AAX: Native or DSP power?

So for many of us the switch to version 11 of AVID's ProTools is either imminent or you're already there. HD system owners are likely taking this upgrade a little more gingerly and I'd like to add some insights here, having upgraded the HD3 TDM systems at RMIT Uni up to HDX3 systems - 54 AAX-DSP chips!  

The new HDX PCIe audio cards are incredible, let's make that clear. 18 DSP chips per card rated at 5 times the power of the previous HD chips makes for some awesome grunt. But how much power is "enough?" For ToKwerX I was originally upgrading an HD2 system to an HDX2 system at an upgrade cost of $7k for each of the cards. That would give me 36 DSP chips to call upon for audio processing - oodles you might say. But it has become very clear that most of the 3rd party plug-in manufacturers are not upgrading their software to embrace the AAX-DSP, only the AAX Native format, which doesn't use HDX cards at all - merely your host processors: WAVES, SOUNDTOYS, FABFILTER and AVID. The outcome is a huge outlay of funds for processing that in many cases will be sitting dormant - not a prudent use of funds in anyone's scenario. 

So before you dive into an HDX system that will have enough power to run your State consider the options. I am a big UAD-2 user and as such do not use the host or DSP for processing, so an expanded UAD-2 card is a clear option here; If my favourite plugs are all ported to AAX Native I may as well spend more on a greater number of Host processors - better use of funds by far. At the risk of purchasing more power than I actually need, or more accurately power in the wrong places my 2014 upgrade now looks like this: 1 x HDX PCIe card (18 DSP) + 2 x UAD-2 Octo PCIe cards (16 DSP) + 12 Host processors on a new Mac Pro. This reduces the cost by around $5k and ensures that I have plenty of power but importantly, power in the right places.