FCP X: Improving Performance
(Updated March, April and July, 2012.)
I’ve been getting emails recently about speed issues with Final Cut Pro X. So, I did some digging to learn how to improve the performance of your system, and, along the way, discover some common trouble-shooting tips.
FCP X takes full advantage of the Mac in terms of processor speed, drive speed, RAM and graphics cards. Decoding common camera codecs like AVCHD, XDCAM HD and others can be extremely difficult mathematically. This is no problem for an up-to-date system, but many people are trying to work with HD codecs on older laptops with slower graphics cards and minimal RAM.
These systems are fully supported as a minimum system requirement and, if you were doing minimum things (editing with DV or ProRes Proxy, for instance), then you will generally be fine. But if you are trying to work with professional formats under pressure, you need a system that is configured properly for that level of work.
The best tip for anyone who is experiencing slow response is add more RAM. I recommend a minimum of 8 GB, if your system supports it. And, if you own a MacPro, buy a faster graphics card with more VRAM. You will notice an immediate difference in speed, no matter what video format they are working on.
Another issue that slows performance, aside from the codec, is the image size. Larger images are harder to work with than smaller images.
UPDATE – MARCH 16, 2012
Another issue that affects performance is your graphics card. Earlier versions of Final Cut were totally dependent upon the speed of the CPU. Final Cut Pro X changed that by tightly integrating the graphics chip with video editing.
Don Smith pointed this out recently to me, when a reader complained of very slow performance on his MacBook Pro:
MacTracker says your computer has the NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics card inside with only 256 MB of SDRAM shared with the main memory. That’s your problem I’m afraid. Only ATI (now AMD?) cards will accelerate FCPX and Motion.
I just went through this. My company bought a very nice NVIDIA card for the Mac Pro I work on and I posted a note on CreativeCow about how FCP X was “running like a stubborn mule”. I was guided to replace the NVIDIA GeForce card with an ATI card and the improvement was stunning. With the NVIDIA card simply changing from Safari back to FCP X would take 20 seconds and the spinning pizza of death would appear a couple of times. All clicks took two or three seconds to get a response. Shifting the position of a graphic would lag behind then jump ahead and overshoot.
Now, I’m in editing heaven with the ATI card. FCPX and Motion respond like BUTTAH! Just keep an eye on what graphics card is inside. For example, FCPX and Motion also run like buttah on my 17″ MacBook Pro 8,1 (Early 2011) because it has an AMD (ATI) Radeon HD 6750M graphics card inside along with the power-saving HD 3000 graphics.
Larry adds: Thanks, Don, for the suggestion. Here’s a link to Apple’s list of supported devices for Final Cut Pro X: http://help.apple.com/finalcutpro/cameras/en/index.html?
UPDATE: April 30, 2012
William Hohauser sent in a trouble-shooting tip regarding running FCP X in full-screen mode in Lion. Read it here.
UPDATE: July 1, 2012
After a listening to a presentation by Apple, I wrote up more performance suggestions in a new article. Read it here.
Rebuilding Final Cut Pro X preferences can fix certain types of behavioral issues, but will not increase speed or performance. If a system begins to suddenly respond unreliably, then deleting corrupted prefs is a good place to start the troubleshooting. But, before trashing preferences, the first question to ask is always “How much RAM do you have and what is your codec/frame size?” before diagnosing unexpected behavior.
When the system allows you to optimize the original codec, which means to transcode it from whatever format the camera shot into ProRes 422, then optimizing is always a good idea. If the optimization choice is grayed out on the import menu, then FCP X has determined that there will be no benefit to optimizing. If you are working with a large frame size on a minimum system, you may actually be better off working with proxies and waiting until you get to a faster system before finishing at original resolution.
TRASHING FCP X PREFERENCES
There are two FCP X preference files you need to trash. However, the way you trash them varies between OS X 10.6 and OS X 10.7.
In both cases, start by quitting Final Cut Pro X. Never trash preferences with FCP X running.
OS X 10.6 – Snow Leopard
1. Type Command+H to open your Home directory.
2. Go to the Library > Preferences folder.
3. Trash com.apple.FinalCut.LSSharedFileList.plist
4. Trash com.apple.FinalCut.plist
5. Empty the Trash.
6. Restart Final Cut Pro X.
Be careful to NOT trash your FCP 7 preferences, if they exist. Pay close attention to the actual spelling of these file names.
OS X 10.7 – Lion
The process is the same, except that Apple hid the Library folder. There are two ways to reveal it:
Hold down on the Option key and click on the Go menu in the Finder. The Library folder shows up as a selection.
Type Shift+Command+G, or select Go > Go To Folder in the Finder. Then, type ~/Library/ and click Go.
3. Go to the Library > Preferences folder.
4. Trash com.apple.FinalCut.LSSharedFileList.plist
5. Trash com.apple.FinalCut.plist
6. Empty the Trash.
7. Restart Final Cut Pro X.
Let me know what performance or trouble-shooting tricks you’ve discovered and I’ll add them to this list.
Don’t forget that Apple has extensive Final Cut Pro X support pages here: www.apple.com/support/finalcutpro/
Also, Apple recently posted a Knowledge Base article on FCP X trouble-shooting. You can read it here: support.apple.com/kb/TS3893