Although it’s only a small purchase in the larger scheme of things, much is being made of Pixar Animation Studios’ switch from an Sun-based render farm to an Intel-based one,
as reported by Cnet.
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Pixar, of course, is Steve Jobs’ other company, and the animation studio produces some of the biggest-grossing computer animated movies in history, including both Toy Story pictures, A Bug’s Life, and most recently, Monsters Inc. With consistently good earnings reports and a steady stream of movies expected out for the next couple of years, Pixar is enjoying its day in the sun as Hollywood’s golden child (even though the studio is located hundreds of miles away, in Emeryville, Calif.).
Pixar has migrated its render farm — a series of computer servers that do the grunt-work of rendering artists’ images — from Sun-based servers to eight blade servers made by RackSaver. The new servers feature a total of 1,024 Intel Xeon processors operating at 2.8GHz, running the Linux operating system. The move echoes one that a well known Hollywood special effects studio — Lucas Digital Ltd.’s Industrial Light and Magic division — made last year, when it switched its artists from SGI-based desktop computers to Linux-based Intel workstations manufactured by Dell.
Moves like these suggest a sea change that Mac diehards may find troubling: The film and animation industry’s migration from Unix-based RISC systems to Linux-based systems favoring processors from Intel and AMD. After all, a Power Mac G4 equipped with Mac OS X is now a Unix-based RISC system, too. Intel director of industry marketing Tom Gibbs told Cnet that this is migration is happening because the performance gap between high-performance RISC systems and their Intel counterparts has been erased.
Cnet’s Michael Kanellos noted that these moves are happening “amid a spate of shuttle diplomacy” between Apple and Intel itself; Intel President Paul Otellini was on hand for Steve Jobs’ keynote address to Macworld Expo attendees in San Francisco last month, while Jobs delivered the morning keynote to Intel’s annual sales conference in Las Vegas.