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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
See bench marks below