Larry Jordan Blog

Editing with the New iMacs

Posted by on January 13, 2013

OK. I’m impressed!

Last November, the day they went on sale, I ordered a 27″ iMac to replace my main editing system. (Click here to read about the system I ordered.)

It arrived the end of December and, as these things tend to work out, as soon as I unpacked it, I needed to give it to our talented production assistant to do some web database work for the last two weeks. (First, its a tribute to the admiration I hold her in that she was even able to TOUCH this system and, second, I felt like she was using a Ferrari to ferry kids to and from school.)

Finally, she went back to school. Now it was my turn. While I haven’t done a ton of work with it – yet – I want to share what I’ve learned.


This thing is fast! It loads fast. It runs smoothly. It renders quickly. Export is faster than real-time.

The screen is clear and easy to read – even considering the small point sizes of much of the text. And it has speed to burn.


Here are the specs of the system I purchased. I was especially intrigued with how the Fusion drive would work. The Fusion drive combines the speed of a Solid State Drive (SSD) with the storage capacity of a standard hard disk (often called “spinning media”). I knew that I would be getting external storage, so I didn’t get the largest Fusion drive, as I didn’t see the benefit of the extra storage.

Also, I am not a fan of wireless keyboards or mice, especially for desktop systems. If something goes wrong with the system, you often need a wired keyboard or mouse to fix it. I found the wired keyboard and mouse worked great.

For this article, I edited a one-hour ProRes 422 project. Single-stream video, dual channel audio running at about 15 MB/sec. (This is about five times the data transfer of a single AVCHD video stream.)


To get started, I did a quick test. Launching FCP X on my 2010 MacPro 4,1 took 24 seconds. Launching FCP X on my new iMac took 4.3 seconds. 6 TIMES faster!


The Fusion Drive combines the high storage capacity of a traditional hard drive with the high performance of flash storage. With a Fusion Drive in your iMac, disk-intensive tasks in Final Cut Pro X, such as importing and optimizing media, are faster and more efficient.

A Fusion drive “learns” what files are used most often and moves them from the spinning hard drive to the SSD. This means that it delivers the best performance to the files you use the most often. (As a sidelight, with today’s technology, SSDs are significantly faster than spinning media, in fact, SSDs are slightly faster at reading (playing back) data than writing (recording).)

So what does this mean? Last week, I was at the Storage Visions conference in Las Vegas talking with a variety of storage and system developers trying to better understand SSDs.

NOTE: There is an inverse relationship between performance and speed. The faster a storage device is, the less data it holds for the same amount of money. 7200 RPM drives deliver data more slowly than a 15,000 RPM drive, but the 7200 RPM drive holds more data. SSDs are faster than spinning hard drives, but, for the same amount of money, spinning hard drives hold more data.

The Fusion drive does not cache files; that is, make a copy of the file from the hard drive and store it on the SSD. Instead, the file is stored either on the hard disk or on the SSD, but not both. Files you use the most are stored on the SSD to provide the fastest performance.

Using the Blackmagic Design Disk Speed Test, available in the Mac App Store, I measured the speed of the Fusion drive: 323.1 MB writing, and 411.3 reading. Whew! Truly fast!!

However, even though the Fusion drive is amazingly speedy, I don’t recommend it for storing your media. This is because you’ll get the best performance from this drive when you are accessing the same files over and over – such as the operating system and applications. Media files are generally played once, and they are done. Constantly playing different files, or rendering different portions of the timeline does not benefit from the speed an SSD can provide to the same extent.

SSD drives work the best when accessing the same files – like databases, or applications – or when working with lots of smaller files.

When editing video, a better option is to attach a Thunderbolt RAID as your media drive; which is what I did. I’m using the G-Technology G-RAID, which is a two-drive RAID 0.

When I measured the speed of the G-RAID, it was slower than the Fusion drive, but provided far more storage: 4 TB vs. 1 TB in the Fusion drive; the G-RAID has a maximum capacity of 8 TB.

NOTE: RAID 0 drives don’t provide any data redundancy. If you lose either drive, you lose all your data. For editors needing more storage or even faster performance, I recommend using one of the Promise Pegasus RAIDs, which provide RAID 5-level data redundancy. Here’s an article on RAID levels.

By way of comparison with other speed tests I’ve published, here is the speed of the G-RAID as measured by the AJA System Test utility, available from the AJA website, illustrating speed variations as the size of the file changes. Notice that the speeds average about 260 MB/second for both reads and writes.

NOTE: To save space, I rearranged the elements in this screen shot. The numbers, however, are untouched.


The Fusion drive automatically transfers files between the hard disk and the SSD. You don’t need to do anything, the operating system decides what to put where.

When working with very large files that exceed the free space on the SSD, you may experience stuttering playback with high-resolution video. (This is one of the main reasons I recommend using an external Thunderbolt drive for media storage.)

Thunderbolt RAIDs, depending upon how they are configured, can provide faster throughput and greater storage capacity than a Fusion drive. This is especially important for multicam work.


In addition to the Fusion drive, the other big speed boost in the iMac comes from an improved graphics card.

The CPU processes instructions one after the other – serially. The GPU processes multiple instructions at once – parallel. Parallel is always faster and ideally suited to a variety of video tasks.

All effects in Final Cut Pro X are Motion projects, so using effects in FCP X or Motion benefit from using the GPU. Exporting that requires transcoding (like converting ProRes into H.264 for web viewing) will be faster. Other operations such as color grading, Ken Burns Effects, and speed changes also benefit because they use the GPU for realtime playback and background rendering.

For my system, I only got 1 GB of video RAM (VRAM). I learned from Apple that more VRAM means faster rendering, exporting and better realtime performance.


While the CPU and RAM can’t be ignored, we already know how these work. My system has a Quad-core 3.4 GHz Intel i7 CPU and 16 GB of RAM. (The reason a 4-core CPU generates 8 bars in Activity Monitor is due to Hyper-Threading, which is worth a whole separate article.)

During normal editing operations, I was cruising along using 12-15% of total CPU cycles. This allows plenty of overhead when the editing gets more challenging – say with multicam work.

RAM usage, when running Final Cut Pro X editing a single stream of video, hovered around 2 GB. (The red pie slice indicates RAM used by the operating system. Yellow is RAM used by open applications. Blue is RAM assigned to an application, but not yet used. Green is unused RAM.)

NOTE: ProRes (which uses I-frame compression) uses less RAM than long-GOP video codecs like HDV, AVCHD or XDCAM EX.

This proves a point I’ve been making in my classes and webinars recently: virtually every Mac shipping today is fast enough to edit video; even 2K or 4K images. The real test is the graphics processing unit (GPU) and the speed of your storage system.


I got the 27″ iMac because I wanted the larger monitor size. It truly makes a difference when watching images. I can see a 720p image at 100% size and still have plenty of room for the Event Browser and Timeline.

I had a spare 24″ Apple monitor sitting around doing nothing, so I plugged it in. Works great. Now I can edit projects using one or two monitors.

This isn’t necessary, but it sure impresses clients!

NOTE: A two-monitor setup would be especially helpful if you are editing 1080p material, or larger, as you could display the Viewer to your largest monitor and view your image at 100% size. All my current work is shot for the web at 720p, so the extra monitor is nice, but not necessary. I principally use it to display the Event Browser.

Apple makes a point of highlighting the reduced reflections of the screen. I didn’t notice a big difference between the new monitor and my older 24″ monitor. Video looked great, text was totally readable and the reflections in the glass didn’t bother me because I made a point to position the screen to minimize reflections.


I did two quick Multicam tests. The first was a six-camera XDCAM-EX shoot and edited using the XDCAM EX video format natively. (You need to install the XDCAM drivers by downloading Sony’s XDCAM Transfer software – a 30 MB download.)

When editing multicam, be sure to set Preferences > Playback to Better Performance to avoid dropped frames. Also, I recommend checking all three dropped frame indicators to make sure you aren’t experiencing hard drive problems.

Six streams of XDCAM EX video took 12% of my CPU and 38 MB/second of data during playback. However, XDCAM EX uses MPEG-2 as its compression codec, and can become taxing on your system as the stream count rises. For example, when editing the XDCAM EX footage natively, I could easily edit six streams of video. However, I got a few dropped frame warnings when I quickly jumped around in the Timeline, or cut too quickly. The dropped frame warnings were not serious, but I wanted to see if I could eliminate them.

So, I did a second test by converting all six video streams to ProRes 422.

Now, FCP X was pulling more than 100 MB/sec from the G-RAID during the edit.

However, the CPU load was well less than 20% and FCP X used less than 3 GB of RAM.

When using ProRes 422, no matter how fast I cut, or how much I jumped around inside the Timeline, I did not get a single dropped frame error.

NOTE: This requires a Thunderbolt drive. FireWire speeds top out at 85 MB/second, which is not fast enough to edit more than four streams of ProRes 422 video. There is a serious performance benefit to optimizing media when editing multicam projects.

The performance of this iMac system makes me want to shoot a project with 10-12 cameras just to watch FCP X edit it.


Frankly, this 27″ iMac blows the doors off my MacPro. It edits single camera projects easily. Its ability to edit multicam projects is limited only by the speed of your storage – with the caveat that optimizing media into ProRes is strongly encouraged.

If you are looking for a system that can handle whatever video format you throw at it, I am VERY impressed with this new iMac.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments.



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Leave a response

  1. Tim Johnson Jan 13, 2013 21:17

    Why is it important to edit your 6 stream multicam on ProRes 422 with a Thunderbold raid? Couldn’t you do your multicam edit using ProRes Proxy Media? In this case wouldn’t FireWire be sufficient?

  2. Chris Jan 13, 2013 21:19

    Hi Larry, it shows 8 CPUs because you got the i7 processor which has hyperthreading, which the i5 does not have. So you have 8 virtual cores. This is one of the reasons why the i7 is so much faster than the i5.

  3. Larry Jan 13, 2013 21:30

    Yes – but there is a quality difference between ProRes Proxy and ProRes 422. Also, for the purposes of testing performance, ProRes 422 puts a much larger load on the system, which was what I was really looking at here.


  4. Jon Perez Jan 13, 2013 21:30

    The reason the activity monitor shows 8 bars is because of hyper threading. “For each processor core that is physically present, the operating system addresses two virtual or logical cores, and shares the workload between them when possible.”

  5. Larry Jan 13, 2013 21:30


    Thanks! Now I’ve gotta go look up hyper-threading….


  6. Jan 13, 2013 21:31

    I have a similar system with 32GB of RAM. I’ve found I needed to reappraise my drives as the iMac doesn’t have any Firewire ports, (although I’m very pleased a Mini-DisplayPort Cinema Display plugs into Thunderbolt!) I’ve been measuring a lot – realising that a 7200RPM drive’s top speed is typically about 75MB/s and some cables drastically reduce this speed (USB2, Firewire 400) and others accommodate it (FW800, USB3). Drastic differences.

    But mostly the speed tests revealed SSDs are just so, so much faster. And the BMC camera shoots on SSDs. And SSDs now come in higher capacities (512GB) and are becoming more affordable. Since I both shoot and edit, the idea of popping an SSD out of the camera and into a bus-powered (yeah!) Thunderbolt sled to edit is very appealing. After a project is finished it can be stored on a cheaper USB3 drive. Is there any reason editing on an SSD might not be as awesome as the Blackmagic speed test suggests?

  7. Larry Jan 13, 2013 21:31

    Thanks, Jon.

  8. Larry Jan 13, 2013 21:35


    Thanks for writing – there are a few issues, whether they are significant or not is up to you.

    1. SSDs are far more expensive for the same amount of storage as spinning hard drives.
    2. SSDs have a “fixed” number of reads and writes – they will “probably” wear out sooner than a spinning hard drive (the jury is still out somewhat on this point)
    3. Unless you are connecting your SSD via a very fast bus, for example, Thunderbolt, you won’t see the performance it can deliver. SSDs and FireWire are not a good idea.

    Other than that, SSDs are fine.


  9. Marshall Jan 14, 2013 02:19

    Thank you Larry for all that you shared, did, and purchased. I am considering. MT

  10. Larry Jan 14, 2013 02:43


    You are welcome – thanks for writing.


  11. Jason Jan 14, 2013 12:48

    Thanks, Larry. Do you plan on testing Premiere Pro and the Mercury Playback engine? I would like to see how it performs on these new iMacs as well.


  12. Larry Jan 14, 2013 13:07

    Currently, Adobe does not officially support the GPU in these new iMacs. However, I have a workaround that turns on the GPU which I need to write up. Once I get that written, I’ll take a second look at the iMac running Premiere.


  13. DC Reels Jan 14, 2013 13:49

    How much of a bump in performance would you see with the better grfx card option? A big difference or not much difference?

  14. Larry Jan 14, 2013 13:55

    My understanding was that this was the high-end card. The difference is in the video RAM which would only affect very complex effects. My guess is that adding more VRAM would have a marginal effect on performance. There would be a benefit, yes, but not a large one.


  15. Bryan Jan 14, 2013 14:17

    Fantastic article. I am currently running a 2008 Mac Pro and trying to decide if I need to bite the bullet and purchase a 27″ iMac or wait for a refresh on the Pro. Always appreciate your articles, Larry!

  16. DC Reels Jan 14, 2013 16:13

    Thanks for the reply, Larry. Very helpful article as always!

  17. Will the Thrill Jan 14, 2013 16:25

    “For my system, I only got 1 GB of video RAM (VRAM). I learned from Apple that more VRAM means faster rendering, exporting and better realtime performance.”

    Knowing what you know now would you have gotten more VRAM? Or what would you have changeed?

  18. Larry Jan 14, 2013 16:33

    If money were unlimited – or more available – I would have gotten more VRAM. However, I am happy with what I have and don’t expect the performance to suffer unless I’m doing REALLY complex effects. More VRAM – for motion graphics – simplifies complex effects with lots of elements, but won’t have much effect on simple things like blurs.


  19. Loren Jan 14, 2013 17:28

    Greta article, Larry, pioneering as always. I do hope for a Mac Pro replacement, however, for its superior design over other towers and ease of upgrades.

    With regard to archiving, we have a new technology emerging: M-Dissk form a startup claled Millenniata. They intend to release aBlu-Ray version of their obsidian-layered disc this spring– not a bad medium-density archive solution which will supposdedly last, well, a millenium.

    One thing folks should always remember, and it’s obvious but often forgotten: when archiving data, ARCHIVE A PLAYER. This is why I keep a Zip drive, an Orb drive, and even a floppy drive handy. (And by the way, several HD floppy disks show deteriorated data– and they were stored in a cool dry place away from fields!)

    I also power up my LaCie FireWire drives once a year to refresh the disk directories and the charge on the disks.

    - lsm

  20. Steve Jan 14, 2013 18:01

    Hi Larry,

    Just to put things into perspective for me – if you don’t mind further sharing… what are the specs of your old Mac Pro?


  21. Larry Jan 14, 2013 18:10

    2009 or 2010 MacPro 4,1, 2.93 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon, 8 GB RAM, OS X 10.6.8. The new iMac is running OS X 10.8.2.


  22. Rob Jan 14, 2013 20:55

    Interesting article – thanks Larry.

    In your opinion, if you HAD to purchase a new machine TODAY (no previous workstation), would you opt for the iMac or the current lineup of Mac Pro?


  23. James Jan 14, 2013 20:59

    I have the last gen 27″ iMac topped out with 24 gigs ram and the ATI card with 2 gig VRAM. Right now I am using Firewire 800 drives, including a DROBO drive. I use a second monitor (which does impress clients!) The system is extremely fast using FCP X (I’ll never go back to FCP 7). While I haven’t done a lot of multi cam, what I have done (3 cameras) has been no problem even with the firewire drive but I wouldn’t any more past that. I also use a MacPro – well I use to…..the iMac has taken over!! Good article Larry!!

  24. Larry Jan 14, 2013 21:57

    Given the speed and Thunderbolt support – and assuming I am happy with the graphics card in the iMac, I’d go with the iMac.

    If you need custom plug-in cards, the only option is a MacPro.


  25. Renier Jan 15, 2013 06:45

    Thanks so much for this interesting read.
    Can you tell us what the CPU load was when exporting?

  26. Larry Jan 15, 2013 11:36

    I haven’t measured this, but, generally, the CPU load during export is quite low.


  27. Mitch Lewis Jan 15, 2013 22:12

    I’m looking forward to reading about your testing using Premiere and the Mercury Playback Engine. (CUDA?)

    Thanks for writing such great articles!

  28. Tim Jan 16, 2013 16:53


    Great article. Do you know if some of the thunderbolt PCI expansion chassis would work with plug-in cards? If they do I don’t see the reason for a MacPro line anymore. If professionals as yourself are not purchasing them, no one else will.

    Also if doing lot’s of motion graphic work, your feeling is more then 1gb of VRAM is needed?


  29. Larry Jan 17, 2013 02:39


    A better way of putting the situation is: When given a choice between buying the CURRENT MacPro and the CURRENT iMac, which is better? The iMac. This is not to say I wouldn’t buy a revised MacPro – which I plan to do when the new versions are released. But, the current MacPro is using technology which is about two years old right now.

    Yes, both ATTO and Sonnet make PCI expansion chassis which hold both short and long cards and attach to the computer via Thunderbolt. I don’t know how they compare for performance, however.


  30. mGabo Jan 18, 2013 08:50

    Hi there Larry, I reed in your other post on your iMac that Adobe didn´t support the Nvidia graphic cards found in this model, I have been asking in forums about this and people say Adobe does supports them……

    Do you know if Adobe now works fine with these cards?

  31. Larry Jan 18, 2013 11:10

    When I contacted Adobe about this a couple months ago, just after the release of the new iMacs, I was told that Adobe did not support the graphics card at that time. There is, however, a workaround, which I’m hoping to write up this weekend.


  32. mGabo Jan 18, 2013 12:28

    oh! great Larry! please post the link of that article so I can follow that!

    many thanks

  33. Kean Jan 21, 2013 21:53

    Hi Larry

    Thanks for a good article. My only comment is the disparity in technology you are comparing. The MacPro you are comparing is a Xeon quad core CPU which is much more robust and faster than the i7 CPU in the iMac. The OS is also 2 generations behind the OS you’re using in the iMac (32 bit vs 64 bit which FCP X or Adobe can take advantage of). So yes we would expect a performance gap with the 2 computers but I’m not sure this is a good apples to apples comparison. If you upgraded the MacPro with a SSD or a Fusion drive, ran SATA (you already have the capability for up to 4 internal drives stripped either in raid 0 [400MB/sec +] or raid 1 [200MB/sec] giving you a capacity potential of 8 or 16 TB of internal storage) as your data drives, you would have a smokin’ (all be it old) powerhouse for the cost of a SSD ($500) or a Fusion drive ($250) upgrade. Substantially cheaper than the $2800 newer iMac. You would also still be able to support the older I/O (FW and DVDs) that you still have lying around. Note too that dual monitors and 2560X1600 resolution technology has been around since the beginning of the MacPro line (2005-2006).

    I guess my point is I’m still a believer of buying a high end product (MacPro) at the outset and having a longer and cheaper life span in the end. There is false economy in buying the latest greatest “cheaper” product to obtain performance that can be easily had by getting an inexpensive upgrade to the older tried and true technology. Did you ever think about a SSD (boot) upgrade for your MacPro?


  34. Larry Jan 21, 2013 22:32


    These are good points. What I should have added in my writeup was that I needed a new editing computer in addition to my MacPro. It is my hope to replace my older MacPro with a new MacPro, whenever Apple chooses to release it. So, in this example, the decision was whether to buy one of the new iMacs, or a new “old” MacPro. For me, this wasn’t a hard choice.


  35. Renier Jan 28, 2013 05:40

    I heard some complaining about image retention on the new iMac. Have you experienced this so far?

  36. Mary Love Jan 28, 2013 15:08

    Larry, thanks for the great article. We’re thinking about an iMac, too. Our only hesitation is the the size, since we travel back and forth between two locations, about 3 times a year.)

    If we thought that it was too big to carry around, would we be OK with the smaller video card (the 512) in the 21.5 ” iMac (not expandable to the 1 gb.) How would this limit us ? Or, should we go to the portable MacBook Pro (add RAM of course) with the 1GB video card, then buy an economical monitor for each location. Or — just buy a big case and put damn 27″ in the trunk! Or just stop traveling?

    Your thoughts…?

  37. Larry Jan 28, 2013 16:05


    There is always a tradeoff between portability and power. The more power you want, the less portable. So, you need to decide how much gear you want to lug versus how much speed and power you need. If all you are editing is single stream AVCHD, a laptop will work fine. If you are editing 12 multicam streams, lug the gear.


  38. Mary Love Jan 29, 2013 10:06

    Sorry Larry, Let me narrow my question a little more: 1. Assuming you want an iMac, what are you gaining with the 1gb video card in the 27″ versus the 512 mb (in the 21.5″)? In other words does the 1gb card make a big difference in terms of processing speed?

  39. Larry Jan 29, 2013 11:36


    I don’t have the testing tools to quantify this. Would it make a difference? Yes. A BIG difference? That I don’t know.


  40. Philip MCaffrey Feb 01, 2013 06:01

    Great piece, I have more or less the same system as this.
    i7 3.4ghz 24gbram 256ssd 2gb VRAM and I would agree that it is the bomb for video editing, now all I need is 10% of your knowledge and talent and then I’m made!!!!!!!!!

  41. Hirschkorn Feb 01, 2013 17:17

    Larry, have you had these issues of FCPX crashing on the new iMac?

  42. Larry Feb 02, 2013 23:02

    No, I haven’t seen this.


  43. Mark Stolaroff Feb 07, 2013 21:36

    Great article, Larry, and great timing for me, as I had already purchased a new i7 27″ iMac and was just waiting for it to arrive. I quickly called and changed my order, upgrading to the Fusion drive. Thanks!

    I think, based on one of your earlier articles, I surmised it was best to order it with minimal RAM, then purchase more from another seller and install myself, so they will be shipping 8GB. I do a little editing, but generally in my work day, I run a bunch of applications at once: Excel, Word, iTunes, iPhoto, NOW Contact & UTD, Email, Firefox, etc. Since RAM is cheap, would you recommend buying the maximum 32GB? I haven’t run the numbers, but people usually recommend maxing the RAM out as a cheap performance upgrade. Would you agree?

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  44. Larry Feb 07, 2013 23:12


    Buy as much RAM as you can afford, but don’t bankrupt yourself.


  45. Tim Feb 09, 2013 10:25

    Thanks so much, Larry, for sharing such great information!! I was thinking about getting the new iMac for editing and you have sealed the deal for me! Thanks so much for providing great information to all of us out here in editing land!! Keep up the great work!!

  46. Tracy Feb 09, 2013 19:08
  47. Larry Feb 09, 2013 22:33


    I haven’t seen this on my iMac, because I don’t have this configuration – I only got 1 GB of VRAM, not 2. The thread is interesting, though.


  48. mw Mar 11, 2013 01:20

    hi larry,

    was wondering if you had any further info on the workaround you had mentioned regarding gpu support by premiere on the late 2012 imac.

    any info would be appreciated.
    great site


  49. Larry Mar 11, 2013 01:28

    Nope – nothing new. However, NAB is coming up next month. I’m expecting a lot of news from a LOT of companies.


  50. Aaron Mar 12, 2013 23:14

    Hi Larry,

    I am planning on purchasing a 27″ iMac in the near future and am trying to decide if I really need the i7 vs i5. The heaviest usage I can think of that I will be using it for is editing GoPro footage that is shot at 1080/60fps. Will I see a noticeable diff between the i5 and i7, and will the i5 have any problem running FCP X? I was also planning on upgrading to the 1TB fusion drive and doing an aftermarket upgrade to 32G of RAM.


  51. Larry Mar 12, 2013 23:20


    The Fusion drive is an EXCELLENT choice, and you only need the 1 TB version. The speed of the processor determines how fast FCP X will render, export, and compress. However, both the i5 and i7 are supported. Will it be noticeable? Probably not. Will the i7 be faster? Yes. The RAM is also a good idea.


  52. Aaron Mar 13, 2013 21:22


    Thank you for your quick response and great info! I took a trip down to my local Apple store today as well, and picked their brains apart for about an hour. Came home and pulled the trigger on the i7, with the 1TB Fusion! I’m not sure if you mentioned somewhere in your research here or not, but I did find out from the rep at the store, that with the Fusion drive the exact amount of dedicated SSD is 128 Gigs.


  53. Andy Mar 16, 2013 19:49

    Hey Larry I am about to pull the trigger on this machine but with a 3tB fusion, after market up grade to 32GB RAM (using AE nowadays and has become necessary), coming up from a late 2011 27″ 3.4 i7 2GB GPU and 32GB RAM, and my question remains in this, I host my referenced media on a 6GB thunderbolt, and my events folder is located on the same drive where optimized media is created. The project files are typically hosted on my native drive. Is this the best suggested workflow (or should I host my project files on the ThB drive as well?) considering the Fusion drive, and do you think I will see benefits here in FCPX/AE/Motion performance. Love to hear your feedback, My performance on my machine thus far has been amazing, but the machine is a work machine and I need this for my personal work flowing in asap.

  54. Larry Mar 16, 2013 20:22


    What you are doing is not “wrong,” but you will get your best performance from the Fusion drive when you access the same files over and over. So, the single Fusion drive won’t be much, if any, faster than your Thunderbolt drive when accessing a single file. And, if you have 2-drive Thunderbolt drive, the external drive will tend to be faster.

    So, your system will work. If it were me, I would put both Project and Event files on the external drive.

    In terms of After Effects, you can put your comps anywhere, because they are tiny. Do a test and see which is faster, putting your AE render files on the boot drive, or the external drive.

    Other than that, you have a very nice system.


  55. Andy Mar 16, 2013 20:32

    Great thanks Larry!

  56. Will "the thrill" Sanchez Mar 17, 2013 15:40

    As FW is not included with the new iMac. What do you use to import from a device that has FW/800 or 400 to the iMac? I have to clear our physical space before I can pull the trigger on a new iMac per my DW!

  57. Larry Mar 17, 2013 17:40


    There is a Thunderbolt to FireWire adapter cable – check with the Apple store near you on how best to use it.


  58. Bob Mar 19, 2013 12:52

    I have the late 2012 iMac i7 with fusion drive. I’m starting to learn Adobe Premiere and am using the internal drive now for editing. What are the disadvantages of using the internal drive to edit, then move all project files off to a thunderbolt drive.

    Also I note that Thunderbolt speed on most drives only comes into its own with raid 0. What if I need the security of backup. Should I get to double drives – using Raid 10 – or is that overkill?

  59. Larry Mar 19, 2013 13:03

    Generally, an external RAID 0 Thunderbolt drive will be faster for media than an internal drive, even a Fusion drive, because SSD drives only hit their speed when you are accessing the same files over and over.

    RAID 5 drives are very slow coming to market due to extremely long test/evaluation/approval process from Intel and Apple. I’m hoping to see that approval process speed up later this year.


  60. dylan quirt Apr 13, 2013 01:04


    I didn’t see that work around that you mentioned for the Premiere w/ the new imacs video card. I am wondering if thats the issue i am having with jerky playback in certain areas.

    I have a 27″ Imac 2.9 ghz w/ 8 gb RAM and the factory vid card – Running R3D media via USB 3 drive ( at 7200 rpms). I usually work in Avid with MXF – So the premiere word combined with the R3D native world is alittle new for me – Also this is a new CPU i bought, as I was advised that the factory model would be fine. Please let me know

  61. Larry Apr 13, 2013 01:11


    My first suspicion is the USB drive. USB 3 is not optimized for media files, especially R3D files. I would try a different drive first.

    Adobe CS6 is not accelerated for the new iMacs, only the MacBook Pros. I know that Adobe has announced GPU changes with their next release, but don’t know if this iMac is supported. Check Adobe’s website to find out more.


  62. dylan quirt Apr 13, 2013 01:19

    Thanks for the Quick reply – I wasn’t aware that USB 3 wasn’t optimized for media files – Its advertised and being X faster then almost everything else out there – Having said all of that what would you recommend ? the drive has FW800 which i just tested – via the Thunderbolt converter – and its having some issues too ) or ESATA, which the CPU doesnt have – Do you think a direct thunderbolt connect will fix this issue – If so i would need another drive, which isnt the end of the world, i just want to make sure that i am certain before moving in that direction



  63. Larry Apr 13, 2013 02:44

    No, what I really suspect is that native R3D files can’t be played on a Mac that doesn’t have hardware GPU acceleration.

    Check with the Red site.


  64. dylan Apr 17, 2013 14:00

    Larry, If i swapped out the 27″ iMac ( the slower version ) for the faster version, with the better Graphics card do you think that would fix my issue – I dont need to play back at full res, 1/4 is fine, but currently i cant ever do that. I could also throw in an additional 8 gb of RAM, after i swapped the CPU out – Obviously i want to avoid all of this if it doesnt correct the issue.

  65. Larry Apr 17, 2013 14:07


    R3D files are very difficult for most computers to play natively. Currently, the CS6 version of Premiere does not support the GPU on iMacs. I would wait for the next version, which Adobe announced at NAB, to ship before making any purchasing decisions. Once the new version is out, you can ask Adobe for their advice on the best Mac to play RED files on.


  66. Mona May 10, 2013 10:23

    Hi Larry –

    Now that you’ve been using this machine for a few months, are you still as happy with it as you were when you first started?

    I’ve got a mid-2009 macbook pro that I’ve been using hooked up to my monitor as my every day machine, and I really feel like I need to relegate back to being my backup laptop again. I began to use this to replace my aging MacPro (mid-2006) that was finally beginning to show it’s age earlier this year and I decided to put into retirement. I’ve been trying to decide what my next step is — and while I know that intellectually I can go back to PC and buy a very powerful machine for the same $2K, I have been so happy with my macs that I am afraid to go back to PC and the problems that have surrounded them in the past.

    that being said – I am a graphic designer who does a lot of work with photoshop, but also does some motion graphics work within premiere/after effects. I am a creative cloud subscriber and plan on using the latest and greatest software tools when they come out in June. Will I be unhappy with the performance of an iMac if I max out the memory at 32 gigs? I know historically that once I invest in one of these machines, they last me a long time… and I’m hopeful this would be the case with the iMac also…

  67. Larry May 10, 2013 12:27


    So far, though I don’t edit feature films on this system, I am very pleased with it. For FCP X, it is excellent. For Premiere, be SURE to check Adobe’s website to see if the iMac you intend to buy is supported by Premiere.


  68. Sam Aug 13, 2013 23:48

    I’m looking at doing a very similar imac setup to yours so thanks so much for the Blog Larry.
    Whilst I am an experienced editor I am hopeless when it comes to IT and have little mac experience. I have always had an IT person taking care of the machine for me so I only had to worry about the editing.
    I’m going to be setting up my own suite for the first time. My current debate is, do I buy from the local Apple reseller/service centre? They have good knowledge of edit systems. I like that I can pick up the phone for easy advice and that I can take the machine in when something goes wrong. The extra cost (which includes upgrading ram and testing) is $450AUD, equivalent to three hours of their work time – for me that’s quite a considerable amount, but in the long term might be worth it for the easy support.
    If I order on-line, I’m confident I could upgrade the ram myself, but I’m not sure what else to expect. Will my mac arrive ready to plug in and start editing or is there a bit of know how required, configuring drives etc?

  69. Larry Aug 14, 2013 00:36

    If you are truly “hopeless” at configuring a computer spend the extra money. The peace of mind will be worth it.

    However, adding RAM and installing software these days is not difficult. I have every confidence you can handle it.


  70. Mal Aug 23, 2013 07:17

    Great article Larry.

    I’m looking at a new machine (am currently using a 2008 MacPro) and was wondering how the iMac stood up with editing. With the new MacPro just around the corner, I have a feeling it might be outside my budget anyway. So perhaps the iMac will also be updated at the same time, in which case that will be a good purchase for a faster machine.

    Just regarding the performance, do you know how it handles After Effects?

    Thanks again Larry!

  71. Sam Aug 23, 2013 09:27

    Thanks Larry.
    The $450 I saved will feed the family for a few more days :-) . I now have the machine you described with 24 GB Ram (installed) and 3TB Fusion drive.
    Given that my computer shop was about to charge me for three hours work “configuring”, I’m wondering what else needs to be done before I start installing software. Previous Mac Pros I have worked on (with Final Cut) had the operating system partitioned separately to the working drive. Is that no longer necessary? I haven’t been able to find any reasong for partitioning. Perhaps the three hours work quoted was just for software installation. I’ll be using use Premiere CC, possibly also Final Cut. Down the track, I intend to have an external media drive (probably Drobo) but I’m going to hold off on this purchase until I have some paying edits coming in. In the meantime, what little media I have will go on the mac. The iMac looks to me to be ready to rock’n'roll and I’m itching to go, but just want to be sure I’ve covered everything before I jump in.

  72. Larry Aug 23, 2013 12:08


    The iMac should be fine for most After Effects work. Obviously, for real power users, the MacPro will most likely be better.


  73. Larry Aug 23, 2013 12:46

    Don’t partition the drive. Start installing software and you should be good to go.


  74. Lee M. Oct 13, 2013 22:36

    Hello Larry,

    I’m going to upgrade my iMac. I’m currently editing in FCPX using an iMac 11,3 2.93 GHz Intel Core i7with 32 GB of RAM and a 1024MB ATI Radeon HD 5750 GPU. I also have two internal drives: a 256 GB SSD, and a 2 TB standard drive. There were only a few iMacs that offered this option, I believe. I also have an OWC 2TB FW800 external drive. I’ve always had my OS and software on the 256 GB flash drive, and had my projects on the 2TB internal drive or the 2TB OWC FW800 external drive.

    I’ve been waiting to upgrade until I could get a few different things: USB 3.0, a 4GB video card, and a larger display. I don’t know when they’ll be making an iMac with a larger display, so I’m going to upgrade now. I’m thinking going from 1 GB to 4 GB on the video card will be a massive boost, and I know USB 3.0 will be great for my external backup drives. I’m also going to get the 3.5 GHz Quad-core i7, so that should help, too.

    My question is about the internal drive. Should I get a 1TB Fusion drive, or should I fork out an additional $300 for a 512 GB SSD? I guess the idea of going from a 256 GB SSD in my current iMac to a Fusion drive that only has 128 GB of SSD on the 1TB Fusion drive bothers me in that I’m wondering if I’ll take a hit on performance.

    From your blog entry above, I’m guessing you will tell me to go with a 1TB Fusion drive, and get an external Thunderbolt drive to edit on? What would you recommend (I backup every night to USB 3.0 drives)? Is my OWC 2TB Firewire 800 drive sort of useless now?

    Thanks for any advice–Lee

  75. Larry Oct 13, 2013 23:41


    To me, its a trade-off. Yes, the 512 GB SSD will be fast, but you are spending more and getting less storage. An SSD delivers the fastest performance when it is accessing the same files over and over again – think OS and applications.

    So, when I was buying my iMac, I checked the total amount of space used on my boot drive. For all my applications it was around 150 GB, which includes the home directory. So, I went with a Fusion drive, because all my large files were stored on drives other than the boot drive.

    For my editing system, this yielded great performance without spending a ton of bucks.


  76. Jon F Nov 18, 2013 18:53


    Thanks for your clear information. I’ll probably be getting a Mac Pro in a couple of years, but to tide me over, doing small FCP projects (mainly doc pieces, few effects). I’m thinking of getting a Mac Mini (Quad Core i7, 2.3 Ghz, 1 Tb Fusion Drive, 16 G Ram). Will the Mini’s lack of a dedicated video card cause difficulties, or is this a good, cost-effective option?

    Also, do you have any thoughts about OS10.9?


  77. Larry Nov 18, 2013 20:17


    I would recommend an iMac over a Mac Mini. And, so far, I’m using OS X 10.9 with no major problems.


  78. Johnny Dec 19, 2013 02:09

    Larry, I’ve always used PC but was thinking of making the move to Mac. I do video editing as a hobby on personal projects but nothing for money. As a result I am a little hesitant in spending the money an i7 model would cost. How would the i5 model stack up- 3.3 Ghz processor, 16gigs of Ram GeForce GT 755M graphics card. Currently I’m using a Dell XP computer I bought at Best buy a few years ago which doesn’t really give me major problems but could be better. Any advice would be great.

  79. Larry Dec 19, 2013 03:09


    I haven’t used a PC since 1993, so I can’t really comment on the PC side of things at all. Given that you want to edit for a hobby, the i5 iMac should be fine. 16 GB of RAM is essential and don’t consider an inexpensive i3. Be sure to buy an external FireWire drive to store media.


  80. Johnny Dec 22, 2013 01:28

    I do use after effects a little but would like to try projects with a bit of effects complexity to them. Would the i5 still be enough I your opinion?

  81. Larry Dec 22, 2013 01:32


    Yes, without question.


  82. Lees mackreath Jan 03, 2014 05:09

    Great article Larry.

    I am ready to pull the trigger on a new imac and just wanted your thoughts. I edit personal videos.. 3-5 minutes in length, very simple no fancy transitions with music. I use the blackmagic pocket camera so the files are off a single cam and will be either raw or prores but mainly prores. I use fcp x as my editor and woukd use resolve for some very basic colour correction. I also do a few weddings.. Again very simple like my personal projects.. Just longer in length at around 20 mins. With this in mind I am looking at the 27 inch imac i7 processor with 16gb ram with the 1tb fusion drive.

    Where I am insure is the video card vram and also external storage. I have the choice of either the 2gb or 4gh video card.. Would the 2gb card be more than ample for the kind of work I do? Also based on the small and infrequent nature of my projects do I really need an external storage solution or will using the fusion suffice for the small work that I do?

    I also assume 16gb ram is ok? I am already breaking the bank with this configuration so not exactly looking to future proof myself but for the price I want a fast and reliable machine.

    Your advice would be greatly appreciated.


  83. Larry Jan 03, 2014 14:13


    This is an excellent system. I would get the extra VRAM, it will make a difference. The rest of your specs are fine. Hold off on external storage for a bit, but I highly recommend it. You’ll quickly discover the internal drive will fill up faster than you expect.


  84. JP Jan 11, 2014 23:31

    Thanks for this thread, Larry. You’ve pretty much answered all the questions I have about configuring an iMac for FCP X, but I’m puzzled by your last response – as I read it, you’re suggesting that Lee configure the machine with 4Gb of VRAM, even though it doesn’t sound like he does much with motion graphics. In earlier posts you stated that, “adding more VRAM would have a marginal effect on performance.” And, “More VRAM – for motion graphics – simplifies complex effects with lots of elements, but won’t have much effect on simple things like blurs.” Did I misunderstand your suggestion or have you changed your mind on this? Thanks!! -JP

  85. Larry Jan 11, 2014 23:43


    Good question. I’ve changed my mind about this, first, because of some conversations with hardware people that know more about this than I do and, second, because, unlike RAM, VRAM can’t be upgraded after you purchase the system.


  86. JP Jan 12, 2014 00:05

    Wow, thanks for the quick response! Makes sense! :-)

  87. Rich S Jan 14, 2014 17:16


    How would a fully spec’d iMac compare to an entry level Mac Pro (quad-core with D300)?

  88. Larry Jan 15, 2014 01:45


    I don’t have specific details because I don’t have that configuration Mac Pro to test. However, it depends upon whether the applications you are running can utilize the GPUs. If they can, the Mac Pro wins. If they can’t the iMac would probably be pretty close.