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Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad

Posted by Scott

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Dusty sent me this video the other day and a quick image search yielded some pretty interesting stuff. It’s incredible to see the Sketchpad system in action; remember it’s 1963 and this is basically Illustrator or AutoCAD 0.01a. Here’s the video description:

Alan Kay presenting Ivan Sutherland’s Sketchpad, one of most influential programs in the history of graphical user interfaces.”

I love when the narrator says that light pens have since been discovered to be terrible input devices, leaving your hand numb. The funny thing is that the first mouse was invented the same year that Sutherland developed the Sketchpad system. It’s crazy that our primary input device is still the mouse, that’s almost a 50 year run. In computer time that’s just too long and I want my Minority Report screen asap. Although I often wonder if a big touch screen would really be that great. The fact that Microsoft seems to be the front runner in the field (multi-touch) doesn’t bode well for it either.

Video Link

SSD Performance Hands-On

Posted by Scott

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Vertex SSD installed and ready to go


After all my recent hyping of SSD’s (Solid State Drives) I thought it was time to jump in and try one out first hand so I went downtown to Central Computers this afternoon and got an OCZ Vertex 120. I decided to post up my initial reactions and findings after dropping the Vertex into a Macbook Pro Unibody and installing OS X today. If you’re not really a technical person, still have a quick read through the numbers at the bottom because if you use a computer for anything creative (or for anything at all actually) and are looking to significantly boost performance, SSDs should be on your radar. If you have no clue what an SSD is, here’s a brief primer from an earlier post.

After a lot of research on the various SSD manufacturers I came to the conclusion that OCZ’s drives have the best performance/quality-to-dollar ratio. I went with their Vertex 120 drive not only because it’s very fast, but also because it uses the Indilinx Barefoot controller. The concept of an SSD controller may seem a bit esoteric, but it’s very important at this relatively early stage in the development of SSD technology. Inherent to all SSD drives is a tendency to build up “garbage” which can slow performance over time (if you want to know more about SSD “garbage”, read this). The Indilinx controller has a built in mechanism to deal with this garbage and keep the drive running at optimal speeds. The garbage collection runs while the drive is idle and is completely transparent to the OS or user. This capability makes the OCZ Vertex and other drives that run the Indilinx firmware arguably the most advanced SSD’s available at this time. Only firmware 1.30 and up supports this feature but luckily the Indilinx controller supports updates. The drive I bought came with firmware 1.10 but I was able to flash it to the latest 1.30 with relatively little hassle. Apparently all new Vertex drives are shipping with 1.30 stock; mine must have been a couple months old. Here’s the method I used to update the firmware: Bootable Free-DOS for Mac ISO w/ 1.30 FW update.

While the Vertex 120 is not by any means cheap ($389 for 120GB), it is much less expensive than many comparable drives from other manufacturers. It’s the first I’ve seen that offers this kind of performance for anywhere near this price. Of course, 120GB isn’t a lot of room, so you’re going to sacrifice storage space for the speed unless you want to put up the $720 for a 250GB model. I’m not too concerned with that as I’m using the Vertex for my MacBook Pro and I don’t store most of my media and large files on there. I typically use it for live shows where I just need very high read speeds and about 20GB of space. If you’re using a desktop computer, you could alternatively keep your large standard drive and use an SSD as the OS drive.

Bare drive - same form-factor as a normal 2.5" SATA drive

Bare drive - same form factor as a normal 2.5\

So I opened up the MacBook Pro and swapped out the old drive for the new SSD. This was very easy on the new unibody MBP and only took a few minutes. I then did a fresh install of OS X and booted up. Even after all the hype about SSD performance I was still amazed by the marked improvement in overall system performance I experienced. I could go into the minutiae of interacting with OS X running on the SSD, but suffices to say it is incredibly quick and surprisingly enjoyable.

So, on to the numbers: I did some really basic measurements to gauge the basic performance of the new drive and compared them to the original drive that came with the MBP. First I timed how long it took from power on to login screen. I chose this method so that the amount of startup items and installed apps on either particular machine wouldn’t effect the time.

Power On to Login Screen – MacBook Pro OS X
With standard drive: 75 seconds
With Vertex SSD: 28 seconds

The boot time for the SSD was nearly triple the speed of the standard drive. But this doesn’t tell the whole story, boot times are dependent on a lot more than raw hard drive speed so even though the difference is impressive, it’s still not telling of how fast this drive really is. For that we need hard numbers. I used the free Xbench to measure the drive speeds and give a better picture of the wide chasm that separates these two drives.

Original Drive Scores (Stock Mac Hitachi 320GB)
Overall Score: 34.13

Sequential Read: 43 MB/sec
Sequential Write: 54 MB/sec

Random Read: 17 MB/sec
Random Write: 22 MB/sec

SSD Scores (OCZ Vertex)
Overall Score: 229.2

Sequential Read: 202 MB/sec
Sequential Write: 169 MB/sec

Random Read: 154 MB/sec
Random Write: 176 MB/sec

As you can see, the SSD destroyed the standard drive in every conceivable way. The speeds I am seeing are nearly comparable to my RAID0 system which has 3 drives and a highpoint controller and cost me over double the amount I paid for the Vertex SSD. Throw in the fact that the Vertex uses hardly any power (great for notebook battery life) and has no moving parts to break down and you’re looking at a bargain. If you’re looking for a way to speed your rig up I highly advise looking into getting a SSD. Just keep in mind that SSD is a very nascent technology in the grand scheme of computing. If you don’t really need a drive now I would hold off a little and wait for the industry to develop. Prices have been falling very steeply while performance and disk space has steadily increased. If there’s one thing that consumer computer technology has taught us it’s that this trend will most definitely continue until SSD drives become the norm.

If anybody currently has an SSD let us all know your experiences in the comments.

5D Fireworks

Posted by Scott

Canon 5D MKII capturing the NYC 4th show by Mike Kobal (24-70mm at 2.8 at ISO 2000). Once again, the MKII delivers amazing video quality. Still waiting for Nikon’s answer before I take the plunge though. There are some more 5D MKII video examples over at Kobal’s Blog.

By the way, did anybody else happen to catch the San Francisco fireworks “show”? This puts it to shame and then some. I’ve seen better displays at Dolores Park (before they started parking that mobile command station RV out there and ruining it for everyone).

Some Random Flash Shots

Posted by Scott

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So I picked up some Nikon flashes last week and have been having a lot of fun with them. I got the SB-900 and its little brother, the SB-600. I’ve been running the 900 attached to the camera (D80) and have the 600 as a remote slave using Nikon CLS. Using the multiple flash setup has yielded some really great results (see this post for some examples) but even with just one flash attached directly to the camera I’ve found it’s pretty easy to get great shots.

Just thought I’d post some random shots I got playing around to illustrate how easy it is to get decent stuff using a good flash. I didn’t do all the post-processing stuff I usually do so you could see the raw output (save for the first one which I color filtered inside the camera). These were all shot with NEF RAW in adverse lighting conditions, most in very low incandescent light. As you can see, just the single flash was enough to fully light the scene and balance the color. If memory serves correct they were all taken with the SB-600 attached the camera. Also check out Alex’s post on the SB-600 for some other examples. As I work with the flashes more this week I will post more examples and info.

Help Wanted: Overclocker

Posted by Scott

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I’m looking for someone with detailed knowledge of overclocking Intel systems to help tweak a production system in the studio. It’s running an Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9650 CPU (liquid cooled) on an Asus Maximus Formula Mobo with Patriot 8GB DDR2 PC8500 1066MHz memory (detailed specs here). If you or anyone you know can help overclock this machine please contact talk [@] iso50 [dot] com with the word “overclock” in the subject. Location is not an issue, we can handle it over the phone or video if need be. Please include a cost estimate in your email.

I’ve had the machine overclocked in the past, but it was never as stable as I needed and I wasn’t able to get the memory running as fast as I wanted so I’m hoping someone can step up and sort it all out.

SSD Watch Pt.1

Posted by Scott

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If you follow the blog you’ll know that I’ve touched on the subject of SSDs before. A quick primer for the uninitiated: an SSD (solid state drive) is a storage device that uses solid state memory (As in no moving parts, other examples include RAM and flash memory) and so it can access data much faster than the mechanical head/platter drives most people use now and with no moving parts, data loss due to mechanical failure is a thing of the past. The promise of SSD is huge and as they become commonplace they will no doubt revolutionize the way we work (think Photoshop swap disks that read and write @ 1400MB/s or computers that boot in 5 seconds). Because I work with such large raster files, swap disk performance in particular is a very big issue for me so I keep a close eye on the SSD market, waiting for the moment when the price to performance ratio hits the sweet spot. Right now most SSD technology is still on the pricey side and there are a few technical issues that are still being sorted out (write endurance supposedly being one of them) so I haven’t jumped in just yet. But as things change I will continue to post updates on the SSD situation.

For the first installment I thought I’d post on the very interesting OCZ Z-Drive. It’s insanely expensive right now, but as we all know, those prices drop pretty fast as the tech matures (remember $800 DVD writers?). The Z-Drive is basically 4 SSD drives in a RAID 0 array on a PCI-Express card. This is a novel concept; by using the PCI-Express bus OCZ has sidestepped the bottleneck of the SATA controllers allowing huge throughput in both directions. Boasting 700MB/s write speeds, the Z-Drive is certainly no slouch, but considering the price (they start at $1500!!) I’m holding out for more. I think the magic number for me would be 1000MB/s for around $500. This would make a perfect solution for Photoshop swap disks and other applications that require massive read/write throughput (video render disks etc.) and while it doesn’t make sense for me right now, it’s great to see this emerging technology headed in the right direction.

A Week With Windows 7

Posted by Scott

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If you follow this blog you’ll know that the past year of my life has seen me running a veritable gauntlet of operating systems on my new-ish PC. I’ve run XP32, XP64, OS X, Vista32, Vista64, Server 2008×64, and now, finally, I am running the superb Windows 7 64-bit. Yes, superb, I didn’t expect it either. Although I did notice marked improvements in Vista/Server 2008 over XP, I always felt there was a compromise somewhere and it never felt quite as stable as I’d like. So it was with great anticipation last week that I followed my friend Dusty’s advice and installed the Windows 7 beta. It’s only been a week since the upgrade but I have really worked this thing hard and I am happy to report that it’s been the most stable and responsive OS experience I’ve had yet and outshines all of the examples mentioned above.

Although the beta program is “officially” closed, there’s no shortage of Windows 7 torrents to be had. Even Microsoft has tacitly endorsed the torrent acquisition method, honoring these versions with legitimate serials upon registration (although these serials are only valid until the final product is released). The install was a snap, it was very similar — but seemlingly even more streamlined — than with Vista and it’s right up there with the speed and ease of an OS X install routine. Once installed, it boots up very quickly and everything about the experience is very much “straight to the point”. Gone are the nags, pop-ups, and wizards (I hate wizards) of Vista/XP past, now virtually everything is disabled by default, letting the user choose what features they want. I usually spend the first hour of a new XP/Vista install going through and optimizing the settings, disabling services and generally clearing out the bloat and cutting the fat. With Windows 7 that process took literally 2 minutes, I only had to disable a few notifications and one of the more annoying features of the Aero theme (the slowly animated minimize/maximize of the windows).

Speaking of the Aero theme, Microsoft have “borrowed” liberally from the OS X “Aqua” interface on many fronts. From Windows 7′s new dock functionality to it’s feeble attempt at some sort of expose-esque functionality, they’re obviously taking cues from the success of their Mac brethren. While I think the new dock is very successful, I think the Windows expose falls flat. In fact the one big thing I still miss about OS X when working in Win7 is the show-all-windows / show-desktop hot corner functionality of the Mac; it’s just so damned useful. Unfortunately, the Windows 7 knock-off is not quite there.

Anyways, back to the install. I had all my fonts and the full CS4 suite loaded within 15 minutes and was tearing through 3GB PSB’s (Photoshop Large Document Format) shortly thereafter. In my experience Photoshop stability (and stability in general for that matter) is greatly improved in the new Windows. I also found noticeable (but not incredible) processing performance increases. Where I think Windows 7 really shines though is file handling and disk read/write functions. Saving and opening very large PSD’s has dramatically improved over Vista. Vista’s much maligned file handling was sluggish and inexplicably slow across the board. I’ve heard they had some sort of base-level DRM checking built into the core of the OS. That could be BS, but whatever it was it was a real problem and they’ve fixed it in Windows 7.

The icing on the cake came when I started working with Adobe Bridge CS4. In both XP and Vista I had horrible issues with Bridge, so bad that I had to quit using it. Every session would result in a crash, without fail, across the board. Every OS I have used until this point just didn’t play well with Bridge. But it seems to like Windows 7; I can churn out previews of PSB files in excess of 4GB in size with no problem. Thousands of NEF RAW files in one folder render to thumbs without a hitch now. Either of those would have choked Bridge half the time in the older OS’s on the same hardware. One glitch I’ve found is that the GPU acceleration in Photoshop is not working (see image below). It doesn’t recognize my video card as openGL capable even though I have the Win7 beta drivers installed, which was working fine under Vista. I suspect this is something that will be fixed sooner than later though through a driver update. Although now that the GPU acceleration is disabled and everything is running so smoothly, it makes me wonder if it was contributing to any instabilities I was experiencing under Vista. I guess that remains to be seen though.

A quick side note about the image below: Notice where it says “Available RAM: 7216″, that might be the number one reason I ditched the OS X install I had on this very same machine. PS is still 32-bit on OS X and therefore cannot utilize even half of that amount of RAM.

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To be fair I haven’t put Win7 through it’s paces for audio yet, all of my testing has been with graphics apps only (Photoshop, Illustrator, Bridge, etc.) Next week I will be loading up Sonar and all the VST’s and giving that a spin. But Dusty, who uses Windows 7 solely for audio, has assured me that — with Ableton Live at least — it’s performing far better than Vista or XP on the very same machine. As a lifelong PC user (I do have a Macbook Pro, which I absolutely love for everything other than work) this is such a relief. Yes, Vista was a dog out of the gate, but anyone who has used it lately can’t help but recognize that Microsoft has gone a long was to fix the problems that plagued it and with Windows 7, I think they’ve finally gone the distance and realized the operating system that Vista was meant to be. I also think a lot of budget-minded creatives can now breathe a collective sigh of relief that the OS of choice for people who don’t have $4000 to spend on a computer is back.

So how about you, anyone else been using Windows 7? What have your experiences been so far? Sound off in the comments

Update: As Peter Stoinov pointed out in the comments, the much-improved Windows 7 Release Candidate comes out May 5th so you might want to hold off installing until then.

Update 2: Microsoft has announced that it will be offering Windows 7 RC1 free to the public for one year. Awesome.