With Apple’s current lack of support for professional editors, many are moving to Avid Media Composer 6 and Adobe Creative Suite 6 software. And, coupled with a Blackmagic Design DeckLink card, DaVinci Resolve is an inexpensive option for awesome color correction. The best news is that there’s now a computer that’s optimized for the CS6/Resolve workflow, and it’s called the DataBrick NLE.
The DataBrick NLE from Savage IO tackles the question “What would happen if you adapted the speed and reliability of an ‘Enterprise’ class server for use as a non-linear editor?” The answer is that you would have a superfast computer that can work 24/7 without letting you down.
Let’s start with the speed aspect. The DataBrick NLE Beta model that I tested had dual 6-core 2.30GHz Intel i7 processors, which you can find in normal work stations. One of the many differences is that the DataBrick NLE uses NVIDIA Maximus technology with the Quadro 4000 and Tesla C2075 companion processor. This configuration is a certified combination for Adobe CS6 Premiere Pro, and, since Premiere Pro requires a 64-bit operating system, the DataBrick NLE uses Microsoft Windows 7 Pro 64-bit OS as well. The NVIDIA Quadro 4000 allows you to see high-end graphics on your monitors, and the Tesla processor powers the Mercury Playback Engine (MPE). The MPE uses NVIDIA CUDA processing to offload much of the video-processing work from the 12 computer cores (or CPUs) to the Tesla GPU, which can solve the complex computational problems in a fraction of the time required on the 12 CPU cores. And there’s an added benefit to using the NVIDIA Maximus platform. By moving the visual processing tasks in the Mercury Playback Engine to CUDA, you can get performance gains of up to 27 times faster. These speed changes are not confined to Premiere Pro CS6 — Adobe After Effects, SpeedGrade and Photoshop also benefit from Maximus technology.
The Mercury Playback Engine in Premiere Pro now supports unlimited cameras in multi-cam projects, and the ability to alter effects in real-time while maintaining fluid video playback. And After Effects now supports the new NVIDIA OptiX ray-tracing engine to create stunning ray-traced motion graphics directly within After Effects. The SpeedGrade professional color grading application utilizes NVIDIA GPU acceleration for real-time color grading, and supports the Quadro SDI Output card to preview 12-bit color SDI output for the most accurate color fidelity. The high-performance CUDA architecture allows for video data to be stored with 32-bit floating-point precision, which means visual data retains high levels of precision throughout the rendering and playback process. NVIDIA Maximus technology can accelerate preparation of media in the MPE when using mismatched media, including frame rate, pixel aspect ratio, and field order differences, which are common in video-editing projects. In fact, the MPE utilizes CUDA to accelerate nearly all areas of the video playback process. CUDA is used to accelerate over 40 effects and transitions within Premiere Pro, and is used by the MPE to accelerate color space conversions, video de-interlacing, video compositing, all blend modes, opacity and motion. And the new Warp Stabilizer in Premiere Pro CS6 is designed to allow smooth playback of handheld or otherwise shaky camera footage.
The new 3D ray-traced rendering engine in Adobe After Effects CS6 enables you to simply and quickly design realistic geometric text and shapes in 3D space, eliminating the traditional time-consuming back and forth with external 3D tools. This ray-tracing feature becomes truly interactive with the NVIDIA Maximus System, delivering final frames up to 27-times faster than with high-end CPUs alone.
It’s clear that NVIDIA Maximus technology greatly speeds up CS6 editing, but there are other speed enhancements built into the DataBrick NLE as well. Most systems use a SATA drive for the C drive. At 5,600 to 10,000 RPM, they are a bit slow, so they’re sometimes updated to a SAS drive that spins at 15,000 RPM, allowing for faster data transfer. For the latest systems, a solid state (SSD) is used, but they all have one problem — if the drive fails, you lose all of your program data. The DataBrick NLE takes the “server” approach since both video-editing machines and servers can never go down without bad things happening. It uses four Intel 520 Series SSDs in a RAID 5 for the C drive, controlled by an LSI 9266-4i controller. With read and write speeds of over 1700MB/sec, this alternative is not only the fastest for data transfer and loading software, but also the best for safety. If a drive fails, you can continue editing and replace the broken drive at your convenience.
The DataBrick NLE takes the same approach with its media RAID. Twelve Intel 520 Series SSDs are raided together in a RAID 5 configuration. These are the latest generation of SSD drives, which can be RAID-ed together without problems. They are Enterprise-class 6GB/sec drives, and, with a mean time between failure (MTBF) of 1,200,000 hours, they make a very reliable drive system. When controlled by the LSI MegaRAID SAS 9280 6GB/sec controller, this Intel SSD RAID reads and writes about 2000MB/sec, which is very fast. By comparison, the 16-drive SAS RAID on my Mac Pro is only about half as fast (and, since it’s also a RAID 5, you can have a drive fail and keep on editing). Another speed improvement is the RAM: At 64GB of 1333 RAM, most CS6 projects can be completely loaded into RAM.
The DataBrick NLE is also made to be reliable, so there’s a backup RAID consisting of six 3TB SATA drives. When you’ve finished editing, you can copy your work over to the backup drive for safety. And, as usual, if a drive fails in this RAID, it won’t kill your session. The server reliability design also applies to the power supply for the DataBrick NLE. Instead of having one power supply, the DataBrick NLE has three — and if one fails (which has never happened), another will automatically take over. All of these great features basically make the DataBrick NLE bulletproof.
Besides the RAID systems and redundant power supplies, the cool thing about this NLE is that all 22–28 drives are located in the same server-style 4U rackmount case, which is only 7-inches tall. And, like a fast car, the DataBrick NLE is fairly loud, so the growl lets you know that there’s a lot of horsepower under the hood. The power of this machine became evident when I tested it against my present review system, a 2.93GHz 12-core Mac Pro. This Mac Pro is the biggest one that Apple makes at the moment (AKA their “heavy-lifting” machine). It has been modified with an AJA KONA 3 interface, 24GB of RAM, an LSI RAID controller connected to two Ci Design cases, which house 16 Seagate Cheetah 15K RPM hard drives. It also has an NVIDIA Quadro 4000 card but, due to a lack of 16x slots, has no room for a Tesla processor. The price tag before software and monitors was about $24,800.
I loaded the same After Effects file in both machines and started them at the same time. Almost immediately, the DataBrick NLE started pulling ahead. As I kept watching the green render lines, it was clear that the DataBrick NLE was rendering the file over 60-percent faster than the Mac Pro. The AFX file was a large one, so I stopped the test before it finished the whole file. By this time the Mac Pro had processed 33 seconds of the file while the DataBrick NLE had processed 53 seconds (63-percent faster).
The DataBrick NLE is also a good value for the money. With the Mac Pro totaling at $24,800, the DataBrick NLE is a great deal at $17,300. (It actually costs $9,600 less than the Mac when you factor in the $2,100 Tesla processor that’s included with the DataBrick NLE.) And the fact that the NLE is much faster makes it the clear winner. So if you’re looking for an editing system that is both fast and reliable, the DataBrick NLE from Savage IO is your best bet.
David Hurd owns David Hurd Productions in Tampa, Fla. Other reviews can be seen on his blog at www.dhpvideo.com.