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Old November 14th, 2006, 09:27 PM   #1
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Building Quad-Core Editing Workstation

Hey guys... I recently upgraded my Canon GL2 camcorder to Canon's new XH A1 and now have a new host of problems with my current (and outdated) PC editing workstation.. so it's time for a big upgrade and thought I would run by my system configuration I have put together and get some suggestions from you guys:

I am working with a custom PC builder and have come up with the following:

- Intel Core 2 Quadro QX6700 2.66ghz (Quad-Core) Processor
- 4GB Corsair XMS DDR2-800 RAM
- GeForce 7600GT 256MB Video Card
- Sound Blaster Audigy Sound Card

Hard Drive Configuration:
- 150 GB SATA II Raptor 10,000 RPM (Primary OS drive)
- 74 GB SATA II Raptor 10,000 RPM (Scratch Drive)
- 500 GB SATA II Seagate 7,200 RPM (1st Video Storage)
- 500 GB SATA II Seagate 7,200 RPM (2nd Video Storage)

- Antec P180 Case with WinXP Pro x32 and so on...

From what I have learned, it seems that I don't need that powerful of a video card to run Adobe Production Studio when editting HDV. However, I do use After Effects a lot, but have not used it yet for HDV so have no clue what kind of video card demands will be needed for that. And in the future, I may get into 3ds Max/Maya.. so I want to be prepared for that as well. I'm certainly not worried about my processor selection, but am wondering if I have pegged the right graphics card (should I get a beefier one?) and also if I did a good job putting together a hard drive configuration (seperate scratch disk HD?). Would love to hear any opinions on my hard drive setup.

I understand XP Pro x64 has some crappy driver support so I am bit scared to go that route and think I will just wait for Vista x64 (wait even more for SP1?). Thought I would get your opinions. Thanks for any advice and suggestions you can share. Look forward to hearing from you.
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Old November 14th, 2006, 10:49 PM   #2
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Deke, that'll be a rockin' system, and I'll be building a similar one myself as soon as the chip is available to me; it is officially released but not on the shelf yet as a boxed retail item.

A few thoughts:

- I'm going to stick with XP until I'm sure Vista will be a good idea as far as support for my editing box. Under XP, the system won't actually be able to make use of quite all of the 4GB of RAM, but I'll probably put 4 in as well in anticipation of later OS upgrade.

- Depending on the nature of your projects, scratch files can take up a lot of space. Might want to go with a larger drive if you do large and/or multiple simultaneous projects, or do a RAID 0 for max throughput. I have two 150GB Raptors as a RAID 0 in my current box for scratch and renders. Not sure how much it helps, but I'm pretty darn sure that HDD access isn't a bottleneck in my system!

- DON'T get a SB card. For little more money, there are much higher quality audio solutions out there. When I finally got fed up with the noise -- even cross-talk from moving my mouse -- when using either onboard sound or a SB card, I paid about $300 for a little external firewire box called the M-Audio 410. I hear absolutely zero hiss/noise/crosstalk with the amplifier cranked all the way up, and with a six-channel patch cord I got for $30, it'll do 5.1 from Audition with no muss, no fuss. Two XLR inputs for voice overs. Portable. It's so easy, even I can do it! (Thanks to Douglas Spotted Eagle for turning me on to M-Audio). M-Audio also does make internal sound cards if you prefer not to use an extenal device.

- If you're thinking you might upgrade later, the nVidia 7600 ought to do ok. My understanding is that opposite to gaming needs, After Effects loves more memory on the graphics card and cares less about the raw processing power. So if you see an economical 512MB card, might be worth a try. The new nVidia 8800's are out. VERY expensive but 512MB and very fast graphics cards. Otherwise, I think many folks who are building editing boxes recommend the nVidia Quadro cards.

- Consider Cineform Aspect HD.
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Old November 14th, 2006, 11:13 PM   #3
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Useful discussion of GPU options here: http://www.videoguys.com/blog/index.php?p=728

Buying AspectHD will give you a BIG boost in terms of smooth editing - highly recommnded!
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Old November 15th, 2006, 08:21 AM   #4
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Hey Pete,

Thanks for the great advice! I chose the 80GB raptor for my scratch disk because I do a lot of very small projects and rarely simultaneously. Most of my work is only a couple minutes long. So I thought I could cut corners on costs and get an 80GB raptor for my scratch. Do you think this is fine or should I go to 150GB? I really don't understand scratch drives at all, only knowing that I should have a seperate drive for it. So as to how much data is put on the scratch drive when working on a project in my editor, I really haven't a clue.

I'm really intrigued by this M-Audio Interface you are talking about. I didn't even know they had such a thing to be quite honest. I am very new to "professional" audio and such. I would love someway to just plug in my XLR microphones right into my computer and playback my timeline and record Voice Overs. This is the purpose of these devices made by M-Audio, correct? The only thing I would worry about, is if I did record with my mics at my computer, that my mics would pick up the humm of my computer. Is that a worry?

As far as the video card, I am starting to think the 256MB 7600GT is a bit skimpy and have decided to move up to the 7950GT 512MB. Good move? If I need to bite the bullet and get better than the 512MB, I will. I have read so many mixed reviews as to what video card are best suited for video editting. It seems that 60% of people say the quadro/SLI cards just aren't worth the investment and the other 40% say the quadro's are the way to go (like Graham's article). The video card selection is the most confusing aspect of this new purchase for me. One, because I'm afraid it's a crucial aspect to the future and expandability of my workflow, and two, it's one of the most pricey pieces of the PC.

Thanks a lot of your help guys.
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Old November 15th, 2006, 08:26 AM   #5
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I should add - I didn't buy a QuadroFX myself.

I just have a 6600GT with a HD breakout cable and Nvidia's Purevideo software acceleration installed. Works great for my needs, although I mainly use PPro rather than AfterEffects.
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Old November 15th, 2006, 10:29 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Deke Ryland
- Sound Blaster Audigy Sound Card
If you plan to add RAID, be aware that SB had problems with some RAID controllers (e.g. SiI). Check the user forum on their website for the current status before making a purchase.

Best,
Christopher
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Old November 16th, 2006, 06:18 AM   #7
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I second - *do not* buy SB card. Buy M-Audio delta 44, 66 or 1010 for XLR inputs, or buy M-Audio Audiophile if you are short on money. SB is an excellent card for gamers, but there are better things for editing.

As for RAM - Win XP 32 can only use up to 3 GB, which is ridiculously low sometimes (After Effects and Premiere running can eat up to 1,5 GB alone, not mentioning project files and renders). I have been succesfully using Win 64 on Conroe with 4 GB of RAM, and I would recommend that. I don't know about Vista yet.

As for the graphic card, Matrox APVe is great because unlike NVidia cards it actually allows you to use 2 monitors for editing *plus* 3rd output for monitoring. NVidia gives you only 2 monitors or 1 monitor plus 1 TV.

That is if you don't need hardware rendering. Matrox has almost no support for 3D and OpenGL.
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Old November 16th, 2006, 09:27 AM   #8
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The scratch disks are basically the location where PPro stores renders needed to allow transitions and other effects to play more smoothly on the timeline, so a fast disk is very helpful. In After Effects terms, it is a pre-render. Audio is less demanding, but Adobe encourages a separate physical drive for that as well, I presume just to keep it clear of the demands the video streams will place on the video scratch disks. The user manual does have a short section on the various types of scratch files.

On the video cards, I'm no expert. Just sharing what I've read, but I understand that the Matrox is a bit long in the tooth and Adobe seems to be allied more with nVidia, or at least thinks their cards will work better than ATi cards, based on their recommendations.

Yes, for recording audio, computer noise is a concern. You can use a longer XLR cable and physically isolate yourself, or attenuate the mic signal and keep the mic close to your lips, which of course is desireable anyway to get a little of that "proximity effect." I've done the mic atten thing sitting right next to my editing box and got a pretty clean voice track; did very minimal noise reduction and other sweetening in Audition to take the quiet passages to total minus-infinity silence and get my irritating voice as close to radio-announcer voice as one could expect.

I think Bart said it well: SB is a fine gamer or general use computer card, but just doesn't cut it for real audio applications. Truly, I was absolutely amazed how much better the M-Audio was; I'd hoped for improvement but never expected absolutely zero audible system noise with the amplifier at full crank.
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Old November 16th, 2006, 02:09 PM   #9
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Wow... great posts. Thanks so much Bart and Pete! I agree that the SB card is a bit of a loser for video editting. Unfortunately I'm stretching my budget as is, so I have earmarked the M-Audio Digi Interface for a future purchase wants my funds start reviving. :)

Bart:
Have you had any problems using XP Pro x64? I use a lot of devices/peripherals, as this computer will also be my general-purpose computer as well. Everything from WACOM graphics tablets, to digital SLR cameras, camcorders, external firewire hard drives, iPods, etc etc. I know a lot of the big brand companies have released signed drivers for 64-bit, but I am soooo worried I will make a huge mistake getting x64. I have asked on some other computer forums about how people like x64 and have heard some rather horrifying experiences. Your recommendation has at least rejuvenated my hopes however. Would you mind sharing a little more on your x64 experiences? I would absolutely love to hear anything on compatibility, drivers, etc that you have experienced. I am so afraid I will get it and find out that one of my critical apps or devices simply won't work... then spend money on having to repurchase x32 XP Pro.

Pete:
Thanks for the great description of how these scratch disks work. I did as you said and read through the help files in premiere and now have a good understanding of their purpose and function. But one thing still has me wondering:

Is a 160GB dedicated scratch disk drive enough space? I pretty much only edit HDV timelines no longer than 10 minutes. Rarely do I ever edit multiple projects at the same time nor do I work on timelines in the 1+ hour range. So in your opinion, do you think a 160GB dedicated 10k rpm drive is plenty for my needs? This seems to be the big question I can't seem to figure out. I know everyone's uses and needs are different, but I'll even take guesses at this point. :)

Thanks so much guys for your help and advice.
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Old November 16th, 2006, 02:34 PM   #10
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If you're sure you won't keep more than a few short projects active at any one time, that'll probably be enough HDD space. Still, it seems whenever ya think you've planned for enough disk space, you find yourself wishing for a little more, so better to err on the large side. I'd personally still recommend a RAID 0, even 2 x 74GB if you want your scratch disks in the 150GB range.

If you have to make cost trades, I still would say get a cheaper graphics card and get good audio, such as the M-Audios we've mentioned. You can spend $100-200 on an audio card that doesn't do a decent job, or $300 on a superb one. It'll be a lot harder to convince yourself that one video card was worth its high cost for video editing vs one that is $100 or even $200 cheaper...and new video cards come out so frequently that today's $600 monster is next month's value card. Then you'll be kicking yourself for not having good sound AND a mid-range graphics card. Seriously, I paid around $500 about 6-7 months ago for an nVidia 6800GTX because I couldn't wait around for the 7900's to show up. Right now the 7900's are value cards and "the bomb" is a $650 nVidia 8800GTX. The Quadro card line seems less volatile, but as was said, reviews are mixed on value for dollar.
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Old November 16th, 2006, 02:52 PM   #11
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Hey Pete, once again thanks so much for the time you have taken to help me along in my selections. I too am a bit worried that 150GB might not suffice for a scratch disk. But that worry is just because of my lack of understanding of how big 'scratch disk' data gets when working on a project. Have you heard anything on whether or not 10k drives are much better than 7200rpm drives for scratch disk?

The biggest reason I would want an M-Audio card is for the XLR inputs to do Voice overs. I use cheap $30 speakers for my audio monitoring, not to mention I don't have a lick of studio ears to discriminate. But the voice over at your PC aspect is definitely a good thing. My biggest problem is my PC work area is less than desirable as far as acoustics, and my recording studio is about as good as it gets for doing VO work. So even then... it's a trade off.

So as for the scratch disk... I can either get a 10K Raptor at 150GB or a regular 7200rpm 300GB. I thought I would go for speed over size since I don't work with large projects... you think this is a good move?

And as far as a RAID 0 configuration... I have thought about it, but to keep costs down... I've decided to go old school. :) Thanks for your thoughts and opinions.
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Old November 16th, 2006, 09:24 PM   #12
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System build

I'll echo the MatroxAPVe and dual/tri-head recommendation. Consider Cineform AspectHD as a better way to edit in PPro2. Do consider striping all your video discs into a single RAID0 - previews and encodes can be bigger than the project files!

The Antec P180 case is great, quiet and plenty of room. Be sure your powersupply cables reach up there though. I have a Seasonic 600 and they do. Use the largest CPU fan you can (never the Intel fan: look at endpcnoise.com for Zallman etc.) and mount the speed control outside the case. You only will need to kick it up on HDingest and long renders, not while you are sitting and editing. With a few snips, you can mount the top and rear fan speed switches outside too (with superglue) and only raise these fan speeds during renders too. [The Abit AW series has a "guru" that lets you watch temperatures. The really go up if all your bottlenecks are cleared and you achieve 100% CPU utilization in the TaskMonitor]
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Old November 20th, 2006, 05:36 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Deke Ryland
Bart:
Have you had any problems using XP Pro x64? I use a lot of devices/peripherals, as this computer will also be my general-purpose computer as well. Everything from WACOM graphics tablets, to digital SLR cameras, camcorders, external firewire hard drives, iPods, etc etc. I know a lot of the big brand companies have released signed drivers for 64-bit, but I am soooo worried I will make a huge mistake getting x64. I have asked on some other computer forums about how people like x64 and have heard some rather horrifying experiences. Your recommendation has at least rejuvenated my hopes however. Would you mind sharing a little more on your x64 experiences? I would absolutely love to hear anything on compatibility, drivers, etc that you have experienced. I am so afraid I will get it and find out that one of my critical apps or devices simply won't work... then spend money on having to repurchase x32 XP Pro.
If this is to be your general purpose computer, then probably you should stick to Win 32 but give it less RAM, since it still won't be able to access it. There are some programs that will not work in 64 (like some antiviruses, firewalls or other system-related things). Check in advance if the devices that you use have drivers for win 64. If not, stay with 32-bit.

But that said, my system is very stable, and very quick. And even though my wireless card had no 64-bit driver, I was able to install drivers for another model and it worked.

For the scratchdisk you can try WD new 400GB or 500GB, they are really quick, and not really that much slower from Raptor (they use Raptor's architecture). For more information see www.storagereview.com

Cooling - do not pay for Zallman. Get Scythe Ninja instead. So far it is one of the most effective and the most silent cooler on the market. See www.silentpcreview.com.
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