Videoguys' DIY 2: Big Blue
We are in the process of putting together our DIY4 Dual Core machines. If we were going to build an under $1,000 machine, these are the components we would choose.
The ASUS’ P5LD2 Deluxe mainboard sports LGA775 chips with up to 800MHz processor system bus, up to 4GB of dual-channel DDR2 memory at 667MHz, two PCI Express x16 slots, one PCI Express x1 slot and three PCI slots. The mainboard provides Serial ATA II and Parallel ATA connectors, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, may be equipped with a WLAN module as well as sports other modern interfaces. anandtech gave it a very good review
Videoguys DIY Challenge II - Big Blue
Build an NLE Hot Rod for $2,000 - (Feb 2006 update)
Last year (Feb '04) we posted our first DIY article as a guidebook for digital videographers who wanted to build their own NLE computer on a tight budget. We set a $1,000 goal and while we got very close, there were a few areas we were not willing to cut back on and we ended up over $1,000. Six months later we revisited the challenge and re-configured our $1,000 NLE machine. We kept the same motherboard but changed the CPU and storage. While still over budget, the machine is a screamer for the money and even more powerful than we originally hoped for. More importantly, we're running Premiere Pro 1.5, Avid Xpress Pro with Mojo, Liquid Edition 6 Pro and Vegas 5 on it. All with great performance and rock solid stability. Click here to read our DIY 1 article.
Back in June when Avid began shipping their new Xpress Studio Complete NLE suite, we had posted that we were working on our next DIY machine, a dual processor screamer that would take advantage of all the latest new technologies. Unfortunately, every time we thought we found a motherboard or chipset we liked our research turned up reviews for them that made us pull back or they were so expensive that we couldn't come close to our budget. As a result our dual processor project is stalled again. I apologize for these delays, but we don't want to put a system out there, then have folks start building them, only to find out we are switching to newer technology a few weeks later. We have begun work on our DIY III machine. It's going to be a Dual Xeon workstation with a target budget of $3,000. We'll be running the new Edius NX for HDV on it in addition to the NLE software listed above.
The $2,000 Challenge
My old reliable HP x1100 workstation is getting a little long in the tooth. If you'll recall I got it back in 2002 when the Matrox RT.X100 first shipped. It has served me well for the past 2 years, but with new NLEs demanding even more power, I felt the need for speed!
I use my home machine for everything. I edit my home videos on it and burn DVDs, I rip my CDs and I upload my digital pictures. I also use it to work on the Videoguys.com website, to write the Videoguys Insider Newsletter and to surf the web looking for new articles to post on the Videoguys Blog. Now that my son is getting older (he's now 9 and in 4th grade), I've decided that I'm going to start playing some of the latest high tech computer video games with him as well. (note: as a concerned parent I'll keep away from the gory shoot'em ups). I'm also in the processs of converting my home network to wireless, so that I can get the kids computer out of my home office and set up a machine that my wife can use for herself.
This new machine has to be the ultimate digital everything computer. Most of all, it has to be the best video editing machine possible for the budget. Not just for DV, but for the new HiDef HDV format as well. We're going to be getting a new Sony HDV camcorder and start shooting and editing HDV footage. In order to handle the increased demands of HiDef, my new computer is going to have to be tweaked out and configured to take full advantage of all the latest technologies: PCI Express graphics, DDR2 memory, SATA Raid, Hyperthreading and more.
PCIe - PCI Express
This is the new high speed bus that is going to replace PCI and AGP. PCI bus bottlenecks are the biggest obstacle today for NLE - CPUs, Memory and storage are actually faster then the existing PCI bus technology.
Think of it as trying to run the Daytona 500 on a 3-lane oval – as my friends down in Knoxville used to say, "That Dog Won't Hunt!" We need a faster highway inside our computer for all these lightning fast components to move the digital data around. PCIe is the highway of the future, and it is here today. This new technology is already very important for NLE – the new Liquid Edition 6 can take advantage of the increased bandwidth for unprecedented real-time performance. Soon so will other editing and effects apps.
Today there are two kinds of PCIe slots. The PCIe 16x slot is for graphics cards and replaces AGP. PCIe 1x slots replace PCI with significantly higher bandwidth. I'm sure that in the near future we'll see PCIe video capture cards and NLE accelerator cards.
Here are the DIY ground rules for Videoguys $2,000 Dream Machine:
- All of the parts had to be off the shelf and available for purchase from various on-line computer part resellers.
- $2,000 budget does not include the dual LCD monitors
- CPU had to be a P4 3.2 Ghz or faster hyperthreaded processor.
- PCIe support and a minimum 128 Meg PCIe dual head graphics card
- I wanted a ton of RAM. The goal was 2 GB of the fastest DDR2 RAM available
- System drive, SATA RAID 0 Stripe for the video and an 4th drive for my other media (Music, Audio, Photos)
- We would add a DVD burner later. It did not have to come out of the $2,000 budget.
- System must be expandable and upgradeable in the future.
Just like with our original DIY challenge, the process would be documented and posted on the web for our customers to use as a guide. Jon spent over a month searching for the perfect motherboard and components. It only took a day to actually put the machine together. We tested it for a week before I interviewed him for this article.
Jon did it again!! While my final machine (parts list on the right) went over budget, he was able to spec out a killer machine that hit the target! He didn't have to cut any corners to get there either. For my machine I wanted the cool case, additional storage and the overkill graphics card. Both machines have the same motherboard, CPU, and memory. I know you will find this interview informative and helpful as our first DIY article.
Gary: Well Jon, this second machine proved to be a bit more challenging than the first one. What made it more difficult this time?
Jon: Finding the right motherboard was really tough. You wanted some new cutting edge technology in it, and quite frankly the first batch of motherboards that supported PCIe were less than spectacular. As often happens with new chipsets, the motherboard vendors and Intel needed some extra time and engineering to get it right.
Gary: I'm really excited about the added bandwidth that PCIe gives us, and I know our NLE vendors are busy finding ways to take advantage of this added power and performance. When you first started this project you had only a small handful of PCIe cards to choose from. I'm happy to say that today, there are plenty of good PCIe cards available. Best of all, everytime a new series of cards comes out, you can find fantastic deals on the slightly older versions ;-)
Jon: We found several dual-head PCIe cards based on the nVideo GeForce6600 and the ATI X700 chipsets that you can buy for around $200. These cards are optimized for 3D gaming and have excellent OpenGL and DirectX 9 support. We decided to go with nVidia Quadro based cards because they are optimized for 2D applications such as video editing, graphics design and CAD. Quadro cards do a really great job with all our NLEs, and they are recommended by all our vendors.
Gary: That's why I'm so excited about our new relationship with PNY. We'll be able to offer our customers the their nVidia Quadro FX cards. The FX1300 is a monster OpenGL card for digital video editing, 3D animators and digital content creation. It's a bit expensive, but I'm looking forward to playing the latest 3D computer games on it.
The card that I think Digital Videographers are going to fall in love with is the Quadro FX 540 card. It's a very reasonably prices 128 meg, dual head, OpenGL PCIe card that works great with all our NLE solutions. It's got an added little trick that I think is SO COOL! You can use a special adapter on the 2nd monitor output to provide Component video output that you can hook directly into an HiDef TV (Plasma, projection, LCD or CRT). You can download a plug-in drivers for After Effects & Premiere Pro that will allow you real-time HD previews while you are editing. Plug-ins for Vegas, Avid Xpress, Liquid Edition and other software is expected this spring.
GREAT NEWS! NVIDIA Quadro FX by PNY for PCI Express cards are now available from Videoguys.com!! Click here for more info!
Gary: So what motherboards did you consider?
Jon: We looked at the ASUS P5AD2, the SuperMicro P8SAA, MSI 925X Neo Platinum and the Gigabyte GA-8ANXP-D
I'm really happy we waited. the Asus P5AD2 motherboard is fantastic. Not only did we load it up with lightning fast components, we tweaked it out for even better performance. I'd also like to add that Asus support is great. I've had to contact them a few times over the past year and they have always been helpful.
Note: Since initially building our machine, Asus replaced the P5AD2 Deluxe with the P5AD2 Premium. The cost is about $15 more. You get all of the features of the Deluxe plus Dual Gigabit LAN and 2 FireWire 1394b ports.
Gary: Well, with FireWire 800 support this is one upgrade worth taking advantage of. I know when we were researching this motherboard there were a couple of very cool optimizing / monitoring tools that Asus supplied that really got our interest. Did they live up to the hype?
Jon: YES – and boy are they cool!
AI NOS is an overclocking tool that lets the system overclock itself instantly and automatically to handle the needs of CPU intensive operations. We set our system up to boost CPU performance by 10% when needed. That means our already fast 3.4GMhz runs at over 3.7 Mhz when needed. That lets us render and encode even faster!
Stack Cool is what allows us to overclock with confidence. The biggest concern with overclocking is that the excess heat can damage the CPU and other components. Not only does Stack Cool keep our system running cool, it allows us to do it without having to crank the fans up to full blast, which means overall quieter operation.
WiFi-g™ onboard gives us integrated Wireless networking. I was kind of skeptical about this feature. I figured it would be a nightmare to set up, or that it would be flaky. I was wrong. It was a breeze to install and set up. And it provides a rock solid connection to our network. We had no problems transferring files from our server or the other workstations in the demo room.
Gary: Yeah, I'll vouch for that. When I got Big Blue home, I had no problems at all setting it up on my network. It found my Linksys WAP54G router ($70) and within 5 minutes I wasn't eh network and able to access the Internet and pull down files from my other machines.
Jon: Big Blue! Gotta love it. Initially I was quite amused by your case selection this time around. The Aspire X-Navigator makes this machine look as fast as it runs. But looks are only half the story with this case. We knew we were going to be overclocking – and running some serious RAID storage inside the case, so we needed to make sure we had plenty of cooling. Cooling that would be effective, without being too noisy.
Big Blue is cooled by a total of 5 fans, each with glowing blue LEDs. The front of the case has a built in LCD thermal monitor and a fan control. I bet we could push the overclocking up as high as 20% with all this cooling, butI guess our decision to go with 10% will provide the best results in the long run.
Gary: It's OK Jon - Someday we'll go crazy and see just how far we can push one of our machines – but I didn't want to risk frying the CPU and or motherboard. We're building this machine for video editing, not blasting away our enemies in the latest game. Stability is the most important factor with any DIY computer system. We will not sacrifice stability for speed.
Jon: Yeah, I know. That's why I really like the 500W Dual Fan Aluminum power supply that comes with Big Blue's Aspire case. I did run into a small problem here. The new 915 & 925 based motherboards have a 24pin ATX connector, but most power supplies (including the one we have in Big Blue) are 20pin. Initially I though we had a big problem here. A quick call to ASUS support and we had a fix. Turns out you can just connect the 20pin psu to the 24pin connector (it only connected one way). There are a few guidelines in the Asus manual that the psu had to meet – and ours does. So we connected them up and we were set to go.
Gary: We've got a powerful graphics card, a total of 4 hard drives plus a DVD burner running in Big Blue. It is extremely important that you build your NLE workstation with an adequate power supply.
Jon: We're seeing this in tech support now. Folks running 3 or 4 drives plus a couple of CD and/or DVD burners with a 300 Watt power supply. They're calling in complaining about stability problems. We get them to upgrade their power supply and everything just runs better.
DIY Hotrod TechTip #2 – Make sure you have more then enough power – and then keep it cool!
Gary: Great Tip Jon. That's why I like the thermal display and fan control on the front of Big Blue. I can constantly monitor and adjust the fans to compensate.
Lets talk about the storage. I understand that once again, our motherboard shined and that you had no problem setting up our Videoguys Optimized NLE Storage configuration.
Jon: Yeah, that's one of the BIGGEST advantages of building your own machine. You can optimize your storage for NLE. We went with 4 drives, all SATA. A boot drive, a RAID0 stripe for video, and a 4th drive for back-ups and your MP3 collection. Try getting that from Dell ;-)
Gary: Be nice Jon. Lets just stick to the details here. How was setting up the RAID.
Jon: The RAID setup was REALLY EASY.
- First I went into the BIOS and disabled the EIDE RAID since we are only using SATA drives.
- Then I went into the RAID setup. I saw that the drives I had connected to the RAID controller were recognized.
- Next I chose setup raid, selected raid 0 and was done.
I then booted up and formatted the drives:
1. right click my computer and click 'manage' (this is a shortcut to going into
2. control panel > admin tools > computer management)
3. click disk management
4. right click the disk and 'initilize the disk'
5. then right click and make a partition
6. right click one more time and format NTFS
That was it! SWEET!
Gary: WOW! I remember the early days of EIDE RAID when we'd spend half the day configuring our storage. It's great when technology makes life easier for users and builders of computers.
Jon: Yeah, I'd have to say that building your own NLE computer is easier than ever before. The most important thing to do is your research up front. Make sure all your parts work together, and are recommended for the NLE you are ultimately going to choose. We have Premiere Pro, Liquid Edition, Vegas 5+DVD, Xpress Pro with Studio Essentials, Encore DVD, DVDit!, and Boris FX on this machine. They are all running great. Gary: I agree. I've had it going for about a month now, and I'm very happy with the results. I'm also using it for digital photography (Photoshop and PhotoImpact). I've also started ripping my CD collection into MP3s to create and organize my digital music library. We're trying to give the Videoguys.com website a sleeker, more professional look, so I'm now learning GoLive, which is also running on this all purpose media creation Hot Rod. But I think one of the most important things we're doing is NOT running Internet Explorer.
DIY Hotrod TechTip #3 – Dump Internet Explorer and run Firefox browser
Jon: I knew you would like the Firefox browser. The Internet is loaded with spyware, popups, viruses and IE hijackers that are incredibly annoying and difficult to uninstall. They end up leaving your computer littered with hidden programs that run in the background and suck up your valuable resources. Over time these parasites will slow down even a hotrod machine like this one. Often time the only sure fire way to get rid of them is a clean install of the OS – what a pain in the neck! That's what we had to do with your old workstation. Now it's running much better.
The only sure fire way to prevent them is to stop using Internet Explorer. Microsoft may be the biggest software company on the planet, but they are no match for the legions of hackers and crackers out their taking advantage of it's vulnerabilities. You still need to run anti-virus software and keep it updated with the very latest definitions, but switching to Firefox is the best way to secure your computer and keep it running at peak performance.
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