, they have not been as popular. Creatives may use the odd iMac for Photoshop, but high end post production and CAD demanded more than they were built to deliver. This has changed recently however, and the power that can be delivered in a compact package has improved considerably.
HP Z1 G3 AIO
With an Intel Xeon CPU, NVIDIA Quadro GPU, Dual PCIe SSD’s and UHD screen, the sleeker, lighter ‘G3’ Z1 has all the acronyms you could want in a Workstation. Looking forward to getting a look at it in the flesh as soon as possible. This could be a good alternative for those seeking an AIO form factor with true workstation performance.
Dell Precision 5720 AIO
The Dell Precision 5720 AIO may just be able to sway me from my bias for HP. It looks pretty sharp and may deliver on some fronts that HP tend to neglect, like audio! The screen has impressive colour depth and the narrow bezel is a definite win. I also find the choice of the AMD Radeon Pro GPU interesting – it should serve to keep the price down and if the drivers and software are under control, should still deliver good performance.
But wait, there’s more!
In case you were not already aware, Thunderbolt lends itself to some excellent solutions for expansion of your portable workstations. Whether you need to add GPU power, network connectivity, high performance RAID storage or an archive appliance like an LTO-7 drive, there are solutions that enable you to maintain your portability and continue to get value from your current hardware investment.
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I am always looking to connect with industry professionals with a passion for the technologies and processes of video creation. If you are keen for a coffee and a chat about what you are seeing going on around you – some new technology or policy; its impact and implications – please feel free to reach out and connect. More ways to Contact Broadcast Bruce…