TechTalk: The Tower Is Dead

May 2, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Kevin Becka

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Kevin Becka

Last month I wrote about the anticipation surrounding the release of Pro Tools 11 and the next Mac Pro computer Apple will release to appease the audio community—if that is still an option; maybe I’m dreaming.

Although Pro Tools 11 debuted at NAB in Las Vegas a few weeks ago, Apple is still mum on the much anticipated, and needed, tower replacement. So while we wait, I’ve bought another Apple computer: This time for video. Yes, I’m an audio guy through and through but I do a lot of video editing in my role at Mix, producing Webcasts and show reports and the like, and for that I’ve used iMovie. And I’ve gotten pretty good at it.

However, iMovie can only go so far so the logical next step was to step up to Final Cut Pro X. FCPX is one of the most hated software upgrades I can remember. You probably know the details, but for me it’s just fine. It’s more iMovie than FC, and I feel comfortable with the platform even without reading the manual.

The trick for me is getting footage from videographers who are never leaving FCP 7 and making it work in FCPX. There’s a cool piece of translation software called X to 7 for Final Cut Pro that I bought for $49.99, and it’s given me a great way to bring FCP 7 files into FCPX. Once I started cutting video on my laptop, however, I realized that I needed more power.

Before I shopped, I talked to Nashville videographer Brian Totoro and got some great advice about features that matter. RAM is king in video, so get a lot. Next, Brian suggested a solid-state drive for my boot disc to speed up editing and maximize performance. I knew all about this because I’m using an SSD on my PC audio rig—Pro Tools and Nuendo blaze when run off an SSD. Plus with RAM caching, Pro Tools and every other DAW depend on beefy RAM for smooth operation. It seems that audio and video computers need a lot of the same horsepower.

Next I went to Apple’s site and looked for the platform. A Mac Pro was out—I’m not going to opt in to three-year-old tech. So I looked at the iMac and then the Mac Mini.

The iMac is large and has older tech; the Mini sports the i7 processor while the iMac has the i5–no contest. I chose the beefiest processor they offered on a Mini, the 2.6GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7.

The Mini only offers one drive, or so I thought. I went online and got some great advice from some pro video forums. Other World Computing will put a second drive into your Mini, in my case an SSD, and it won’t nix your warranty—even though Apple doesn’t offer the service. I also opted to have OWC upgrade my RAM, which was cheaper than buying it directly from Apple. I had Apple drop ship directly to OWC, where they did the work and sent it to my home. This computer is a beast. Uploads of video are scary fast—to the point where I doubted it was really happening (it was).

Next it was time to rethink storage. At NAB I stopped by the Small Tree Communications booth on my rounds and talked to Steve Modica. The company’s latest storage solution is the TitaniumZ-5, which is a portable, 20TB, five-drive storage solution at a base price of $7,428. For 20TB you add $2,090, while the 15TB unit adds $968. This thing is badass and only 21 pounds. It has a handle on top for easy transport, a fan and it can be networked over Ethernet. Networking is all-inclusive, meaning there’s nothing left to buy—the server, networking and storage are all in the box.

All this new stuff got me thinking about audio production, Apple’s products and what I’ve said here before—the tower is dead. In the new age of Thunderbolt and highly capable smaller machines, there is no need for more than one PCIe slot in the computer, if that. Once the Mini goes 12-core, it’s all over, and maybe that’s the next Mac Pro? Offer a Mini + which can incorporate a bigger chip without getting hot, and Bob’s your uncle. Thunderbolt allows you to get out of the box to your video, drives and chassis. I can’t wait to see what’s next, but it sure is fun to guess.






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