Modern Consumer Build vs Old Monster Workstation
from time to time at videohive there are threads about what Hardware to buy for video editing, and for what it is worth to spend money on.
I had some Hardware changes lately and had the chance to make some comparisons I hope are interesting to some of you, even when not working with video.
This is going to be a huge post and you can just scroll down to the specs and then further down to the test result charts. Nevertheless, feel free to read my thoughts
Disclaimer: I'm not a tech-geek, I'm mainly someone who just wants the things to work, be reliable and reasonably fast. I'm not interested in abstract benchmarks and I don't really know what I'm doing here – I just use the equipment I have. There may be mistakes in what I am saying and/or assuming here, but I'm in good faith to have made my comparison in a fair and real-world-like environment.
All Prices are the average of the current german prices for the equipment.
Last but not least, english is not my mother-language so please forgive when there are some grammar-errors.
So, about a year ago I built my dream machine. It was – and still is – well thought out for what I need it – and that is Adobe After Effects. I call this machine the consumer build, although for someone this might still be a monster – it surely was for me when I bought it for 1800€ at the end of 2012.
For those interested, these are the components of my custom build:
- Intel Core i7-3820 Bx, LGA2011
- Gigabyte GeForce GTX 660 Ti Windforce 2X OC, 3GB GDDR5, 2x DVI, HDMI, DisplayPort
- 2x 16GB-Kit Corsair Vengeance Low Profile black PC3-12800U CL10-10-10-27
- ASRock X79 Extreme6, Socket LGA2011, ATX
- be quiet! PURE POWER CM BQT L8-CM-730W
- FRACTAL DESIGN Define R4 Black Pearl (Case)
- 3x Seagate Barracuda Green 1,5TB 5900.3 SATA 3 6Gb/s 64MB 8,9cm (3,5") (in Raid 5)
- Samsung SSD 830 256GB SATA III Basic (for Windows and Programs)
- LG GH24NS bare black DVD Writer
- Thermaltake Water 2.0 Performer / All-in-one Liquid Cooling System
- Windows 7 Professional 64-Bit (SB-Version)
And for everyone who just wants the pure facts:
- i7 CPU of 3rd Gen, 8 Threads @ 3,6 Ghz
- 32GB of RAM equaling in 4GB per CPU Thread (important for AE)
- Nvidia GTX660 Ti Graphics Card
- Fast SSD with Windows 7 Professional
- 3TB big RAID 5 Array for Media (= lots of space for whatever you need)
Lately I had the chance to get my hands on a used Dell Precision T7500 Workstation. Back in 2009, this was a top-of-the-line Workstation, and had price-tags of 20.000€. Of course there are differences in the hardware inside, as you could configure your Workstation as you liked it. This is what I got:
- 2x Xeon X5670 CPU = 12 Cores, 24 Threads @ 2,93Ghz
- 24GB of RAM (ECC reg)
- Nvidia Quadro FX5800 Graphics Card
- 500GB SATA WD RE3 Enterprise HDD (with Win 7 Professional)
(The Case and Mainboard are the T7500 standard and not really specified by Dell.)
Differences between the test candidates
This is really an unequal comparison to say the least, but I have to say it was quite interesting. Without testing it, I could say that the both CPUs in the Workstation would outperform the single i7. But my build was thought out, I had a RAID that protected me of hardware failings (but not of viruses or user errors) and 3TB of Storage which really should fit my needs. The HDDs I used were fairly slow, as I didn’t needed the RAID to be very fast, as I had a SSD for all my programs and OS and that works really well. Also, as I have built the machine mainly for After Effects, I knew I need a lot of RAM per core, and 32gb did let me make use of all 8 Threads in AE.
On the other side, we have a very minimal Workstation Built, only one HDD for everything, and that is only 500GB. And no security in case of hardware failures (unless you backup regularly, which should be done anyway), but therefor we have an Enterprise Class HDD here, that SHOULD be much less likely to fail than the cheap HDDs in my custom build.
So it was clear to sooner or later put a SSD and a bigger HDD in that thing. But here we have the next problem: No SATA3 connections on the old T7500 Mainboard, that means SSDs are cut off at a speed of 300mb/s read/write that SATA2 provides.
So if you are looking for really fast write and read speeds, you have to make use of PCIe SSDs that are very expensive (but the fastest available, too).
But actually, 300mb/s are a lot for a Motion Graphics artist, and normal HDDs never reach that speed anyway without a RAID. I see these speeds only used in realtime video editing, especially when working with RAW or 4K files. But this is not what my main intention was so I never bothered about the speed of my HDDs in my custom build.
Also, the speed that you can experience when you have your programs and OS on an SSD are not because of the high write/read speeds, but rather the fast response times, that are the same in SATA2 as SATA3 and therefor should give you an equally fast experience in starting up / opening programs.
What might be worth to mention is the fact that my build can be overclocked in almost any area while the Workstation Mainboard doesn’t allow any kind of overclocking. As these machines are used for work and I need them to be as reliable as they can, I don’t overclock anyway. But just for the record, this would be possible with the consumer build.
This is what really makes this comparison worth to me, because these two machines will run you around the same price when bought used. I paid 1300€ in January 2014 for the Dell Precision T7500, bought from a shop where I could give the machine back within 30 days if I don’t like it.
When you buy all components of my custom build off of ebay from private people, this will cost you around 1100€ including shipping.
If you buy this used from shops, you might end up nearly at 1300€. Likewise, if you happen to stumble across an auction for a workstation like here, you might get it for much less (around 1000€).
For the custom build, you also have to count the many hours you have to spend on ebay to get everything and of course the time to put all parts together. So if you value your time, you might say these two machines are equally expensive. But which one is better?
(Unlike the Dell, you can still buy all of my parts new, of course a bit more expensive. You might come up with 1300€ for a new machine with comparable specs to my build and full guarantee.)
First of, the Noise. I have tried to build my Consumer Build to be very quiet, but actually I have failed in that point. It has a kind-of water cooling for the cpu, but if the machine is running on full power, it still gets quite loud (also, the graphics card fan might be the reason for that).
In Idle, and normal working (not rendering, just quick ram previews in After Effects), my Consumer Build is noticable quieter than the Dell Workstation, but both are very acceptable.
BUT: I haven’t managed yet to get the Dell louder, it just stays at pretty much the same level of noise all the time, even when doing a heavy render where my consumer build starts to take off.
So, when it comes to noise I would say none of them is better or worse.
Finally, let’s stop talking nonsense and get to some results! Some real-life tests and the most important to me: After Effects, my main tool for work. After Effects Version CS6 was used in all tests. The tests were run several times with different settings (Hyperthreading on/off, more/less ram per CPU core) and the best results were picked for each machine.
For this first test, I have used the Slashcam Benchmark for After Effects, that is a project file publically available and we can compare how long the machines need to render. Good thing is, results for this tests are available for a lot of machines. (To download it, click on “Anleitung”, and then on “dieses Projektfile”).
This project doesn’t make use of any assets, there is just a bunch of After Effects built in effects stacked on top of each other that stresses the machine (at least it used to be so ). So the speed of the HDD/SSD shouldn’t make much of an influence here.
I have tested the both machines with and without Multiprocessing on, meaning After Effects renders several frames at a time and makes use of more processors.
With Multiprocessing off, I had different results depending on rendering several jpeg files or one big Quicktime MOV (this is the standard and used in the publically available list).
Here we can see that my machine is better thought out, the 32gb of RAM let me make use of all 8 Threads on the CPU, while assigning 3gb/core to each cpu and get the best results.
Assigning 3gb/cpu was still the best method on the Dell, although this lets me use only 5 threads (Some GB RAM are automatically reserved for other applications, that’s why the math is wrong).
So it is clear that to unleash the full potential on the T7500, I need more (expensive) RAM.
But let’s look at the results:
Looking at the testrun with Multiprocessing on, the Workstation is the clear winner, 73% faster than the i7. But, although After Effects shows me to only make use of 5 of the 24 Threads, this doesn’t seem to affect the performance as it might suggest, at least you cannot say using 24 threads will make this over 4 times as fast (if you read on you will see results with more RAM).
It wasn’t quite a suprise that the 2 Xeons will outperform the i7 in this test.
Much more interesting was to see the single processing (Multiprocessing off) results. And that’s a huge bummer!
I have expected that the i7 will be better here, but this is quite dramatically. Rendering as Jpeg sequence, the i7 is 87,5% faster than the Xeons, rendering to one Movie file it is even 108% faster!
But, why is this important? You might ask. Multiprocessing=on is faster, so just let that stay on.
Thing is, while working in AE, you don’t really want MP to be active, as this introduces some seconds of waiting befor the render begins, what essentially slows you more down than it speeds you up, when you want to have a quick look at an animation everytime you change something.
On top of that, some effects disable Multiprocessing completely, forcing you to set it to off.
This was really a shock for me, the i7 dances circles around the Xeons in a single threaded performance.
But let us take a look at the second benchmark. Here I have used one of my templates, Epic Logo Sting. Reason for that was – I had it lying around But I understand that a project that I can provide for free is more worth to the community, in case you want to test your systems. So I will do some other tests in the future and provide you the project file for that. But you still can buy my project if you like to
The differences to the slashcam Benchmark are mainly the render time: it is much longer, making it a more accurate test in my eyes. The slashcam test is rendered so fast with the machines nowadays, that one second is already a much bigger difference than it is in a project that needs 10 minutes to render.
Another difference is that this project makes use of assets: a logo png-file and two prerendered flares in Quicktime PNG format.
This could be a disadvantage for the T7500, as it has only one HDD, means Windows 7, After Effects, the project file, the asstes are all on the same disk while we create several jpegs on the very same HDD. In the end, it didn’t turn out to be a problem, I guess these files are just loaded in the RAM. Having several GB of Assets would make this look different, obviously.
All in all I think this test is much closer to the reality than the slashcam Benchmark.
Let’s see the results:
Now this looks much better for the two Xeons when it comes to single processing. It is just 4% slower than the i7 in Single processing, while being 28% faster with MP on.
In general, this test shows a completely different picture of these two machines. While the Dell was almost twice as fast (MP) in the Slashcam test, here it is „only“ a third time faster. But remember, this is still with only 24Gb of RAM, letting After Effects not use all Threads. The CPU usage was at 60% top in the Task Manager, while the Consumer Build stuck at 100% the whole time.
Also, the difference between MP=on and =off is much more present in the first test than in this one. Most likely, this is After Effects’ fault. The Multiprocessing just sometimes doesn’t work as well as it could. That is also why users make use of some workarounds to unleash the full power of their hardware, that might result in a faster rendering for both machines (I might test that later)
Okay, now let’s see what happens when we unleash all cores of the T7500 to AE, by putting a total of 96Gb Ram in (and therefore 3x as many RAM as the consumer build). Of course, this adds money to the build. I bought 12x 8gb Crucial RAM new, not used, and paid 720€ for it. Getting them used (as all prices we compare here are used prices) might run you at 500€, but it is hard to find them. Selling the current 24gb Ram installed might get you back 100€ so let’s just say this makes this build a competing price of 1700€.
Let’s see what that makes us see in the Slashcam Benchmark (Single Processing did stay fairly the same)
So now we have a workstation that is 109% faster than the Consumer Build.
In comparison to that we have the new Mac Pro released late 2013, the best option available with 12 cores and a price of 8000€. I took that values from slashcam.de where they have tested the new Mac with 32gb (They have used After Effects CC, though, which might be a bit faster than CS6). The Mac Pro is – as far as we can tell from the Slashcam Benchmark – therefore comparibly fast in AE as this old Workstation from 2010. (I just included that as information, I don’t want this to be a thread about the Mac).
My investion of 620€ (as I said, when you find it used it may be only 400) brought me from 41 to 34 seconds. A performance increase of 20%. Might not be really worth it.
Let’s look at the Epic Logo Sting rendertimes:
Here we have a bigger increase: 39%. Now that is more worth the investion. The Single Processing Performance stays fairly the same, although it ended up to be 6 seconds slower (0,9%). If I run the test again it might be the same again, I wouldn’t think too much about it, it is pretty much unchanged.
With 96gb RAM, the Workstation ends up being 77% faster in this test than the Consumer Build.
So far to the CPU tests we have made. I will add some GPU After Effects Benchmarks (E3D and Raytrace renderer) in the near future.
Cinema 4d (Cinebench)
Many people are also working with 3D programs and since After Effects CC a small part of Maxon Cinema4D is even shipping with the Adobe Software. It is just logical to test these machines in C4D. I own neither AE CC nor Cinema 4D, but fortunately Maxon offers a benchmark program that uses the render engine of C4D to accurately test the performance of a system.
It can test the CPU as well as the GPU, while the GPU benchmark seems to be mainly OpenGL.
I cannot say much about the accuracy of this benchmark, I will provide more tests with Blender (the 3d program I’m using) in the future.
So, let’s take a look at the results (The Workstation had 96gb RAM installed, but this shouldn’t affect the result compared to the standard 24Gb, as C4D is much less RAM intensive than AE):
(The values in the GPU Chart couldn’t have decimal points, it is showing the fps*100, so it is 55.04fps when the value is 5504)
Here the Workstation can really show his powers in the CPU render, being 2.17x as fast as the Consumer Build. The best Mac Pro available right now outperforms the old Workstation here, but not as significantly as the price tags suggest (1300 vs 8000 (used vs new price, I admit)).
In the GPU-test, the Consumer Build is the clear winner, the GTX660ti is 36,6% faster than the Quadro FX5800. This is not a big surprise. (Nevertheless, you can sell the Quadro FX5800 for about 200€ and get a used GTX660ti for the same price, if you like to, and then have the same performance.)
Funny thing is how bad the rates of the Mac Pro are, although having 2 state-of-the-art GPUs inside, they are clocked so low and the driver in OSX seems to be so bad that it is slower than the GTX660ti.
I hope that this (biiiiig) post has been interesting for you, and I will surely provide more comparisons in After Effects (E3D, raytrace) as well as Blender, if there is anyone interested in it.
Conclusion so far
Now what conclusion do I draw from this so far? If you are looking for your main working machines, if it is mainly about After Effects, and you have a budget of around 1300€ and cannot spend more, you might go with the consumer build with proper HDDs, space, RAIDs for security (they are not an alternative to backups though) and good SSD for the OS. I have to say I still love my build and as it is now I will more likely use the T7500 as a render only machine.
Still, at the end of the day, the Workstation is still a hell of a machine to me, especially for 3D work, and if you are willing to spend some more money on an SSD and a bit more HDDs, you might get about twice the performance for less than twice the price.
Besides that, if you find an auction for an older workstation, you can get a better speced machine for even less money, making the performance/price balance even better for the old workstation.
So, I think it is indeed worth thinking about an old used workstation instead of a new build.