Want to buy a new Mac to edit with Final Cut Pro X? Can’t decide between an iMac Pro or a beefy MacBook Pro? Here are a few thoughts that might help. The conclusion might surprise you.
This year so far, I’ve had the opportunity to cut video on either an iMac Pro or a fully loaded new MacBook Pro. Both are good, fast machines when running Final Cut Pro X, but which would I choose if the FCP.co coffers could only stretch to owning one?
Back in the FCP7 days, it was fairly common to own at base, a cheesegrater Mac Pro for editing with associated I/O peripherals and carry around a MacBook Pro for emails and extra location editing.
Apple computers are not exactly budget machines and now self-financed editors are having to decide between a desktop iMac (or indeed a Mac Mini with eGPU) or a beefy MacBook Pro with extras. Money simply doesn’t stretch to both.
So let’s compare the two I’ve been working with.
1) Machine Specifications
We will start with the Mac Book Pro, a 15 inch 2018 model, 2.9 GHz Intel Core i9. 32GB of RAM, Radeon Pro Vega 20 with 4GB of HBM2 memory and 4TB of SSD (Yes 4 terabytes!)
The iMac Pro is a 27inch 3.2 GHz 8 Core, with 64GB of RAM, 1TB of SSD and the Radeon Pro Vega 64 GPU with 16GB of memory.
2) Machine Performance
I’m not going to quote Barefeats, run a benchmarking test or copy from any other source. A much better ways is to export an unrendered project out of Final Cut Pro X. This is where the performance (or lack of it) shows.
A three minute 1080i timeline with resized UHD ProRes 4444 originals, with moves and a slight shade applied took two minutes 29 seconds to export from the iMac Pro to the desktop SSD.
On the MacBook Pro, all the source material was kept on the desktop to try and negate the speed advantage of the iMac’s 10GigE connection. The same project took 3 minutes and five seconds to export to the desktop (SSD again) Not too shabby at all.
The iMac Pro wins here being a desktop machine with more ports. It is handy having USB 2 ports to plug custom FCPX keyboards in without having to resort to adaptors.
However the biggest advantage over the MBP is the inclusion of a 10GigE connector. This goes straight to our fast 10GigE storage without the need for an adaptor. You are looking at £250 for a SANLink 3 from Promise to connect the MBP to get the same speed.
Also it’s fairly easy to use up all the ports on the MBP. There’s power, an extra screen maybe, an I/O monitoring box, storage, a keyboard, internet connection etc. That’s why Thunderbolt expansion boxes, such as the Caldigit or OWC are popular.
4) Screens & Monitoring.
There is no doubt that the screen on the iMac Pro is simply gorgeous. Looking at anything else afterwards makes you feel like you need your eyes tested. Yes, the MBP screen is good too, but for longer periods of editing you are going to need something bigger. Therefore you are probably going to have to stump up more cash for a 27 or 28 inch external monitor or use an iPad running Duet for extra real estate.
When it comes to audio monitoring, external speakers are best for both the iMac Pro and MBP, but the internal iMac Pro speakers do sound good, if a little bassy. Could you do a remote edit on location by just using those speakers? Yes, but I’d also pack a pair of headphones. Same goes for the MBP.
In some ways the iMac Pro is more portable than the MBP as you don’t have to carry around the large amount of peripherals needed to edit for long periods of time. My iMac Pro just goes back into the delivery box and then gets put in the back of the car. If you can drive to a location edit, then this is good solution. With the MacBook Pro, you might have an external screen, more cables and audio monitoring to pack.
However, the MacBook Pro does win when it comes to editing at a location that requires travelling by air. Although there are editors who will be happy shipping an iMac in a special flight case, getting a MacBook Pro and peripherals through an airport in hand luggage is a lot easier.
It also wins if you were editing in a very remote spot and didn’t have the space or power for external storage. You might be at base camp underneath Everest or halfway down the Amazon- with 4 terabytes of storage, you can store a lot of footage on the internal SSDs and not worry about plugging disks in, even if they are ruggedised SSDs. It is an expensive solution for storage, but in certain cases it might be the only option!
The iMac Pro sells for just under £6,000 gross and the Mac Book Pro for just over £6,000. If you drop the SSD in the MBP down to 1TB, then the price comes down to a more manageable £4,000 including taxes. Still a lot of money for something you can easily leave behind on a train though.
If you travel a lot, especially by air, then the Mac Book Pro and peripherals is the way to go. It is a fast machine, capable of turning around news reports or blogs & YouTube uploads before editors on PC laptop behemoths get the Adobe spashscreen up.
But, I always returned to the iMac Pro when editing for any long periods of time. The screen quality is so good, it does away with a broadcast monitor. A shame it only has progressive output on playback. The extra connectivity helps as well, everything connected together without adaptors.
But in choosing an iMac Pro, what about receiving emails and working whilst away from base?
Over the last few months, I’ve tried to run my various busineeses from my iPhone X. That’s worked pretty well with banking, accounts and even a CRM all having good apps. But I cannot run FCPX or Motion on an iPhone and that’s a real limitation for me as I need to be able to urgently dive into both on occasions. An iPad Pro isn’t an option unless WWDC really does bring universal apps across all devices.
So what to do? I have to admit to being nervous carrying around a £4,000 plus MacBook Pro that could get broken or easily stolen. With the iMac Pro back at base at FCP.co towers, do I really need all that portable computing power?
So that’s why I’m looking at buying a 13 inch MacBook Pro now the 15 inch 4TB model is sadly no longer around. It has the same number of ports, a smaller screen, granted, but that is going to be easier to use in confined spaces such as trains or planes when I’m away from the iMac Pro.
I normally have an external monitor attached to my current ageing MacBook Pro when working in the office, so no loss there. I’ll also have the benefit of the Touch Bar. One downside is that the 13 inch MacBook Pro has an integrated Intel Iris GPU, but that’s fine as the heavy lifting will be done by the iMac Pro.
I’ve carried portable Mac laptops around the world for 26 years since my first Powerbook Duo 210 and system 7.1. I’m not getting any younger and it will be good to have a smaller bag to carry around. Digital nomad status here I come!
So my combination will be an iMac Pro for FCPX, a 13 inch MacBook Pro for emails, browsing and small location FCPX edits and an iPhone X Max for keeping in touch when nomadding without either.
Of course, I might completely change my mind if any new models get announced at WWDC!