October 25, 2007 was an important day for the Vienna Symphonic Library with the formal release for PC of their new Vienna Ensemble and the public beta for Mac OSX.
As previously reported in Film Music Weekly, the Vienna Ensemble is Vienna’s own proprietary virtual mixing board for Vienna Instruments only. Unless they choose to, Vienna users will no longer need to use programs like V-STACK from Steinberg, Forte from Brainstorm or Chainer from Xlutop.
Ensemble was available for download late in the afternoon Eastern time, so I wasn’t able to download and test it while doing the review for Vienna Special Edition. However, I was able to do some research to put into perspective how significant a development Vienna Ensemble is for studio system integration and what it’s going to mean for Film Music Weekly readers.
In summary, depending on your work needs, we may now be at the place of needing only one or two dedicated Vienna computers in a studio.
This graphic posted by Herb Tucmandl, president of the VSL, tells the story. Look carefully at the area marked Sample Management. At Samples, you’ll see 112,825. This figure means that when Mr. Tucmandl installed his beta version of Vienna Ensemble on a PC system containing 7GB of RAM, He was able to load one hundred and twelve thousand, eight hundred and twenty-five samples in a single instance.
According to Vienna’s Chris Marin, Mr. Tucmandl’s system specs are:
• A roughly 1 year old ASUS P5W Pentium D 3.4 (not core 2 duo)
• FSB 800
• 4 2GB non ECC RAM DDR2 533 sticks
• Raptor drives
Mr. Marin further explained that a user, depending on the Instrument used, could expect CPU usage of 1-3%.
That sounds pretty phenomenal! But in daily practice, what does that mean? To find out, I loaded the Vienna Instruments Appassionata Strings Performance Universal Matrix into my strings PC which has a paltry 2GB of RAM using V-STACK (but only until I install Ensemble). With that Matrix, 4,266 samples were loaded. Taking that as an average, with 7GB of RAM you can potentially load 23 matrices.
On a single Instrument like Solo Violin Legato, around 400 samples are loaded. To say the least, this is a major breakthrough for studio system integration because it means you can load an entire orchestra on a single system.
For audio and MIDI, anecdotal comments on the VSL forum and that of FX Teleport suggests that FXT runs on both Vista and XP64 (Mr. Tucmandl’s OS is XP64). MIDIoverLAN, according to the website runs on XP and Vista (XP64 is not mentioned so I don’t assume), and also the Mac for Power PC and the new MacIntel systems.
So, on a PC-only system, you can network your sequencing software to Vienna using either FX Teleport or MIDIoverLAN (which will require a separate audio card). For the Mac, you can network with MIDIoverLAN and add a separate audio card to the Vienna box.
Fortunately for us, Mr. Tucmandl also posted the specs for his dream system running 16GB of RAM.
• Supermicro Server-Rack w/Motherboard: 6015A-NT
• Intel Xeon dual processor 5160 – 3GHZ
• ECC Ram BC2 5300 677 MHz CL5
To get a handle on this new level of “miniaturization” for music production, I priced out Mr. Tucmandl’s dream (or drool, if you prefer) system.
Supermicro 1U Server with Motherboard
The Supermicro system comes complete with motherboard, 560-watt power supply, and an ability to handle up to 32GB of RAM with memory modules used in pairs. Thus, four 4GB memory sticks are required to max out the 32GB level.
The 1U rack is quite sleek.
The included motherboard is the Supermicro X7DBU
Looking at the illustration, you can easily see the black RAM slots in the upper right hand corner. A 16MB video card is onboard. And the motherboard can handle up to 6 SATA hard drives.
What you need now are the hard drives, memory and XP64.
In pricing out Mr. Tucmandl’s system one needs to be careful with thinking you can upgrade anytime. This is expensive RAM and the difference in systems using 4GB modules vs 2GB RAM modules is significant. In the figures below, remember that the entire Vienna Cube is 500GB (half a terabyte). Once you get above 16GB of RAM, you’re now using the 4GB RAM modules.
8GB RAM (4x2GB), 1 SATA 750GB Drive – $3,891.00
8GB RAM (2x4GB), 1 SATA 750GB Drive – $4,596.00
16GB RAM (8x2GB), 1 SATA 750GB Drive – $4,491.00
16GB RAM (4x4GB), 1 SATA 750GB Drive – $5,885.00
24GB RAM, 1 SATA 750GB Drive – $7,173.00
32GB RAM, 1 SATA 750GB Drive – $8,461.00
Doing It Yourself
Let’s suppose you want to do it yourself. I checked around, and here are some starting prices for you.
• Supermicro case/MB/PS – $1,500
• 4GB RAM Stick – $700
• 4GB RAM Kit (2x2GB modules)- $275 – $500
• Seagate 750GB 16MB cache – $295
• Dual Core Xeon – $1,100
At the low end, parts only with a 4GB RAM kit for a 16GB RAM system, you’re looking at $4,195. For the few hundred dollar difference with the first group of prices (created with system integrator Avadirect.com), you’re better off getting a system integrator to build it and getting a warranty on the parts and labor.
With a little checking, I found for the same money, I could take a cruise with my wife, buy a 50” LCD TV with enough left over to go to Burger King, buy a pre-owned Ford Taurus, or invest in a child’s mouth by getting braces.
All funnies aside, this is by any means a power system. The case doesn’t have Firewire (but it does have Gigabit LAN and 5 USB 2.0 connectors). So if you need audio, it’s either add a Firewire card, or use a USB audio card or FX Teleport if you’re PC-based.
Another consideration with this breakthrough is heat. This system is going to run hot, especially in a 1U rack. And there’s the noise level. Can it run in a rack next to you or do you need a machine room?
Before dropping $4K on a computer system, I’d like to see some of these questions answered. And for comparison, it will be good to see how Leopard and Vienna Ensemble test out together and at what cost.
Even so, many Film Music Weekly readers have many systems in their studios, often one for strings, one for woodwinds, and so on. Depending on how you spec out your system, it appears that one 64bit system with Vienna Instruments and Vienna Ensemble is potentially capable of doing the work of four.
That’s good news any day. Besides, who needs a 50” LCD anyway…?