Getting Old

Way, way back in 2005, I purchased a dual processor Power Mac G5. The machine featured dual 2.0 GHz PowerPC 970 (G5) processors each with an optimized AltiVec “Velocity Engine” vector processing unit and 512k level 2 on-chip cache. Each processor held over 50 million transistors. It was a great platform for running Pro Tools. And it still is. But, the machine is getting old. It is entering its seventh year of service and I am still not sure what to do about an upgrade. All of the software and hardware is now unsupported and out of date.

The reason why an upgrade is challenging?

PCI-X slots. And money.

My Pro Tools HD rig contains two really expensive PCI-X audio DSP cards. And those cards are not compatible with current generation PCIe computers. PCI-X is a parallel interface that is directly backward compatible with all but the oldest (5-volt) standard PCI devices. PCIe is a serial bus with a different physical interface that was designed to supersede both PCI and PCI-X. And the PCI-X cards will not work on PCIe machines.

Avid has a promotion for upgrading the cards and the cost for the two cards is in the three to four thousand dollar range. This does not add any new functionality or performance to the Pro Tools rig. It simply allows the cards to run on current generation machines.

Add in the cost of a new Mac Pro and it is not too hard to get up to eight or nine thousand dollars to upgrade the Pro Tools HD rig. And that cost just seems too high given that there is not really a lot of gain in new functionality. And given that the current box is working quite well.

I have been looking at my options to see whether I really need to plan and budget for a migration in the not too distant future.

Or, perhaps I can make a staged migration by moving to a native  Pro Tools rig first and then acquiring the audio DSP cards later. However, given that most of my really expensive and useful software plugins for Pro Tools only run off the audio cards, I may not be able to make such a move.

Even so, will I have to upgrade my software plugins to run on the new environment? Probably. That could also run into the thousands.

Maybe I should just move to a native DAW and get off the Pro Tools platform. I would still have to plan for the cost of a new machine but I would not have to budget all of this extra money simply to run a couple of audio DSP cards.

Or maybe I can classify the current rig as “vintage”. A vintage DAW must sound warmer than current generation DAWs. The new DAWs are just too “digital”. I could treat the old rig it like a tape machine and run the thing until it dies.

Years ago I thought it was important to be absolutely current on my recording gear. Now, as I get older, I’m not nearly as concerned about the age of gear. At least not until it fails.

4 replies
  1. Mike P
    Mike P says:

    Looks like there still some PCI-X motherboards available””of course, that would require a switch to Windows, which is probably off the table. 🙂 Alternatively, can you use a Firewire solution for DSP, and just use an iMac or even Mac Mini as the computer?

    One way or another, It sounds like this machine is less a computer than it is a Pro Tools console, and in that role, as you say, it’s probably fine to just stick to what’s already working (until some aspect of it fails).

  2. JoaT
    JoaT says:

    Or you could examine the option of getting a Magma chassis for your PCIx cards. They can be had with the PCIe card as a master on the computer side.

    Upside of this is that you could also extend your PCIx system to something like HD5 or HD7 status. Those chassis can take as many cards and the old PCIx PT cards are getting quite inexpensive. There would also be some room to cram something like UAD or Duende PCI inside the chassis.

    When technology gets old, it gets cheap also. I am a firm believer of taking advantage of that as much as possible. You can have a pretty powerful system even by today’s standards if you find ways to extend the older generation wisely and cost-effectively.

    Hope you solve this the best way possible!

  3. Robert
    Robert says:

    Hi, I am in the exact situation as you are when it comes to having an older pro-tools rig and I am looking at ways to keep my current system functioning. My G 5 ppc is the weak link. I was wondering if you found a satisfactory solution? Pro tools 7.3.1 hd 3 accel pci OS 10.4.9

    • Richard Cleaver
      Richard Cleaver says:

      Hi Robert,

      For me, I find the system I have right now is rock solid. It works. It does not crash. I have great sounding preamps going through Apogee and 192 digital IOs. All of the technology continues to just work. I can readily produce competitive sounding projects off the rig. As a result, I am not planning to change this year.

      I do find that going to different studios, I have to work on newer versions of ProTools and I am not as productive on the newer versions. Whenever that becomes too much aggravation, I will think more carefully about options. I will look at it again in another year and perhaps start saving some money for the inevitable upgrade.


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