Updating My Podcasting System
13 MAY 2020
written by Mike
New system updates, new plugins, new software. Updating your workstation always seems like a good idea, but how is it really?
Today I will be writing a more technical post, detailing my recent adventures with system updates.
My main workstation is a late 2015 27inch iMac, which I purchased in 2016.
I initially bought it with 8GB of original RAM and upgraded to 20GB straight away with 2 x 8GB RAM modules from Crucial. One module of original 4GB RAM and 2 x 8GB RAM from Crucial.
I maxed out the RAM to 32GB a few months ago.
A quick digression – I couldn’t initially max out the RAM because the original memory comes in 2 x 4GB modules and I didn’t have enough cash for four 8GB Crucial modules.
Why didn’t I leave two 4GB modules of original memory which would give me 24GB of RAM?
Well, it seems that the iMac does not like mixing RAM modules from different manufacturers when all the slots are taken. So I had to work with 20GB for a bit which was 1 x 4GB or RAM from Apple plus 2 x 8GB RAM from Crucial.
A year ago or so I bought another 2x8GB RAM from Crucial, got rid of Apple original memory and I now have 4 x 8GB of Crucial RAM, 32GB in total, which is a maximum for my iMac.
For years I’ve worked on the original OS which was El Capitan. I’ve also worked on Pro Tools 12.4 which was the latest version that I could have with my perpetual license (which I purchased with Pro Tools 9 years ago).
A couple of months ago a few things happened.
I decided to buy a new Macbook Pro as the new 16inch model came out.
I had an old MacBook Pro 15inch early 2011 which I upgraded with RAM and SSD hard drive, but it was now too old to do anything except simple work. Besides that, the graphics chip on the motherboard failed and I had to disable it. The laptop served me well, but it was time to say goodbye and I needed a proper machine to do remote work.
I pulled a plug and got a new Macbook Pro 16inch, which came with the Catalina OS which is fully 64bit OS.
Before the Macbook Pro was delivered I also decided to purchase a subscription to Pro Tools with the latest 2020 version which I knew worked with Catalina OS.
The laptop was delivered and as I was installing the software I realised that RX6 from iZotope which I use every day wasn’t compatible with Catalina OS.
There was a workaround on their website that I used, but the situation prompted me to start thinking about upgrading to the RX7 version. I wanted to do it for a while but RX6 worked fine and the price for upgrade was around 500 dollars which was a bit too much for not a significant change in my workflow.
What I also noticed was that Pro Tools was running much much smoother on the Macbook Pro. Better than on my iMac in fact, especially during playback.
I knew it was partially to the new hardware but I also knew that the new ProTools and iZotope plugins will work best with Catalina and a fully 64bit system, so it was time to update the software on my iMac.
Another digression – days before the update, iZotope ran a promotion and the upgrade to Post Production Suite 4 was offered for 199 dollars. That included RX7 Advanced, Insight 2 and Stratus reverbs. It was a bargain and given the fact I didn’t want to do the workaround with RX6 and Catalina (just like on the Macbook Pro) – I got the update.
I was ready with the latest Pro Tools and plugins and downloaded Catalina OS on my iMac. It was the evening and the install took around 2 hours. After it finished, everything looked alright so I switched my iMac off and went to bed.
Fresh and early I got to my studio, switched on the iMac as I needed to do some admin tasks and install a few things before I got to work.
The computer started and the initial startup progress bar appeared. It was slow so I thought, ok, it’s the first time so it takes time. But it was bar stuck at 80% in and that’s it. No movement, nothing.
Initial panic ensued.
I’ve done the hard reboot several times but nothing helped and the boot wasn’t progressing.
What to do, what to do?!
I tried safe mode login – it didn’t work.
I tried launching the disk repair mode – it didn’t work.
I tried resetting PRAM upon start – nothing helped.
I thought I was going to punch the screen.
But! I searched how to reset SMC which is a system management controller setting and for iMac it meant unplugging the power cable for 30 seconds and plugging it back.
Lo and behold!
The disk utility screen launched after connecting to the network!
From there I’ve run the disk repair and initiated the boot from the hard drive rather than from the Catalina OS boot image and the system started.
What I think happened is, I had programs on launch that were 32bit and Catalina could not verify them during the boot (they were verified once I logged into the system) therefore I had to boot from the main hard drive instead.
I hope it makes sense, I’m not an IT professional though!
Mission one completed.
I’ve installed the remaining programs, run the new ProTools 2020 as well as replaced my Eventide reverb with Stratus which came with Post Production Suite 4.
Just as predicted, the software runs much smoother than on El Capitan, it’s like breathing a fresh life into the machine.
I’ve then launched RX7 Spectrogram, and it all looked good. I’ve imported my presets and had to adjust some of them as the import from RX6 didn’t work perfectly.
I started doing a bit of work and realised that the performance is lagging. The playback and doing on the fly repairs with my keyboard shortcuts were slower than with RX6 on El Capitan OS!
Well, that’s not what I expected at all.
I played with the performance settings but nothing helped. I’ve emailed iZotope support with the problem.
They’ve emailed back saying that I should reinstall and see if the issue persists, then reset the display to default as it is the most optimised option.
I’ve listened and it didn’t help.
I thought ok, I have a Chrome browser in the background which is CPU heavy. I switched it off – it helped a little but not as much as I hoped.
I have a 27inch screen and working in RX6 I had the Spectrogram on full screen and it worked fine.
That’s how I was testing RX7 in Catalina OS.
However, when I made the RX7 display smaller, the performance jumped and the shortcut response was much faster!
So that’s the solution – for some reason RX7 is not optimised on Catalina to have a full screen display on my 27inch screen.
Is my iMac too old?
Maybe, but RX6 on older OS worked fine. I did email iZotope with my solution and findings but for now, I work in a slightly smaller display window with Chrome browser off and Pro Tools minimised.
It’s not ideal but it’s fine for now.
I may upgrade my iMac when the new one comes out this year and will update you how that is working for me!
If you are thinking about upgrading your system, it may sound as easy as just installing new plugins but I find that it’s always a bit of an adventure to get everything in order.
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