The first 24 hours with Apple's new Mac Pro and Final Cut Pro 10.1

first 24 hours fcpx macpro new

It's been twenty four hours since we started to use the new Mac Pro with Final Cut Pro 10.1. We thought we would post our initial findings on the hardware, the software and the combination of the two. We also publish a jaw dropping video showing just how many effects you can apply to a RED 4K clip without frame dropping. A must watch!

It's been a busy but exciting time in the office over the last day, we've been testing out the new 10.1 update for FCPX on a new Mac Pro.

Let's start off with the hardware. Our Mac Pro is a fairly well specified machine. Inside, the processor is 3.0GHz 8-core Intel Xeon with 25MB of L3 cache (there is a 12 core BTO), 64GB (4 x 16GB) of 1866MHz DDR3 ECC RAM (maxed out), 1TB PCIe-based flash storage (largest available) and Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each. That's a lot of grunt.

mac pro machine specs

First thing up was to of course run the Blackmagic Speed test on the internal storage. Notice that all the different formats and frame rates are ticked. Earlier in the day we had witnessed the Mac Pro playing back 16 streams of 4K in a multicam clip, it can shift data.

mac pro machine speed test

As for the form factor, the new Mac Pro is an obvious departure from the normal silver machines we have been bumping our chairs into at the side of our feet for over ten years. This sits quietly on the desktop.

Very quiet. It is so quiet that you probably won't even hear the fan if you have a disk drive running nearby or have an air conditioner overhead. The footprint is small so it will fit on most desks, production environments or outside broadcast vans. It's also qualified to run on the side, no doubt rack mounting kits will appear for it soon.

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As for the colour, it's a bit like Arnie trying to find the Predator in the jungle, it really depends what is next to the machine as the cover is so reflective. Without reflections, it's not black but a dark gunmetal.

Putting your hand over the top, you can feel a gentle current of air rising from the machine, but it is gentle and is nowhere near the storage radiator performance of previous models. The Mac Pro has a chip dedicated to the heat regulation of the machine. Should something get put over the heat vent on the top (such as a book), the machine will put itself to sleep if the temperature rises beyond normal.

The Mac Pro does not have a security slot which could possibly be an issue. Because the machine is a lot smaller and lighter than previous models, it would be quite easy to quickly unplug and put into a rucksack.  

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The mains cable supplied is black and comes with a specially curved edge that fits perfectly flush with the Mac Pro's edge. Apple have also stated selling black thunderbolt cables to keep the overall dark look going. Are black keyboards and mice to follow?

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Removing the cover whilst plugged in isn't possible as all the cables would have to be removed before it could be slid off. We don't know why, but we thought that the base would rotate to allow the machine to be swung round for cable patching or the inevitable TV production by thumb drive. It doesn't rotate, but the panel lights do come on when moved.

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On power up, it has a slightly wimpy chime, maybe we were expecting something beefier. The sound is a bit thin for music, but we would imagine most editors won't be using the internal speaker to monitor their edit with.

 

Editor and Trainer, Chris Roberts has been using FCPX 10.1 on the Mac Pro all day, we will let him explain his findings:

I’m sitting in an office at FCP.co Towers feeling like Christmas has come early. I must have been awfully good this year as today I’ve been in the privileged position of being able to put FCP X 10.1 through its paces with some 3K and 4K media on a new Mac Pro.

That’s right. I’ll say it again; I’ve been testing editing 4K media with FCP X 10.1 on a new Mac Pro. It’s been points out to me that I could quite possibly be, at this moment in time at least, the person with the most experience of working with FCP X and the Mac Pro outside of Apple. So, here’re my thoughts…

The system I’ve been using is a 3GHz 8-Core Intel Xeon E5, with 64GB of RAM and dual AMD FirePro GPUs, each with 6GB of VRAM. This thing is a beast sitting quietly purring to itself on the desk next to me. Honestly, I’ve almost completely forgotten it’s there, hidden as it is by the 30” Apple Cinema Display, making almost no noise at all. In fact, all I can really hear are the fans of the G-RAID drives on the desk opposite.

The media I’ve been working with is a mixture of 2K, 3K and 4K RED RAW, some of which I’ve brought along from previous projects. We’ve also supplemented it by downloading Grant Petty’s test footage which he happened to upload as today’s happy coincidence. I’ve cut the material together in a variety of project sizes, but nothing smaller than 3840x2160 at 24fps.

I created a Library on the Mac Pro’s internal flash storage and chose to copy the media files into the Library from a Thunderbolt-attached 8TB G-RAID, but at times also used FCP X’s new Consolidate Library Files function to seamlessly move the media out of the Library to the G-RAID and back again.

(Click for larger image)

4k FCPX GUI small

So, how has it performed?

I can quite honestly say that, despite working with these huge file sizes and frame sizes, the editing experience has been silky smooth. Skimming, playback, shuttling, jogging and trimming are all responsive. In fact, editing 4K on the Mac Pro feels like editing HD on my current MacBook Pro - except I can see large numbers for the frame sizes where normally I’d expect to see the reassuringly familiar “1920x1080”….

For the purposes of testing, I decided I’d try and see what I could do in real time. I took a quick trip into FCP’s preferences, disabled the background rendering function and enabled the dropped frames warning. Next, I switched the Viewer’s menu from the default “Best Performance” option to “Best Quality”. With these settings in place, skimming and playback was very responsive, with the exception of the 4K RED RAW footage which dropped frames on playback (though skimming was absolutely fine). Not at all surprising really; a RED Rocket card attached via a Thunderbolt chassis would certainly help in this regard. However, simply switching the Viewer back to “Best Performance” resulted in smooth playback without any dropped frames. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to monitor the output in 4K, but on past experience I would imagine that the quality of playback at this setting would be more than adequate and certainly negates the painful transcoding to ProRes 4444 that’s pretty much a necessity if you don’t have a RED Rocket card to hand…

Apart from that, editing the clips in the timeline was as expected, except I kept having to remind myself I wasn’t working in good old HD anymore. Under the “Best Performance” settings I was able to cut the footage with ease and trim with abandon without any lag or delay from the system getting in the way.

But the true test is when we all start throwing on those effects and transitions that really start to push the real-time performance of our systems.

I started slowly, adding a simple Dry Heat look. That played back in real time, no dropped frames. How about a Gaussian Blur? That’s usually a bit more intensive, especially with the huge numbers of pixels we’re dealing with here. No dropped frames. Nice. How about a Gaussian blur with a Bleach Bypass look? Still in real time…. ok, let’s get serious….

And so it went on… Multiple colour corrections, effects, transitions. This thing keeps playing back! In fact at one point I took a RED RAW 4K clip into a 4K project and just started working through the list of video effects (many of which are 4K ready). Watch the result for yourself.

Phew! I think that speaks for itself.

I’ve been saying for a while now that working in professional video production - at whatever level - requires the right combination of software and hardware. 4K is here and with FCP X 10.1 and the new Mac Pro, it’s finally a reality for the majority of us. Merry Christmas indeed. Now, where’s my credit card….