Choosing an Encoding Workstation

Here's a collection of resources you might find helpful if you're choosing or configuring a workstation for editing or streaming production.

Choosing a Workstation

I've had the benefit of working with and testing a range of high end HP workstations, both for video editing and streaming encoding. Here are the most recent reviews.

HP Z800 Workstation With Intel Westmere Dual Six-Core Processor Review - in 2009, Intel launched its Nehalem line of workstations, which started with three models: the low-end Z400, the mid-range Z600, and the high-end Z800; later it was supplemented by the entry-level Z200. I had a look at the Z400, a single CPU quad-core, and the Z800, a dual-processor, quad-core system. Now HP is updating its workstation line to incorporate Intel's new Westmere processor, which uses 32nm manufacturing technology to enable six cores on each CPU. HP sent me one of the first dual-processor six-core Z800 systems off the line, and I had about 2 days to run it through its paces for various digital video-processing tasks. (June 13, 2010)

Liquid-cooled HP Z800 Workstation Test Drive - I produce a lot of screencams and other narration-type recordings, and workstation noise is a constant concern. I also have multiple computers around my office, most off testing some software program or rendering some project. While "cacophony" is definitely too strong a word to apply, less noise is always good. For this reason, I was excited when HP called to offer a quick spin with its new liquid-cooled Z800 workstation. (July 28, 2009)

What Makes a Workstation a Workstation - My visit to HP - HP invited a bunch of journalists, myself included, out to visit their facility in Fort Collins, CO, the headquarters for workstation design, support and marketing. Beyond the desire to meet and greet friends old and new, I had one goal – to learn what makes a computer a workstation. (November 6, 2010)

Hewlett Packard's Nehalem-based Z400 and Z800 speed encoding performance - On March 30, 2009, Hewlett Packard announced three new workstations that leverage Intel’s new Nehalem line of CPUs. To assess the significance of these new computers to the streaming market, I tested two Nehalem-based systems against older generation dual core, quad-core and eight core systems, using a range of encoding programs, including Adobe Media Encoder, On2 Flix Pro, Rhozet Carbon Coder, Sorenson Squeeze and Telestream Episode. (November 30, 2009)

Test Drive: Intel Nehalem, Part 1 - A few months ago, I ran some Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) benchmarks on different computers that isolated how CS4 performed with formats ranging from DV to Red. Now that Intel’s Nehalem processor is upon us, those numbers are obsolete, so I’m updating them with results from two Nehalem-based workstations that I’ve been testing. In this installment, I’ll explain the tests and share DV and HDV results; next time, I’ll present the results for AVCHD, DVCPRO HD, and Red. Click to the main article to read the rest of the story. (June 8, 2009)

Test Drive: Intel Nehalem, Part 2 - Welcome back to our presentation of how HP’s new Intel Nehalem-based workstations compare to older workstations when rendering from Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4). Briefly, in the last installment, I detailed the tests that I performed, and discussed the results for DV and HDV source materials. This time out, I present the results for DVCPRO HD, AVCHD, and Red and share how the Z400 and Z800 performed with Hyper-threaded Technology (HTT) enabled and disabled. Click to the main article to read the rest of the story. (April 27, 2009)

HP Z800 Review - Since the launch of the Core 2 Duo line of processors in mid-2006, new workstations have been more about evolution than revolution, with solid incremental but uninspiring performance gains. This is no longer. Sporting a completely redesigned case and Intel's new Nehalem processor the new Z800 knocks the socks off HP's existing workstation line—especially for video editors and streaming producers. With hyper-threading technology enabled on the HP Z800, you get 16 cores on a dual-processor, quad-core Intel Nehalem system. Rhozet Carbon Coder got them all working, too. (April 1, 2009)

Choosing an Operating System

Lots of changes OS-wise over the last few years. After absolutely hating Vista, I think Windows 7 is a keeper, and if you haven't gone 64-bit already, the articles below will convince you that it's time.

Windows 7 Performance for Streaming Encoding - A Windows 7 upgrade can cost more than $300 for the software alone -- is it worth it if you're a streaming producer looking to shave encoding times? Well, that's what I detail in this article. (January 10, 2010)

Windows 7 Performance for Premiere Pro and Vegas - If you're a Premiere Pro or Vegas editor, and you're thinking about purchasing a new system with Windows 7, or upgrading to the new Microsoft OS on a current system, you might want to check out an article that I wrote for Millimeter/Digital Content Producer that you can access here. (January 10, 2010)

Microsoft Windows 7 Test Drive - It's time to look at Microsoft Windows 7, which I'm doing in two phases. First, I'll upgrade an existing Windows XP installation and detail the experience and my first impression of Windows 7. Then, using a multiboot computer, I'll test the performance of Windows Vista against Windows 7, and if the stars align, perhaps even Windows XP. (December 14, 2009)

Better buy 64-bit systems from here on out - I got an interesting e-mail from Adobe today, which I've pasted in its entirety below. The key message is this: "Adobe today confirmed that ... Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 and Adobe After Effects CS4 are the last versions to support 32-bit operating systems. Future versions will be native 64-bit applications which will run only on 64-bit operating systems." (October 22, 2009)

CS4 and 64-bit Systems - So there I was, testing Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4)'s AVCHD compatibility. I created a simple project, about 4 minutes long, two picture-in-picture overlays with simple rotation and color correction. I had two eight-core systems: the Windows workstation, a 2.83GHz HP xw6600 running Windows XP (32-bit version) with 3GB of RAM, and a 3.2GHz Mac running OS X version 10.5.5 with 8GB of RAM. Rendering out to Blu-ray compatible MPEG-2 took 68 minutes on the Windows workstation, 11 minutes on the Mac. (February, 2009)

Is 32-bit computing slowing your streaming encoding? - I've never been a big fan of 64-bit operating systems, but some recent comparative trials with Adobe Media Encoder and Premiere Pro showed that 64-bit computers - both Windows and Macintosh -- had a huge advantage over 32-bit Windows. (February 2, 2009)

Adobe CS4 at 64 - As you’ve undoubtedly heard, Adobe Creative Suite 4 (CS4) Production Premium delivers some awesome productivity benefits, particularly the ability to send Premiere Pro sequences to both the Adobe Media Encoder (AME) and Adobe Encore for rendering or authoring while continuing to edit in Premiere Pro. Perhaps what you haven’t heard is that this capability significantly increases CS4’s memory requirements. If you’re upgrading from CS3 to CS4 on a 32-bit operating system, this can mean longer rendering times, instability, or both. If you want CS4’s features without the performance penalty, you should consider running CS4 on a 64-bit system. (January 15, 2009)

RAM Configurations for Production

Lots more coming here, but know that RAM and CPU can dramatically impact performance for CS4 and other editors.

RAM and CPU Configurations for Adobe CS4 - If you're buying or configuring a computer for CS4, either on Mac or Windows, you should check out this Affordable HD article at Digital Content Producer, here. The article compares single and dual processor performance at various RAM levels on both platforms to identify the optimal configuration for your primary video format, whether DV, AVCHD, HDV, DVCPRO HD or Red. (February 3, 2009)