Mac Pro upgrade - advice

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Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby wez » Wed May 03, 2017 12:00 am

I'm currently running a 2008 Mac Pro 3,1 (2 x 2.8GHz quad-core, 18GB RAM).

It has been a rock solid beast and I really don't want to have to upgrade, as it has handled everything I've thrown at it, including massive PT sessions etc.

However I'm doing a lot more work with virtual instruments and I find that even though I can run almost unlimited EQs, comps etc, once I start throwing processor-heavy soft-synths at it I start to run into trouble. I'm also working to picture a lot so that also seems to slow things down. I find this a bit surprising given the speed of this machine, and the huge amount of RAM.

I used to be all over this stuff but since I jumped off the perpetual mac-upgrade treadmill a few years ago, I'm a bit out of touch and not really sure where to go next. I'm happy to spend decent money but I would need something that is a significant step up in processing power and performance, without having to upgrade absolutely everything. I'm perfectly happy with PT8/Lion and somewhat reluctant to upgrade from a solid system, but it might be inevitable.

Would I notice a big difference moving up to 5,1 machine?

Alternatively I could do some upgrades (SSD, UAD etc) but I don't know if that would make much difference.

Any advice much appreciated!
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby mylesgm » Wed May 03, 2017 12:47 pm

The SSD makes a big difference. My 2011 macbook pro (whatever the top range model was) has full RAM and an SSD and it still takes everything I throw at it. So does my 2012 Mac Mini (2.6i7 and 16gb Ram) with an SSD which is my studio computer. I'm on PT11 and El Cap on both machines. Now I don't use heaps of softsynths but occasionally I'll have a few running and a virtual sampler and full mixes FWIW.
I think if you were going to upgrade past your machine then you should go all out. I won't be doing that for as long as I can possibly avoid it.
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby Text_Edifice » Wed May 03, 2017 1:49 pm

Is the ram on your current machine maxxed? I think those guys can be taken to 32Gb which will likely make a big difference.

Depending on what you're using (and if there are samples involved) I'd be surprised if it was the processor holding you back.

I'm sure you're not thinking that way but steer clear of the trash-cans.
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby Drumstruck » Wed May 03, 2017 3:50 pm

Hey Wez,
The rock and the hard place are converging on you..... if you go to SSDs and maxed RAM it should get you by for a bit longer - at the least it will make a good bit of difference.
Fwiw I'm running a Macbookpro 2011 snow leopard / i7 quad / 2.2GHz / 16GB RAM / 480GBSSD for O/S + PT9, Reaper, GP6, EW Play and Kontakt. Like yourself I can run large PT sessions ok but the high grade samples cause some grief. If you upgrade the samples disk(s) to SSDs or even USB3 7200 drives it will help a lot - you'll need some PCI to USB3 cards probably - and it will cost a bit.....
One World Computers (US co.) have good prices and service for what you need.

I'm thinking Hackintosh for my next upgrade.
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby wez » Wed May 03, 2017 7:13 pm

Hey Myles

Cool - SSD for system and applications only presumably? What's the one to buy?

Dave - yeah I just checked, I could max it out to 32GB. You'd think 18GB would be enough, but here we are...

No, not looking at the trashcans. I tend to agree that the CPU is probably not the bottleneck, but who knows... just to clarify, I'm constantly adjusting the Hardware Buffer Size in PT, as I'm getting the "Operating system held off interrupts etc..." message once the session starts to build. Typical session for the work I'm doing mostly at the moment is 10-12 audio tracks, 1 or 2 plugs each channel, 1 or 2 aux, and 3-4 virtual instruments. Some instruments - Xpand2 for instance - aren't too taxing, but if I open Alchemy it really starts to bog down. I generally have to render to audio if I want to run more than 2 instances of Alchemy, for example.

This is an issue as I'm looking to ramp up my use of these kind of tools.

Ian - yeah I get that about the converging rock and a hard place... but to be honest I've never known it any other way ;-)

Thanks heaps for the help... like I said, I used to consider myself an expert at this stuff, now I feel like a newbie again!
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby Text_Edifice » Wed May 03, 2017 9:31 pm

That sounds like a pretty low load to be creating buffer overload issues.

Just a few things that are rattling round in my head (so take or leave as you like):

- have you checked the chipset in the mac pro? I remember having major issues with a mac pro whose chipset just didn't play well with PT for some reason (reasonably widely documented I think)

- are the drives all ok? 18Gb of ram sounds like plenty for what you are doing but maybe not for big kontakt sessions.

- is it just alchemy or all soft-synths? Is it possible there's a problem with the versions of the plugins / o/s etc?

I'm still using a 2.2 Ghz i7 macbook pro with 8gb of ram for most of my audio stuff and it handles most things I throw at it with ease. I put a 500g samsung ssd in it and that improved performance in a noticeable, but not dramatic, way.
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby Drumstruck » Thu May 04, 2017 12:59 am

Fwiw I just did some experimenting and came away not impressed - running PT9HD (really CPTK) and EastWestPlay Platinum piano...... instant buffer errors trying to record in PT - it would not record even with maximum buffer setting!

Then tried the same in Reaper with EW Play platinum piano and no issues at all.

Go figure.....
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby wez » Thu May 04, 2017 11:33 am

Thanks Dave - yeah my thoughts exactly. Need to find out where it's choking, will do some tests.

Ian - yep I had a similar experience with Pianoteq a couple of years ago. Loved the sounds but couldn't get the demo to run in PT without it grinding to a halt. Standalone no problems.

In some ways it would make sense to ditch PT altogether... but I've been using it since version 4, that's 17 or 18 years invested in it.

Let's see what difference an SSD makes - anyone using PCIe? Seems to be a huge difference in benchmarks vs SATA, but not sure how that would translate to the real world or if it would be overkill for my needs.
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby wez » Tue May 09, 2017 3:35 pm

Ok so after a bit of research and observation, I think I've worked it out.

It had escaped me that despite having 18GB of RAM, PTLE can only access a maximum of 4GB - one of the limitations of a 32-bit system.

In the real world, ProTools starts to fall apart when it hits around 2.5-3GB RAM usage (as observed on the Activity Monitor).

I've also noticed that ProTools is leaking memory everywhere - open a plug-in that uses, say, 200MB of RAM, then close it, and you only get 100MB back. An empty session starts at about 300MB - I tested it by loading up plugins until I hit 2GB or so, and then deleting them all (tracks and everything) - the session was still eating 1GB of RAM. I thought this sort of thing was solved back in OS9, but there it is.

Additionally I've just bought EZDrummer which is pretty memory hungry (and again, doesn't give it all back if you remove it). It would be nice if there was some sort of 'RAM purge' tool.

So there you go... simple, and a bit shite. I guess the work around is to render often, and restart PT regularly. Blarghh.

Looks like I'll be going to PT11 and a new mac after all (although I'm just now reading that the 002/Mac 3,1/PT11 scenario does actually work). To be fair though, I have managed to squeeze well over 10 years of professional work out of entry-level tools - so can't complain too much!

Thanks heaps for all the suggestions and advice :-)
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby mylesgm » Tue May 09, 2017 3:38 pm

There are a few RAM purge tools, Magican is one of them but not sure how effective they'll be with your scenario. I still use 'tools because I haven't really found a ubiquitous alternative but I am repeatedly flummoxed as to why it is so badly coded and so poorly developed. Seriously frustrating.
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby wez » Tue May 09, 2017 4:13 pm

Hey Myles... yeah I do ask myself why don't I just bite the bullet and move to Reaper or Logic. But then I remember, I just really like using ProTools - and I love not having to think about it. The thought of having to learn 100 new keyboard shortcuts....

Maybe I'm just getting too old to learn new things :-/
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby Text_Edifice » Tue May 09, 2017 4:22 pm

I feel your pain but I don't think there's any killer app for audio that just does everything. I know everyone probably feels their favourite DAW does it all but I've run 4-5 DAW's concurrently for ages now and they all have their own stability issues and quirks.

Don't get me wrong, PT is frustrating and I don't have a lot of love for AVID but PT is (still) widely enough used that it makes sense to run it, if you know it and it works for you.

FWIW I quite like PT11/12 + they'll let you bring your own interface (so can sorta work to your own budget). If I was setting up a new studio rig now I'd go a PC w. PT 12 and whatever converter box looked like playing friendliest and lock it down (and keep it off the net) for another 5 years.
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby Text_Edifice » Tue May 09, 2017 4:23 pm

(or buy an HD rig for the 3.1)
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby smash » Sat May 27, 2017 2:16 pm

Few things,

Firstly, Don't buy RAM unless you actually need it. When you are in your biggest, craziest session, open up Activity Monitor and see how much RAM you have free. RAM is cheap, but there's no point spending money on it if you're not using what you already have.

Secondly. Buy a SSD. This will make you think you have a new machine. Seriously, an SSD will make you feel like you have a new machine. Buy from MacSales.com - you can get slightly cheaper other places, but you can put in the exact model you have and they'll tell you what to get. You want not just the drive, but a 2.5 to 3.5 adapter too. While you're there, if you have a space PCI slot, I'd grab a USB 3 card too - makes a massive difference to the speed of copying files if you have a USB3 card, but then again, I transfer lots of big video files, you may not notice a difference.

Here's the most important thing - Do a clean install - install everything new from scratch, all programs, plugins etc. You'll be amazed at the difference that this makes.

Be vigilant about backups. When SSD's fail, they fail hard, and you can't recover them. So backup backup backup.

Think about a second SSD for your PT drive. Not 100% necessary, but it can help with high track counts, and lots of complicated edits.

Be REALLY vigilant about backups.

If you just buy some SSD's and USB3 cards, and still find the machine isn't fast enough for you, you can pickup a 5,1 (2010 - 2012) Mac Pro online. The great thing is that your SSD and USB 3 cards can go in this system too.

One final comment. A 2008 Mac Pro is getting close to 10 years old. Mac's are incredible machines, but there will come a point when something will fail, and you will struggle to repair it.

Personally, I'm still running a heavily upgraded 2010 Mac Pro (upgraded to be faster than the current top of the line 12 core!) but I know that it will sadly have a finite life. I paid $1200 last year to have the backplane board replaced, but I was lucky because the part was identical to the 2012 Mac Pro. Apple Australia has a policy of only keeping parts for 5 years after the last machine was sold, so, parts for the 5,1 Mac Pro should be available from Apple until roughly December 2018, but after that, you're pretty stuffed. For a 2008 Machine if something happens, you're pretty much going to need to find a sacrificial machine to pull parts from.

Seriously though, the 5,1 Mac Pro is the best machine apple has ever made.
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby smash » Sat May 27, 2017 2:18 pm

NB - although PT only uses 4GB max, some plugins can use their own RAM independently of that amount.

S>
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby a.d.a.m. baby » Mon May 29, 2017 6:25 pm

wez wrote:Maybe I'm just getting too old to learn new things :-/


Or maybe you're getting too smart to waste time on that mouse-wheel when you could be mixing or making music!!
Well, that's how I justify being a Luddite...

This new-fangled SSD stuff intrigues me. I'm running a 2011 mac mini server, i.e. there are two drives in it. If I was to upgrade one of the drives to SSD, do I make it the OS/app drive or the project/audio drive? Where is the benefit exactly?
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Re: Mac Pro upgrade - advice

Postby Drumstruck » Tue May 30, 2017 8:50 am

Usa an SSD for your system drive and a fast SSD for your samples. SSDs have limited writes so use a fast spindle drive for your recordinds.
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