The Black Mistress has arrived – My initial experiences with our new Workstation

Finally, our new computer reached our doorstep approximately one week after the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera had arrived. I ordered both items at the same time but the computer had to be assembled at the Swedish company Inet from scratch following my directives and specifications. Our expectations were high, especially my teenager son who looks forward in playing video games with it (as well as doing programming projects at high school). The parcel was quite large and somewhat heavy, approximately 25 kilograms [1]. Unpacking it I was struck by the good and highly secure and shock damped seal and packaging. Opening the flaps there was a compartment which also provided for damping of the main package, and the compartment itself carried two pieces, one bag and one package of manuals and discs wrapped in plastic [2]. Opening the bag I was met with a collection of spare parts, cables and stuff. I set the bag and plastic package aside and went to lifting off the bottom of the compartment, which concealed a translucent plastic shock absorbent cover underneath hosting the computer itself [3]. The plastic cover was constructed as a cardboard frame (identical to the first one which seconded as a compartment) with two plastic widows, which kept the package in place; there was a identical arrangement at the bottom of the parcel holding the package well protected from the bottom of the cardboard box). Lifting up the shock absorbent, alas, there was the black beauty wrapped in a translucent plastic bag [4]. I immediately lifted it up from the cardboard box and put it standing upright on a table [5]. Lifting the plastic wrapping the black matte chassis from Antec stared at me with a omnious look on its face [6].

The unpacking of the computer
The unpacking of the computer

The computer is assembled onto the frame and chassis of a Antec GX500 ATX tower with the size of 205 × 476 × 458 mm. Upon unpacking I immediately noticed that the upper part or roof of the chassis had partially loosened. I had to press (or rather hit) it back into the clamps, which was quite easy; it’s supposed to be disassembled in this way when necessary. The upper part of the front bezel, which reminds me a lot of a grinning menacing face, has two controls (High/off/Low) which seem to regulate the fanning system (and look something like eyebrows), which sports a total of three cooling fans (not counting the additional fans for the CPU and GPU) with additonal three fan mounts. Underneath these controls, there is a row of two USB 3.0 connections (serving as “eyes”) flanking a pair of audio 3.5 mm connections; microphone in and headset out. There is a large button to turn the computer on, down to the right side of the “face” and another fake button opposite it. The front or main bezel hosts several 2.5″, 3.5″ and 5.25″ bays, of which one 5.25″ bay is reserved for the Blu-ray/DVD burner and one 3.5″ hosts the card reader. The ASUS BW-16D1HT BD/DVD/CD reader & writer has the capacity of writing (BD-R/-R(DL)/-R(TL/QL)/-R(LTH)/-RE/-RE(DL)/-RE(TL), DVD±R/±R(DL)/±RW/-RAM and CD-R/-RW) with a maximum speed of 16x and sports a reading speed of 48x; it also supports the M-disc (for long and safe storage) and BDXL (for large storage) formats. I will use it for secure and long term storage, as well as distribution. The Icy Box IB-865 Multi Card Reader sports six slots that are able to read over 60 different types of memory cards, such as M2, Extreme Digital, CFI/CFII/MD, SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC/RS MMC, MicroSD, MS/MSPro/MS Duo/MS Pro Duo, and USB 3.0. I had it installed primarily for reading the SDHC and SDXC flash memory cards compatible with my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

The front sections of the Antec GX500 tower chassis
The front sections of the Antec GX500 tower, with fan controls, audio and USB connections, Blu-ray writer and card reader

Moving to the back of the chassis we find a wide array of connections. The motherboard ASUS X99-A, the dark mistress herself, connects to various components through four black USB 2.0, four blue USB 3.0 and two turquoise USB 3.1 ports, and a old-school puple and green PS/2 keyboard/mouse combo port. The X99-A also supports a LAN (RJ45) port, one optical S/PDIF (Toslink) for audio out, and five Audio 3.5 mm mini-jacks, as well as a USB BIOS Flashback Button which connects to one of the USB 3.0 ports (outlined in green). The five audio mini-jacks consist of the following: Rear speakers (black), center speaker and subwoofer (orange), mic in (pink), line out and front speakers (lime), and line in and side speakers (blue) for up to a 7.1 channel configuration. The X99-A features the mainstream Crystal Sound 2.0 chip delivering up to 8 channels of high definition digital audio with a Realtek ALC 1150 codec that supports DTS Ultra PC II and DTS Connect, as well as audio shielding and audio amplification for headphones and PC speaker systems. The GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card and GPU delivers high definition video through the following connections: 2 x DisplayPort 1.4, 2 x HDMI 2.0b, and 1 x DVI-D, with the possibility of controlling up to four monitors. The connections on the graphics card where delivered out from the box with attached plastic cover caps (with the exception of one HDMI connection). It seems that I still have at least two PCIe 3.0/2.0 x16 slots and one PCIe 2.0 x1 slot left to use for future investments in hardware components, such as the Blackmagic Design DeckLink Mini Monitor (PCIe x4) for a reference monitor and perhaps even a dedicated sound card.

Connections to the X-99 mother board and GeForce GTX 1060 GPU
Connections to the ASUS X99-A mother board and GeForce GTX 1060 GPU, and the EVGA Supernova G2 power supply

The sides of the tower chassis opens up very easily with a simple unscrewing of two screws at the back of the chassis, the rest of the sides being fastened to the chassis with hooks. Upon unpacking, I immediately had to open the left side to get a glance at the interiors, the actual computer. The motherboard X99-A takes up the most part of the computer space. Its 2011-3 socket hosts the high end Intel Core i7 5820K processor, optimised for the X99 and DDR4 memory modules, featuring six cores, a base speed frequencey of 3.3 GHz (with a maximum Turbo frequencey of 3,6GHz), and a SmartCache of 15 MB. This powerful processor needs much cooling, which is provided by the Noctua NH-U12S fan, protruding (120 mm) to the limits of the left side of the chassis; made of aluminium and copper it handles 93.4 m³/h of air with a maximum 1 500 rpm and 22.4 dB. The X99-A sports eight DIMM sockets for DDR4 memory modules for a maximum internal RAM memory of 64GB, of which two sockets each have been reserved for a Corsair 8GB DDR4 CL13 Vengeance LPX memory module with a speed frequency of 2133MHz, which amounts to a total of 16GB; there is room for six additional DDR4 modules and 48GB of extended internal memory, but 16GB is good enough at least for now. Although a powerful CPU and enough DDR4 memory is necessary for a post production workstation, a good graphics card and fast GPU is even more essential, which led me to choose the high-end ASUS GeForce GTX 1060 Dual OC, which bosts a frequency of 1594 MHz (1809 MHz Boost Clock), being configurated to 3GB of GDDR5 memory with a speed frequency of 8008 MHz, sealed in a white cover with two fans inserted into the PCI Express 3.0/2.0 16x slot on the X99-A.

Computer interiors
The opened up left side of the entire computer chassis (top left), a close-up of the X99-A mother board with CPU and Noctua NH-U12S cooling fan, with one visible red Corsair 8GB DDR4 memory module, the second module being obscured by the cooling fan to the right, and the GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card being visable at the bottom (top right), a close-up of the white GeFoce GTX 1060 graphics card and GPU with its twin fans and the EVGA Supernova 750W G2 power supply (bottom left), and finally a close-up of the Samsung 750-Series EVO 500 GB SSD and Seagate Desktop 2TB HDD being securely mounted to the lower hard drive bay of the Antec GX500 chassis (bottom right)

The hard disk bay at the front of the chassis hosts two separate hard drives, one SSD for the operating system (Windows) and all of the installed programs, and one HDD for file storage of projects. For a SSD i have chosen the renowned Samsung 750-Series EVO, with a 500GB storage capacity and a maximum sequential read speed of 540 MB/sec and maximum sequential write speed of 520 MB/sec. For a HDD i have chosen the Seagate Desktop, with a 2TB storage capacity and a cache of 64MB, and a rotational speed of 7200rpm. Obviously, I have put a priority on the SSD flash drive as its high speed capacity makes it the single most important disc drive in any production workstation. All components of the computer are fed by the EVGA SuperNOVA G2 power supply, with an output power of 750W and 63A. Originally, the power supply came in a nylon bag but the company which assembled the computer gathered all of the spare parts from the different components, such as various cables, screws, rails, etc., into the bag. A plastic cover also contains all of the manuals that belong to the different brands contained within the chassis, the ASUS mother board and graphics card, the EVGA power supply, the Samsung SSD, the Icy Box IB-865, the Noctua cooler, and Intel processor. There are also three DVD-ROM discs appended to the manuals, of which two produced by ASUS contains software for the X99 (Intel Chipset Support Rev. 671.10) and GPU Tweak II & Driver (GeForce Experience, ASUS GPU Tweak II, ASUS APRP 1.0.0.31, XSplit Gamecaster 2.5.1507.3018, Google Chrome and Goole Toolbar), both adapted to Windows 10. Of these I have only found use for the GeForce Experience, which when installed into the computer automatically detects updated versions of the GeForce Game Ready Driver (i.e. the driver for the graphics card) and then proceeds with installing it. The last DVD-ROM is labelled ICPC by Microsoft and contains the Windows 10 Recovery Media for Windows 10 Products, a handy tool which basically reinstalls Windows 10 if something goes wrong with the operating system.

Coputer spare parts, manuals and software
Coputer spare parts, manuals and software

Opting for a versile, powerful and fast enough computer I checked the minimum requirenments for a editing workstation for a 2K workflow (adapted to my Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera) and added some more in certain instances to have a good margin; instead of the minimum 2GB GPU memory capacity I requested for 3GB, instead of 8GB RAM (as a bare minimum) i opted for 16GB knowing well that I easily could upgrade if needed, and instead of 500W power supply capacity I got 750W so that all parts of the computer would receive enough power to work optimally. Although our Intel i7 processor isn’t of the latest Skylake 6th generation, it is still a very good one belonging to the Haswell 4th generation family of Intel processors; it’s definitely more than adequate for my workflow. Although Blackmagic Design specifies the ASUS X99 Deluxe for DaVinci Resolve (for a 4K configuration) I have chosen the X99-A out of budget reasons; the biggest difference are the expansion slots (which the Deluxe edition provides in abundance) but otherwise they share an equal capacity. Our GeForce GTX graphics card is one of the stronger points of our workstation; being a mid-end solution of the high-end 10-series, the brand new 1060 3GB is a wise compromise between cost and performance. Blackmagic Design specifications further prompted med to purchase Windows 10 Pro which was thrown in with the package on delivery. The total cost, delivery excluded, for the Antec chassis and all of its contents, predominately from ASUS (it’s basically a ASUS computer in disguise), as well as Intel, Samsung, Seagate, Icy Box and EVGA, arrived at 17.860 SEK ($2.070). This is basically twice the cost of a Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera. Was it worth its investment? For shure, if you’re planning to shoot RAW with the BMPCC. Time to put the computer to the test to see if she is a worthy mate for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

 Setting up the Workstation and connecting all of the cables, such as the DVI-D cable as seen in the foreground
Setting up the Workstation and connecting all of the cables, such as the DVI-D cable as seen in the foreground

We have chosen the corner of our children’s room for our workstation, doubling as our 16 year old son’s study. I had arranged it several weeks before the arrival of the Black Mistress. We had chosen the children’s Panasonic TX-L32C5E LCD TV set as the primary display, sporting 32″ in a 16:9 aspect ratio and 1366 × 768 native resolution at 60 Hz. Not full HD but quite good colour handling and overall picture quality. As the secondary monitor we had chosen my wife’s old Philips 190B LCD computer screen, presenting a 19″ image in 5:4 aspect ratio and 1280 × 1024 native resolution. A standard set of keyboard and mouse from Hewlett-Packard was scrambled from previously used computer constellations. A LAN cable was prepared from our router. All other cables, USB for keyboard and mouse, and HDMI for the Panasonic television monitor was prepared in time of the arrival, with the exception of the DVI-D cable from Deltaco for the Philips which arrived a couple of weeks later. Everything connected and pressing the start button on the computer for the first time, going through the installation process of Windows 10 I immediately encountered problems with a proper installation of the operating system. It took me almost a week to get Windows 10 Pro to accept the product key code and work properly together with Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve; I had to reinstall Windows 10 from scratch using the Windows 10 Recovery Media, with the aid of Inet support (cudos to the Inet staff!), and afterwards update the operating system to its latest version so that it would accept the latest GeForce Game Ready Driver. But after all of these initial software nuisances were solved everything has run smoothly and as expected since.

The manuals of Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve
The Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve manual featuring 1211 pages

During the first week we only used the main monitor (Panasonic) when working with Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve 12.5.2, but after the DVI-D cable had arrived I immediately plugged in the secondary monitor (Philips) into the operating system and the DaVinci Resolve workspace was set on dual monitor mode. After two weeks of testing and experimenting with a CinemaDNG RAW workflow, DaVinci Resolve has worked flawlessly together with our computer workstation. Everything runs fast and smooth. I have installed Blackmagic Design’s Fusion 8 and Blackmagic Camera Setup, but have yet to test these programs. I have downloaded all of the contents on my SDXC flash cards onto the HDD disc drive and organized them in specially prepared folders according to the directives given in The Filmmaker’s Handbook (Ascher & Pincus), after which I have imported them into DaVinci Resolve, creating a new training and test project called Lux ex Tenebris. In this process, I have taken care of storing vital information in the metadata, starting with in camera data and expanding on that initial information in post production. Although the full DaVinci Resolve 12.5 manual contains 1211 pages of dense information, the program itself is quite user friendly. Also, the Blackmagic Design camera manual gives a good basic introduction to editing and color grading in DaVinci Resolve. Using this latter manual (and some few pointers in the full DaVinci Resolve manual) and watching a few tutorials, I have plunged headlong into the post production of my first Camera Test Movie (Lux ex Tenebris). I will return to my initial experiences of DaVinci Resolve 12.5 in a future post. Let’s just say for now that I am extremely satisfied with the current workflow, despite some minor quirks in the program. I am equally satisfied with our new computer workstation which doesn’t seem to strain the least even from working in RAW; a perfect match for the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera! The Dark Lord has met his true bride and Black Mistress, joining with her in an alchemical wedding inpregnating her with his raw seed. The gestation period has begun…

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