ProMAX ONE: Looking at the Hero
COW Library : What Computer Should I Buy? Tutorials : Walter Biscardi : ProMAX ONE: Looking at the Hero
I've got about 50 layers or so of solids laid out in 3D space, each has generators applied to it, all of them have motion blur and a camera simply flies around the space with 3 lights lighting up the scene. It's 30 seconds long. This looks deceptively simple, but yet challenges your system to render because of the motion blur and generators applied to each layer.
The big difference between the Apple Mac Desktop world and the the PC Windows Desktop world is flexibility. With Apple, you get what they give you with the Mac Pro. Sure, you can make some modifications, but there's no real control over the specifications of the machine. On the PC side -- as has been the case for years -- anyone can build a computer from scratch making a workstation be what you want it to be to serve your needs. For years, Gamers have lead the way in custom, tricked out PC towers. Now ProMAX has put together a beast of a creative workstation designed to serve a host of needs in production -- particularly Post.
When you look at the machine from the front, the design cues from an Apple Mac Pro are obvious. But the similarities end there. Here's how this unit I'm testing is configured:
ProMAX ONE Hero
The first thing that jumped out at me was the 16 Cores. That's a lot of CPU power right off the bat, and it surpasses anything on the Apple side at this time. And while this particular unit is configured with 32GB of RAM, it has 16 memory slots allowing you up to 128GB of RAM. That's a boatload of RAM allowing you to multi-task to your heart's content.
The next thing that might jump out at you as a typo is the 18TB Internal RAID. That's not a mistake. Opening the front door reveals a six bay RAID built right into the front of the machine.
My test model was configured in RAID 5, giving me 15TB of available space to work with. Since it's internal, with no external cables or connections, you would expect it to be fast... Um. Yes, and then some.
I don't know about you, but 1100MB/s Write and 1300MB/s Read is about as fast a RAID as I've ever tested... and again, it's just 6 drives in RAID 5. Suffice it to say, these speeds should support just about any format you choose to throw at the machine.
There are six PCI slots (four are x16 lane), so you have plenty of room to build this machine up with whatever internal cards you want. ProMAX put the NVIDIA Quadro 6000 in this unit and I could add a few more to create a realtime Resolve box, for example. There are also multiple panels on the front allowing for various configurations for BluRay / DVD Burners, CF and SD card readers and the like, along with both USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 slots. In the back, you have four USB slots, along with my favorite: dual Ethernet ports. This plays very well with our Small Tree Ethernet SAN, allowing us to use one port for the SAN and one port for Internet connectivity.
There are four boot drives in this unit, and you might wonder why this might be an advantage, since this is a Windows box. Well, it's no secret that some software runs better when it's by itself and not co-installed with other applications. So you could have a boot drive for Adobe Creative Suite, one for Avid, one for Resolve, for example. You can also use the various boot drives for testing new OS or software configurations before you commit to production. On our Mac Pros for example, we have multiple boot drives for the various Mac OS.
If you plan to keep this machine in your edit suite, you need to know two things about it. One, the machine is very quiet, particularly considering there's a RAID in the front of it. Not silent by any means, but definitely a machine you can work with in the room and not be distracted by high speed fans. Two, the machine puts out a fair amount of heat out the back similar to a Mac Pro. It noticeably warmed up my office that I was testing the machine in which is approx. 15 x 13 with 7.5' ceilings. So I would recommend a small fan be put behind the machine to help dissipate the heat and definitely keep some air gap between the back and a wall.
In other words, this machine is very well designed for the flexibility that creative professionals need today and for the foreseeable future.
Now going back to the internal RAID, this comes with some caveats. The ProMAX One is longer than most computers, a full 23" front to back compared to 18" for a Mac Pro. In my facility, all of our desktops are on racks in the machine room and the ONE is 4" longer than that our 19" racks. Doesn't sound like a lot, but with the placement of the feet, the machine just barely sits on the rack shelf. Those six drives also make the machine very heavy. Without any additional items, the ONE is 45 lbs according to ProMAX. I don't have a scale to weigh the machine but according to the UPS label on the outside of the ONE box, this configuration comes in around 80 pounds. When moving it around, we made sure to have two people lift on it.
One concern for me is that if you have an issue with the computer or the RAID, that affects both components. Computer has to be serviced, you lose access to the RAID and all the data on it. RAID has to be serviced, you lose access to the computer. An internal RAID is not unique to the ONE and potential technical service is just one thing to consider with any workstation with an on-board RAID unit.
A minor thing, but something I find quite annoying is the placement of the power switch behind the front panel, which has a key lock.
According to ProMAX's website the locking front panel is there to protect your sensitive data and I can certainly see its use in some facilities or locations. But I don't see the need for the power switch to be locked up and if I leave the front door unlocked, I have to leave the keys hanging in the door. As someone who has had locking keys misplaced in a facility in the past, I would hate to be unable to start my computer because the key is missing. Again, a minor thing, but I wanted to point it out.
While a FW400 port is standard on the front of the machine, there are no FW800 ports. These can be easily added through a PCI card, but it would have been nice to have both standard with so many FW800 supported hard drives out in the field.
One other thing is the Bella Pro Series keyboard. We've gotten so used the flat and very quiet Apple keyboards, these "older style" keyboards are just loud and obnoxious to us. So I would replace the keyboard immediately with an Apple keyboard because that's what we're used to. But if you like the older style, standard keyboards, you'll love the Bella Pro keyboard. It's a personal preference.
And finally, as with any Windows workstation, you absolutely cannot output to ProRes from this machine as there is no way to encode to ProRes on a Windows workstation. The workaround to this is to invest in something like an AJA KiPro or a BlackMagic Design Hyperdeck Shuttle which can record ProRes files from your video output.
HOW ABOUT THE STREAMS?
Every time I do any review that involves a hard drive array the first question is always "how many streams did you get?" I always laugh because I instantly envision the Brady Bunch open. Of course, "streams" is more than just being able to put a bunch of video clips on the screen, it gives you an indication of how much realtime you'll get.
Well the honest truth is, "I Don't Know." I gave up after I had 15 video tracks running over a graphic, all 15 tracks have Drop Shadow applied (93% opacity, Distance 63) and four of the tracks have Gaussian Blur applied (blur set to 20) along with 11 stereo audio tracks. All with Playback set to Full Resolution. Oh and the video is not all conformed. There is DVCPro HD 720p / 59.94, H.264 1920x1080, ProRes 720p / 59.94 and ProRes 1080i / 29.97 all edited into AVC Intra 1080i / 29.97 timeline. And all of the video has been scaled down so you can see the very messy results.
Remember I said this is Full Resolution. Premiere Pro allows me to drop to 1/2, 1/4, 1/8 or even 1/16 resolution for playback so the lower I drop that, the more ridiculous it gets with the realtime performance. Also keep in mind, there is an NVIDIA Quadro 6000 card in this machine and Premiere Pro is engineered to take advantage of the CUDA power in those cards.
So for these ridiculous amount of video streams with drop shadow and blur, you've got the RAM, CPUs, GPU and RAID speed all coming into play to give me the optimum set up for realtime video playback using Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5. You always have to remember it's your entire configuration that gives you the maximum performance on your system, not just any one component. This ONE configuration is solidly set up for creative, realtime performance.
As you can imagine, the ProMAX ONE is fast. Easily the fastest performance I've ever experienced with Adobe Premiere Pro and this is with CS 5.5. Response of the editing system was extremely snappy, media loaded up almost instantaneously, importing a batch of 20 clips resulted in the "Generating Peak Files" dialogue just ripping through the files very quickly. It's what every editor wants in an edit system, you just work and the system keeps up. It's unbelievably fast, responsive and allows the end user to just create and not wait for the system. What else is there for me to say in regards to editing than it's a pleasure to work with.
For rendering, I decided to try out both Adobe Media Encoder and Adobe After Effects.
In Adobe Media Encoder I took that same sequence you saw earlier with the 16 tracks, mixed formats, 11 stereo audio tracks, set an outpoint at 34 seconds and set up AME to make a 1920 x 1080 DNxHD 220 29.97 file. I used the "Queue" command as most folks will tell you AME seems to render faster that way then if you just use the Render command in Premiere Pro. It rendered that file in 2:45.
Full resolution HD file with drop shadow on all layers, Gaussian Blur on four layers, 15 tracks of video over a graphic.
In After Effects I started out with a simple map animation we use in one of our current series during host voiceovers since it's a known element for me. Here's a shortened, low resolution copy of what they look like.
As you can see, very simple, actual animation runs approx. 30 seconds with the pad at the head and tail and we render them out in either ProRes or DNxHD in 1920x1080i 29.97. It includes motion blur on all layers and with the 8 Core Mac Pro I usually use for these graphics (with ATI card) it takes approx. 15 minutes per map to render. The ProMAX ONE rendered the full resolution Quicktime DNxHD 1920x1080i 29.97 version of this map in 1:58. That's even faster than another PC computer we're using in our shop right now. We use four of these maps per episode of our series. This means I can render all four of the maps faster than my 8 Core can render one of them.
That's what I call a "real world bench test." It's easy to run those pre-programmed bench tests that all the computer companies and tech reviewers use, but when I test things, I like to use what I call "real tangibles" that I can compare, like this animation that we use each week.
Now for another test, I thought, why not create a bench test that any one of you running After Effects can try for yourself and compare to what the ProMAX ONE can do. This is a VERY simple comp I created using only the tools in AE, so you don't need anything other than AE 5.5 or higher.
Here's a low rez version of what it looks like.
Download the After Effects file...
The Render Queue is already all set to render to an H.264 file with no audio, all you have to do is hit Render. How does your system do on the render? The ProMAX ONE rendered this file in 20 minutes.
For comparison: Our 8 Core Mac Pro (2.4Ghz, 16GB RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5770) rendered the file in 1 hour, 55 minutes. Our 8 Core Dell Precision T5500 (2.4Ghz, 48GB RAM, NVIDIA Quadro 4000) rendered the file in 1 hour 40 minutes.
Our older model 27" iMac in my home office (3.33Ghz Intel Core Duo 2, 8GB RAM) was 1 second, 26 frames into the animation and had an estimated remaining render time of 5 hours, 24 minutes. Needless to say, I stopped the render on that machine.
Comparing the ProMAX One to our in-house machines, this is a tremendous savings in render time and does two things. Allows the end-user to create ever more complex comps in software like After Effects knowing you have the speed of the machine to get the job done by deadline. Gives the end user more piece of mind knowing that the inevitable mistakes and tweaks won't push you right up against the deadline because you're getting the renders done more quickly.
The ProMAX ONE is priced correctly for the high end PC workstation market they are aiming at. A Base ProMAX ONE Hero System with 32GB of RAM, Blu-Ray Burner & Windows 7 sells for $8,226. The system as configured for this review (without the Adobe / Avid software) is $17,664, but keep in mind, that's both the upgraded computer system and an 18TB RAID. So while that sounds expensive, it's well within reason for what you're getting.
(Note: bubbling on the side is from the protective plastic which was NOT removed for the testing.)
At this price, it's definitely a major commitment of your finances and you'll have to strongly weigh the cost vs. return on investment. In my facility we have 5 edit suites currently running and four more to come online in the near future. Quite honestly investing in up to 9 of these machines would be cost prohibitive for my situation.
Plus I have shared storage for the facility so the need for an on-board RAID at every workstation is not something we need. In my case, my plan is to install iMacs across the board in the edit suites for editing (we use DNxHD, ProRes and native for most of our work) and have 2 "Big Iron" systems handle all the rendering and DaVinci Resolve. With that render comparison, the ProMAX ONE makes a perfect candidate for our "Big Iron" workstation. In addition, that tremendous RAID speed allows us to handle projects of 4k or more on that workstation when necessary.
Now if all you need is one or two machines, just looking at that render comparison should give you a good sense of the ROI. Incredible to see that older 27" iMac show over 5 hours to render something the ProMAX ONE took 20 minutes to do. That's almost a savings of an entire day. That means you're able to do more in less time and get more billable projects out the door.
No question if you are in the market for a new creative workstation the ProMAX ONE should be on your list of machines to consider. This workstation was designed around speed and flexibility which there's nothing we creative's like more than speed.