One of the hidden gems of NAMM was the quiet announcement from Vienna that in a few weeks, it will release a Mac/PC version of Vienna Ensemble (version 3) that sends over LAN (local area network) cables both MIDI and audio data between the computer(s) running the Vienna Instrument and the host computer. This means that other than the main host computer which has both an audio card and MIDI interface, that any computer running Vienna Instruments using Vienna Ensemble 3 will not need either an audio card or hardware MIDI interface.

This is the promise that captured many who sequenced on the PC (including myself) who used the Russian-made FX-Teleport. It’s a great concept that eliminated black spaghetti (cables!) from the studio.

For Mac users, the long-term promise was that FX-Teleport would be ported over to the Mac, but it’s yet to happen. See http://fx-max.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=1941.

The market failure of FX-Teleport is really a tragedy for the community. That only one computer would need an audio card and MIDI interface represents in a typical composer’s studio, savings of literally thousands of dollars.

What we will face now is the Vienna Ensemble program (listing at 95 Euros according to the Vienna website) working in both the Mac and PC (good news for sure) and shortly, a similar multiplatform entry from EastWest supporting PLAY.

Many composers run programs from both companies.

The technical question we’ll all have to answer is whether or not the host computer and sequencing/digital audio software, on both platforms, can handle two different, but similar, audio/MIDI/LAN (AML) programs. In theory, it should work.

But, who knows?

Then, we will have to confront how we’ll deal with non-EW/VI programs that lack their own virtual mixing board approach.

Here, there may be some hope from TASCAM when GigaStudio 4 is released. With GigaStudio 4, you’ll have a feature that allows for Virtual Instruments to be run in it.

Kontakt and Vienna Instruments should be able to run in it, according to Jeff Laity, Marketing Manager at TASCAM. In a response on the VI forum Mr. Laity said that GS 4 would ship 64bit ready and handle up to 128GB of RAM. According to Mr. Laity, TASCAM has already run very successful tests with the Vienna Instruments, but as yet had no time to test Kontakt.

For those with Giga machines, the GS4 update looks very appealing for this very practical application.

But, there are some glitches along the way.

While GS4 may be 64bit, and the Vienna Ensemble may be 64bit, at this point, neither VI, EW PLAY, nor Native Instrument products are 64bit. They’re still 32bit.

VI and EW are scheduled to be 64bit shortly. Hidden away in a small quote was the announcement that VisionDAW had already created a workstation capable of running the entire QLSO library on one system. But Native Instruments announced it would not be 64bit until late 2008.

So should you jump to a 64bit system just yet?

For me, since I’m running the Vienna Instruments, yes, it makes sense, but I’m willing to wait so that I’m not paying to beta test.

Happily, the Vienna folks, unlike many other software developers, not only reported a recent specs test but also posted the parts list! This was followed up with two posts from Chris Marin, the “Scotty” of the Vienna Symphonic Library, with a cogent explanation of which parts he selected and why.

According to Herb Tucmandl, VSL president, his new dream machine sports 32GB of RAM and loaded just under ½ gigabyte of samples.

Here’s the list with street pricing where I could find it.

Supermicro Server-1U Rack 6015A-NT – $1100 (the SuperServer 6015A-NTV/B features the Super X7DBGU motherboard, Intel 5000X chipset, and supports up to two Intel Xeon processors, up to 32GB PC2-4200 or PC2-5300 DDR SDRAM, and up to four hot-swap SATA hard drives. It has a 560W high-efficiency power supply and dual-port Gigabit Ethernet controller).
Intel Xeon double processor 5160 – 3GHZ – $1100

ECC RAM BC2 5300 677 MHZ CL5 – $3200 (you can buy 8GB RAM kits)
Fortunately, Mr. Marin published his parts list rationale.

Several considerations had influence on the decision for the SS6015 – chipset, processor, memory and the 16x PCIe slot.
Whereas the 6015A holds only 32 GB RAM but has the 16x PCIe for a dual screen setup with a radeon 1950, the 6015B would take actually 64 GB RAM – for several reasons we also added a dual controller FW400 / FW800 PCI-X expansion card.

At the date of purchase the XEON 5160 (3 GHz) and the XEON 5150 (2.66 GHz) had a reasonable price so we decided to try both (2 processors per machine, 2 cores per processor) – there is not too much noticeable difference, neither with the Vienna Ensemble nor with other CPU hungry applications.

The motherboard also allows PCIe and PCI-X riser cards and the PCI bus can be set to any value between 33 and 133 MHz so allowing tests with several audio devices (currently a *legacy* PCI Hammerfall multiface) though a VE-network solution wouldn’t even need an audio device, nor would it in fact need a dual screen graphic card.

As posted earlier these are multi-purpose machines and if you are looking for a VE slave any Intel 5000 series motherboard would be good enough, actually a modern Core™ 2 Duo would do the job if there were any motherboards out there holding more than 8 GB RAM.
The quad core 2.66 version with 16 GB RAM is almost identical to the older Mac Pro – another setup with Boot Camp and Vista 64 performs exactly as well as the SuperMicro running XP64 … it is just MUCH more silent ;-)

As Herb pointed out, it seems there is absolutely no difference with VE-network between Mac Pro 10.4 / 10.5 /Boot Camp + Vista 64 and a comparable other Intel 5000 board running XP64 or Vista 64, but a G5 PPC performs significantly less well and interestingly also puts additional load on a connected host.

The sequencer machine mentioned above is a rather *old* Pentium V (IIRC P4C-800 board) 3 GHz, but it looks like it would allow even some more tracks to be inserted before the CPU overloads. Another setup with a Core™ 2 Duo MacBook Pro as host and any Intel-based VE slave showed similar results.

Ahhh – the hard disks …. my *darlings* the Western Digital Raptor 10k rpm are used as system drive [$250 per unit] and the Seagate 1 TB SATA II for data [$350 per unit].

How to configure the drives is not completely tested yet – the SATA controller allows many modes. Two raptors mirrored for system and 2 Seagates stripped for samples looks like a usable config, but in theory the single drive AHCI mode should be faster … it is just a driver issue for XP and Vista, the drivers seem to be not really optimized currently.

Selecting RAM is somehow a lottery beyond 8 GB and I would recommend to use only sticks certified by the respective manufacturer.

The used KINGSTON 2GB DDR2 PC2-5300 667MHz CL5 ECCx4 fully buffered single rank are slightly below the specification (and significantly cheaper) but the distributor guaranteed they work flawless up to 16 GB per machine – in fact it seems they also work up to 32 GB per machine.

In working up the street prices, this system comes to just under $7,000US.

Say what?

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