Saturday, April 17, 2010

Finally - DUAL DRIVE Mac Mini

In the FCP Hacker Labs we love Mac Mini's, since they are small and quiet, and can be a part of an awesome Compressor Cluster render. - FCP Hacker designed multiple mockups to save rack space in data centers using these wonderful devices and viewed some super secret documentation as to why apple put's out a product like this, and what Apple Pro Services deploy them for. Our experiments involved having up to 8 of these things connected via Gig-E on a desk to help with Compressor Encodes and renders. Finally apple dropped the other shoe and put this gem out, the downside is not the missing optical drive, its actually an upside, it was as useless as a door-knob, unless you plan to make an entertainment center PC - the new Mac Mini Server edition sports 2 SATA3.0 ports (that means RAID-1) that means fault tolerant, that means awesome, that means install OS over network. That means shove up-to 9 x of them per 2 rack units in your machine room. -

So you can have 216 of these in a 48 standard machine rack. Yes 216. Even more if you're crazy.


- The CPU is now soldered onto this thing (no socket)
- Server OS license makes the price jump $300.00
- Still no Express34 i/o expansion (even though a prototype existed for a while)

But apple is finally analysing the Mac Mini implementations the more serious of their customers were using all along.

The NVIDIA 9400M is not there for your monitor or to play Quake,its to allow Studio 2 - Studio 3 applications that use the GPU assisted rendering to actually have access to a fast enough GPU. You should only manage these via Apple Remote Desktop, and since they come with a DC power brick, you can create a replacement connector that puts power to many with out having to store the individual power-bricks.


Say hello to the Non-Machine room power eating, overheating Open Diretory/DNS/Final Cut server for your boutique graphics design/edit shop.

The only thing this won't be able to do is act as a Metadata controller for XSan (no friggen FC-AL adapter - since there is no friggen Express34.)

I'm sure the folks at 123 MacMini forums are discussing the pro's and con's of this device to no end.

Me - I give this a thumbs up. Twice...

ZFS - The Saga Continues.

After an unceremonious removal of and a complete back out by Apple, Inc. from shipping the file system with Snow Leopard 10.6.0 retail. The Indy Film maker community was left wondering as to why, what, where, who etc..

Well bluntly put Apple does not have it's .... together. Not quite, they're too busy selling iPhones and iPads. I love the company but come-on, did no one at Apple, Inc. go to bat for this?

Well fear not : The ZFS for Leopard and Snow Leopard is still kicking:

I'm not going to go into why ZFS is super cool for storing your HD Media/2K or 4K footage and also why you *SHOULD NOT* like many wanted to - use ZFS for a boot drive for OS X Leopard or Snow Leopard- or even Open Solaris for that matter.

But ZFS should be kept alive on OS X at all costs, the alternatives not to have ZFS on OS X are dire to the Indy Film Maker, Boutique edit shop etc... It makes storage expensive. ZFS is not a "shared/global" filesystem but.... Here is the brass tax.

So here is a test case scenario - You need 4 Terabytes of reliable and fast storage to complete your 30 minute film you shot on your RED per-se...

Apple's current model to attach 4TB of storage to your single (non XSan-afied) Mac Pro is

1. Get a FibreChannel 4Gbps dual adapter - $599.00
2. Get an XServe RAID (discontinued) or Promise Vtrak E-CLASS RAID 4TB $7,499.00

Wait that's 8 GRAND to be able to store 4TB and read/write them at 4Gbps (theoretical)?

FCPHacker - You have to be kidding right? No I'm not.

Alright the E-Class box from Promise can hold up to 32 SATA 3.0 or SAS disks but what gives.
So even if fully loaded with re-branded Seagate ES drives running at SATA-3 7200RPM drives with some woo-doo magic disk firmware in em - this thing will still need OS-X Software raid to have a single namespace storage of 32GB, and if you've played with X Serve RAID before, you'll need to slice it for better performance and do crazy #%$! to get the right buffer (128kb) for streaming capture/stutter-less playback.

So 8 grand later and 2 days worth of setup you have a loud-... power sucking enclosure in your studio that's pretty to look at.

They've got to be kidding, this makes Apple's ideas cost just about as much as AVID ISIS or EMC solutions (which are intended for other things..) - Bad for you, good for Apple professional services group.

I say, like Nancy Reagan - "JUST SAY NO".

Here is the FCP Hackers alternative version of that that costs quite a bit less.
It starts with an OUTSTANDING in my humble opinion company called Sonnet Tech
their brand logo is hard to read sort of looks like SoNNoS or something but certain products they have are just $*@! outstanding. Outstanding - Can you tell that I really like them and their products. - Oh yeah their cards work under Hackintoshes runing OSx86 and PowerMac's as well. (How did they manage to do this while every other PCIe adapter is either for PC/Mac Intel See AJA Kona vs. AJA Xena etc... - don't ask...

1. Sonnet Tech: E2P PCIe Card - $50.00

This will give you two Sil 3213 eSATA port muliplier supporting ports at 3Gbps (fairly close to the FC-AL Mac Only HBA for $600 from Apple, ahem I mean ATTO...)

Before you go on the site and start drinking the coolaid, I like Sonnet's HBAS but I'm still too stingy to buy their enclosures (though they look amazingly sweet).

Here is another company I really like - Sans Digital, they don't want to re-sell you drives from Hitachi, Seagate or WD, they just want to enclose them for ya.

2. Enter stage left : Sans Digital TRM8 enclosure with Port Multiplier support.$300.00 shipped. - This thing aside from its annoying blue fan, complements a Mac-Pro just like the G-Drive product line. (You can get one in black too..)

And you can figure out the current price of 1TB or even 1.5 or 2.0 TB drives is about $100.00 per terabyte. So let's get some 2TB drives and pack in into the first half of the enclose ($200 per four Hitachi 2TB Ultrastar/Deskstar SATA-2 - If you like Seagate or WD Green go ahead...) $800.00 total cost.

3. 4x Hitachi DeskStar 2TB 7200RPM drives - $600 shipped

Use RAID-Z / ZFS on the 4 drives in the enclosure connected to a single 3.0Gbps port and you've got. 6TB of fairly high speed storage at 3Gbps read (yes you will get killed on the writes with sata port mulipliers) - Total Cost: $950.00

The Apple Inc Coolaid: $8000 for 4TB @ 4Gbps (can add 4TB more for $2500+)
FCP Hacker Coolaid: $950 for 6TB @ 3Gbps READ (can add 6TB more for $600).

If you're using the machine to online-edit or color correct, etc... and not actually capture, you will not notice a one iota of difference. And as SSD will become more ubiquitous and 1TB and 2TB SSD will fall in price and ship in 3.5" configurations, this version will be future-proofed, while the Apple's cool-aid will continue to cost you in special drive modules. (They even ship an on-site replacement kit with an extra drive module, that in 2 years will be so antiquated that it will seem like a joke, but you won't be able to buy a naked drive, nor the special firmware Promise loads into it.)

No this does not scale like XSan a couple of XServes and a Q-Logic or Brocade FC-AL switch, so its not for a shop. But if you're doing that you're already looking at a $80,000.00 setup and some Finalcut Server, X-grid etc.. yadada...

Now now, this is just a spreadsheet type comparison, in the real world you would not get only 4TB of Promise/XServerRAID storage nor would you get just 4x2TB hitachi drives and a lonely enclosure - since we want to do something more daring, we want to be able to playback 2K footage in real-time for either the Apple flavored or commodity flavored versions.

I'll show you how in a bit, and scope it out price it, and give you real benchmark metrics.
As I want to keep this blog as hands-on as possible, but ZFS is what makes this all possible on Mac OS.

So In case you missed it: ZFS Project is still kicking it here : Do Your Part, _HELP THEM_ in Any Way you can, including testing their drivers, debugging, getting more developers involved, providing bandwidth or code, bug reports - anything... otherwise you the Indy filmmaker will be looking at a similar documentary : Who Killed the Electric Car and driving an over-priced hybrid instead.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Colorist - get the best-est GPU for your Mac Possible.

Out of the entire Final Cut Studio suite if I had asked you
"Which application depends on the your OpenGL graphics card the most?"

The typical answer I would get is Motion of course with all its 3D stuff.
Nope, more than %70 percent of that happens in your multi-core CPU.

The bulk GPU (Graphics Processing Unit/OpenGL/Video Card) bound processing load comes from full color codes and the floating point calculations and one app in particular which has GPU assisted rendering and preview which is Apple Color.

After upgrading a machine running color to a Converted 1024MB GDDR5 Nvidia OpenGL card my render times were reduced by 10x, the ablity to do 1/4 window preview with "secondaries" on 6pt blur.

The other is the Cineform codec. I'm guessing both use GPU assisted computation intensively for LUTs and other. esp in 10bit or floating renders and extrapolations.

So if you're doing heavy Color grading and the NVIDIA GT120 is not cutting it, look for a eprom modded/flashed NVidia card with more punch.

No significant performance boosts were observed in Final Cut Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Motion or Compressor with this video card upgrade. It ran just a tad faster, but Color completed a 10 minute render in 1 minute and was blazing fast without beach-balling on me even with 6 secondaries with 2.0 to 6.0 key blur, film effects and 32bit floating point rendering to both ProRes 422 and Uncompressed 10bit.

I believe - though cannot state as absolute fact that the famous Cineform codec also depends heavily on GPU for its OneLine computations in QT. But I will confirm this soon.

Also don't forget that Color does not support multiple graphics cards per system of any sort, meaning it won't start correctly if 2 ATI 47xx or GT 120's are installed.

Apple forgets to tell you that on their order your Mac Pro page when offering to fill the 4x 8x and 4x PCIe slots with 3 additional 16x PCIe graphics cards.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

XSKey is always an option in Final Cut Pro.

Here is a bit of history,
You may or may not know this but about half of the current "Pro" software product line from Apple were companies that Apple, Inc. purchased and together with their intellectual property rights.

Logic Pro/Express/SoundTrack Pro - (originally by Emagic GmbH) bought out 2002 - Logic for windows was discontinued in 2004. I still have a PC copy that shipped OEM with M-Audio.

Color - (originally by Silicon Color, Inc) a product called FinalTouch - bought out in 2006.

Shake - (originally by Nothing Real) - IPR purchased in 2002 - Linux, IRIX and Windows support dropped in 2004 This product was discontinued by Apple, Inc in mid 2009. In 2004 no more Shake render clusters could be build with Linux, and Shake Qmaster and Smooth cam were ported over to Compressor and Motion respectively.

DVD Studio - (originally DVD Maestro and Spruce Technologies and Astare DVDDirector ) - IPR purchased 2001 from Astare and Spruce.

At least four companies holding massive IPR (not just their frontline software product) and their codebase belong to Apple, Inc.
eMagic used to protect their products with a hardware technology similar to PACE iLok, Synchrosoft eLicenser, called the XSKey. Apple's XSKey website is still operational :
So now... we don't know how many of eMagic Logic Pro's components made it into Final Cut Pro 6 and 7 - however we can tell for sure the XSKey e-licenser code is one of them.

Here is my output of running the command 'strings' in Terminal against the FCP Binary

bash-3.2$ strings /Applications/Final\ Cut\\ Cut\ Pro  |grep XSKey
XSKey (dongle) Beta Protection Error
This application cannot continue because the XSKey (dongle) is not connected to a USB port.
You must quit this application, reconnect the XSKey (dongle) to USB port and then re-launch the application.
This application cannot continue because the connected XSKey (dongle) is no longer valid.
This application cannot continue because the connected XSKey (dongle) detected an invalid system date.
The XSKey needs the driver 'EmagicXSKey.kext' in version 1.2 to be installed in the folder /System/Library/Extensions/. Please install the driver with the installer.
XSKey driver too old!
The XSKey needs the driver 'EmagicXSKey.kext' to be installed in the folder /System/Library/Extensions/. Please install the driver with the installer.
XSKey driver not installed!

My best guess for this output is that at any moment, FCP could have been or is licensed/activated via the XSKey dongle, which has become "unobtanium" after Logic 7 Pro. An assumption can be made that alpha or beta copies of final cut pro are given out with apples left-over inventory of XSKeys to qualified testers.

But fear not, Apple decided to drop prices in 2009 on all of their pro line products, incidentally leaving us the early users staring at the upgrade price tag and our old app being way more than the retail price of the new one.
Logic 7 was $1000 + $299 upgrade - A copy of Logic Studio 9 $500.

Apple, Inc also dropped the XSKey requirements from Logic Pro along with its pricetag, replacing it with the ever vastly popular Pro App A-123-ABC-123-ABC-123-ABC-123-CODE common license protection model. Which exists from Aperture to X Server.
So it's current position is not to deploy this USB dongle en-masse, but the the code for it has been kept and maintained for one or another reason. If anybody on the intarweb does know how Final Cut interacts with XSKey, please do share...

All your base are belong to us - "Apple, Inc."

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Final Cut Express / Pro - Hidden Menu - Easter Egg.

This is an Oldie but goodie, I was thinking of kicking this blog off with a mission statement or something more juicy, however this post fits the bill.

Apple's developers wired in a hidden "Internal Tools" menu into both Fincal Cut Pro and Final Cut Express products. This feature is confirmed to work as of version 6.0.6 of Final Cut Pro and version 4.01 of Final Cut Express.

To get access to the hidden menu inside of FCP/FCP hold down the Apple + Alt + Shift otherwise known Command + Option + Shift and then click the "Tools" menu in either program. The easter-egg "Internal Tools" menu will reveal itself. You have to this three key salute each time for the menu to show up.

Here it is in Final Cut Pro:

Here it is in FInal Cut Express:

Once you create a window from this menu, it is persistent and requires no special option keys.

Rather than jumping into deep details about each feature of this super not-so-secret menu, I'll leave the reader to discover what each function does and lightly glaze over some. Some of the options create windows, some enable extra logging to syslog/console facilities from the application, the two most handy ones without a sequence open are:

* App/Pef Dump which is handy in figuring out what features were reported to Final Cut by the Operating System.

Here is a snippet from my test system:

# Final Cut Pro Perf Dump (Final Cut Pro 6.0.6)

Elapsed Time since launch: 30.212664 (0 hr, 0 min, 30 sec)


MacOS version: 10.5.8
QuickTime version: 7.6.6
Processor information:
CPU Speed: 3000 (CLS 64)
MP library says 2 processors installed.
FCP using 2 CPU's
CPU Bus Speed: 1332
sysctl hw.ncpu: 2 **
sysctl hw.activecpu: 2
sysctl hw.physicalcpu: 2 **
sysctl hw.logicalcpu: 2
L1 cache size: 32K
L2 cache size: 4096K
PPC features (per Gestalt) are 0x00000000 =
FCP NOT USING altivec.
FCP dst assumption: 0

PPC features (per sysctlbyname) are:
Altivec: not present
64-bit (G5) instructions: not present
DataStreams (dst): not present
DCBA: not present

VM: on
Ges Phys Memory Size: 2047.999999 MB (note: 32-bit limit!)
Ges Log Memory Size: 2047.996094 MB (note: 32-bit limit!)

Process information:
loginwindow wngl bgOnly
AirPort Base Station Agent ADPA bgOnly
Spotlight tops bgOnly
Dock kcod bgOnly
SystemUIServer iuys bgOnly
Finder SCAM
Safari irfs
mdworker ???? bgOnly
Preview wvrp
DashboardClient ???? bgOnly
Final Cut Pro GyeK *fore*

Mounted Volumes:
"Macintosh HD", 325999 files in 77306 directories, attr: 0x00004060+0x10ac243e
(HasBTree, HasFileIDs, 2TB, LongNames, )
(Device id: disk0s2)

* Playback Meter Which will give you a nice read-out of the I/O you're doing while scrubbing in the Viewer or Canvas etc.. I'll leave you with that and enjoy.

We'll be exploring more of Final Cut Pro and Final Cut Express hacks.