My current Pro Tools system is an HD2 rig with pci-e cards which I cross-graded from my pci-x cards in 2008 with a 192 I/O which I have had since I bought my HD2 pci-x system back in 2004 so most of it doesn’t owe me anything.
However when I did my pci-e crossgrade back in late 2008 the current Mac Pro was a ‘Harpertown’ and I bought a dual quad-core 2.8Ghz machine and the bad news is that HDX card isn’t supported in the ‘Harpertown’ Mac Pro machines because they won’t support the firmware upgrades of the HDX cards. Also although Pro Tools 10 is supported to run on the latest version of Snow Leopard (10.6.8) I am sure that Avid won’t maintain Snow Leopard support for ever so I also have decided this will be the point I jump up to Lion (10.7.x) as well. But with all these issues and considerations which way do I go?
I narrowed it down to 3 options…
- I keep my HD2/192 system on a Harpertown Mac and just upgrade to Pro Tools 10 HD software. With cash is short supply, this would be the cheapest and easiest option but I would be burying my head in the sand as Avid have been clear that Pro Tools 10 will be the last version to support the HD1/2/3 cards and the ‘blue’ HD interfaces like the 96 I/O and 192 I/O.
- I cross grade my HD2 to HD Native. If so I could keep my Harpertown Mac as HD Native is supported for HD Native. There is a crossgrade route where you can trade your HD Core card in for an HD Native card and also a separate deal to trade in your ‘blue’ interface for a current model. In my research on this option I found a good many comments on the DUC have been very promising from those who actually have an HD Native system. There are a lot of comments about latency performance of native systems but these appear to relate back to LE Native systems, rather than the HD Native system. Also I found my own review of the HD Native system from the May 2011 issue quoted on the Avid HD Native page saying “I am very impressed with its stability. I tried to break it but I couldn’t! Well done Avid, a stunning product from day 1.”
- I upgrade my HD2 to HDX. If so I will need to buy a new Mac and that isn’t going to be cheap to get one that is as powerful as my current 8 core Harpertown. This would be the most expensive option but would be the only option that would guarantee me very low latency under all conditions and so leave me with at least the same level of facilities and performance as I have now and more and keep me at the forefront of Avid’s technology.
So what did I decide? Well I looked at what I am doing and the fact that I earn my living from Pro Tools and so it is a no brainer to have the best tools for the job. I suspect if I was only undertaking dubbing work I might well have gone for the HD Native route, but I do music work as well and having all that additional hardware and no latency worries at all swung it in the end, and the peace of mind that it won’t complain when I ask a lot of it under pressure.
I have had 3 years out of my pci-e cards and my Harpertown Mac, before that, 4 years out of my pci-x cards and 7 years out of my 192 I/O. With this new system I should be OK for at least 3 years and maybe longer but I will be setting aside money so that when it is time to renew my system I will have the funds ready. Its all part of business planning, so ignore it at your peril.
So I eventually decided to go with option 3 and take the upgrade to HDX route and also buy a new Mac. I had a little bit of luck on this one. I went on the Apple refurb site and they just happened to have a 8 Core Westmere machine going with a 15% discount. For anyone who hasn’t made friends with the Apple refurb store, you should. The machines are completely refurbished, look like new and most importantly are the only refurb machines for which you can take out Applecare, which again as I earn my living from this machine, is a no-brainer.
How Did I do It?
So I finally did it, having made the decision as outlined in my post about it, the gear arrived arrived during the Christmas break and so over the last week I did the deed and here is my story. Trust me, never do a major upgrade in the middle of a busy spell when deadlines matter. These upgrades rarely go smoothly and end up taking much longer and I find that the knock on effects rattle on long after the main upgrade process is complete.
Changing The Computer
The first thing I did was to change over computers. Although I was swapping a Mac Pro for a Mac Pro there were differences one of which I planned for and the other I didn’t. I noticed on the specs that the new Mac Pro only had Firewire 800 sockets, where as the old one had both, so I ordered adaptors and leads in readiness. However I didn’t spot from the specs that the video card only had one DVI socket on the new Mac Pro together with 2 mini display ports. So I was without my second screen until the mini display port to VGA adaptors arrived. I did try a mini displayport to DVI and DVI to VGA adaptor back to back but that didn’t work.
My old Mac Pro had a full complement of 4 SATA drives in the internal slots. So I thought I could swap them over still in the sleds, but no, they are different too, so I had to swap the drives over from one sled to the other.
I have a backup procedure where I use SuperDuper from Shirt Pocket to do a backup of my Mac HD every day, so I took my backup boot drive across into the new Mac Pro as well as my media drives. Once I had a clean copy of Mac OS 10.7.2 on the new Mac Pro’s boot drive I used Migration Assistant, which you will find in the Utilities folder in the Applications folder, to take across all my other applications, settings and files. It saves such a lot of time re-installing the software from scratch and inputting all the settings. One tip though, make sure the User name you choose when setting up the new computer isn’t the same name as any of the accounts on the old computer, otherwise things get messy and you end up having to change User Names afterwards which isn’t easy to do properly.
I had a number of applications that then wouldn’t run on the new Mac, as Lion doesn’t support Rossetta and PowerPC applications but other than those it was a matter of making sure that all the applications were up to date and Lion compatible.
I was about to buy more memory for my Harpertown Mac but 4Gb was going to cost be around £100. But the good news is that for the new Westmere Mac Pro I got an extra 12Gb for the same money. When the memory prices rocket you know you have an old machine! I now have plenty of RAM to enable the new Disk Caching feature in Pro Tools 10 HD to really rock, goodbye to 9073 “disk too slow” messages!! Also it was a breeze to install the new memory in the Westmere Mac Pro as the complete processor and memory module comes out of the case making it so much easier to put the new RAM cards in the remaining slots. I put them in what I thought was the best order by putting the three 4 gig modules in the first 3 slots but when I re-booted my Mac it advised me that wasn’t the best configuration and suggested what I should do.
Installing Pro Tools
Once I had a stable machine with everything else running I set about installing Pro Tools 10 HD and but first I needed to put the HD cards in. This wasn’t as easy as it might have been because Apple has changed the plastic unit that holds the end of the pci cards. Before it had a slot that enabled you to slide the card down. The new support still has a slot but it has a cap on the end, so you have to try and put the card in at an angle and then engage both ends and get the edge connector into the socket and the thickness of the card doesn’t make it easy. Unlike me, remember to put the power cable for the HDX card in BEFORE you put the card in otherwise you are going to have the card battle twice!
Avid seem to be taking a leaf out of Apple’s book so there wasn’t a software CD in the box just a plastic card the size of a credit card with an activation code on the back. By entering that into Avid’s web site you are given access to the appropriate installers to download, so make sure you have a good internet connection as they aren’t small files! You also get the Pro Tools 10 iLok assets deposited in your iLok account. It comes as a bundle, but you have to give up your Pro Tools 9 asset. However in the new bundle you get a Pro Tools 10, PT10HD and PT9HD assets in your bundle so if you need to revert to Pro Tools 9 then you still can.
Once I had the installers, and I used the 10.1 installer for HDX cards, the installation process was simple and uneventful. You will find that there is now an Avid folder in the Application folder.
Pro Tools 10 still uses folders in the Application Support folder for the plug-ins etc and again you will find both Avid and Digidesign folders there. The dpm plug-ins, both the RTAS and TDM are left in the Plug-in folder in the Digidesign folder .
so make sure you leave that folder alone, don’t be tempted to tidy it up, where as the AAX plug-ins are in the Audio folder in the Avid folder.
Next we will continue the story and look at plug-in compatibility and where we are up to on AAX plug-in support.