Is It The Right Time to Buy a Mac Pro?

A couple of weeks ago, I published a guest post with Red Shark News that looked at whether people that want a Mac Pro should buy one right now (subject to availability) or wait.

My conclusion was that it really depends on what NLE you use and what additional tools are part of your workflow. I've summarized some of the key points below and I've updated the details re: OS availability and software optimization.

Final Cut Pro X users

For people who are heavily invested in the Final Cut Pro X workflow, it's a relatively easy timing choice. Apple simultaneously released the new Mac Pro and Final Cut Pro X 10.1, so early adopters could enjoy screaming fast performance out of the box.

There are some real advantages to working with a fully integrated software and hardware platform.

I suggested that people wait a bit for some real world benchmarks and thoughts from early adopters on which upgrades to spend money on. Larry Jordan has posted a couple articles about his review unit, as has Philip Hodgetts. Both have great things to say about the system.

I would place more stock in posts from people in the industry than I would in the raw benchmarks that are the focus of tech publications. Hodgetts' video showing five streams, of native RED R3D 4K files playing simultaneously without rendering, as well as, this quote summarize things nicely.

Benchmarks, schmenchmarks: this is the performance I care about. Bottom line: multiple stream native RED 4K editing without proxies is practical if you have the storage speed.

For people that need power, but live on a budget, it seems like the 8 core version with 16-32 GB of RAM, the 256 GB SSD (save the money for external Thunderbolt media storage), and the mid to maxed out GPUs are the best bet. All in, you are looking at a grand total between $5,499 and $6,099.

From what I've read, there haven't been many teething problems for early Mac Pro adopters using Final Cut Pro. If you are in this camp, now is probably a good time to buy.

Just make sure you need it before you part with your money.

Premiere Pro

In my original post, I suggested that Premiere Pro users wait awhile before upgrading to see what optimizations were required from Adobe to make best use of the dual GPUs. I also suggested waiting awhile to see some real world performance testing from people in the industry.

Between the time I wrote the article and the date it was published, Adobe released a Premiere Pro Creative Cloud Update. The mid December release added the AMD GPUs found in the new Mac Pro to the list of supported GPUs (note that dual GPUs are supported for export, and one is used when playing back). The update also included some enhancements to OpenCL to improve speed and stability, which should help Mac Pro users.

Philip Hodgetts did some tests comparing export performance of Adobe Media Encoder and Apple Compressor, as well as some comparative video playback tests between Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X. His conclusion based on real-world testing:

Bottom line is that the Mac Pro 2013 is a very fine computer for Premiere Pro CC given an optimized release (mid December 2013, version 7.2.1). The performance of both Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro X on this hardware is way more than most people need, most of the time. The hardware is powerful enough that it will just get out of our way, when we’re editing, regardless of your preferred NLE, using media up to 4K and greater in real time, with performance way beyond what a reasonable edit might require.

Larry Jordan also compared performance of Adobe Media Encoder and Compressor on the new Mac Pro and found that there was no clear winner. The upshot is that Adobe's products play very well with the new hardware and that both Apple and Adobe have further room to optimize their apps to take advantage of GPU configuration.

The only real consideration that's different for Premiere Pro users than Final Cut users is that it may make sense for them to take a look at well equipped Windows machines. I suspect that personal preference will play a bigger factor here than real price or performance differences.

Media Composer

With Media Composer the story is quite simple. It doesn't make sense to buy the new Mac Pro until Avid certifies it.

Right now, you are better off using NVIDIA graphics cards with Avid. Media Composer doesn't list any ATI cards in its system recommendations for Windows and only recommends ATI Radeon cards as supported by Apple on the Mac.

Will things change? It's quite possible that Avid will do what it takes to ensure Media Composer takes advantage of the new Mac Pro, however, this may take some time.

If this is your primary creative tool, I would wait until there is an official word from Avid about certification and I would wait until there are people out there with real world experience running Media Composer on the new Mac Pro. In the meantime, there are plenty of PC options that may suit your needs.

Other Hardware and Software

If you are a Final Cut Pro or Premiere Pro user and are looking at buying the new Mac Pro, it makes sense to check whether the other creative software you use has been tested with the system. If there are tools besides your NLE that you use very frequently and if they require significant system resources, then you may want to wait a bit if these apps haven't been tested or optimized to make use of the dual GPU configuration.

Jonny Elwyn over at Premium Beat has done a roundup of post production software that's been optimized for the Mac Pro . In it, he points to the Coloristo's podcast as a good source of information. This discussion about color grading on DaVinci Resolve with various Mac Pro configurations is worth going through.

On the hardware front, you are looking at a world without internal expansion. You'll want to make sure that you've set aside a good chunk of money for Thunderbolt drives, expansion bays if you have PCI cards that you want to use, as well as, any other Thunderbolt capture & playback, audio, and storage hardware that you may need to complete your setup.

What are You Waiting For

If you need the power that the Mac Pro provides, then it looks like a good time to put in your order for a custom configuration. Over the 6 weeks you'll spend waiting, for the system to be delivered, you can bask in the knowledge that you'll be doing a lot less waiting going forward.