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Should I Buy a Workstation Card for my GNU/Linux Audio/Video Editing Desktop?

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  • Should I Buy a Workstation Card for my GNU/Linux Audio/Video Editing Desktop?

    I've recently graduated from college with a broadcast and multimedia production degree. As of late I have been receiving commissions for corporate video productions, audio presentations, etc. and got to thinking of my non-linear editing desktop.

    After compiling my own kernel with the latest stable version from the Linux Kernel Archives I have now built a bloody fast rig for multimedia production. My reasoning for building my own kernel rather than going with a prebuilt or stock version is because Debian GNU/Linux's out-of-the-box "Wheezy" Nouveau kernel implementation requires GRUB hand-hacking to boot properly with my GTX 550 Ti.

    In terms of software I use Blender, kdenlive (possibly Lightworks if it is released under a Free Software license), Ardour, and other non-linear editing software to accomplish my projects. Blender and Kdenlive have proven to be quite GPU intensive (as well as Ardour when I have many compressors and plugins working concurrently). I am also thinking of taking up CAD work (e.g. LibreCad or FreeCad) for fun which I know to be very stressful on a discrete card.

    Since I am using my GNU/Linux machine for professional work rather than gaming, should I switch to a workstation GPU from NVIDIA or AMD over my consumer grade GeForce card?

    As I am a diehard Free Software supporter, I prefer the Nouveau driver over the proprietary offering from NVIDIA; this also applies to an AMD solution. Is it possible to use a professional card on GNU/Linux using a Free Software GPU driver?

    Here are my workstation specifications:
    • Running Debian GNU/Linux x86-64 "Wheezy"
    • AMD Phenom II X4 960T overclocked @ 3.4GHz and unlocked as a Hex Core
    • GIGABYTE AM3 GA-MA78LMT-S2 motherboard
    • 8GB DDR3 RAM
    • ASUS NVIDIA GeForce GTX 550 Ti


    Thank you in advance for any assistance you may offer me in this matter.

  • #2
    I don't think Ardour, Kdenlive, or most other software you listed even have any GPU acceleration, blender obviously does. So for those apps it's your cpu that's the bottleneck.

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    • #3
      As far as I know, most of the value proposition in workstation cards is that they can use proprietary drivers that are certified for specific (proprietary) applications. If you want to stick to open-source, that would be of no benefit.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by curaga View Post
        I don't think Ardour, Kdenlive, or most other software you listed even have any GPU acceleration, blender obviously does.
        That makes sense. I'll contact the development teams and see if GPU acceleration is in the works for future releases.

        Originally posted by curaga View Post
        So for those apps it's your cpu that's the bottleneck.
        Could it also be the Nouveau driver? I have noticed better frame buffering and playback when using the proprietary driver.

        Originally posted by Ex-Cyber View Post
        As far as I know, most of the value proposition in workstation cards is that they can use proprietary drivers that are certified for specific (proprietary) applications. If you want to stick to open-source, that would be of no benefit.
        If this is the case, as a pragmatist, I would be willing to go back to the proprietary driver until the situation improves with Nouveau.

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        • #5
          You should realise that AMD has much better open source promise than NVidia. I just got myself a workstation GPU. After unwrapping I immediately saw one great benefit of this class of products. It has an all-copper radiator. Basically, when you use your computer for heavy duty work, you can't afford a consumer grade parts. When a GPU overheats during a game it's not as bad as during an overnight rendering session, right? The difference here is that consumer parts are supposed to break in order for the consumer to buy new ones, while the workstation parts are designed for durability and quality rather than raw peak performance. So go buy yourself a suitable FirePro GPU and profit from this investment.
          Last edited by Hirager; 02-25-2013, 10:35 AM.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Hirager View Post
            You should realise that AMD has much better open source promise than NVidia. I just got myself a workstation GPU. After unwrapping I immediately saw one great benefit of this class of products. It has an all-copper radiator. Basically, when you use your computer for heavy duty work, you can't afford a consumer grade parts.
            In that case, I'll migrate my ASUS NVIDIA card over to my mini-ITX gaming rig.

            Originally posted by Hirager View Post
            When a GPU overheats during a game it's not as bad as during an overnight rendering session, right
            Absolutely. Even with my humorous quanity of fans (6+) providing air-flow, I dread the idea of a dead GPU.

            Originally posted by Hirager View Post
            The difference here is that consumer parts are supposed to break in order for the consumer to buy new ones, while the workstation parts are designed for durability and quality rather than raw peak performance. So go buy yourself a suitable FirePro GPU and profit from this investment.
            That happened to me two years ago with my first AMD Radeon card (e.g. 6850). For a while, I thought it was because of a driver fault on AMD's part; based upon what you are saying, I'm more inclined to believe it was faulty hardware. (The card would be fine while booting, through POST and into installation of Debian GNU/Linux before the screen became horribly corrupted).

            Thanks for the suggestion; I will definitely look into a FirePro card.

            On that note, which card would be appropriate for my setup? I need to have dual display output and at least 1GB of memory. I am not sure if I need to buy a GPU that is 1.) over $1k and 2.) featuring more than 2 video outputs.

            Are either of these suitable for my workstation needs? If not, what model(s) would be best to save up for? If the card is expensive, so be it -- I will save up as long as it takes to get the performance and reliability I need.


            AMD 100-505637 FirePro V3900 1GB DDR3 $119



            AMD 100-505649 FirePro V4900 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 $159

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            • #7
              I would take vishera, mix 16GiB of non-buffered DDR3 on solid-cap motherboard, add 5-6xxx amd GPU if opensource drivers are ok or nvidia gtx 5xx if not, then take fanless PSU from seasonic, and as finishing touch get MORA, llang DDC and innovatek cooling cpu, nb, gpu, memory blocks and reservoir to create fully-passive watercooled zero-service rig.

              I don't understand the "fun" with overpriced firepro, the money flows mostly into bribes for ISV optimization or exclusivity. On opensource side, this will instantly fly up and be fixed as its a form of DRM, there is no unfair disadvantage.
              So with opensource you pay only for honest work and honest hardware performance, no politics and crap.

              That said, I would instead buy 100$ to opensource developer of your application to provide/write OpenCL the acceleration you need.
              Last edited by brosis; 02-26-2013, 02:56 AM.

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              • #8
                That said, I would instead buy 100$ to opensource developer of your application to provide/write OpenCL the acceleration you need.
                That's like 2 hours of work at a standard rate of 50$/h. Probably not enough to accelerate anything

                (half serious. Too bad no bounty sites have grabbed enough attention to actually make a proper salary for things).

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