“…also, what is the best computer for Octane Render?

Last week our field tech Andy got an email referred by a client asking this question. It also said:

We are looking for someone to go through our workgroup workflow to determine the best hardware and software. We found an IT Consultant who charges $100 per hour. If mediaworkstations can match that rate we will go with you.

This was an eye-opening moment for me. Why? Because it’s new. We don’t have any consulting rates published – we’ve only rarely charged for consulting work. As any of you who’ve visited our site or spoken with me know we’ve had a free configuration page up for years. It’s an invitation for visitors to list their workflow apps and details – and get the best configuration for their needs. For free.

This got me thinking. What is this information actually worth?

If visitors to mediaworkstations.net now spend between $5,000 and $30,000 per unit on new hardware, what’s the value of knowing the best hardware (and sometimes software) for the work they do?

While I won’t delve into Socrates’ dialogue with Meno re value of knowledge here, I think there are very practical aspects to this question that, regardless of what you decide, are helpful and provide value.

Hiring An IT Consultant

Hiring a hardware designer or IT Consultant…is a very practical step if your hardware decision has a direct impact on your company’s productivity and competitiveness. You wouldn’t likely hire a consultant if buying an office PC from Amazon, Newegg or Best Buy (or Dell or HP), as these are commodity products with similar performance regardless of manufacturer. Pro media needs however are often complex, it may make good sense to hire.

That said, fundamentally ALL hardware is a commodity. It’s generic. It has the same basic value as all similar items, but that assumes the same basic input and output, which as we know with professional media is very often just not the case.

If you know what’s best, you can configure and order the hardware you need and be pretty confident it is going to be good if not optimal for the work you do. One caveat – there have been many big changes in hardware over the last three years, so some research is prudent if you don’t intend to hire a consultant. If you don’t know what’s best, and you go to Best Buy and ask “What is the best computer for Adobe CC?” or “What’s the best computer for After Effects?” You’ll probably get a blank stare – or BS. But perhaps you do know that you’ll need a more robust solution than you’ll find there, but even if you call up HP, Dell or Lenovo, or go to the Apple store a “What’s After Effects?” is more than likely. Maybe you have already done this and know – you have already gotten a “What’s 3ds Max?” or “What’s After Effects?”, or maybe it was an awkward moment followed by the rep jumping into what they sell, rather than what you need or what components are really best for your specific workflow. Truth is, while you can get good hardware for these needs from HP, Dell or Apple, do you really know what the best configuration is? Will they?

*Editor’s note: Quadro and FirePro are not the best GPUs for many pro media workflows, but these are often your only options with many HP, Dell and Lenovo workstations (I don’t include Apple here because for GPU-accelerated workflows they are not a good choice). Octane Render is a great example, where GeForce cards handily outperform their Quadro counterparts at a fraction of the cost.

Enter Sandman

If you’re editing 4K or 6K RAW files, you’re compositing 300 layers in Nuke, you’re grading 4K or 6K in Resolve, or you’re doing Fluid Sim or intensive modeling and sculpting work, you know a commodity product won’t cut it. Trying to do this is a recipe for pain and frustration, and could lead to screaming and wanting to find a wall to punch and even ulcers and sleeplessness. It’s bad. You’ve got to know what needs to be done to provide fast or real time performance in these scenarios or find someone who does. Finding the best hardware for Nuke, DaVinci Resolve, Maya or 3dsmax, V-Ray or Octane Render, AutoCAD or Solidworks or any media, technical design or scientific application is mandatory if you or your company’s success depends on it.

Which brings us back to the question, what is the value of what we provide? When I reflect on the many free configuration responses and consultations I’ve provided, I often save my clients thousands or tens of thousands of dollars, and on occasion, I’ve saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars. In most scenarios I can tell you what the best configuration for your needs is in two minutes or less. Why? Because I have thousands of hours of research, benchmarking, and direct experience in my brain.

When I started I didn’t. I had what most of the rest of the world has and does: many hours, weeks and even months scouring application forums, product sites and other online resources and finally testing to get my questions answered. Sound familiar?

Recently a client hired me to identify where we could optimize and increase their workflow performance. They had been working with the same custom hardware builder for many years, who told them that new workstations for all company sales people was the best way to increase their hardware performance. So we scheduled a call.

On that call we discovered the bottleneck – a drive which simply could not fetch their large files quickly enough, causing stutter and sometimes full on crashes. John said two weeks later it was the best 60 minute investment spent all year for their business. The directive? $2,000 on new solid state drives for all current workstations, and $400 installation labor.

While perhaps not exactly scientific, here’s a breakdown of workflow bottlenecks and costs:

Losses from computer crashes and stutter, 2015: $223,000 in lost sales revenue.

Cost of implementing legacy hardware builders’ suggestions including new workstations which would not correct their problem: $22,878.

Cost of solid state drives and installation for all company workstations: $2,400.

Consultation with Christopher Johnson at mediaworkstations.net: $497.

Using my higher math: $223,000 + $22,878 – $2,400 – $497, or $242,981 saved.

Good investment.

In another instance we got a call from a famous Southern California sports clothing and gear company. They ordered 8, E5-2660 dual Xeon workstations with Quadro 4000 GPUs the year before from a well-known custom PC maker from Texas and were frustrated.

I went and spoke with them. After a one hour meeting and a couple of follow up calls they purchased two of our i7-X mediaworkstations. The i7-Xs outperformed the dual Xeon workstations they’d purchased for nearly $10,000 more by a 100% margin for all their application workflows.

Why? Because the hardware configuration we gave them was designed for the work they do. This could be our slogan – Mediaworkstations.net: Hardware Designed For The Work You Do. It’s hard to assess the cost (or benefit of employees working unhindered by hardware), but if we were to put a dollar value to it it must be into the hundreds of thousands of dollars by now. So in the end, it has great value, and in the coming weeks we will roll out some consulting options designed to provide you the information you need to save you time and money.

In one sense, consulting is still a small piece of our business. In another, it is all we do. It IS the value of what we do. The rest is hardware and electricity, a quality build process and finally thorough stress and stability testing. I am in this business and founded this company because I love talking to my customers, love supporting them in having the best technology available, custom designed for the work they do, whether making a feature film or designing a new office building in Monaco. I am in the business of helping people, and I do it because it feels good to do, personally and professionally. As an experience, helping someone else is one of the best feelings in the world.

I never thought this would come from selling computer hardware but there you have it.