stress GPU Mac pro

So just how good are the dual GPUs in the new Mac Pro? We asked audio visual performer Jim Warrier to take them to their limits by running visual performance benchmark apps. The faster they go, the faster FCPX and Motion will go too.

Jim Warrier makes video for a living, not editing, but for live performances at festivals and events as well as installations for museums. He's after sheer visual processing grunt and powerful GPUs means he can produce more pixels faster for his audience. He visited the office just before new year to put our Mac Pro to the test:
So I arrive at the FCP.CO office to be handed the Mac Pro and left to play for a few hours. The first things that surprised me is how small it is. I was expecting something much bigger and it isn’t until you hold it in your hands your realise what a great piece of design the new mac pro really is. It’s also surprisingly heavy for its small size.
I mostly work with live real time video so GPU power is what I’m looking for, Thankfully the Mac Pro that the folks have is fitted out with the top spec Dual D700 GPU’s with 6GB of video memory on each. The Mac Pro also has 3.0GHz 8 Core, 64GB Memory, 1TB SSD, Dual D700 6GB GPU.

Given the Mac Pro has only been available a short time I think it may take a few months for software developers to catch up and fully take advantage of all this power but from my my initial tests we can be sure it will crunch through GPU intensive tasks with ease. A quick play with Final Cut 10.1 showed how easily the Mac Pro handles multiple streams of 4K video without dropping frames on playback even with a few heavy effects dropped on a clip. Motion also ran exceptionally well with lightning fast render times and playback.

So over a few hours I sat down and ran a few of the apps I use most frequently namely Quartz Composer part of the Graphics Tools suite that comes with Xcode and VDMX, a real time modular VJ application. 

In Quartz Composer I created a quick Particle System using Sun Beams as a image input and was able to smoothly run 5000 particles at 1920 x 1080 60ffs and above. I also tested out a few GLSL Shaders within Quartz Composer with all of the running smoothly. 

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The Sub Blue Mandelbulb GLSL shader ran well above 60fps at 1920 x 1080 with Julia and Iterations at full and Antialising switched off, The whole patch was running much smoother than I had previously seen it running and navigating large quartz composer patches was much better even when working inside Iterators.

I installed the latest beta of VDMX which uses the newly introduced ISF shader format for image filters that run directly on the GPU and I was quickly up and running with a 16 layer project running eight 1920 x 1080 layers at a time with a 1920 x 1080 output window. I dropped 3/4 effects ISF effects on each layer and was still unable to get it to noticeably drop any frames.

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The application already offers support for Dual GPU’s so as I expected the new Mac Pro had no trouble handling the video streams. The PCIe SSD in the Mac Pro really shines here helping push all that data around. All the clips were encoded with the open source hap codec that is optimised for SSD’s and encoding/decoding on the GPU and VDMX ran smoothly no matter what I threw at it. 

The biggest thing holding back the current generation of VDMX and other VJ applications is the lack of third party codec support in AVFoundation. All the most popular VJ application are still compiled in 32bit using QTKit which limits the application to only 4GB of memory, I know many of the developers of VJ applications are eagerly awaiting AVFoundation becoming feature complete so they can update their applications to 64bit and start addressing all that memory that the newer models offer.

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It was clear from using the Mac Pro the hardware is without a doubt up to the job of running multiple streams real time streams of HD video and will be of great use to live video performers. The ability to drop a Mac Pro in your rucksack on jump on a plane is going to be great for many visual artists that are used to travelling with towers in flight cases. I have seen many visual performers adopt the Retina Macbook Pro as their computer of choice over the past year for it’s portability, extra video ports and power, I expect we will see the Mac Pro becoming just as popular.

One last thing is that I didn’t notice the sound of the Mac Pro once whilst testing, Although it was rather windy outside FCP.CO towers, even when getting close the sound is not noticeable. 

Here is some results from the Mad Shader application that benchmarks GLSL shaders. The three I tested,

Hot Showers
Generators Redux 
Relentless  - all posted very high scores. 

See bench marks below

Mad Shader benchmarks 
Retina Macbook Pro (Early 2013) 2.7GHz Quad, 16GB Memory, GT550m1GB
Mac Pro (Late 2013) 3.0GHZ 8 Core, 64GB Memory, Dual D700 6GB (12GB Video memory total)
Hot Shower
rMBP  Score: 1057 points, FPS: 17
MP      Score: 5605 points, FPS: 93
Generators Redux
rMBP   Score: 1880, FPS: 31
MP       Score: 7434, FPS: 123
rMBP   Score: 7357, FPS: 122
MP       Score: 30257, FPS: 504      
Software used
jim warrier
Jim Warrier is a audio visual performer based in Berlin. He has worked doing live visuals at various festivals and events around the UK since 2006. He's also performed Live Audio Visual with Real Time Video since 2008 working with node based creation tools. A big fan of Quartz Composer and Motion, he creates all of his content using those 2 tools and then uses VDMX when performing live.