Depending upon the project type, rendering with GPU-acceleration in Creative Suite 5.5 can reduce rendering time by up to 92% over CPU-only rendering. Since NVIDIA’s CUDA technology is the only GPU that currently accelerates rendering in the Adobe Media Encoder and Premiere Pro, buying a notebook without NVIDIA hardware for CS5.5 production is a huge mistake.
If you’re in the market for such a notebook, the HP 8760w is a dream machine that performs as well or better than a single CPU desktop workstation. If you need an external eSATA drive for production work, the Akitio Taurus Mini Super-S LCM should be on your short list.
If you’re buying a mobile solution for CS 5.5 editing, buying one without a CS5.5-compatible NVIDIA GPU would be a huge mistake. There’s simply that much difference between GPU accelerated performance and CPU only.
To reach this conclusion, I tested performance on an HP EliteBook 8760w using some of the real world projects detailed here. The notebook came with a four-core 2.3 GHz i7-2820QM CPU with a whopping 16 GB of RAM, configured with the top of the line NVIDIA Quadro 5010M GPU. Since HP shipped the unit with only a single 250 GB hard drive, I stored the test projects on an Akitio Taurus Mini Super-S LCM drive connected via eSATA.
The following table tells the tale regarding rendering. I performed all tests with Use Maximum Render Quality enabled for reasons discussed in the above referenced article. In these rendering trials, the EliteBook with GPU acceleration enabled outperformed CPU-only rendering performance by just under 80%, on a variety of projects involving HDV, AVCHD and DSLR footage. Not to belabor the point, but this means that an identically configured notebook without NVIDIA graphics would run about 80% slower than the EliteBook.
I tested preview with and without GPU acceleration at 100% of sequence size with playback resolution set to full. In these tests, the 8760w proved more than capable of real-time playback without GPU acceleration with all formats save the DSLR-generated footage from the Canon 7D. For example, with the HDV Nutcracker test, CPU-only preview rumbled along at 29.97 fps at only 30% CPU utilization without GPU acceleration. Though GPU acceleration reduced CPU utilization to 17% or so, the difference wasn’t that great. Similarly, in the ADCHD project, the EliteBook previewed at full frame rate at 44% CPU utilization, which dropped to 20% with GPU acceleration enabled. On the more complex DSLR footage, however, the difference was much greater. Here, CPU-only preview could only produce 46 fps of the 59.94 project at 99% CPU utilization, compared to full frame rate at 25% CPU with CUDA acceleration.
None of the real world projects tested here use multiple layers and effects, so to test preview performance with these types of projects, I loaded up a test project produced by NVIDIA to stress GPU performance. With CUDA acceleration, the EliteBook pushed 23.88 of the project’s 23.98 fps while utilizing 74% of system CPU and dropping no frames. With CPU-only preview, preview dropped to about 2 fps at 95% CPU utilization with 662 dropped frames in the 30 second test. If you produce complex, multi-layered projects, GPU-acceleration will be a huge boon during project creation.
Kudos to Akitio
In addition to the NVIDIA chipset proving its worth, so did the Akitio Taurus Mini Super-S LCM drive that I used to store the capacious source files for my real world projects. To assess how much performance I lost by using an external eSATA drive rather than an internal drive, I re-rendered the DSLR source clip from project files contained on the EliteBook’s hard drive.
Rendering from the Akitio, I produced the file in 12:42 (min:sec). From the internal hard drive, it was ten seconds faster, at 12:32, about a 1% difference that’s probably random. Unlike the old USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 drives of the past, eSATA gives you virtually identical performance to internal drives.
The Akitio unit was on sale at Amazon for $114 with no drives as I was writing this article, about the lowest price I saw for an external drive enclosure with eSATA, FireWire 400 and 800 and USB 2.0 connectors. You can add up to two 2.5” SATA-I or SATA-II hard drives that you can configure as separate drives, or in RAID 0 or 1 configurations.
Few video producers will be able to get by with internal storage on their notebook computers. If you’re considering external storage, I recommend eSATA. If you’re thinking about buying an external eSATA enclosure, give the Akitio Taurus Mini Super-S drive a good look.