FCP X: Advanced Trouble-Shooting
Most of the emails I get each day revolve around trouble-shooting. When Final Cut Pro X starts acting up, the two best things to do are:
- Trash Final Cut Pro X preference files
- Do a Safe Boot on your computer
In most cases, one of these two will fix whatever’s wrong and get you back on your way.
NOTE: Here’s an article that describes how to do both of these.
ON A HUNT FOR ANSWERS
However, sometimes we need to dig deeper to figure out what’s wrong. And that’s what this article is about. I went back through my emails and started cataloging problems that readers have reported, and rephrased them into questions. Then, I went rooting around into the dark corners of Apple Support to find the answers.
In a Question and Answer format, here’s what I learned.
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Q: Periodically, my Final Cut Pro X system slows down. What could be causing this?
If your system has always been slow, it is generally because you don’t have enough RAM, or your computer is too old to keep up with the latest video formats.
Assuming your system was working fine, but now is slower, trash preference files and do a Safe Boot. If trashing preferences and a Safe Boot didn’t fix things, life gets murky because most of the time the problem is specific to a particular clip, render file, or system component.
If this is the case, here are some ideas to consider:
- Editing with a minimum of RAM can slow your system down. The best thing you can do to improve performance is add more RAM. Personally, I recommend 8 GB because it is a good compromise between cost and performance. However, FCP X will use all the RAM you’ve installed on your system.
- Some video codecs are harder to edit than others. ProRes and DV are easy. AVCHD and H.264 are hard. Switching to a different codec may bog down your system because it is inherently harder to edit. (“Hard” means that the math involved in the codec is very complex, which requires more computing power to playback in real-time.)
- Editing larger image sizes or faster frame rates requires more computing power. In other words, you will need a beefier system if you are editing large image sizes, faster frame rates, in camera native formats.
- Delete all render files by selecting the Project in the Project Library, then go to File > Delete Project Render Files and delete All Render Files.
- FCP X aggressively uses the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Upgrading to a better GPU can make a difference; but not as much of a difference as increasing RAM to at least 8 GB.
- Reduce the number of applications that are running at the same time.
- Reduce the number of background processes that are running. (See the next question.)
NOTE: Deleting render files won’t make your system go faster, but it will clear out space on the drive and, if the drive was getting too full, then by opening up more free space you will get better drive performance. Also, if you are getting an error message about bad media, deleting render files may often fix it.
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Q. Does Final Cut slow down when it is doing something the background?
Final Cut has full control over all its background processes. So, if you start editing, FCP X pauses everything running in the background. This means you always have full access to your entire system when editing. But it also means that jobs running in the background take longer.
But, FCP X can’t control background processes running from other applications. In which case, either canceling that process, or waiting for it to finish will improve editing performance.
Your computer has a finite amount of power. The more software that is tapping into that power at the same time means that each individual software package has less of it to use.
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Q. My computer slowly slows down over time. Why?
You may have a RAM leak. This is where an application is not properly managing memory and RAM that’s supposed to be available to other applications is locked up.
The easiest way to fix this is to restart your computer to reset all RAM. Then, only run the applications you need for editing. You can isolate the problem by watching to see if one particular app causes the slow-down, then contact the developer to see if they have an update.
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Q. What parts of Final Cut operation are RAM dependent?
Well, actually, all of them. Final Cut thinks of RAM as a super-fast hard drive. It will load everything it can into RAM to speed things up.
NOTE: You and I think of hard drives as being very fast. To the CPU, the hard drive is like running in molasses, in January, um, wearing snow shoes. The CPU wants to avoid the hard disk as much as possible.
Large projects require more memory – not surprisingly – in order to store thumbnails, waveforms, metadata, clip information and so on. Also, projects with larger image sizes or frame rates take more memory.
When there isn’t enough memory, the operating system does “page swaps,” where it saves sections of RAM to the hard disk when it isn’t needed, then “swaps” it back from the disk into RAM when it is. The smaller your RAM, the more frequent the page swaps and the slower the overall operation of the system.
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Q. Is there anything I can do with my storage to speed things up?
- USB 2 drives may be very cheap, but they are not fast enough for video editing. Don’t use them.
- The fuller a hard disk gets, the slower it goes. My recommendation is to maintain at least 20% free space on any drive used for editing.
- Both USB 2 and FireWire slow down as you daisy-chain more devices together. Try to limit the number of drives daisy-chained to no more than five. (Daisy-chaining is not a problem with Thunderbolt, which limits the total number of devices in one chain to six.)
- If you are powering the drives from the FireWire or USB bus – that is, they are not plugged into AC power – the more devices daisy-chained together the less power each receives and the slower they go.
- A rule of thumb about ProRes 422 (the default optimization and render format) is that one HD video stream (or one angle in a multicam clip) is about 18 MB/second.
- A rule of thumb about hard drives is that one drive can transfer data to or from the computer about 100 MB/second. So, if you are planning a six camera multicam shoot, that’s about 120 MB/second, which means you can’t edit it using a single hard drive.
- The speed of a USB 3 or Thunderbolt device is determined by the number of drives it contains, not the protocol. So, a 2-drive Thunderbolt RAID will be roughly 200 MB/second. A 4-drive Thunderbolt RAID will be roughly 400 MB/second.
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Q. Does the version of the operating system impact performance?
Yes and no.
Final Cut Pro X runs fine on OS X 10.6.8 and above. However, Apple is always improving performance with each iteration of the operating system. In general, Apple recommends upgrading to the latest version of the operating system.
Personally, I have three edit bays in my office. One is running 10.6.8 and the other two are running 10.8.5, as of the date of this writing.
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Q. If a project database becomes corrupted, how can you tell Final Cut Pro X to open a backup?
Final Cut should open the backup automatically.
If it doesn’t, you can replace the current project with a backup version manually.
- First, and VERY important, quit Final Cut Pro X.
- On the drive containing the corrupted project, open the Final Cut Projects folder.
- Open the Project folder that you want to fix.
- Delete “CurrentVersion.fcpproject” – this is the database for that Project.
NOTE: All FCP X projects are stored in a database named “CurrentVersion.fcpproject” There is one database for each project and the database is stored in the Project folder. It is critical that you open the appropriate Project folder to prevent deleting the wrong Project database.
- Open the Backups folder and drag the most recent backup database up one level into the Project folder.
- Rename the backup database to: “CurrentVersion.fcpproject“
- Restart Final Cut Pro X and your project should start working.
Keep in mind that the backup may not contain your most recent edits. So you may need to redo a few of them. Also, if the new Project fails to open, the backup itself may be corrupted, so repeat this process using an older backup file.
Also keep in mind that if a project file is frequently becoming corrupted, that’s a good indicator that there is something else wrong with your system; such as a failing hard disk or a hard disk that’s too full. If you are getting lots of corrupted projects, its time to visit Apple for a hardware checkup.
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Q. Can you put too many clips into an Event?
Yes, but the number of clips supported by an Event is in the thousands. Still, it is good practice to keep the number of clips in an Event to a reasonable number in the hundreds. If you have lots and lots of clips to manage, spread them across multiple Events instead of one big Event.
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Q. I want to trash a 3rd-party effect/filter/transition/generator. Where do I look?
All effects in Final Cut Pro X are actually Motion templates. And all Motion templates are stored in one place:
- Home Directory > Movies > Motion Templates.
Within the Motion Templates folder there’s a folder for each Effects category. Open the category folder containing the effect you want to delete and delete the entire folder named for the the effect you want to remove.
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Q. But, when I delete an effect, it keeps coming back.
Certain effects, and the ones by FX Factory come instantly to mind, have their own installer/loader. When FCP X starts, it asks the loader to check over all the effects to make sure everything is installed correctly. If the loader discovers that an effect that had been previously installed is missing, it reinstalls it.
Which kinda isn’t what you want to have happen.
Where the developer supplies a loader, open the loader application – such as FXFactory stored in the Applications folder – and delete or disable the effect from there.
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Q. If two drives are cloned so that they have the same media and folder structure, then given to two different editors, can I share projects by simply copying the project database between drives?
Yes – provided the Project database is stored in a folder named after your Project and the database itself is called “CurrentVersion.fcpproject”
Keep in mind that two editors can not work on the same project at the same time and reconcile changes. Only one editor can make changes to a project at a time. Also, if one editor adds effects that require rendering, the other editor will also need to render the Project.
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Q. When I capture a file from my camera, I keep getting a “file unlinked” message every time I reopen the project. What’s happening?
There are several reasons why a file can become unlinked, but it starts by not copying the file into the Event. Files which are not copied into the Event folder are called “Reference files.” It is easy for a reference file to become unlinked:
- You renamed the folder that contains the source file on your hard disk
- You moved the folder containing the file on your hard disk
- The hard disk containing the file is off-line, or just turned off.
NOTE: Final Cut Pro X handles renamed files a lot better than FCP 7. If you rename a file in the Finder, but don’t change its location, it will go offline. However, when you quit Final Cut and restart it, FCP X will automatically find the renamed file. This is because FCP X tags each file with an invisible file ID, which FCP X uses to reconnect to files that have changed names.
However, there’s also a sneakier reason a file goes off-line: If you are capturing a file directly from the camera – which I don’t recommend – and the file is large, FCP X processes that file in the background. Specifically, it transfers it from the camera to the Event folder, calculates thumbnails and waveforms and, if you request it, optimizes it. For large files this can take a long time.
So long, in fact, that you forget that FCP X is processing files in the background.
Thus, when you quit FCP X, the file is not fully transferred from the camera to the hard disk. And a partial file shows up as unlinked.
My STRONG recommendation is to always transfer files from the camera to the hard disk before doing any work with it in FCP X. Then, import all files once they’ve been transferred to the hard disk.
Here’s an article that explains this in more detail.
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Q. Aside from saving time, is there any advantage to compressing files in FCP X, rather than using Compressor?
First, FCP X uses the same compression engine as Compressor. So, given the same settings you will get the same results. However, you have much more control over compression using Compressor.
If you choose File > Share > Master File and your Project uses ProRes, exporting a project bypasses compressor totally. This is the fastest way to get a project exported from Final Cut Pro X.
If you choose File > Share > Master File and your Project uses a combination of ProRes and other formats, the other formats will be exported through compressor and converted to ProRes 422 during the export.
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Q. Is there a video format that works better for monitoring on a video monitor than another?
In general, I-frame-based video formats are better than Long-GOP-based formats. These two terms describe how media is compressed. I-frame formats, generally, have higher quality, while Long-GOP formats, generally, have smaller files.
Here are some selected formats and how they are compressed:
- ProRes (all versions)
My general recommendation is to optimize all Long-GOP formats when you import them, even though this will create much larger file sizes.
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I hope these tips help you keep your system running at peak efficiency. And, if you discover other ideas that solve problems for you, please add them to the comments below.