Over the bank holiday weekend, I've completed an upgrade to the Mac Pro which I use for colour grading and mastering with DaVinci Resolve. Its a 12 CORE 2.4GHZ with 32GB RAM using the Tangent Elements control panel and a Sony Grading monitor.
Since the release of Apple's 'Mavericks' OSX and the new "trash can" Mac Pro, these high end machines have become increasingly tricky to maintain, not just in its outdated ports but particularly in the way Apples OSX handles Graphics cards, in particular external GPUs, so selecting how to upgrade this machine to realise its full potential took some thought.
Here's a breakdown of my upgrade choices:
SYSTEM DRIVE - PCI Express SSD
With the newer "trash can" Mac Pro's I've been really impressed by the speed which using a PCIe flash storage can bring to performance. So I opted to upgrade the system drive to a Mercury Accelsior E2 PCIe SSD. This really boosts software performance and increases boot speeds. Also, it handily has two eSata ports, which considering the Mac Pro's downfall is its lack of fast IO ports, is a welcome addition.
in order to house multiple GPUs and cards, I have been using a 4 slot Cubix Expansion chassis for over a year now. It now houses a Red Rocket and a Blackmagic Decklink. The GPUs in there though were rendered completely useless when I initially upgraded to Mavericks, but as of 10.9.4 it is now fully functional and adds some much needed room to increase the power of the Mac Pro. However, OSX 10.9.4 only allows for 2 external GPUs.
After much consideration, I opted to replace the 3 x 680 GPUs with 2 x NVidea Titan Blacks. A speed increase which would surpass the original 3 cards. This is not without its complications. Apple really have let GPUs become a very precarious business and these cards only work with the following drivers: cudadriver-6.0.51 and WebDriver-334.01.02f02. Having the web driver is super important to these GPUs functioning correctly. Using any more recent updates to the drivers currently, for me, leads to OSX not recognising them in the system correctly.
I have fitted 5 x 3TB drives internally in the Mac Pro and striped them together to create a RAID0 Media drive. This gives the fastest speeds available to run media from. Although the Mac Pro only has 4 drive bays, by purchasing a drive caddy to mount a drive where the second DVD drive would be, you can add a 5th. Also moving the system drive to PCIe meant I could now utilise all 5 drives for media.
It should be noted that brilliantly, OSX 10.9 cannot format drives of 3TB and above for this use... its a bug in Disk Utility (in OSX 10.8 and 9) apparently. I managed to render all 5 drives unusable as 'Logical Group Volume' formatted drives. A neat work around is to use a version of disk utility from 10.7 or before. To do this, I found an old and incredibly cute USB boot disk (you could use an OSX CD also), inserted and booted the mac pro holding down the C key. this booted into the USB stick and after clicking cancel a couple of times I managed to get into the disk utility menu, from where I reformatted the 5 internal disks as regular OSX Extended (journaled) GUID disks. Booting back into Mavericks I could then stripe them as normal. Oh Apple, why are you such a faff.
NETWORK & IO PORTS
One of the biggest issues for the older Mac Pros are the slow USB 2 and Firewire ports. They don't cut it anymore when you're working with faster data rates and large volumes of rushes, transferring by these ports is simply too time consuming. I've opted to set up a 10gE network in my studio, to transfer large amount of rushes and also to utilise a huge RAID5 network drive for storage and so with my last remaining PCI slot, I have popped a 10gE network port in there. This has the added luxury of being able to transfer rushes using another machine (such as the trash can mac pro) which has USB3 and Thunderbolt functionality at Thunderbolt speeds directly onto the machine via the network or connect directly with our shared storage.
So in summary, in 8 PCI slots, I now have:
- NVIDIA TITAN BLACK
- NVIDIA TITAN BLACK
- 10gE NETWORK CARD
- BLACKMAGIC DECKLINK
- RED ROCKET
- PCIe SSD SYSTEM DRIVE
- AMD GUI GRAPHICS CARD
- CUBIX EXPANSION CARD
Everything now appears to be working well, I've loaded up Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 11 and I look forward to posting some system speeds as the machine is used.