HDVP: In terms of tasks, what are the biggest challenges facing a typical workstation?
Hartmann: In layman’s terms, the world of a workstation primarily lives in two constraints, and one is CPU processing power. We can talk about that from the leaps and bounds it has gone through from Intel’s perspective in the past few years. The second one is disk access speed. Those, for video, are the two constraints or resources that make a system work, or not work well, for various sizes of video. When we started building our workstations, it was all about those two things—having more processing power, more cores and faster speed cores. Secondarily, how do we get to offsite or secondary storage, which would be disk storage, as fast as we can? There’s this idea of getting to SSD RAM, which is very fast memory chips. In the past, most of our storage has been spinning disks, but as we move forward, most workstations—and all of our workstations—at least for the operating system, are all happening on an SSD or some form of an SSD.
HDVP: Talk a little about the release of the new Mac Pro and what sort of impact it will have on the postproduction community.
Hartmann: I think Apple did what they should have done, which is produce a high-end workstation that hits the middle-of-the-road requirement out there. If you’re Apple, you clearly have to hit the center of your target market, and they did what they do best in terms of grabbing a clean sheet of paper and starting over. Video editors that need good processing power—but not great power—can get that in a high-end iMac since anything you need to do in an NLE, in terms of standard cuts and graphic processing, you can do on an iMac nowadays. Where you need a higher-end system is when you’re starting to work in higher frame rates, higher resolution, uncompressed codecs and VFX work. So, where’s the new Mac Pro going to play? It’s certainly going to play in those places, but the problem with it—and this is the contradiction from everyone’s perspective—is that the machine on its own can’t really do that. The machine needs a lot of peripherals connected to it to be able to do what the video editor needs to do. It needs Thunderbolt storage, potentially upgraded graphics cards, it needs access to fiber channels, RAIDs or shared storage systems through 10-gigabit Ethernet, and those aren’t going to be available with the Mac Pro without an extension. It now comes down to how much is this going to cost?
HDVP: In terms of connections, what are most filmmakers using today—Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, PCI Express?
Hartmann: Well, what’s probably more important to address is whether the industry will go toward Apple or the PC? Or, is the industry going to move to more of a hybrid-PC workstation in an Apple environment? The reason I say that first is because it’s the driving factor on connections. Apple has put it all into Thunderbolt and believes in its simplicity and speed. The PC world generally cares less about the look of a machine and cares more about pure power and expandability. In the Apple world, I feel pretty strongly that they have bet the farm on Thunderbolt. USB 3, they still have to support it because there’s too many devices that require USB. Apple does support USB 3, but they don’t put a lot behind it. On the Windows side, there’s a lot more adoption on USB 3. As is typical in the industry, we’ll have a couple of standards moving forward. The interesting thing about Thunderbolt is that it really is a PCIe protocol connective mechanism. Thunderbolt gives you the ability to take your PCIe slot and extend it to another chassis.
HDVP: Let’s talk about some of your systems. What was the premise behind ProMAX ONE and ONE+?
Hartmann: Our creation of ProMAX ONE and ONE+ was that the industry obviously has been waiting for Apple to do something, and we’re still pleased that they didn’t necessarily address what the high-end video guy wants or maybe wants to pay for. The base ProMAX ONE unit and the ONE+ have some unique characteristics. One of the first is that we built in a Quad-boot drive into both systems, and what that does for an editor is that it gives them two functions that they don’t get in a typical workstation. One is that they can create mirrored environments in their boot disk because, as we always know, things can go wrong right before a deadline. The other function is that sometimes you might want to run something on one operating system versus another operating system. You may want to be on Linux on one operating system disk and then Windows on another and you can have up to four. Another feature is our built-in RAID system. We don’t have to put it into every box but we find, especially when you’re talking about effects or DPX sequences, you need the type of speed to feed those processors and the GPUs. Because if you’re just hanging a couple of SATA drives off the system, you won’t get that speed, so we built it right in. If you look at the system, there’s a six- or an eight-bay RAID array right in front that delivers that speed and capacity.