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Dual iMac EWQL workstation idea

Discussion in 'Mac OS' started by disfrontman, May 12, 2011.

  1. disfrontman

    disfrontman New Member

    Okay, let me float this one past you all:

    I would like to put together a new system for orchestral composition using East West Quantum Leap sample libraries (EWQL). As always, I want to do this as economically as possible. Keeping that in mind, here is an idea I would like the tech-savvy to discuss:

    The latest generation of quad CPU iMacs have a new feature: "target display mode". When activated, an iMac's screen can be used by another external computer, and any open and running applications on the display-donor system continue working. So...

    If a person bought two 27" i7 version iMacs, upgraded each with 16 RAM ($200 from OWC), one could use the first as the main system, spanning the desktop across both displays. On that machine (we'll call it the "left" one) one would run Logic and plug-ins. On the target display mode machine (the "right" one) one would install a dramatically pared down OS, a copy of VE Pro (a popular sample engine for VSL and EWQL users), copies of node-worthy 3rd party plug-ins, and several EWQL sample libraries (either on the internal drive or external drives using TBolt). Both machines would also be connected via gigabit ethernet so that a) the "right" machine can run VE Pro and feed the data to Logic on the "left" one, and b) spare CPU cycles on the "right" machine would be available for use as a Logic node by the "left" machine (whatever the system isn't already using to run VE Pro).

    Seeing that the i7 chips use hyperthreading, each machine reads as having 8 cores in Logic.

    The result would be a 3.4ghz 16-core 32GB RAM system with dual 27" monitors included for under $5k for the hardware. Yes, I know there are limitations to what can be done with Logic node sharing, and two 8-core machines do not equal a 16-core computer. But with everything I've heard about VE Pro, I bet this configuration would do some heavy lifting. Two Mac Pros without the monitors or RAM upgrades (running slower @ 2.8ghz) would cost more.

    iMacs cannot be expanded like a tower can, but with Thunderbolt a lot of future i/o external options will be available. Also, I hope the next Logic upgrade allows for stable 64-bit node utilization via all of the faster network connections: FW800, GBE, & TB. That would be an important consideration before moving forward. If Apple engineers don't fully nail that down, however, this system idea wouldn't be worth it.

  3. georgelegeriii

    georgelegeriii Senior member

    What do you mean by "heavy lifting"? Are you talking "reality show" type fake stuff, or a "real orchestra sound for a movie" style?
  4. disfrontman

    disfrontman New Member

    In the short term, whatever pays. In the long term, sure, a real orchestra sound. I have heard fantastic things done using EWQL SO Gold on systems far less powerful spec-for-spec than this iMac one I am proposing.
  5. georgelegeriii

    georgelegeriii Senior member

    The system you are proposing is ok. The amount of ram will become the main issue in the end, especially if you want to use lots of articulations. The power is ok, the new Sandy Bridge CPU's in the latest iMacs are real work horses, I used one in a custom PC I built for someone, but the 16 gig ram was a real issue with the system. It required a motherboard replacement so we could double it to 32 gig.

    VEPro works well, just don't expect to run a buffer lower than about 256 to make things work without pops and clicks.

    The other thing I imagine will be a big issue is drive throughput. The good thing about the desktop computer VS the iMac is the fact that you can add more drives internally so you can access more data at any one time. I know the new Thunderbolt thing is there, but it's going to be a while before you are going to see systems with enough drives to remedy this issue.

    As for hyperthreading and audio... well, lets just say I turn off all that stuff in a custom PC to make the systems work. With them on there are a number of issues that erupt. the "turbo" speed altering of the current cpu's as well as the systems to turn on and off cores, or parts of the chip to save power, are a real bugger to deal with. THAT is the exact reason guys who are serious will spend the $$$ on a custom system and a builder who knows what to do about it. An Apple removes your ability to go into these things.

    So, in a nut shell, you get what you pay for. it will work, but I imagine as soon as you start to really push it, it's going to push back with it's limitations. On the other hand, you might be making enough money to get a better system by then, right ;-).
  6. disfrontman

    disfrontman New Member

    I only set the upgraded RAM to 16 GB each for cost savings. The current iMac i7's can be upgraded to 32 GB (4 x 8GB modules), but the cost to do so is staggering right now: $3,000 per machine! That will drop dramatically in a year or two.

    I can live with that.

    I'd probably spend money on a properly treated mixing room environment first--but then, sure, if I don't suck at this, maybe I'll be able to justify a major system upgrade in the future. The iMacs could then be used as home office units for my family and/or as media servers for HD movies, etc., or perhaps follow one of my daughters to college (although a 27" would demand a lot of space in a dorm room!).

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