We had chance today to setup a new Apple Mac Pro with Pro Tools HD Native Thunderbolt and Pro Tools 11 HD to see how powerful this sort of system can be.
Firstly, there are some images of the new Mac Pro to give an idea of the physical size. We also wanted to run some quick tests (nothing too scientific) to see how this next generation machine, coupled with Pro Tools' more recent 64 Bit operation can be expected to perform.
This is a computer? Really? The new Mac Pro looks like no other computer out there. It is only 25.1 cm tall with a 16.7 cm diameter. The main components inside are built around a thermal core which draws heat way from them. Towards the bottom of the machine is a very large single fan that pulls air upwards through the intake at the base. This combination results in a very efficient cooling system and in terms of noise, it is incredibly quiet!
We were using the base Mac Pro model (Feb 2014) with the following specifications:
- Quad-Core and Dual GPU
- 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor
- 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
- Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each
- 256GB PCIe-based flash storage
We hooked up an Avid Pro Tools HD Native Thunderbolt with an HD I/O interface and loaded up a session with 192 tracks of audio. Each channel contained one Avid Channel Strip, and one D-Verb plugin. All audio was running at 48Khz/24Bit.
We also setup a video track and imported a peice of 1080P HD video which was being displayed on a HD TV we had connected up via the HDMI output on the rear of the Mac Pro.
We pressed play... And everything played. No choking, stuttering or clicks and the video playback was smooth. Taking a look at the system usage, all the cores were at around 50%, the memory a 46% and the disk at only 4%.
The disk was playing 192 channels of audio and 1 stream of 1080P HD video footage, and was only hitting 4%! This is due to the next generation PCIe flash storage being 2.4 times faster than a SATA SSD drive and 10 times faster han a 7200RPM SATA HDD.
This machine had 12 GB of RAM installed. Memory-wise, the system requirements for Pro Tools 11 state a 4GB minimum, but for video playback 8GB is required. We had HD video playing and our memory usage was still only at 46%.
We did not have any CPU or RAM hungry virtual instruments running to see their impact, but given that Pro Tools is now 64 Bit and able to access 16 Exabytes of RAM (1 Exabyte = 1,073741824 Gigabytes!), and the Mac Pro can support up to 64GB (with 4x 16GB sticks). the previous 4GB limit for 32 Bit applications is now a thing of the past and you will only be restricted by how much RAM you can afford.
Not everyone needs a machine as powerful as this, and many will be fine with an iMac, Macbook Pro or Mac Mini, but for users who need some serious power and potential for future upgrades, the Mac Pro looks like it will deliver. This is by no means a scientific or production test, but how this system handled what was thrown at it with minimal setup was impressive and although I feel uncomfortable saying this... The new Apple Mac Pro could be a real 'game changer'...