Computer system guide
This page contains some general hardware guidelines, regarding computer configurations and components, suited best for the needs of composing panoramic images with Autopano. All the info on that page is derived from my personal experience, which, in the last 10 or so years, involves assembling and maintaining a range of computer systems for different small companies, including my own.
This page will try to stay out of specifics and too much detail! It it targeted at the enthusiast, who makes plenty of panoramas or just wants APP to perform better. Obviously, if you're shooting huge gigapanoramas, you need much more know-how or specialist consulting, so this page is not for you.
If you have any questions or comments, please post them in this topic
Autopano is probably the best image stitching tool in regards of system resource utilization. Version 2.5 adds brand new blending algorithm that is basically a game-changer.
The main contributor to fast performance is the CPU, then comes the HDD speed and lastly - the amount of RAM.
- Multi core CPUs have great advantage over single core CPUs. Performance should scale with the amount of cores, as with v2.5 every part of panorama creation is now multi-threaded.
- HDD speed is most important when working with lots (and/or large) source files. In the past, HDD was almost as important as the CPU due to Smartblend's design, but with 2.5 that has changed. Sidenote: do not feed RAW files to APP; deraw them first to PNG or PSD or TIFF. Here's why.
- Having tons of RAM is not a requirement, but it can help tremendously with larger projects or plenty of smaller panos you want to keep open in the same time.
- Current drives are considered those 500GB per platter. WD Black 1TB with two 500GB platters is a fast, spacious and cheap drive. You can RAID a few of those for a quick and cheap boost.
- Don't go for 5400RPM drives, they're great for a laptop, have low noise, but the speed is... lacking.
- VelociRaptor drives (at 10,000RPM) are a great compromise between a traditional drive and a SDD.
- Keep in mind that there are special RAID editions drives from most manufacturers, which cost more, but perform better in RAIDs. Still, it's better to get two VelociRaptors instead of two RAID drives.
RAM speed, bus speed, multichannel memory
- Make sure the CPU, motherboard and RAM you get have compatible bus)speeds. For example, Core i7 CPUs have 800MHz or 1066Mhz bus speed, so you should get corresponding RAM.
- Beware of pre-assembled systems' advertisements. Some systems advertise the processor has 1066MHz FSB, but use 800MHz RAM. Others advertise that they use 1066MHz RAM, but use a processor with an 800 MHz FSB.
- Dual-channel memory requires the corresponding RAM slots on the MB to be filled with identical RAM sticks. i7 supports triple-channel memory, so that means three stick of the same RAM, if you want to unitize the better speed.
- i7 has a concept of "rank". If you use two quad-rank RAM sticks in the same channel, the currently available i7 and equivalent Xeon processors will drop memory access time to 800 MHz.
- All current display adapters are pretty powerful and luckily APP can utilize this power to make the Panorama Editor changes work in real time (as opposed to waiting a few seconds to a few minutes for a refresh of the preview). Even a nVidia GT 2## which costs less than 100$ will do the job!
- A great current video card is nVidia GTX 460, which costs under 200$ and beats every other card on the market in that price segment. Exhaustive review.
- Currently, Autopano does not utilize the GPU in processes other than Panorama Editor, but that probably will change in time. The rendering engine inside 2.5 is OpenCL based, so some time in the future the rendering will gain a huge speedup from using the GPU. GTX 460 is a good investment too, as in the future you can get another and SLI them, which will beat almost anything within reasonable price range.
The PC of today
- Core i7 7## or 9##, optionally mildly overclocked
- RAM. A nice optimum is 8-12GB. With triple-channel memory: 3 x 4 GB sticks. With dual-channel: 2 x 4 GB. If you can double that - so much the better, but have in mind that the 50 GIGAPIXEL pano of Paris was created with just 12GB of RAM...
- GTX460 with 1GB of RAM. If you're shooting for a bit more, get GTX470; a lot more - get two GTX460 in a SLI. Added bonus: you can play all modern games with that card on high details :)
- 64-bit (x64) OS of your choice, Windows 7 or Linux.
If you use Smartblend...
...you have to be aware that Smartblend is not multi-threaded and uses the hard drive a lot during the final rendering phase - blending. Currently, that's the biggest bottleneck in APP workflow, especially with larger projects. So the aim is to get a better performing HDD, so your panos render quicker. If you don't use Smartblend - skip to the next section.
HDD, no RAID
If you don't want to build a RAID array, you can go with single or several separate disks:
- 150BG or 300GB VelociRaptor (VR) for the source files and temp files
- If you have the money, get a separate VR for the temp files
- If you get two VR, install the OS on one of those and keep the sources there, while putting the system SWAP and APP temp files on the other.
- Choose whether to render to Disk1 or Disk2 depending on your free space. I'd go with rendering on Disk2.
- If you can get three VR, then you have plenty of cash, so look into the RAID option :)
HDD with RAID
- Separate VelociRaptor 150 or 300GB for the system and software. You'd want a system that's available even if your RAID array collapses.
- If you cannot afford a separate VR for the system, better get a current 7200rpm drive and still keep the system separate.
- Preferably three drives in RAID5, obviously it'll be best to use VelociRaptors. If not, use any current drive of a size that suits you.
- If not RAID5, put at least two current drives in RAID0, but be sure to schedule a backup!
- Use a separate PCI device - currently very expensive and has size limitations
- Get plenty of RAM (as much as your OS supports) and use a ramdisk software. This method also has limitations, as most motherboards currently do not support more than 16GB of RAM.
- Still, if you work on smaller projects, ramdrive is the fastest way to go.
- Have in mind that software ramdrive does not retain data after reboot, so you can use it only for temp files! Hardware ramdrives get power supply from the MB even when the PC is shut down and have a battery that supplies power when you pull the plug out of the PC.
An option to add a Raptor or Velociraptor in an external HDD case, connected via eSATA to your PC. eSATA and Gigabit ethernet are becoming ubiquitous. External storage could be the solution for fast, reliable, accessible and portable storage.
If you use Multiband...
...then you don't have to worry about HDD performance as much.
The PC of tomorrow
REWORK IN PROGRESS
- Solid state drive for your system and software and temp files. By the end of the year 256GB drives will become accessible and very fast alternative to classic HDD in terms of dollar-per-GB.
- RAID5 or similar for storing your sources. Plenty of motherboards support RAID5 out of the box with simple tools. 3 disks get you space, redundancy and faster performance on low price. As of May 2009, you can get 3 x 1TB disks (each last-gen 2x500GB platters) for less than USD 500.
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