Today Apple released brand-new MacBook Pros with Intel's LightPeak technology, now called Thunderbolt.
Thunderbolt is a 10 Gbps port that can daisy-chain up to six devices including a display. To give you an idea of how fast it is, USB 3.0 is 5 Gbps, Firewire 3200 is 3 Gbps, eSATA is 2.4 Gbps and Fibre Channel can be up to 4 Gbps.
To me, this is a game-changer because these ports can become any type of port as long as you have an adapter, so Apple essentially added support for USB 3.0, eSATA and anything else you like in one go. Thunderbolt is a huge leap forward for professional users. Its power is in its versatility.
It also means that laptops can finally rival desktops in I/O performance. As an example of the amount of throughput you'll be able to get on a laptop, Apple showed a demo of Final Cut Pro running four streams of uncompressed HD on the 15" MacBook Pro, peaking at 600MB/s.
And if you're in a shared environment you'll be able to easily add laptops, or indeed any type of Mac, to an Xsan network for fast access to shared storage, which is something that was difficult to do before.
Finally, Apple posted some new details about Mac OS X 10.7 Lion today and revealed that the desktop and server versions of the operating system will be merged together, meaning that every Mac is now a server out of the box. Couple that with Thunderbolt and the Mac Mini suddenly looks reasonable as an Xsan metadata controller (and indeed for many other server tasks) now that the Xserve has been discontinued.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Thursday February 24 2011 12:31 PM to Apple, Hardware, Analysis
Apple has hit us with three hardware refreshes in the same day.
|2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|1GB memory||2GB memory|
|120GB hard drive||320GB hard drive|
|8x double-layer SuperDrive||8x double-layer SuperDrive|
|NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics|
|$599, shipping within 24 hours||$799, shipping within 24 hours|
I'm really glad this little guy is still going strong. There were fears it would be discontinued but thankfully this has not proven to be the case.
Not the greatest specs in the world, but the GeForce 9400M is a welcome addition that should provide a decent performance boost to graphical apps.
Apple is claiming that it now uses 45% less power, making it even more viable for server-related tasks (my personal favorite use for Minis). It's worth noting that the case has not been redesigned to match the iMac, as was rumored.
|20" display||24" display||24" display||24" display|
|2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|2GB memory||4GB memory||4GB memory||4GB memory|
|320GB hard drive||640GB hard drive||640GB hard drive||1TB hard drive|
|8x double-layer SuperDrive||8x double-layer SuperDrive||8x double-layer SuperDrive||8x double-layer SuperDrive|
|NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics||NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 256MB memory||NVIDIA GeForce GT 130 with 512MB memory|
|$1,199.00, shipping within 24 hours||$1,499.00, shipping within 24 hours||$1,799.00||$2,199.00|
Not much to say here - just a speed bump and NVIDIA graphics across the whole line. The 24" now starts at a lower pricepoint.
|One 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processor||Two 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processors|
|3GB (three 1GB) memory||6GB (six 1GB) memory|
|640GB hard drive ||640GB hard drive|
|18x double-layer SuperDrive||18x double-layer SuperDrive|
|NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MB||NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MB|
|$2,499.00, ships within 4 days||$3,299.00, ships within 4 days|
And here's a custom configured Mac Pro with pretty much everything you'd ever need:
|Two 2.93GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon|
|32GB memory (8x4GB)|
|Mac Pro RAID Card|
|4 x 1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s|
|ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB graphics|
|Two 18x SuperDrives|
|2 x Apple Cinema HD Display (30" flat panel)|
|AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi Card with 802.11n|
|Quad-channel 4Gb Fibre Channel PCI Express card|
|Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (needed for 2x 30" displays|
|AppleCare protection plan for Mac Pro|
|$19,994.00, shipping in 6-8 weeks|
You might think it's just a speed bump but the Nehalem series of CPUs has a completely redesigned architecture that removes a lot of traditional bottlenecks. This will significantly improve performance
(particularly memory throughput) over previous Mac Pros.
The new architecture also allows two threads per core, meaning that 16 threads can be run simultaneously on the 8 core. I had wondered if Apple would market it as a 16 core machine but they chose not to, which is probably best as it could have been misleading.
Go for the 2.93 GHz processor if you can afford it.Memory -
Apple has been generous with the memory in the 8-core model. My usual advice would be to custom configure the machine with the minimum amount of memory possible and then buy it separately from cheaper sources. Note however that the custom configurator offers a minimum of 6 GB of memory, which will be enough for the majority of people.Hard Drives -
There are four bays, each offering a 640 GB or 1 TB SATA drive at 7200 RPM. I'd advise against ordering additional drives from Apple. Instead, shop around and you will get a much better deal. They are dead simple to install.
Apple has chosen not to offer solid-state disks as an option.Graphics -
Apple is offering two cards - the NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 512MB and the ATI Radeon HD 4860 512MB. The GeForce card is available in multiples up to 4. I would not advise purchasing multiple graphics cards in anticipation of Snow Leopard, as you'd be forking out a lot of money for something that has an unknown performance benefit. You don't know that it would improve performance enough to warrant the extra cost, and you don't even know if Final Cut Studio 3 will be able to use the extra cards. You can always buy extra cards later.
The Radeon is advised for Pro App use, however, as it has much better Core Image performance and a much greater range of working color depths. It is much faster than the GeForce and no comparable NVIDIA cards are yet offered as a BTO option for the Mac Pro. Both cards come with dual-link DVI and Mini DisplayPort connectors.
Note the absence of the NVIDIA Quadro FX. Optical Drives -
Not much to say really, except no Blu-ray.Displays
- The new graphics cards have support for the DisplayPort standard so the new 24" LED Display can now be used by Mac Pros, in addition to the traditional 30" Cinema Display. It looks like the 20" will not be replaced.
Note: you must have two GeForce cards in order to connect a second 24" display, or a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter if you are connecting two 30" displays.
My advice would be to go for the 30" because it is not glossy (there unfortunately isn't a matte option for the 24") and if you want to connect more than one, your choice of graphics card is not restricted.Other minor aspects -
There is no FireWire 400 - it's FW 800 only, like the MacBook Pro. You can use FW 400 devices with a converter cable. Bluetooth is now built-in.
It's a product refresh - you can't expect a whole host of new features. I think the Mac Pro refresh was a decent one (and long overdue) although I would prefer more display options from Apple. The 24" should have a matte option for those that prefer it, but what I dislike the most is that you are tied to the much slower GeForce if you want to add two of these.
Additionally, no-one really knows the future of the 30". Is it wise to buy one now when there could be a possible refresh in the near future? Or is it actually better
to buy one now in case Apple gives us an inferior refreshed product in the future (it has happened before)? Or should we just buy from an alternative manufacturer? That is the question.
I'm really glad they chose to release these machines while Leopard was still around. It means that when I come to buy one in the near future, I can downgrade to Leopard if problems occur with Snow Leopard. It's not best to be an early adopter of an OS if you use it for professional work, nor is it best to downgrade to an earlier OS that does not support your computer.
The price hike for the Mac Pros was less welcome but this is mainly due to the increased cost of the CPUs from Intel, so it was not unexpected. Whenever Apple gives us something, they take away something else - but I do think in this instance Apple has given more than they have taken.Update:
Apple also gave the 15" MacBook Pro a speed bump.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Tuesday March 3 2009 8:25 AM to Apple, Hardware, Analysis
As filmmakers, we put a tremendous amount of trust in our equipment. With the rise in popularity of solid-state media, many of us are no longer shooting on tape or film. This offers many advantages but also several disadvantages. Unlike a film workflow in which many prints are made, or a tape workflow where the tapes are digitized to a hard drive and then stored safely away, filmmakers are often erasing their solid-state media and relying on a single hard drive copy to last them throughout the post production process and onto distribution/release.
Three things are guaranteed in life - death, taxes and hard drive failure. It is a fact that every hard drive will eventually fail. No-one can predict when it will happen and you may not have an opportunity to salvage the data before it does.
So it is wise to assume it will happen and have a good backup policy in case it does. Here are some of the options available for data backup.
While there used to be many consumer options available such as the Iomega Ditto, tape backup is now almost exclusively geared towards enterprise users. Higher-priced options have high capacities and autoload capabilities - i.e. where you insert multiple tapes at once and the system switches them automatically so you don't have to. Lower-priced options will generally require you to change the tape far more often - if you're fine with that, you can save a lot of money.
Most backup drive manufacturers are moving towards the LTO format. This is an open standard so you know that the data you backup now will work on a competitor's drive for the next 1-2 LTO generations.
One way to save money is to use an older, less advanced format. A lot of manufacturers still offer older proprietary systems for sale. These are not as advanced as the LTO options (nor as compatible with competing products) but they are much cheaper. As stated earlier, cheaper drives have lower storage capacities and are less likely to have autoloading functionality. They are also likely to have much lower data transfer rates, unlike LTO -3 and LTO-4 which can transfer data at higher speeds than a conventional hard drive.
When purchasing a drive, consider also the connector and the supplied software. Some drives use SCSI and will need a SCSI card installed inside your machine, but setup will be much easier if you opt for a Firewire version instead (not to mention allowing greater drive portability). Check if the supplied software is compatible with your operating system and if not, check if there is a compatibility update available.
Because these tapes are designed for enterprise use, they are very sturdy and have extremely low failure rates. They have normally been stress-tested by the manufacturer, and most manufacturers will offer you failure statistics on their site. You are, of course, paying for this privilege though.Format types:
LTO, VXA, SLR, DLT, DDS, AIT/SAIT, Travan, T10000Drive manufacturers: Tandberg (formerly Exabyte)
, Sun StorageTekSoftware: Retrospect
* Low failure rate
* Tried and tested
* LTO-4 tapes can store terrabytes of data and access it faster than a regular hard diskCons:
* Can be complex to set up
* If you opt for a cheaper, small capacity, non-autoloading version, you will spend a lot of time changing tapes
* Overkill if you don't have much data to backupVerdict:
Great if you're backing up a large amount of data and only plan to keep one copy.
The main advantage of hard disks is market penetration. You can go into almost any store and buy a disk at short notice. They are priced very low per GB, there are lots to choose from and (unless you have an old machine) you shouldn't need any new hardware or software in order to use it.
As this is primarily intended as a backup, go for an external drive. Speed is not an issue here so mounting the drive internally will offer no worthwhile performance benefit. Additionally, an external disk safely stored away will not be damaged if something happens to your machine.
It's worth mentioning that some manufacturers offer separate Mac and PC editions of their external disk drives. This is not a marketing gimmick - there is a difference! Some of the I/O controllers in certain drives (often cheaper ones) are not Mac-compatible and you will experience issues if you use one of these drives. Choose a drive enclosure with an Oxford controller where possible. Check online reviews if in doubt.
Finally, one aspect people often don't realize is that hard disks store data magnetically and must be "refreshed" every six months or so to prevent data loss, as Larry Jordan explains in this article
. This must not be overlooked when considering hard disks as a backup medium.Manufacturers: Lacie
, Western Digital
* High capacity
* Fast transfer rateCons:
* Relatively high and unpredictable failure rate
* Physical bumps and bashes increase the chance of failureVerdict:
Good for cost-effective backups but multiple backups are advised.
Solid-state flash drives
The main advantages of these drives are their small size, high potential read speed and high damage tolerance. It is likely that these will eventually replace conventional hard disks in the future and this will be a good thing, however current models have certain caveats.
The biggest of these is price. The cost per GB is considerably higher than any of the other formats on this page, and available capacities are much lower than those offered by conventional hard disks. In addition, although read speeds are fast, write speeds are considerably slower than those of conventional hard drives.
One of the most interesting aspects of flash SSDs is the way that they fail. Unlike rotating disk hard drives, SSDs do not suffer from mechanical failure but gradually wear out as you write to them. Although they have quite a high failure rate (each memory cell is limited to 100,000 writes), failure doesn't actually result in data loss. When a memory cell fails, you will be unable to write data to that cell - but you will have no problems at all reading data from it. This would be awful for a scratch disk that is written to many times but perfect for a backup in which reading is more important than writing.
However, controller chips inside the drives have been known to fail, meaning you will need to call a data recovery expert to recover the data from the disk. And there lies another problem - a lot of manufacturers uses proprietary chips that are constantly changing, making it difficult for a data recovery expert to keep up with developments. And in many drives data is difficult to recover by design, as these systems were originally developed for the military to carry sensitive information.
Efforts are being made to resolve some of these issues - such as putting two drives in a RAID 0 to improve write speeds, and balancing write operations across the entire drive to reduce the load on a single cell. Prices are going down and capacities are going up, but they will only become viable when the cost hits $1.50 per GB or less.Manufacturers: Samsung
* Very fast read speeds
* Tolerant of physical abuse / damage
* More predictable failure rate than regular HDDs
* Data can still be read when drive failsCons:
* Very expensive per GB
* Slow write speeds
* Current drives have relatively low capacities
* Limited number of times the drive can be written toVerdict:
One to look out for the future but limited to small backups right now.
Online Backup / Storage
There are several online backup services available. Some will give you a certain amount of space for free, requiring you to upgrade if you need more, while others offer a trial service. The advantage of one of these services is that the data is stored elsewhere and so will not be affected by theft, fire, water damage etc affecting your facility. Many of them offer software that runs on your machine and backs up your specified backup folders automatically, ensuring an up-to-date backup even if you forget.
When considering this option, you should consider security as a priority. You are handing over your files to someone else so you need an assurance that they will not end up in the wrong hands. I use Mozy to backup my laptop and all files are encrypted by default. The simplest option is to let Mozy create an encryption key for you but this is not as secure as specifying one yourself. If you do specify a custom one, beware that your data will be permanently inaccessible if you forget it.
The two biggest problems are storage space and transfer speeds. It is impractical to upload files greater than a few hundred megabytes, especially as the service takes quite a while to encrypt them before uploading. So backing up terrabytes of footage is not possible, but these services are very useful for backing up important project files. Many of them will store multiple versions of a file so you can restore to a version several days or weeks in the past. I wouldn't recommend this as your sole backup, but it would be useful as an extra cushion, especially as some companies give a small amount of space for free.Services: Mozy
, Dr. Backup
* Simple and automatic
* Great for backing up small filesCons:
* Not suitable for large files
* Subscription feesVerdict:
Great as an additional backup but don't rely on this as your only option. Only suitable for small files.
Videotape backups offer some distinct advantages over data tape backups. Firstly, unlike the LTO specification that has various revisions, video formats adhere to strict standards that rarely change. These standards tend to stick around for a long time. A brand-new DVCAM deck will play a DVCAM tape made a decade ago with no problems. LTO drives are only backwards-compatible with the last 1-2 generations which could cause problems with long-term backup.
Secondly, there is greater predictability. Tapes are rated at the hour or half-hour, making it much easier to calculate how many would be needed and how long it would take to record/play the footage, which is invaluable if you are planning to rent a deck. The downside of this, of course, is that transfer speeds are much lower than modern LTO drives.
However, when creating a videotape backup of your footage, it is important to choose the format carefully to avoid quality loss. If you shot on the Panasonic HVX-200, which shoots DVCPRO HD, it is recommended to output to DVCPRO HD tapes. If the codec you are using does not have a tape equivalent, output to a tape format that closely matches the frame size, frame rate, color sampling and approximate data rate of the original footage. Some formats like Redcode RAW 4K do not have tape equivalents and so a different backup method must be used unless you are willing to lose information.
Also make sure your tape timecode matches the timecode of the original footage, otherwise your NLE will not be able to accurately reconnect the footage to the clips on the timeline. You will spend a lot of time manually rearranging and synchronizing footage.Formats include:
MiniDV, HDV (varies per manufacturer), DVCAM, DVCPRO, DVCPRO HD, HDCAM, HDCAM SR, D1, D2, D3, D5, BetaCam, DigiBeta.Manufacturers: Panasonic
* Established standardsCons:
* Limited to real-time capture and playback
* No tape equivalent of certain formats
* Information must be captured rather than simply copied to a hard diskVerdict:
Great for backing up established formats. Excellent for long-term backup / archival.
Blu-ray discs can store around 50 GB and have a relatively low price per GB. They are compact and, if stored in a solid case, are relatively durable compared to regular hard disks. They are not as durable as tape-based alternatives, however.
Blu-ray hasn't caught on as well as everyone had hoped after the format war ended, and Apple has not yet implemented hardware or OS support for it yet. This has severely limited the availability of Blu-ray burners and software for the Mac, with the only option for data discs being Roxio Toast 10 plus the Blu-ray plugin. PC users have a lot more choice but even despite this, it has still not fully caught on in the PC market either.
Transfer rates are quite low and the format doesn't offer as much disc space as other formats. However, BD-R does have an advantage as a backup medium because it can only be written to once. Every other format can be written to or erased (some more easily than others) after a backup has occurred.Drive Manufacturers: Sony
, PioneerSoftware Manufacturers: Roxio
, Sonic Solutions
, Adobe EncorePros:
* Discs relatively cheap per GB
* Data cannot be overwrittenCons:
* Not much support on the Mac
* Slow read/write speeds
* Low disc space compared to other offeringsVerdict:
Don't rely on it as a sole backup. Not suitable for large amounts of data.
A Game of Chance
None of the options listed above are infallible, however the point is to lower the chance
of losing your data. If you have one backup, that lowers the chance of critical data loss to 0.5. Make another one and it goes down to 0.25. Backups are especially crucial if you're running a RAID because the chance of data loss increases with every drive you add (unless it is a RAID 1 of course).
So it doesn't really matter which option you choose, as any one of them will reduce that chance - some more than others of course. A mix of multiple types is the safest way to go. And when thousands or millions of dollars, plus the culmination of months or perhaps years of hard work are at stake, it helps to have a pro-active backup policy planned from the start. The fate of your movie might well depend on it.The links to companies and products in this article are intended for guidance and not as an endorsement.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Thursday February 12 2009 3:56 PM to Video Editing, Hardware, Cameras