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.
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!
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.
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.