Last week we gave the results of our Pro Tools Computer user survey, for some the results were quite a shock and for others not so. We wanted to give all sides of the picture, Russ gave his reasons for sticking with Mac and I want to tell you why, after a long time as a Mac user, I switched to using Windows. As we have stated on numerous occasions which OS you use is down to you, neither story is an attempt to convert you.
Back in March 2017 I shut down my fully pimped 12 core “Cheese Grater” Mac Pro for potentially the last time. I was making the move to what, at the time, I referred to as ‘The Dark Side.’ I was swapping my 2009 Mac Pro for a brand new HP Z840 Workstation running Windows 10.
This is the story of why I switched.
A Long History Of Apple Macs
When I first bought my 2009 Mac Pro, from the UK Apple Refurb store it was a 2.8GHz 4 core machine and at the time it ran rings around just about any other machine (PC or Mac) on the market. Over time and with the help of my friend Richard “Rich” Rogers formerly of UK Mac specialists Create Pro, we performed two different upgrades. The first round in March 2015, was to swap out the 4 core processor for a 6 core. In July 2015, we swapped out the single core daughter board and replaced it with a 2 x 6 core 3.46GHz processors and 64Gb of RAM to pimp this machine about as far as it is possible to take it. And if pro audio was my only requirement from a computer in my studio, I would probably still be using my Apple Mac except for two reasons that I will come to shortly.
Pro Tools HD ran (and continues to run) really very well on my Mac. I found myself running out of creativity long before I run out of audio processing power. I have run the Mac Pro Power Test session on the old machine (as you can see in the video) and it just keeps going and going so why did I feel the need for a new computer?
2009 Is A Long Time Ago
In computing terms 2009 is a very, very long time ago and the old Cheese Grater Mac Pro had no USB-3 or Thunderbolt ports, and while I did add some USB-3 ports to the machine, via a PCI card, it never felt as quick as machines with built in USB-3. Also a couple of the rear USB ports were starting to become temperamental, meaning that some days I would start the machine and everything would work fine and on another day I would boot up to find that it could not see my iLok or my Avid Eleven Rack connected via USB.
The other main feature I was missing was Thunderbolt. Sadly there is just no such thing as a Thunderbolt PCI card. In my work with Production Expert I was seeing more and more Thunderbolt devices heading my way and the only machine I could run them with was a 2012 MacBook Pro, also not a new machine by any stretch.
The final nail in the Mac Pro coffin for me was the amount of video I was working on. 10 streams of 1080p video is a vast amount of data to be working with. I did update the graphics card in the pimped 2009 Mac Pro to one with quite a bit of GPU power but it was still not cutting it. Also looking to the future, and starting to think about editing 4K video, I knew the Mac Pro’s days were numbered. I could have probably thrown another £1000 at the old machine to get some more use out of it, but when hardware like the USB ports start to fail, you eventually have to call time on any more upgrades. It was time to look for other options.
Workstation Form Factor
I like the old school (Mac Pro Cheese-grater) way of keeping as many of my computer components in one box as possible. I am far from a cable-phobic (you should see the back of the studio racks) but I like the idea of having all my drives mounted inside the case so cooling can be handled by the fans of the PC. I also wanted to be able to mount and connect my HDX card internally rather than forking out for external rack-mount boxes which I know work very well but it’s not a way I like to work, so a Mac Pro Late 2013 Trash Can based system was not for me.
HP Z840 Configured By Workstation Pros
The opportunity came up to buy, what was at the time, the mother of all Windows PCs for a very reasonable price. The HP Z840 Workstation ticked all the boxes with regard to space for internal drives, PCI-e slots and onboard USB3.0. There was also a PCI card available to give this machine Thunderbolt connectivity. What’s more there were literally thousands of different configuration options available to me and none of these options would lock down or limit future upgrades or expansion of the system.
I chose to install 2x6 core (12 core) 2.4Ghz Xeon E5 V3 processors with 64GB 2133Mhz ECC Reg RAM across 8x 8GB sticks leaving 8 slots for future expansion. This machine can take up to 2TB of RAM if I’m ever feeling low on memory and have the cash to burn.
Only Time Will Tell
Am I upset that for the sake of my creative output I had to move away from Mac OS over to Windows? No not really.
Do I wish that Windows worked even more like Mac OS than it already does, with regard to things like file structure and file handling? Yes, every day. When I’m running Pro Tools or Adobe Premiere can I really tell the difference between the two platforms? No not really.
There was a time when Pro Tools was first introduced onto the Windows NT platform that it was shaky at best and would “crash more times than a ZX81” (to quote The Cat from Red Dwarf) but these days if your machine is up to spec and running in a clean manner then Pro Tools runs just as well on Windows as it does under Mac OS., I have far more power with my Z840 than I will ever need with Pro Tools. This machine fulfils Pro Tools 2019 requirements and is the proverbial sledge hammer to crack a nut. I’m sure as software development continues and more processing is required I may feel the need to upgrade but hey, that time is not yet and for now I’m a very happy Windows convert.
You can find out much more about the exact path I took in my switch from Mac to PC in articles below.