|Feature: - HDPro vs
by Jared Picune
Editor/President of Idea Spring Editing, Inc.
Often overlooked, video storage has always been
a central and essential part of any edit system. While the type
of media may change from one edit bay to the next, the need remains
the same; fast reliable storage. Over the years there have been
numerous advancements in video storage technology, leaving us
with ultra cheap solutions, as well as extraordinarily expensive
ones. The task of deciding which to use, can be a daunting experience.
I often think back to my fist edit system.
I had an original blue and while Apple G3, running Radius EditDV.
For storage, I had bought and external SCSI drive, all of 4GB
in capacity. Today 4GBs seems ridiculous, as does the thought
of SCSI. I still have the drive today, but it's sitting on a
shelf collecting dust. I can't bare to get rid of it, even though
it's practically useless.
As time passed my edit systems changed,
as did my storage needs. First I tried an internal software RAID
system, followed by an external SCSI array. Then it was time
to get serious. I needed an extremely large storage capacity
that was supper fast. At the time the Xserve
RAID was the obvious solution. So I bought one and have been
using it ever since. The Xserve RAID, is a beast, in both good
ways and bad. It's expensive, loud, and heavy. But it's fast,
reliable and sexy.
Today there are so many more options.
The problem is they're not all great. Each editor works differently,
and has different requirements to fill. There are so many different
factors to consider, and options to weigh. I need a storage solution
with a large capacity, fast and reliable performance and the
ability to expand in the future.
When I first saw the CalDigit
HDPro, I have to admit I was awestruck. Crazy fast performance
with massive amounts of storage, it was love at first sight.
Then reality set it, there had to be a catch. What did this thing
cost? Well, it turns out the cost was not the catch. The HDPro
is relatively cheap especially compared to what I paid to the
Xserve RAID. I could get the HDPro with almost double the capacity
of my Xserve RAID (and twice the speed), for nearly a ten thousand
So needless to say, I was really excited
when I got the opportunity to get my hands on my very own HDPro.
Seeing all the specs on paper, and getting results in the edit
suite, are two different things. I really wanted to put the HDPro
up to the Xserve RAID, and see how they differed. So I did.
Obviously the two units are not exactly
the same. So to be fair I set some ground rules and established
the obvious differences between the two:
Both systems would start empty. The Xserve
RAID with about 2.5TB (RAID 50) and the HDPro about 4TB (RAID
5). Both edit systems (hosts) were comparable. The Xserve RAID
was on a dual G5 2.5 GHz with a Kona
2 card, and the HDPro was on at Mac Pro 2.66 GHz using the
Pro. I would perform all of the same tests (when possible)
on both systems. Now, I am a working editor, so I have a ton
of work to do beside testing these units. I have to admit that
there are times that I just needed to get a project done, and
additional files and or changes were added to one or both of
the drives. Same version of FCP on both systems. Same video formats
and footage for all tests. None of these tests are scientific,
I just wanted to test practical things that I do everyday and
find the differences between the two systems. A notable difference
is the type of drives used in the RAIDs. Both use 7200 rpm drives,
but the HDPro uses SATA II drives. Where as the Xserve uses Ultra
I really wanted to compare the setup
of the two systems. But, I have had the Xserve RAID mounted in
a rack and setup for nearly four years now. I don't exactly remember
the process, however, I do remember having to print out a fairly
lengthy PDF with detailed instructions. Nevertheless, I was more
than excited, when the HDPro showed up. One thing lead to another
and I had the HDPro setup before I even considered comparing
the process. With that said, I can tell you that I found the
setup for the HDPro to be very easy and quick. The drives are
shipped outside the enclosure and all you have to do is slide
them in. Then just install the card, attach the cable and you
are good to go. The RAID was already setup in RAID 5, which is
what I wanted, so I was ready to start editing. With the Xserve
RAID, I had to select the RAID configuration I wanted, and wait
for it to format. This is a lengthy overnight process.
I was very eager to get results, but
before I started any testing I ran the AJA System Test. This
software can test drive speed, and is a very usefully utility.
The results; the Xserve RAID's best score was 212.2 MB/s, while
the HDPro's was 399.9 MB/s. Later on I got results clocking in
at over 405 MB/s with the HDPro, I never got better performance
out of the Xserve RAID. While I'm not sure what caused the minor
difference in speeds, I figure and fluctuation of less than 10
MB/s is insignificant.
And The Testing Begins - Performance:
Just like any project, I had to start
by getting video onto they system. I captured 20 minutes of 1080i
10 Bit uncompressed high definition video. The HDPro worked without
any issues at all. The Xserve RAID had some issues with dropped
frames, however after a restart it captured the 20 minutes of
video just fine.
Next I cut the video I had just captured,
along with a few other things, into a timeline and let the video
play overnight. All material was still 1080i 10 Bit uncompressed
video. Fourteen hours later the HDPro was still looping the timeline,
the Xserve RAID had dropped frames and stopped playing.
Now, in the four years I had been working
with the Xserve RAID, I have seldom had any issues with dropped
frames. Although the truth of the matter is, that I rarely work
with 1080i 10 Bit uncompressed video. So I wanted to really put
these RAIDs to the test.
I called it the "client test"
and here's how it works. The client comes in, we edit, client
changes his/her mind 87.36 times, they're impatient, I try to
make them happy, and figure out what they want. Then I evaluated
the experience to see what system things went most smoothly on.
The winner was the HDPro system. While
both systems were rather responsive, the HDPro felt faster, hands
down. One of the things that I've found over the years, is that
the time between hitting the space bar, and the time the video
starts to play, is extremely important. Systems using external
Firewire drives seam to have an extremely long lag time. Very
annoying when trying to work, especially with a client breathing
down your neck. The Xserve RAID and the HDPro excel here, and
this is one of the most important parts of having a fast RAID.
This speed is worth more, than saving a few dollars on a cheaper
system, trust me.
I was curious about how the HDPro was
able to sustain a higher data rate. Whereas the Xserve RAID had
various peaks and valleys. With a little online research I found
that CalDigit is using a technology called ASTT (Active Sustained
Transfer Technology). Basically it means that the data rate is
sustained consistently for optimal transfer rates. So if the
RAID sees a big group of large files coming it readies itself
ensuing a fast and reliable transfer.
Along with performance comes noise. The
Xserve RAID, is one noisy system. I mean the thing is loud. It's
white noise, so you get used to it. But let me tell you, you
really don't want it in your edit suite. The HDPro is really
quite. Now, you can hear it when it's the only thing running,
but I can't even hear it over the Mac Pro, and definitely not
over the Xserve RAID. I would have no problem putting the HDPro
in my edit suite.
You're able to monitor both units temperatures
through software. Both ran about the same 31C - 34C on average.
The back of the Xserve RAID felt really hot, while the back of
the HDPro was just warm. Both had been up and running for over
a week when I made this assessment.
For over a week I made the effort to
switch back and forth between the Xserve RAID system and the
HDPro system. Editing a little here, editing a little there.
Frankly they were both rock solid. I enjoyed editing on both
To be honest there's not a lot that I
could do to tell you about protection. The thing is when you
know what happens, you know what happens. Both systems have hardware
RAID protection capabilities. The Xserve RAID has 1, 3 and 5.
While the HDPro has 0, 1, 5, 6, and JBOD. The systems I was using
were protected with RAID 5, but really the Xserve RAID was 50.
Basically that means two sets of RAID 5 put together with a software
based RAID 0. At least with the HDPro in RAID 5, I can loose
one drive. But in all my years of editing, I have never lost
a drive (knock on wood!).
The nice thing with both of the units,
is that they have hot swappable drives. So if anything were to
happen, they can easily be replaced. Then within a few hours
the RAIDs get rebuilt and everything is as good as new. I know
others who have tested this, and since I have plenty of work
to get done, I'm gong to trust them. Even though pulling a drive
sounds like a ton of fun!
Both systems offer other redundant features
for protection as well. I think the way the Xserve RAID does
this is sexier than the HDPro. But in the end, both have redundancy
and that's important. I feel like the Xserve RAID is two units
in one box, while the HDPro is a single unit. It is also important
to note that some of these features are options, so if you're
going to buy one make sure to look into what you need. I highly
recommend spending a little extra on the options, it will pay
off in the long run.
The other feature both systems offers
is a software configuration and monitoring solution. The Xserve
RAID has RAID Admin, and the HDPro has RAID Shield. Both are
intuitive and easy to use lightweight applications. The RAIDs
can be configured here, and the software will alert you issue
should arise. Both can send out emails, which can be very handy.
From what I can tell, the only major difference between RAID
Admin and RAID Shield, is that the Xserve RAID can be controlled
over the internet. The HDPro has to be directly connected to
the host. The ability to check up on things remotely is really
convenient, but is a feature I rarely need to use. However the
addition of VNC software (like Apple's Remote Desktop) makes
this possible for the HDPro. I rather spend my time editing than
configuring my RAID, so extra software options are not necessary,
but it's nice that they thought of them.
Obviously capacity is really similar
between the Xserve RAID and the HDPro. The big difference is
the way that the RAID systems work. The Xserve RAID uses two
controllers that take care of 7 (or less) drives each. The HDPro
has one controller that takes care of 8 drives. Don't be fooled
by the number of drives, The Xserve RAID is using two controllers
to achieve it's best performance, the HDPro only needs one.
Interestingly, you don't have to fully
populate the Xserve RAID, and don't have to use both controllers.
But you're paying for both even if you're not using both. The
HDPro can achieve a two controller setup when using a two port
card to connect two units. With a software RAID, performance
of nearly 800 MB/s can be reached. The Xserve RAID is now capable
of running multiple systems off of one computer as well, although
I'm not exactly sure what the maximum performance is.
Then there's SAN. The Xserve RAID has
XSAN, expensive, but
cheap compared to other options. Likewise, CalDigit has designed
the HDPro with SAN in mind. CalDigit has developed a switch for
the external PCIe interface. This switch costs much less than
the fiber switches that can be used with XSAN. This is very exciting
because it may be the first solution to bring a SAN environment
to some of the smaller shops, who otherwise, might not be able
to afford a SAN solution.
Both systems utilize an extremely fast
connection to the host. Xserve RAID uses a fiber channel connection.
HDPro uses external PCIe or PCI-x. Many people are not that familiar
with the external PCI interface. All it's doing is essentially
bringing the PCI bus outside the computer. It has bandwidth capacities
up to 20 Gbps. This is much faster than fiber.
One major difference between the two
systems is portability. The Xserve RAID is heavy. It's really
not something that one person can move. Sure it's possible, but
let me extend a friendly warning; bend with your knees! The HDPro
is no feather weight, but is much lighter and portable. The handles
on top are really convenient and make the unit a breeze to move.
The most awesome part of the whole thing
is the ExpressCard
option that works with my MacBook Pro. All you need to do, is
buy the CalDigit ExpressCard, and attach the HDPro to your notebook
computer. Now you can edit on the road. Obviously the bus in
not nearly as fast on the notebook, but speeds of close to 200
MB/s can be achieved. While this may not be an every day occurrence,
it sure is a nice option to have. You can't do this with the
Xserve RAID. In the past year I have had two edits that I needed
to do on set. I used the CalDigit S2VR, which worked like a charm,
but the fact that I can take my entire RAID with me is very appetizing.
Another new and exciting feature is PCI-x.
While most new computers are using PCIe, there are numerous systems
out there that still use PCI-x. This means that older systems,
like my G5 are now capable of running the HDPro. Apple offers
both options as well, but the price is higher, and there can
be some complications. The early Xserve RAIDs shipped with a
different card and cable/controller system than the latter versions.
This can greatly complicate things, especially if you have an
older system like me.
So I bought the Xserve RAID nearly 4
year ago, because it was the best solution at the time. Today
I have many more options. I have been very happy with the Xserve
RAID, and it has run without any major issues. And as an editor
that is all I want in the end. But today, knowing that I can
save a lot of money, get most of the same feature set, improved
performance and capacity. I would pick the HDPro over the Xserve
RAID in a heartbeat.
Overall the HDPro blew my socks off!
Don't get me wrong, the Xserve RAID is a great reliable product.
But considering the cost and the performance, the HDPro is a
clear winner for any present or future edit suite.
Spring Editing, Inc
Growing up, Jared Picune found he had
a passion storytelling and movie making, and so he started his
career right out of high school. By eighteen Jared was Avid
certified and working as a freelance editor in the Denver production
In 2002 Jared cofounded Idea Spring Editing
Inc., a small yet successful editorial facility located in Denver.
Here Jared works with numerous clients on a variety of different
projects, including the critically acclaimed Baby Einstein series
While Idea Spring Editing consumes most
of Jared's time, he also is involved in several other endeavors.
In 2006, Jared started the Geeky
Mac blog. A site devoted to so called "Geeky"
Macintosh users. Here, Jared publishes articles and helpful
information on a regular basis. Jared is also actively involved
in the Denver Final Cut Pro
Users Group, and manages their website and blog.
Jared has found a niche somewhere between
creativity and technology. By combining the two, he has been
able to successfully run his company efficiently, providing clients
with cutting edge technology. "The tool should never overwhelm
the craft, in the end it is only the story that matters, not
how it was made."