Corey Robson

Cinematographer / DIT

The big apple let down and I don’t mean NY

     Not me, some other angry nerd

(Not me BTW, some other angry nerd)

The number of forum posts and blogs filled with impassioned disappointment and even outrage over the recent minor Apple Mac Pro update must be in the hundreds. There are proclamations all over the place that this is grossly unacceptable and that an entire OS and hardware migration is in order, not to mention fear mongering that the Mac Pro is inevitably dead even days after an email confirming the contrary. Writes Apple CEO Tim Cook to a customer last week:

"Thanks for your email. Our Pro customers like you are really important to us. Although we didn’t have a chance to talk about a new Mac Pro at today’s event, don’t worry as we’re working on something really great for later next year. We also updated the current model today."

Sure it’s not until late 2013 but it will happen. End of that debate until Tim says otherwise. But I digress. The amount of commentary is of course expected no matter what they were to release but what has me writing this is something I noticed about myself during all this negativity that I feel compelled to share.

For some reason this time around I haven’t been able to ignore the all caps, exaggerated commentary in tech blog / forum land like I normally would. It really got under my skin and believe it or not I do not have brand allegiance to Apple over Microsoft. I do prefer OSX over W7 but not enough to swear off anything un-mac. I use both regularly as a DIT. With that out of the way I suppose why I’m unsettled can be identified by asking a simple two part question. Does my present Mac Pro or additional Mac Pros currently available fit my budget and provide me with what I need to accomplish my work successfully? For those of us who rely on computers to make a living, this is arguably the first question we should be asking ourselves before buying more environmentally damaging electronics. If we haven’t cared about such things in the past it’s never to late to start or get more proactive, myself included. If you answered yes to the above question, there’s no need to add more computer hardware to landfills and we can get on with it. However if you do need an additional Mac Pro or PC, don’t forget about the many used units available.

Now if you have a hard time answering this question then you are likely suffering from consumerism at it’s worst given the expense of new gear relative to what the other 99% of people make in a year on the rest of the planet. In our industry this reality is easy to forget and believe me, I’m just as guilty at forgetting this as the next guy. Nevertheless I try to remind myself daily that we’ve got it pretty good to be worked up about these things, usually during my free breakfast and lunch on set. First world problems…

My guess is that the most outspoken of these complainers would without much hesitation answer no to my question when really they are just looking for the latest tech topic to become passionate / worked up about. This is all under the guise of what is missing in the Mac Pro compared to PC hardware but never actually asking if or why they need for example thunderbolt, USB3, or a 30,000 Geekbench score.

But wait, by switching platforms there will be many inevitable problems that need to be solved! Oh the excitement! New gear, new places to spend money and time. A chance to sound like an authority in new places. Bragging rights galore. Or you could just use what you probably already have to create. I say this because I have been in the past among this group of twits, just not an outspoken, blogging twit. Over the years I have found myself repeatedly getting caught up by the promise that even faster render speeds are available, followed closely by the reassuring, logical, James Earle Jones sounding voice in my head that says it’s justifiable because my time is money and what’s more valuable than time?

The only problem is this is a lie, at least for me. I have a small army of windows, macs, and hackintoshes at my disposal plus enough “outdated” hard drives to fill my kids’ inflatable pool. The number of hours I’ve spent building and configuring PCs over the last 16 years is beyond regrettable. A lot of that time and money could have been used better. I guess it has taken the collective roar of the last few weeks to finally get me to lay this down and put an official end to it for myself (at your expense unfortunately) but it is my birthday after all and the perfect time for a well deserved self-punch in the face.

To fully come clean, I have to admit I’ve been a huge hardware addict since about 1996 as you’ve gathered. I know all too well the subconscious and not so subconscious lure of software and hardware upgrades and inevitable resulting issues to distract from the creative process. When I catch myself getting sucked in on blogs and pouring over specs and whitepapers I know full well that I probably should be doing something creative instead but the fear that I won’t know what I might need to know unless I get to know it is pretty powerful stuff. Fear of not being on the cutting / bleeding edge of tech progress is another way to frame it. In hindsight I have upgraded unnecessarily at least 50% of the time and I’m not even a gamer.

Don’t get me wrong, if you genuinely answered no to the above question then rock on. Your move to windows or a hackintosh will bring relief to your projects and facilities. You are unable to wait until 2013 Q4 because of tight delivery deadlines and are in no way migrating or updating just because your tower is 3 years old. For you the choices are simple. Do I need OSX? If yes, the top 12 core Mac Pro model still kicks ass. Too expensive but still need OSX? A hackintosh will always be your answer until you get rich. Build your hackintosh using a guide from tonymacx86.com. Embrace the extra time you’ll need to deal with quirks. Don’t need OSX? Enjoy your cheap and fast W7 tower. Done. You legitimate no people know who you are and I do not frown upon you in any way. I have no issue with upgrading in principle, just not upgrading for superfluous reasons as you may have gathered now that I’m all enlightened and whatnot.

This next commonly heard rant is just plain lame. “I can’t trust Apple’s strategy for the pro market!” Outfitting an entire facility and are confused? Try emailing someone appropriate at Apple and I’m sure you’ll get a response to help make your decision. I suspect though that most of these folks are buying 1 or maybe 2 new towers over the next 18 months. If you need to make a decision now then refer to the above paragraphs. Looking forward Mountain Lion is still going to support any recent Mac Pro so relax, take a nice sea salt bath. Not the kind that makes you eat faces but the other kind. I do agree with the point made by most pros that Apple’s PR dept. could have been more respectful to the our market over the last 3 months at minimum. What would it have harmed to communicate better? Nothing from what I can tell by their recent releases. 

As you can guess by now I am not overly concerned by the Mac Pro’s 4.2% speed bump to the top model. Or not too disappointed that it’s lacking thunderbolt or USB3. Even if a 3U or 4U rackmount 7 PCIe slot Mac Pro with dual thunderbolt and 4 USB3 ports did come along, I’d still need my PCIe expansion chassis for proper cooling as I suspect the heat from 7 populated slots with multiple graphics cards and a red rocket would ensure the chassis fans keep my cart further away from set than I or my DP would feel comfortable with. My eSATA cards are fine instead of USB3 and an 8 drive RAID6 is not going to fit in a new mac pro unless it’s ridiculously big. I still need to work with prores regularly and for this reason a PC is a deal breaker for now. I know prores encoding on windows is possible but I’m not interested in first rendering out uncompressed from CS6, AMC, Scratch, or Resolve and then transcoding again into prores using a 2nd program. Perhaps there’s another workaround I’m not aware of but I think that’s it for now. If prores encoding on W7 was easier would I migrate to W7 full-time? No. I still haven’t hit my mac pro wall yet mainly because I have a Red Rocket and am not trying to playback 5K R3Ds without one like many are attempting in angry Mac Pro thread land.

Each thunderbolt port represents a x4 PCIe slot. It would be nice for future SSD card readers that will bottleneck eSATA but that’s a long way off. For everything I need there is a corresponding PCIe card so I don’t need TB presently.  Even if this theoretical Mac Pro only had a single never mind dual  Xeon E5 2690 CPU, at $2000 each I have no business plan to justify that pricey upgrade currently. As a DIT the most CPU / RAM intensive task I give any computer is transcoding dailies generally using Scratch Lab or Davinci Resolve. For that, both my 2009 octocore 2.93GHz Mac Pro and i7 970 hexacore hackintosh with Quadro4000s, 24GB RAM still do a fine job getting me off the clock at a reasonable time on Epic or Alexa jobs. My last job was a dual Epic, 1 Red One job using Scratch Lab on a 2.66 12 core Mac Pro with fibre RAID and the bottleneck was still the GPU / Red Rocket, not the CPU / RAM. The 24 threads rarely made it over 25% load during 2 node transcodes in Scratch.

BTW, the two thunderbolt ports in the new retina macbook pros are nice but still not going to cut it expansion-wise for most jobs I do unfortunately. I currently have two 2011 17” macbook pros and promise you if you haven’t tried to connect a ton of peripherials to a macbook pro (I have a prerelease Magma Expressbox 3T, Sonnet Qio E3, Sonnet Echo expresscard adapter, Pegasus TB RAID, and an AJA IO Express) you will lose interest quickly once you deal with all those data cables, daisy chaining, and external power supplies. Some of the Pelican case based setups I’ve seen pics of on Reduser will help the fragile clutter tremendously but most days I still need more bandwidth than what even multiple Expressbox 3Ts will give me. External cables / peripherals are more prone to problems than cards secured into PCIe slots. That’s been my experience with Macbooks on set and is the reason I’ll continue to put up with the extra weight and power requirements of a tower based setup.

Ok, my public therapy session is over. For official and brilliant insight to what I’m going on about you can check out the books “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield and the well known “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, both of which I’ve skimmed through briefly mainly to appease my very wise wife over the years. No really she’s right, I should have read these a long time ago. Guess I’ll start reading them…another day, 8:00am call tomorrow. That’s an even better excuse to procrastinate than blogging! Guess you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help himself. 

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