Making The Switch

Office

Up until recently it had been over 6 years since I had purchased a new workstation. After some consideration and helpful comments from the Motionworks Twitter audience I decided to buy a PC, specifically the HP Z840. I’ve been a Mac user for over 23 years and this decision wasn’t taken lightly, but in the end it just made more sense. While the Mac Pro “dustbin” could have handled what I do right now, I’m also looking to the future and it doesn’t have the expandability of the Z840.

Some suggested I build my own PC but to me that’s a quantum leap from unboxing a Mac and turning it on. The Z840 is closer to what I’m used to and reminded me a lot of a Mac Pro tower but better, with a tool-less chassis making any future CPU, GPU, RAM and hard drive upgrades easy.

The Z840 is a beast

The Z840 is a beast, which can take dual CPU’s with a maximum of 36 cores, though I started with a base configuration of a single Intel Xeon E5-2650 v3 (2.3 GHz, 25 MB cache, 10 cores, Intel vPro) CPU and plan to add another as soon as possible. The hard drive is a HP Z Turbo Drive 512GB PCIe SSD and there are four 3.5 inch drive bays which can be doubled if you use 2.5 inch drives. I’ll need to add at least one more drive in order to clone the boot drive, something I highly recommend everyone does!

I started with 32GB RAM which is twice what I was running in the Mac Pro, but the Z840 is capable to taking up to 2TB of RAM once 128GB DIMMS become available. After Effects is RAM hungry, so the more RAM the better. The GPU is a Quadro 4200 and there are 8 PCIe slots for further expansion, including a Thunderbolt option if I need it down the line.

z840

Switching to Windows is far less painful than I expected

I’ve only been using the Z840 for a few weeks now and switching to Windows is far less painful than I expected. Cinema 4D and Creative Cloud are fluid and fast even though I only chose the single Xeon at 2.3 GHz. I guess I’d put my head in the sand in the past when it came to even considering a PC, even though I was aware that more often than not they leave Macs in the dust. I’ll keep you updated as I use it more but for those of you considering a switch, I definitely recommend checking out the HP Z range.

For monitors I’ve only ever purchased Apple Cinema Displays and was unsure for PC as there are so many options out their. I could have chosen HP but was on a budget so ended up choosing two Dell Ultrasharp 27 inch displays. They look great, were half the price and are more functional than the Cinema Display; I can actually change the height of my monitors now!

Monitors

Moving to PC doesn’t mean I have to stop using Mac

Moving to PC doesn’t mean I have to stop using Mac, I still have my old 2009 Mac Pro, which is now sitting side-by-side with Z840. I also added a new Mac Mini with a 6TB G-Technology Thunderbolt drive to act as a file server for both the Z840 and the Mac Pro. Setting up file serving for the PC was child’s play and both the Mac Pro and the Mac Mini are also being used as Cinema 4D R16 Team Render clients. For backup I’m using my 7 year old Drobo with a Firewire 800 to Thunderbolt converter attached to the Mac Mini. I’ve scheduled Deja Vu to mirror the G-Technology drive onto the Drobo every morning. Both the Z840 and Mac Pro are running Dropbox as well.

Server

Apart from further beefing up the Z840, I think this setup should be perfect for me for the foreseeable future. Let me know if you have any more questions or suggestions about my setup. What about you? What’s your setup? Are you a switcher or thinking about switching?  Let us know in the comments.

Discuss
  1. Tristan Summers
    Reply

    I did a similar thing, same reasons, z820.
    I Use Cliptoolz, which is a good free gui for ffmpeg Pro Res which is fine for most purposes, though adding Scratch to the cost of a PC is still cheaper than buying a mac.
    I found 4 410 GB Fusion ioFX reasonably cheap on eBay as my main RAID and got a TITAN X rendering is super fast and saving is instantaneous. It really bugs me using normal machines now!

    The big problem you find as a Mac user though is Quicktime. It is super slow and takes ages to open. Rendering to .mov takes ten times longer than other formats. Quite frustrating. I need to find a quicker way to play Quicktime, and the best workflow. Have been rndering to dnxHD or DPX. Someone needs to build a good 64 bit Quicktime solution until it dies off

    Sometimes my PC can’t see my mac, which is so annoying. Lots to learn. I found the Avid configuration guide for the z820 and the Resolve configuration guides invaluable to get things set up. Firewire was flakey on the z820 so be a bit careful if using it. I find if I take a firewire drive even into mac studios now nobody can plug it in anywhere!

    MY only real complaint about the HP box is the PCIe slots are too close together. So I squashed the Titan X into the bottom slot so I could use all the other slots. This is not providing enough airflow to the card and probably melting the cables underneath it.

    I hate using a mac now, after 17 years of mac use. Stay still you finder window demon! Navigation is great on Windows 7 but I’m not sure if I will have to switch to 8 or 10 soon… I wonder what Apple will do next to make life difficult… stop supporting mice and keyboards all together?
    sigh.

  2. Ben Hanbury
    Reply

    Great post, I have been wondering the same – though recently have been thinking if it would be better to stick with a mac pro for main machine then get a beefed up PC and network render with apps like Octane? Would that work? Then you could have then power of a PC without having to use clunky Microsoft?

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hi Ben, the thing is though that once you get used to how fast Cinema 4D is on the PC, you don’t want to go back. Also, the interface for Cinema and Creative Cloud Applications is identical to a Mac. Booting up in Windows is a small price to pay, and I have to say that Windows 8.1 is friendlier than I expected.

  3. andre fry
    Reply

    I made the switch 18 months ago & haven’t looked back since. Built my PC after months of research, such a rewarding experience.
    Still use my Macbook pro for daily internet usage & Logic Pro. Great combo IMO.
    PC does seem more suited to 3D work.

  4. ciaran
    Reply

    Another PC user/occasional builder here. I put together a dual xeon/64Gb RAM/ssd badass a couple of years back when Apple were still stalling on upgrading their Mac Pro – a similar spec MP would’ve got easily twice what I spent. Only problems I’ve had have been related to the graphics card, which I need to change soon anyway.

    If you’re running several other machines at home, you might want to look at investing in a NAS, preferably Synology – throw all your media, projects you need to share, etc. on there and you’re set. They’re not cheap, but fast, extremely useful and you can access your stuff from anywhere if you’re that way inclined. Personally I use a 8tb at my office for backups and a 4tb one at home for media storage and personal projects

    Regarding the monitors, I’m pretty sure that the Dell Ultrasharps are identical to Apple displays, just put inside different plastic/aluminium boxes.

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hi Ciaran, Thanks for the NAS recommendation. I heard that about the Dell UltraSharps as well!

  5. Philip De Wandeleir
    Reply

    Didn’t know these we’re still being sold. In europe all dell workstations have been upgraded for a while now with larger cases and the top line is now called the T7910.

  6. Frank
    Reply

    I switched about 3 years ago to z820, and I must admit I had a rough start. Aside from system issues due to apparently incorrect cabling (it took 2 year and 3 IT-ers to figure it out) it’s a good system.

    I do miss some functionality such as quicklook and the column view in Finder (and Default folder X).

    I second Ciaran, Synology makes great NAS-systems. I’ve got one of those for backup and throwing media around. But when working with video, the internal raid gives more pleasure.

    As for monitors, I’m currently using a HP ZR2440, combined with a JVC studiomonitor.

  7. Jason
    Reply

    Did you have purchase another copy of Cinema 4D for PC? What about plugins for C4D that are serial locked?

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hi Jason, your serial number will work on both mac and pc. As far as plug-ins are concerned you’d need to contact the distributor and transfer the serial I presume.

  8. Hendrik
    Reply

    Hi folks, I’m a long time Mac user and as annoyed as all of you, that Apple seems to forget the creative pros. But I still love the Mac UI and find using a PC painful.
    Also has anyone of you thought about the opportunities that Metal on Mac could offer us. Early builds say up to 7x the performance on After Effects and the Foundry will look into Metal with Modo. So maybe in 1 or 2 years the 3D performance-world could flip. (on the workstation – render nodes should be cheap and fast – so PCs would be ideal)

    Any thoughts on that?

    Cheers
    Hendrik

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hi Hendrik, I don’t know enough about Metal to make an informed decision. There are many different setup options, I just went with what felt right for me now.

  9. Erik Cantu
    Reply

    I just switched to a PC 2 months ago and love it. My previous system for 3 years was a Hackintosh, and current builds of OSX are less and less (easily) supporting the newer generations of Nvidia cards. Since the what I actually do with the machines, editing, motion graphics, etc is all the same GUI on regardless of OS, what is the loss there and I only gain massive speed per dollar spent. I upgraded my motherboard, CPU and graphics card out of my Hackintosh for $750 US dollars.
    I do miss being able to export ProRes, but Cineform is a good replacement.

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      I was wondering about ProRes replacements, thanks for the tip Erik.

        • John Dickinson
          Reply

          Thanks for the tip Ryan.

      • simon bronson
        Reply

        Looks as if that miraizon product is now defunct. Anyone know if there’s an alternative or has it been bought by someone else?

  10. Sebastian
    Reply

    What about Hackintosh?

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hi Sebastian, that was an option but I’m not so attached to OS X that I needed to hack it onto a PC. I was happy to switch to Window 8.1.

      • Sebastian
        Reply

        The only thing i love in Mac es the UI. I think it will be my ideal.

  11. Dave Cochrane
    Reply

    Great article John! Been curious about the benefits of PC over Mac for a while now, especially with the slow refresh cycle that Apple has. How do you find the Mac Mini server’s speed for handling files? Do you work off it? Or do you work off your PC and then transfer after you’re done? Been looking into a server solution and want to make sure it’s quick enough.

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Thanks Dave, I copy the files to the PC then back to the server. It’s not the ideal solution but all I could afford right now. I’m hearing good things about NAS and it’s something I may consider down the line.

      • Dave Cochrane
        Reply

        Thanks John. Been wondering that for a while and whether it was worth the purchase.

  12. M. Peacock
    Reply

    Whoa John, you made the transition from the Mac to PC that I have been contemplating for quite some time now! As a current Mac Pro (trash can) owner, I drool over what Octane and a few GPUs can accomplish. It’s a tough decision for sure – don’t know if I can make the jump just yet. Do you have any feedback on your fileserver setup that you’re running?

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      It was easier for me as my MacPro is 6 years old! My file server setup is pretty basic but I just wanted to make sure I had a central location for backups.

  13. Mattias Lindberg
    Reply

    I switched to PC 2 months ago. And yeah, it was because of wanting to work with Octane Render. This one got 3 Titan X 12 GB.

    I will upgrade to Windows 10 at the end of this month, got upgrade for free when buying v 8.1.

    Other advice, BlackMagicDesign Fusion is free now and available for Windows.

    TeamViewer can be used from Mac to your PC. You can actually work in that way.

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Thanks for the tips Mattias.

      • Mattias Lindberg
        Reply

        Quite convenient. Open TeamViewer in fullscreen and switch between spaces with CMD and side arrow keys. One moment you are working on your Mac. The next, your in PC land. 🙂

        Also, checkout http://hotkeycontrol.com for remapping of keys to work more like Mac when in Windows. There are others, but I found this one simplest and meeting most of my needs.

        I downloaded and ran the latest Bootcamp drivers to get the Mac keyboard to work on my PC.

  14. Simon Bronson
    Reply

    Good to hear about designers exploring alternatives to the mac universe John.
    What’s your workflow for dealing with Prores quicktimes currently?

  15. seth
    Reply

    Great post,
    i was wondering what was your older mac workstation spec were?
    and maybe i missed it in the post but what was your graphic card choice?

    thanks

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hey Seth, it’s a late 2009 Mac Pro Dual Quad Core with 16 GB RAM. I upgraded it about a year ago with PCIe SSD from OWC, which made a big difference to performance. The GPU is an Nvidia Quadro 4000 for Mac. On the Z840 I also chose the Quadro 4200.

      • seth
        Reply

        im in the process of buying a new computer.(switching from my iMac to a pc)
        I’ve been following the comments here and wanted to consult about an issue:
        Xeon or i7? i know there are many options to choose from, and it comes down to budget after all.
        the type of work i do is mostly motion graphics and some cinema4d occasionally.
        so in your experience is it worth it to invest a bit more and get the high cpu or i could be satisfied with a good i7 processor. ?
        thanks

      • John Dickinson
        Reply

        Hey Seth, from what I’ve learned while researching my switch, you can get higher GHz with the i7 but more cores with the Xeon. Higher GHz will give you better interactivity while working, more cores will help at render time…

        Best,

        John.

  16. Lance Moody
    Reply

    Yes, Apple is selling two year old tech now for the same price as when released two years ago. They can go to hell with that.
    I am in the same boat and may have to do the same thing.

    Lance

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Exactly what I was thinking Lance!

  17. KC
    Reply

    The question is: what was your cost for the entire deal? How is it with trouble shooting? The thing I dislike about PC is its so difficult to find and diagnose issue. and of course you are more open to virus trouble.

  18. Ryan Lumbye
    Reply

    Has anyone considered a solution like they have at https://create.pro? – can’t seem to figure out where it get the most hardware and also the best UI.

  19. Tosan Oru
    Reply

    Nice switch John, I have used both windows and Mac for over 5years and most of the time both at the same time.., ahahaha… But I have come to see that PC will serve you better and its cheaper, doing machine upgrades on your own is not rocket science and it works well with almost all graphics softwares. Quicktime is an issue and will always be an issue till we get a better solution for that am gonna be sticking with PC and finding ways around doing better exports.

  20. M. Peacock
    Reply

    Hey John, following up on this thread, any recent updates? How was the transition? Has your workflow improved? Any tips or tricks you can pass on?

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Overall I have to say it was very easy to transition from Mac. Windows 10 is good and in some ways even better than OSX. I still use my old Mac Pro for screencasts because I like Screenflow but if I had no computer and had to choose between mac and PC I’d probably go PC.

  21. Philip
    Reply

    planning on buying a Z840, still not sure if I should downgrade to win7 or get win10pro. how is the performance with adobe cc, c4d and nuke?

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hey Philip, I’m not sure about Nuke as I don’t have it but C4D and Adobe CC are great on my Windows 10 Z840.

  22. Anthony
    Reply

    Hi John. Just wondering how you’re finding working in Cinema with a 2.3Ghz chip? I’m putting together a custom PC and single-threaded performance is something that has me considering an i7 build over a Xeon. After receiving advice from different build companies, I’d just like to get an opinion from someone with experience. Do you find Cinema as responsive on 2.3Ghz, or is Intel’s Turbo Boost technology intelligent enough to keep the speeds while you’re working?

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hi Anthony, so far I’ve found C4D to be pretty responsive with the dual 2.3GHz setup I have. I haven’t had experience with the faster chips so can’t give you a definitive answer.

  23. Philip
    Reply

    hey john, I’m finding it very hard to find qualified hp resellers. It seems even the gold partners are technically not qualified to answer my questions concerning hp hardware or aren’t in the know on new hardware like the hp zdrive g2. I’m dropping some cash on this workstation and i’m very worried i’m not gonna get the best tool for my money, how did you order your system?

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Hi Philip, I purchased directly from the HP website here in Australia and found the same thing as you did. It would have been good to speak to someone more technically qualified than a simple sales person. I’ve forwarded your question to my contact at HP to see if he can help answer some questions.

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Philip if you can contact me via email I can put you in touch with someone.

      • Philip
        Reply

        finally managed to get my Z840 ordered after a very difficult process of finding the right reseller. … and it is a beast, i’ll be looking at a cinebench score over 2000 for cpu rendering. I was looking at the macpro offerings lately because the hp retail was so slow and I was really shocked by the prices apple dare to ask for the obsolete tech in their machines, if you by one of those now your totally screwed. if you maximize all the options on the macpro it doesn’t even come close to any config hp has to offer and it’s twice the price. it’s regrettable to see people buying into that.

  24. Chris
    Reply

    Hi John,
    I know this post is almost a year old now, but I’ve been looking into a new workstation as well. I’ve found that the HP and Dell workstations are priced very similarly to the Mac Pro when the specs are matched. Was cost a major factor for you or were you mostly concerned with expandability?
    Thanks!

    • John Dickinson
      Reply

      Cost was important but scalability was key in my decision. I wasn’t prepared to lay down 10K on a trash can with minimal scalabilty.

  25. Marcelo Almeida Ribeiro
    Reply

    Hi there,
    Interesting info here, thank you. Right now I am in a similar situation where I have a 8 core(2,26 GHz) MacPro 2009 which I upgraded to a MacPro 2010, by changing the firmware and adding two new 6 core 3,46Ghz CPU, and 20GB of RAM, graphic card I have a Nvidia Quadro K5000 with 4GB memory, and a SSD for the system…
    So I am pretty happy since I have done this upgrade, and it runs nicely with Nuke, After Effects, Photoshop etc, so my problem is actually 3D and rendering like simulations in Houdini, or work in Maya, Vue. So as I am thinking a lot about the HPZ840, I was wondering if you have any experiences or done some benchmarks on rendering time, polygon count, etc… I have been reading a lot of reviews etc they do not really tell much…
    Thank you for any information
    Best
    Marcelo

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