The New Mac Pro: Ridiculously Fast

Posted: December 29, 2013

[ Please read my disclosure statement on product reviews. ]

Apple announced the new Mac Pro at their World-wide Developer Conference last spring. From the moment the image flashed on the screen, I knew I wanted one. Then, last week, when Apple released both Final Cut Pro X 10.1 and the new Mac Pro, they asked if I wanted to test drive a Mac Pro for a month. I instantly said “YES!!”

The next day a new Mac Pro showed up on my doorstep… with its return shipping label already attached. Sigh.

In this article, I want to do three things:

  • Describe setting up and editing with a Mac Pro
  • Help you decide whether a Mac Pro makes sense for you
  • Help you determine the best ways to configure it

NOTE: This is the first of two articles on the Mac Pro. In my next article, I’ll compare the performance of the Mac Pro with a late model iMac for video compression.

WHAT APPLE SENT

The configuration of this Mac Pro retails for about $8,400. It is two steps down from the absolute top of the line:

  • My unit came with a 512 GB Flash drive, instead of the maximum 1 TB drive
  • My unit came with 32 GB of RAM, instead of the maximum 64 GB.

From my point of view, the configuration Apple shipped would be identical in performance to a fully-loaded system.

FIRST REACTIONS

From the moment I pulled the system out of the box, I felt I was looking at an incredible Swiss watch – the fusion of art with technology. It is surprisingly heavy, with a solid feeling of substance.

The cylinder, standing on the desk, has a luminosity, depth and color that feels like looking into limitless depths. Every time someone new comes into the office, I invite them to see it.

In every case, I unplug all the cables, remove the cover, and we marvel over the sheer artistry at how the circuit boards are designed. Even the color of the circuit boards – black – reinforces the theme that every detail has been thought through.

Just sitting there, unplugged, the Mac Pro is a work of art. All the other computer gear that surrounds it, pales by comparison.

To the entire hardware team at Apple that crafted this system, let me tell you that I am blown away by the sheer beauty of what you’ve created.

BACKGROUND ON THE SYSTEM

Apple’s vision of the pro desktop is centered on performance. They looked at the entire system: CPU, GPU, bandwidth, their goal was speed – real-time playback, without the need to render.

NOTE: Rendering is still necessary at some point before output. All those great effects and color grades you are creating in the timeline need, at some point, to be rendered (meaning “converted”) into video. This is true of all editing systems. The trick is to figure out a way to get this rendering done without slowing you down; either during editing or exporting.

There’s nothing unique about dual GPUs, existing MacPros could install multiple GPUs inside the chassis. What is unique is that the MacPro now guarantees dual GPUs in every Mac Pro system. This allows developers to count on both GPUs being there. One GPU dedicated to displays, the other GPU dedicated to supporting the CPU. These are workstation-class GPUs with drivers are appropriate to professional software, as opposed to games. For example, these GPUs are better at the floating point operations used in video editing.

The Mac Pro uses PCIe-based flash storage; which is often called an SSD drive. While it only uses 4 PCIe lanes, it is the fastest flash available today: 1.2 GB/second. Also, the PCIe bus uses Generation 3 PCIe, which provides twice the bandwidth of earlier versions. This is enough bandwidth to handle the fastest flash… and then some.

There’s been a lot of talk about expansion. Here, Apple was thinking outside the box, by providing six Thunderbolt 2 ports with up to six peripherals attached to each port. On the one hand, this is a highly flexible approach that makes changing system configurations fast and simple. On the other hand, this approach requires awkward converter boxes, and additional expense, to attach existing PCIe-slotted devices.

On the third hand, new technology obsoleting older technology is not unheard of in our industry.

NOTE: There is a separate Thunderbolt controller behind every two Thunderbolt ports – three controllers in total. More controllers means less contention on the port and faster throughput.

SETTING UP THE MAC PRO

Connecting the system took mere seconds. But getting all the software downloaded and installed took a bit to time. There’s a new firmware update, plus I needed to download Final Cut, Motion, Compressor, and the iWork family of software. (Also, I installed SnapZ Pro, from Ambrosia Software, which I use for capturing all my screen shots.)

NOTE: Apple also provides a version of the Mac Pro where Final Cut and other software is pre-loaded.

I wasn’t in a hurry and I could work on other systems while all these installations occurred. I would guess the whole download and setup process took about three hours.

By the way, this system is QUIET!! 12 dB of total noise. 17 dB of total noise when under a load. My son, who’s ears are a WHOLE lot better than mine, could not hear the Mac Pro because the ambient noise in a very quiet office was louder than the computer. The cooling fan is efficient and quiet. And the amount of air coming out the cooling stack at the top is not enough to rustle loose sheets of paper — I checked.

On the same desk as the Mac Pro is a late 2012 27” iMac, which is the system I currently use for all my editing. All my media is stored on external Thunderbolt RAIDs, so moving media from one computer to the other was as easy as changing a cable connection.

NOTE: I’ve written about my iMac system configuration here and described editing on it, in this article.

MEASURING SPEED

Let me start by saying that the Mac Pro is a computer, it isn’t magic pixie dust. It is fast, but we are not talking miraculous super-powers that will save civilization as we know it. Sometimes expectations grow far past reality.

One of the KEY things you need to keep in mind is that video editing requires more than a computer. The computer is a component of an entire system. You could have the fastest computer in the world, but it if is connected to a USB 2 thumb drive you won’t be able to accomplish anything.

For me, the speed of the computer is secondary to the speed of the computer and storage working together. Storage bandwidth (the rate at which storage and the computer share data) is FAR more important than computer speed alone. To fully utilize the speed of the Mac Pro, you need to team it with storage that is equally fast. With that in mind, let me give you a perspective on just how fast the Mac Pro is.

Here’s the speed of the Mac Pro talking with a single FireWire 800 drive. (By the way, this drive used to be my main editing drive, as recently as a year ago.)

The Write speed, on the left, shows how fast you can record data on a hard drive. To help with the comparison, ProRes 422, when used for HD media, requires a data transfer rate (also called “bandwidth,” or “speed”) of about 18 MB/second. Write speed is most important for import, rendering and sharing.

The Read speed, on the right, shows how fast you can play back data from storage. Read speed is most important for editing, and especially for multicam editing.

This drive is fast enough for simple editing and playback of single stream HD media, but not multicam. And definitely not anything using larger frame sizes than 1080p. (These speeds are also fully adequate for editing standard-definition media.)

Here’s the speed of the Mac Pro talking with a Thunderbolt RAID connected to a server over a Gigabit Ethernet network. Better than a Firewire drive, but, essentially, only as fast a single hard drive internally attached to, say, an earlier Mac Pro. Not bad, but not good.

Here’s the speed of the Mac Pro talking with a 2-drive Thunderbolt RAID connected directly to the Mac Pro. Now we are starting to see some significant speed improvements in both write and read speeds. Direct attached storage is almost always better than attaching storage via a network.

Here’s the speed of the Mac Pro talking directly with its internal flash drive. Holy smokes! I have never measured speeds this fast — BUT, even this speed does not fully load a single Thunderbolt 1 pipe. The new Thunderbolt 2 protocol, which the Mac Pro also supports, is more than twice as fast as the internal flash drive.

All things being equal, I still recommend storing all media on external devices, for reasons of performance, portability, and expandability.

WHEN USING THE INTERNAL FLASH STORAGE MAKES SENSE

Solid State Drives (SSD), also called flash drives, are extremely good at playing back the same files over and over. This makes them ideal as boot drives, where they are playing back OS and application files over and over. I first noticed this performance boost with the iMac and its internal Fusion drive.

However, SSD drives lose their performance edge when they need to play constantly changing data – for example, all the different clips in our project. In this case, RAIDs have the performance edge; especially if the internal SSD is not very big.

An exception to this rule is multicam editing. Since multicam clips use the same media, but switch angles, you’ll have much faster performance copying the multicam source files to an internal SSD drive; assuming you have sufficient room on the drive.

For example, Apple told me that a multicam clip of 16 streams of 4K video plays seamlessly from the internal SSD drive. (I don’t have any way to test this, so I can’t verify that it is true, however, given what I know about SSD and normal hard drives, their statement makes sense to me.)

EDITING WITH THE MAC PRO

All this leads up to the main question: “What’s the value in using the Mac Pro for video editing?” And the answer is: “You spend a whole lot less time waiting around.”

Here’s what you NEED for video editing:

  • If you are editing standard definition video footage, any computer shipped within the last five years will be sufficient for the task.
  • If you are editing 1080p, 1080i, or 720p high-definition video footage, any currently shipping computer – most especially iMacs and MacBook Pros – will be sufficient.

NOTE: I was struck that the new Mac Pro took almost twice as long to startup as an iMac. I suspect this is due to the iMac only needing to check 16GB of RAM, while the Mac Pro was checking 32 GB.

In both these cases, the speed of your computer is far less important than the size and speed of your storage. And, in both these cases, you don’t NEED the new Mac Pro. But this misses the point. These computers satisfy the need to edit today’s video. The new Mac Pro satisfies the desire to be able to do far more and positions you for the future.

Editing with Final Cut Pro X 10.1 felt faster, smoother, “glossier.” (I have not yet installed Premiere Pro CC on this system, that’s on my list to do later this month.)

However, for all its speed, orange render bars did not disappear instantly, and there were several occasions where I got a dropped frame error when trying to play unrendered text titles composited into a four layer video project.

For editing pure video, the performance is stunning. But, as always, as we layer on effects, things can slow down. This simply proves that editing video is enormously challenging technically and, at some point, all computers reach their limits.

NOTE An excellent tool for monitoring your system is Utilities > Activity Monitor. I use this all the time to see how hard the CPUs are working, Memory (RAM) usage, disk data rates and network transfer speeds. I love this utility.

Here’s the CPU load playing back a four layer project in Final Cut Pro X 10.1. This involved two ProRes 4444 clips, plus a text composite and a Photoshop watermark. Each black column represents a single CPU core. The amount of blue, at the bottom, represent how hard that CPU is working. Let’s just say that in spite of the complexity of the project, if the CPUs were working any less, they’d be taking a nap.

However, other operations, such as sharing, use as many processors as you have available. Here, I’m exporting a ProRes 4444 project as a ProRes 4444 file to locally attached Thunderbolt 1 storage.

Everything I can do on the iMac, I can do on the Mac Pro – only faster, smoother, more fluidly and with less waiting. That’s what the word “performance” means. If your current computer can keep up with you, then you won’t see much benefit in the new Mac Pro.

If, on the other hand, you are constantly waiting for your computer, then the new Mac Pro will make you more productive by decreasing the amount of time you have to wait.

It all boils down to the question: “How much is your time worth?” The Mac Pro is designed to save you time. Lots and lots of time.

UPDATE: A NOTE ON COMPRESSOR 4.1

Since first writing this article, I’ve learned that the Mac Pro does not support hardware acceleration of video compression and several key video codecs, such as H.264, are not multi-threaded. This provides limits on how fast the Mac Pro will compress video. Here are two articles that explain this in more detail:

CONFIGURING THE MAC PRO

If money is no object, get a fully-loaded Mac Pro. It is fast, sleek, screams “high-tech,” and will give you bragging rights for at least a year. You’ll be spending more than you need to, but the money isn’t that important to you in the first place.

For the rest of us, who need to balance configuring the system with the money we have to spend, here’s how I suggest you configure your system. In this configuration, my recommendation is to spend money on those parts of the system that can’t be easily upgraded. While the CPU, and, perhaps, the GPUs are socketed, updating them also requires new software from Apple which may, or may not, be in the works. However, both RAM and the SSD drive can be easily updated.

If you are on a budget and only editing HD, or SD, video, the base level system is fine. On the other hand, a well-equipped iMac would deliver about the same performance and cost the same or less. In this case, I’d vote for the iMac, because it includes monitor, mouse and keyboard, all of which are extra on the Mac Pro.

For most of us that need a Mac Pro, we should step up to the bigger system, and I’d start with the 8-core processor. The faster clock speed improves video compression, and Final Cut Pro will still feel very sprightly with 8 cores. Editing performance will be the same as 12-cores, while the performance hit for rendering and exporting will be minimal.

16 GB of RAM is fine to start. I am always surprised at how well FCP X manages memory. If you need more, adding it from the after market is cheaper than buying Apple RAM, and easy to add; even for the ham-fisted.

The Mavericks operating system only requires 21 GB of storage. ALL the apps on my current Mac Pro, take less than 45 GB; and this includes the entire FCP 7 suite, all the Adobe CS6 and CC suites, and all Final Cut Pro X, Motion 5, and Compressor 4.1. Plus more utilities, plug-ins, and miscellaneous application files than I can count.

In other words, we don’t need a lot of storage for the OS, our apps and a reasonably sized Home directory. Since the flash storage can be upgraded later, and flash drives are continuing to come down in price, if you are on a budget, get the 256 GB drive. If you can afford the extra $300, get the 512 GB, though I would lean against it. I don’t see any advantage to the 1 TB drive, because we are ALWAYS better off storing media on external devices.

When it comes to GPUs, I recommend you buy the best. These are the real workhorses and the key advantage to the Mac Pro. Skimp everywhere else, but not here.

At the moment, I don’t need a monitor, mouse, or keyboard – all of which are easily available everywhere – because I own them already.

This brings the total price for this configuration to: $6,099. Another $400 gets you a bigger flash drive, mouse, and keyboard.

Here’s a copy of the final specs for my system. (Your needs may be different, but if you ask what I would recommend, this is it.)

SUMMARY

Do we WANT this new computer? Absolutely.

Do we NEED this new computer? That is a much more complex question because there is such a fine line between need and desire.

  • If you have money to burn – the sheer beauty of the Mac Pro’s construction rivals a fine Swiss watch and will give you bragging rights for a long time into the future.
  • For the rest of us, though, cost is a factor. If money is tight, a well-outfitted iMac will edit standard-def and HD video easily – provided you have good, high-speed storage attached to the system.
  • If you are doing video compression, the hardware acceleration in the iMac beats the software compression in the Mac Pro. However, hardware acceleration does not yield the highest image quality, nor the smallest file sizes. If image quality and file size is more important, the speed of the Mac Pro easily beats that of a fully-loaded iMac.
  • If you are editing multicam projects, 4K or larger frame sizes, RAW files, or want to position yourself for the future, the Mac Pro is the system to get.

Not all software is updated to take full advantage of the dual-GPUs in the Mac Pro. As those updates become available, the Mac Pro will continue to increase in speed.

Finally, to fully take advantage of the speed of a Mac Pro, you also need to invest money in high-speed Thunderbolt storage to work with it. There is debate about whether media should be stored on the internal flash drive. For now, I am still recommending that media be stored on external RAIDs; though, if all you have is a single Thunderbolt drive, the internal flash drive will be far, far faster.

When my time with this unit is up, I will send it back to Apple, then, head over to the Mac Store and buy a new Mac Pro for myself. Do I really need it? Well, that’s debatable.

But do I want it? Oh, yeah!

 

Comments
61 Comments to “The New Mac Pro: Ridiculously Fast”
  1. Robin Harris says:

    Larry, Great overview. Very close to my own choices except that I do less compression and would probably choose a six core version.

    However, I am not aware of any add-on upgrade SSDs for any of the new Macs with PCI SSDs. Apple is leading the industry here and as far as I know there is no industry standard that they are adhering too. Given that MacBook Pros are much more popular they are more likely to get PCI SSD upgrades sooner than the Mac Pro.

    But I agree with you that it is smarter to spend the additional $800 that a 1 TB SSD costs on upgrading a Promise Thunderbolt array to 6 drives.

  2. Steve T says:

    Great read Larry.

    I’m still undecided on whether to get a 6core New Mac Pro and middle GPU or get a maxxed out iMac 2013?

    I’d be editing with the Thunderbolt drives on either (ssds or hdds using a Seagate adapter) and editing 1080p Dslr footage using Premiere ProCC and going to give FCPX 10.1 another go soon.

    Which would you go for? When you consider monitor etc there’s a good £1700 price difference! Is the maxxed iMac really good enough for painter DSLR editing?

    Thanks

    • Larry Jordan says:

      Steve:

      An iMac is certainly good enough for DSLR footage. Yes.

      Larry

      • Steve T says:

        Great, thanks Larry. You may have just helped me save £1700 (well, until the ‘want’ overtakes the ‘need’ in a years time.) Thanks.

        Ps: I’m off to watch the FCPX training I bought from you… Let’s see if this 10.1 can tempt me back from PProCC (before the cheap entry price subscription ends)

  3. Steve T says:

    ^painfree DSLR editing? (smartphone typo!)

  4. Peter Weiler says:

    Excellent review, Larry. You have really clarified how to shop wisely for the new Mac Pro.

    I’m primarily doing weekly HD editing for my church on my 2010 Mac Pro (with FW 800 external storage.) My desire is to speed up the work. I would like to know what configuration of Thunderbolt storage makes sense for me with the new Mac Pro. I see the Drobo 5D is available at around $600. I believe it uses Thunderbolt 1. I have no experience with Thunderbolt nor RAIDs.

    Do you have any recommendations for currently available external storage products?

    • Larry Jordan says:

      Peter:

      Drobo is good, but there are better options. I’m attending the Storage Visions conference in Las Vegas in less than 2 weeks. I’ll have a better idea of the storage industry after I get back from that.

      larry

  5. Frank T says:

    Larry, Great review thanks. The Apple Website states: “Highly multithreaded applications will perform best on processors with a higher core count, even with a slightly lower clock speed.” How does one know if their app is multithreaded or not? Is there a list?

    Thanks, Frank

  6. jgrem2000 says:

    Great stuff, Larry! Thanks

    My clients never shoot anything higher than some flavor of HD, editing in ProRes HQ. I’ve been working with FCP 7 on my MacBook Pro with Firewire 800 externals or at best, a Thunderbolt RAID set. However, one of my clients wants to start working with multi-cam projects and I wouldn’t mind positioning myself for the future. The way I see it, if I can take the time to save up for a new edit system, it might as well be for a Mac Pro rather than an iMac. Thoughts?

    Also, one of the most time-consuming parts of my job is rendering and outputting hi res QT files for clients. How much of a difference would I see in render and output times with the new Mac Pro, compared with my current 2.6 GHz processor and internal SATA disc?

    Thanks!

  7. Steve says:

    I’m trying to make similar decisions. I have a 2008 Mac Pro but really want to move to Thunderbolt (or at very least USB3) drives to edit on (FCPX and Premiere Pro). There’s a hefty supplement to go 6 core Mac Pro, and from what I read it’ll not make much difference to actually editing time or smoothness, but the RENDER and OUTPUT times will be drastically reduced.

    I’d only every be looking at 6 core/D500 Mac Pro so just not sure HOW much better it’d be over a top end 2013 iMac?

    Whatever machine I buy, the old 2008 Mac pro will become an overnight compression machine (to convert ProRes masters to MPEG2 and HD mp4 client files) so I’m trying to convince myself the imac will be fine for day to day DSLR editing, and can still use the old MP for the compression stuff.

    There still is the feeling that I’d be “settling” if i went iMac of course… maybe that’s Apple’s great marketing as it appeals to the fact I consider myself a “pro” ;)

    It’s a really difficult decision!!

  8. Hakim Benkrid says:

    Hello Larry,
    Many thanks for your article that I was waiting for impatiently. I am a bit lost on what I should get for my hardware upgrade. At the moment, I have been using a 2010 version of a 27in iMac with i5 processor, 12GB Memory and connected via firewire 800 to a 4 TB G-Technology external hard drive. I edit with FCPX/Motion/Compressor and shoot 1080/24p with a Canon C100… I wait a lot for things to happen while editing… On top of faster processing time etc, I would like to move to color grading with Davinci Resolve which my computer’s configuration (GPU) cannot handle.
    I would love to if you may kindly suggest a Mac Pro configuration you see most fit to the needs I mentionned above.
    Many thanks

  9. Steve says:

    Oh and the other worry for me was how the iMacs are more “consumer” and therefore not designed for heavy load and prolonged use in the video editing world. Hearing things like them dying after a few months of heavy use, or the processors slowing down to protect themselves when overheating after a long render etc are a concern. Also the non ECC memory issue (although can’t recall ever having a problem before over the years with nonECC ram)

    Not sure how valid these comments are on various forums? Sorry to ask iMac questions on a post about he new Mac pro but it does seem there are a LOT of people (pro’s included – heck it’s still OUR money in the long run) trying to make a similar decision.

  10. John Putch says:

    Larry,

    I”ve ordered my Macpro. Here’s the config below.

    Mac Pro
    Z0PK
    Configuration
    • 3.7GHz quad-core with 10MB of L3 cache
    • 32GB (4x8GB) of 1866MHz DDR3 ECC
    • 1TB PCIe-based flash storage
    • Dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM each
    • User’s Guide (English)
    • Accessory Kit

    Topped out at 4400 and change.

  11. Benji says:

    Hey Larry, I really appreciate the review and the advice. I’m confused as to why always storing media on a non SSD device is a speed advantage, especially on the new MacPro. You seem to be saying that there are drastic latency issues involved in working with lots of different clips on an SSD that offset the gains you receive by the Mac Pro’s SSD’s blazingly fast speed. Also I thought SSDs were known for their instant seek times which would seem to help the editing experience as you are constantly jumping to different clips all around the drive.

    Can you load up a decently sized FCPX library onto the internal SSD and do some editing and see if there is any noticeable lag compared to your preferred external editing setup? Some observation as to whether or not you suffer a noticeable performance drop would be a big help because I pre-ordered a MacPro with the 1TB configuration and was planning on moving any projects to the internal SSD when possible and having this backup to my Drobo every night. This is what I do currently. My iMac has a 256GB internal SSD and I always move my current project to the SSD because of the performance gains. Even with the operating system also running on the drive my editing projects run way faster than they do off of my internal 7200rpm spinning disc 1TB drive.

    I also work with proxy files in FCPX on my SSD on my 2011 MacBook Air and as long as I don’t try processing any effects, performance is extremely snappy compared to working with them off of an external GRAID thunderbolt drive.

    Perhaps I notice this speed increase because I don’t use an external thunderbolt RAID device with more than two drives in it, so the read/write speeds on the GRAID I’ve used cap out at around 250MB/sec. Maybe investing in a Thunderbolt RAID tower would outperform the MacPro’s internal SSD, but would a simple dual drive thunderbolt external RAID really provide an editing benefit to the Mac Pro’s internal SSD?

    • Andrew says:

      I’m also interested in this claim of poor performance with editing directly from the internal SSD. Is there a way to measure performance with the internal SSD vs an external thunderbolt drive/RAID system with the nMP? How poor is the performance of accessing the constantly changing data vs. the unchanged files? I know there are a lot of variables, but is there any way to measure the kind of performance issues we might see in editing with the internal SSD?

      I was planning to upgrade the internal storage to 1TB to edit projects and use a Drobo 5D to act as storage/backup. Now I’m thinking of maintaining the 256GB storage for apps/games/misc and using that money I would have used to upgrade the flash to instead pay for something like the Promise Pegasus2 R4, which is about the same price.

      • Larry Jordan says:

        Andrew:

        I am NOT! saying the internal drive has poor performance. I am saying that using external storage – specifically a RAID 5 – provides storage that is dedicated to media playback, can be easily expanded or moved from one computer to the next, and yields speeds equal to or faster than internal storage.

        Larry

        • Benji says:

          Thanks for clarifying Larry, I think we were responding to this:
          “However, SSD drives lose their performance edge when they need to play constantly changing data – for example, all the different clips in our project. In this case, RAIDs have the performance edge”

          5 7200rpm drives in a RAID is still going to cap out at around 600GB/sec right? Does the Mac Pro’s SSD struggle to the point where you’re going to appreciate the Pegasus performance better or is the performance edge more about expandability and portability of the RAID?

          I’m thinking the question on whether to upgrade the SSD in the Mac Pro may be more about how big your average projects are. If most of most your projects exceed 600GB or so (I do a lot of compositing projects, so I don’t have any editing projects greater than a few hundred GB) you probably need some external speedy storage. I want the convenience of working with my current projects on the fast internal drive (but not if they suffer a noticeable amount of “SSD lag”, if that is even a thing). Also being able to have my user folder with my entire iPhoto library internal and my iTunes folder on the internal drive insures that my important stuff is all on the internal portable SSD, so it’s with me if I need to take the system somewhere.

          • Larry Jordan says:

            Benji:

            Good comments. I think for small projects you’ll be fine using the SSD because the projects are small and the bandwidth needs are minimal.

            However, if you ask what I recommend, I always recommend a second drive.

            Larry

  12. Scot says:

    Hi Larry,
    I very much appreciate your efforts in getting this MacPro info out there. I have been struggling over what config to order on this thing since it was announced. I went with exactly the same machine Apple lent you a couple of hours before finding this article, so relieved to see real world tests on what I thought would be a good (albeit expensive) choice. I have been limping along with an early 2011 MBP that I installed a 512 SSD in for editing. I have two Promise Pegasus R6 RAIDs set at RAID 5 and a Thunderbolt Monitor. I am curious about the speeds you got in your tests with Thunderbolt RAIDS, because I am getting much faster speeds. BlackMagic Disk Speed tests shows my motherboard talks to my internal SSD at about 350 MB/s both read and write. But my Pegasus drives show much faster, very close to 500 MB/s read and write. I was astounded with the speeds you are getting off the MacPro to its SSD. I can’t wait to see how my Thunderbolt 1 drives perform. So, do you think they will be faster with my new MacPro, or the same?

    • Benji says:

      I think your thunderbolt drive speed will be the same. The only difference with the MacPro is that it has thunderbolt 2, however Thunderbolt 1 should be able to handle speeds faster than 500MB/sec anyway, so I’m guessing that is capping off there because it is the top speed of your external RAID setup. The MacPro’s SSD is so fast because it is a top of the line PCIe SSD as apposed to your macbook’s SSD which uses a SATA connection.

      Personally, I’d like to see results of an editing project run off of the Mac Pro’s internal SSD.

    • Larry Jordan says:

      Scott:

      I agree with Benji, your RAID speeds will be about the same, perhaps a bit faster with the Mac Pro, just due to a faster data bus.

      The reasons your speeds are faster is that RAID speeds are directly related to the number of drives contained in the RAID. The rough formula is 100 MB/second for each hard drive in a RAID. I have two drives in my RAID, so my speeds will be slower than the five drives you have in yours.

      Larry

  13. John says:

    Larry,

    I posted this reply the other day:

    My clients never shoot anything higher than some flavor of HD, editing in ProRes HQ. I’ve been working with FCP 7 on my MacBook Pro with Firewire 800 externals or at best, a Thunderbolt RAID set. However, one of my clients wants to start working with multi-cam projects and I wouldn’t mind positioning myself for the future. The way I see it, if I can take the time to save up for a new edit system, it might as well be for a Mac Pro rather than an iMac. Thoughts?

    Also, one of the most time-consuming parts of my job is rendering and outputting hi res QT files for clients. How much of a difference would I see in render and output times with the new Mac Pro, compared with my current 2.6 GHz processor and internal SATA disc?

    Your advice would help a lot. Thanks for all you do!

    John

    • Larry Jordan says:

      John:

      I haven’t had time to do these comparisons, yet. It is on my list for today.

      Larry

      • Benji says:

        Sweet! It would also be awesome to know if the GPUs are utilized for h264 export from Compressor. One idea for a test would be to try to do an export of a pro-res file from Handbrake (which doesn’t use the GPUs) and a similar export from Compressor (which does use the GPUs, I think anyway).

  14. Sameer Ahmed says:

    Dear Larry,

    Thanks for your review and advice. I was wondering would a 6 core new Macpro handle 2K footage? or would an full iMac handle 2K footage. I think I understood that the 8 core would be great for 4K and above footage.
    Your thoughts please
    yours
    Sameer

  15. David Poland says:

    Hi -

    I output a 30 minute 1080p video from Final Cut every day. With a 2011 iMac, it takes about 2.5 – 3 hours to output. I’d like to cut into that time. Will the Mac Pro do this for me in a significant way?

    Thanks.

    • Larry Jordan says:

      David:

      Yes, absolutely. BUT… what are you doing that a 30 minute video takes that long???

      I export 60 minutes shows from FCP X that export in about 10 minutes. Something else is not right for your exports to be that slow.

      HOWEVER, if you are running FCP 7, a new Mac Pro won’t do much for you, because FCP 7 is not programmed to take advantage of the hardware that the Mac Pro offers.

      Larry

  16. David Poland says:

    Hi Larry –

    I am using a Mid-2011 imac with 16g of ram and Graphics AMD Radeon HD 6970M 1024 MB.

    Exporting in 1080p off of a G-Tech thunderbolt 8tb drive and onto the same drive.

    Not sure why it takes so long, but sped up significantly with the thunderbolt and mysteriously in October 2013.

    I’ve been doing this outputting for a long time, but am certainly in no way an expert on the equipment.

    If my output time was just an hour, I would probably not buy a more expensive system, but just add another iMac so I could output 2 at a time.

    Thanks,
    D

    • Larry says:

      David:

      First, reading and writing to the same drive will double you export time, because you are round-tripping to the same device.

      Also, if you are transcoding to a different format than your render files, things will take longer.

      Finally, I don’t understand the phrase: “with the thunderbolt and mysteriously in October” in your note – so it’s hard to answer that part.

      Larry

      • David Poland says:

        I meant that there was a mysterious jump in performance in October or so… no real idea of why.

        Seems to me that all of your performance analysis leads to me not really needed more than a souped up 2012 iMac for what I am doing, which would be $3k less than the souped up mac pro and give me another workstation to boot (as I would probably have used the 2011 imac as the screen rather than spend another $900 on a new screen).

        Sound about right?

        D

  17. alex says:

    Hi Larry,

    we’re about to order one of these babies and your opinion is always of high value in all matters fcpx to us. So here goes my question:
    We are editing excessively on fcpx for broadcast television in Europe. Motionvfx and other plugin sellers are our to go to guys when it comes to visual treats for our projects. some of these plugins can take up excessive render time in X.
    All our projects are in ProRes 1080i50 and some projects take up as 2 TB of data per week.

    My question is – how much value would the D700 GPU add in comparison to the D500. It’s another nice big chunk on the bill, 600 Euros or roughly 800-900 dollars for this little extra. In your article you mentioned to absolutely go for the highest GPU option. Is it really worth it?
    We are looking at the 8 core, 12gb ram (we buy 32 from crucial), 500 SSD and the D500 or D700…

    Your opinion would be much appreciated. Many thanks from Germany.

    • Larry Jordan says:

      Alex:

      Faster graphics cards SHOULD render much faster – especially given the visually complex templates that MotionVFX creates.

      However, I haven’t tested the 500 so I can’t say how much a difference it would make. If it were me and I was spending the money, I’d get the 700. However, cash is tight for all of us. You might ask the folks at MotionVFX if they have an opinion.

      The rest of your system looks great and, I suspect, you’ll be very happy if you get the 500s.

      Larry

  18. wayne says:

    Larry

    Can you please identify what specific functions hit their limits using an iMAC? That would help determined the need for an MAC PRO or not. Is it any 4k video editing? or mutlitple streams with effects? How much? Compression? What kinds? Importing? Exporting? Thanks

  19. GEORGE KACHEN says:

    Hi Larry,

    Thank you for your SUPER article. I am right in the middle of deciding between and iMac and the new Mac Pro. Because of cost considerations, I will probably go with the iMac; however, I am uncertain of what to do for the internal storage, i.e., 1TB Fusion drive or total 1TB Flash drive Given what you point out (importance of read/write when video editing), I would have thought that you would recommend flash drive and large–but that doesn’t seem to be the case in your article. Sorry, I am still a novice at video editing, but I intend to get FCPX for doing my life-time goal (just retired) of putting together a video book of my family using old (converted) 8mm no-sound film plus photos plus voice-over and music background. I am currenty a big user of Photoshop, so will want to take special effects from that and have them in my video. So I will never exceed HD 1080, hence i think the iMac is the answer, but I need advice on what to do for the storage. thanks very much,
    George

    • Larry Jordan says:

      George:

      Always use external storage for your media. In this case, at least a 2-drive RAID.

      For me, the 1 TB Fusion drive has been an excellent choice.

      larry

      • GEORGE KACHEN says:

        Larry–thanks. So you are saying that with the external 2-Drive RAID, I don’t gain anything with 1TB flash over 1TB fusion? By The Way, any recommendations on best RAID storage devices to use with my new iMac?
        Thanks
        George

        • Larry Jordan says:

          George:

          For most installations, the Flash included in the Fusion drive will be more than adequate for both the OS and your applications, at a fraction of the cost.

          Larry

          • Fulvio says:

            Hello Larry!

            One thing i want to be sure about:
            Getting the Thunderbolt G-RAID 4 To as an external, would you chose:

            - fusion drive 3To?

            or

            - 512 flash stckage?

            And why? I can’t exactly understand the diference and make my choice… I’m teacher at cinema school and editing 3 or 4 movies by year. My teacher recomended me sdd but i read good things about the fusion drive an apple also recomended it to me. You said 1To fusion drive works well for you but would you go to the 512 SSD if you had the choice? Thank you very much for the article it really helps me fot the rest of my choices!

            Regards,

            Fulvio

  20. Frank T says:

    Has Apple begun shipping the MacPros? Mine’s been on order since January. They recently charged my credit card, so that’s a good sign, however, the shipping status is the same as it was from day one. Has anyone received any shipments?

  21. Lily says:

    Larry thank you for this article, it’s extremely useful.

    I am trying to decide between the 512GB PCIe-based flash storage [+ £240.00] and the Dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM each [+ £320.00] upgrades.

    Which do you think is more useful for FCPX video editing?

    • Larry Jordan says:

      Lily:

      Always spend your money on the best graphics card you can afford. The boot drive should only store the operating system and all applications. Media should be stored on an external device. External storage will be a shade slower, but much more reliable and expandable than the internal flash drive.

      Also, the priorities for the flash drive are:
      1. The operating system
      2. All active applications
      3. All background applications and processes

      ONLY then, if there’s any spare time, will the internal hard disk be able to play media. Performance is highly variable and especially problematic when working with higher resolution or less-compressed video formats.

      larry

  22. Lily says:

    Thanks again.

    When you say store media on a second drive do you mean do not store media on the main hard drive at all? I usually use external HDs as back-up only and run all vid I’m using in the edit from the main HD.

  23. David Smith says:

    Hi Larry, I’m interested in upgrading from my 2007 iMac to the Mac Pro so that I can start converting all my analog VHS and 8mm home movies into digital format and burn them to blu ray, making two copies, one of which I’ll store in my safe deposit box to protect them for future generations. I’ve been using my iMac and Toast 11 to burn blu ray discs from my HD camcorder but the conversion from AVDHC to MP4 takes forever and it looks like the Mac Pro will exponentially reduce this. It takes me about 24 hours to burn one blu ray disk in the best setting. It looks like I should select 8 cores, the 700 graphics card, 16GB of memory (which I can upgrade later), and the 512 GB PCIe flash storage correct? I would also have the Final Cut Pro X pre-installed. I have the Roxio Easy VHS to DVD for Mac as the interface between the VHS and 8mm tape players and the Mac Pro. Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

    • Larry Jordan says:

      David:

      Yes, you’ll see a significant speed increase.

      Your specs look good. Add more RAM when you can. And buy the best / fastest GPU you can afford.

      Larry

      • David Smith says:

        Larry,

        Thank you for your input. One last question, how much RAM would you suggest I add? I see OWC has up to 128GB available.

        David

        • LarryJ says:

          David:

          I suggest a minimum of 16 GB. More if you can afford it.

          Larry

          • David Smith says:

            Hi Larry,
            I’ve already ordered the Mac Pro with the 16GB of RAM but am looking to upgrade with what OWC has to offer. Do I want to got with as high as I can afford or is there a point that it’s just overkill?
            Thanks again,
            David

  24. Lisa says:

    Hi Larry,

    I was hoping you could briefly tell us if you tried to install FCP 7 on the new Mac Pro (I’m considering the 6-core for investment in new software), and if it worked? I understand that Mavericks requires some workaround to install it, but I’m having trouble finding the answer to, specifically, the Mac Pro – FCP 7 compatibility in general. Thanks!

    • LarryJ says:

      Lisa:

      There is NO! value to buying a Mac Pro to run FCP 7. FCP 7 does not take advantage of any of the advanced hardware, RAM, GPUs or operating systems the Mac Pro uses.

      If you need a new system AND you need to run FCP 7, buy an iMac.

      Larry

      • Lisa says:

        Thank you. We’re considering it because I plan to migrate away from FCP 7 after this current project, which is on FCP 7 and struggling on my Mac Book 2010. It’s an indie feature and getting ridiculous that I’m using that machine for the whole thing. But to avoid buying a machine that is only optimized for our needs through the end of this year (I estimate), I’d like to know if installing FCP 7 will even work. Do you know?

  25. Marcus Mackay says:

    Hi Larry

    I read your review with great interest.

    I am self taught in FCPX and will be ordering some of your tutorials when I return from holiday (currently in Malcesine, Lake Garda Italy… It’s terrible!)

    So my issue is this, while I know I have a lot more to learn, I am increasingly frustrated with the performance of my current set up, a MBP i7 early 2011 with 8gb of ram and an external FW G technologies raid 0. The more complex the project, the more effects I add, the slower it gets. I edit in 4444 for watermarks etc at 1080p mostly using DSLR footage.

    So what would make a sensible upgrade in hardware and how much of an increase in performance would I see? As a side point I import and optimise my media as you prescribed in one of your great tutorials I found on YouTube.

    Finally can you recommend a set of your tutorials that will help me go back to the beginning with FCPX and move on from the bad habits I will no doubt have picked up on the way, so I can enjoy editing more, both as an add on to our Marketing & Consulting business, but also for the joy of it.

    Many thanks in advance

    Marcus

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