long term fcpx mac pro test

It's been unboxed, boxed up, driven down motorways, plugged into Xsans, ISIS and numerous Thunderbolt drives. We have spent a lot of time with the new Mac Pro running FCP 10.1, so what are our long term findings?

Once everybody gets over the new form factor, calls it a dustbin, Darth Vader or whatever, it gets plugged up and it's business as usual. We have tested the Mac Pro out in the office and taken it out and about on jobs. Not tyre kicking, real edits for real clients.

Before we progress, you might like to read our previous Mac Pro Articles:

Unboxing the new Mac Pro

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

Stressing the graphics cards in the new Mac Pro with VJ and live performance tools

FCPX and the Mac Pro: A real broadcast job, real editing and real deadlines

The new Mac Pro, Xsan, FCPX and Softron's MovieRecorder - a day of experimentation and amazing results

So two months on, how has the combination performed? 

We have tried the Mac Pro out in various combinations attached to various storage options and these really dictate how fast the Mac Pro can 'fly.'

Attaching the Mac Pro to an GigE Etherent NAS isn't something we would recommend, you will be disappointed with the performance. If you have to do go down this route then whatever you do, don't make a Managed Library on the drive. Only use the drive for external media and keep your Library local. The network just isn't up to coping with the traffic FCPX will demand, jumbo frames or not. Expect a few hangs, sluggish overall performance, slow updating and waiting for thumbnails to draw. We also couldn't see NAS drives in the import window sometimes even though we could see them in the Finder. Restarting FCPX temporarily fixed this.

ISIS CLIENT FCPX

Mavericks does support the ISIS Client Manager even though the one we installed was for Mountain Lion, so hooking it up to Avid's rack of spinning platters wasn't difficult. Again the problem was speed with GigE being the bottleneck. Maybe using 10GgE and a Thunderbolt converter would improve things. 

Xsan via 4Gig fibre was a huge improvement, although the speeds we thought were super-fast once, now seem to be not so great when compared to Thunderbolt drives. Again, store Libraries locally when connected to an Xsan as the constant traffic from FCPX will take its toll on the RAID. No problems though with the speed of accessing external media, bandwidth will be limited to the fibre channel hardware and the converter box needed to interface with Thunderbolt. 

The last storage configuration we tested was various directly attached Thunderbolt drives. They all performed without missing a beat and in our eyes this is the way forward. Maybe shared storage via different Thunderbolt topologies isn't here yet, but desktop sans will be killer products for the video industry.

It's a good job that the Mac Pro has thee Thunderbolt buses distributed over six ports, you soon use them up. One or more will be for a display and one (as we suggested) will be for some local fast storage. Add an expansion chassis for a PCIe card and maybe a card reader and it's not too long before you have to start daisy chaining. This is only going to increase as more and more peripherals have Thunderbolt ports built in.

Thunderbolt is the key to hooking up more than one Mac Pro. Expect to see articles from people using them for render farms and compressor 'clusters' in the future. As we only had one Mac Pro, we thought we would see how it performed as a server.

Hooking up a Retina MacBook Pro to the new Mac Pro with a Thunderbolt drive attached enabled us to share out the media via Thunderbolt bridging. It only takes a few clicks to set up in the network section of the client preference panel and everything is available if you have file sharing enabled on the serving machine. It has been reported that there are a few speed issues with bridging and Apple are already on the case fixing them. We expect Thunderbolt bridging to be used on a widespread basis in the future for sharing out video to a second or third edit station or an ingest or logging machine.

Thunderbolt bridge FCPX

Not too shabby when you can multicam six angles of 1080i footage down one cable on the MacBook Pro eh?

 

We think by now you'll have twigged that we are trying to say is that the new Mac Pro will only be as good as the peripherals you have connected to it. It is a Formula 1 car that needs good tyres and good fuel to ensure it runs at its best. 

 

On to the performance

It's fast, super fast. Forget sitting back in your chair and having a leisurely cup of tea or going outside for a cigarette whilst that blue render bar gets to 100%. You continue to work without stopping. We left the background render option to start after 5 seconds and found that the process would start and finish whilst we were talking to the client about what to do next. Many sites recommend that turing the background render off is the first thing you do when you power up FCPX. This might be true on less powerful machines, but on the Mac Pro we found it worked well left on.

With 1080 video, FCPX and the new Mac Pro will work as fast as you can. Stack up clips, filters, colour corrections, whatever, you won't stress it. You don't need to think twice about doing something. 

We have read editors saying that their clients don't mind what they edit on, but for us life is slightly different. We work with clients who are tech savvy and they have been more than keen to try the new Mac out. Once the novelty of using the Mac Pro has worn off, they want to push it. That's fine, but the extra power doesn't make our life easier as the capabilities of the machine soon get taken for granted. The fact that you can cut things more quickly means that there will be more things to cut.

Maybe one of the great joys of FCPX on the Mac Pro is being able to move a clip that has a lot of effects and transitions applied without the whole machine coming to a grinding halt. On previous generation machines, we would edit up a promo or package without filters, then once this had been approved we would apply a grade, graphics, effects and transitions as needed. Then sit and watch the blue or orange render bar! With the extra power of the Mac Pro, you don't need to do this, you can edit and apply effects and grades at the same time. 

This flexibility was highlighted on one cut piece that was heavily graded and then had multiple graphics overlays. 15 minutes before air we were quite happily rearranging the shots to the Producer's liking using the magnetic timeline. There is not another NLE out there that would have been able to do that so quickly.

We had a few oddities with the Mac Pro and FCPX. A retimed clip using optical flow nested in a compound clip wouldn't lose its orange render bar no matter how hard we tried. Some undos seemed a bit random, returning to a state we didn't expect. Duplicating a third party transition plugin confused the timeline so although different instances were different colours on the timeline, they all ended up being the same colour on final export. 

The only thing that slowed us down was the calculation of audio waveforms on long clips. This would freeze us out of FCPX for a minute or two. It can be aborted in the Background Tasks window and rebooting FCPX brings the waveforms back. Maybe something isn't optimised fully yet.

waveforms fcpx mac pro test

We had patchy results with all the I/O boxes we tried, they all seem to take the edge off FCPX's performance. Products from Blackmagic Design and AJA worked, but the output didn't seem that reliable. Many times we just turned the AV output off to get the snappiness back. We were slightly disappointed that we couldn't get the 1080 broadcast out signal to an HDMI monitor when we tried. Maybe that would show less latency and be more robust.

The machine in normal day to day use is remarkably quiet, although on one file conversion in FCPX which lasted for about an hour, the Mac Pro got pretty hot with the internal fan running on maximum. So hot, you would feel uncomfortable holding the metal case. We haven't been able to reproduce this problem since. 

So why not give the Mac Pro a thermal stress test? We set the Mac Pro up with a Litecoin mining application that maxes out the computing power of the GPUs by hashing away at complex maths problems. After leaving the Mac Pro mining all weekend, we came back to find the machine warm with the fan running high, but nothing like the temperature we felt before. We would conclude if the Mac Pro can run for 48 hours plus with the GPUs at full chat, it shouldn't have any heat problems processing video for long durations

litecoin mining mac pro

Should you think you can pay off the Mac Pro by mining for crypto currencies such as Litecoins, don't bother. The whole weekend's mining bought in a total of about $5. That's not including the bill for the electricity as the Mac Pro will run continuously at 450 Watts.

Conclusion

The combination of Final Cut Pro X and the new Mac Pro is awesome, the whole is indeed greater than the sum of the parts. You can edit as fast as you like, you won't be waiting for things to load or catch up with you. You feel a lot more in control.

This speed brings a problem as third party hardware and software companies have some work to do in optimising their products. The Mac Pro was only released two months ago, so expecting rock solid drivers or plugin manufacturers to have tested out their products fully might be asking a lot. Hopefully in the future more products will be fine tuned or optimised for the Mac Pro.

When it comes to storage, forget anything that doesn't connect with a Thunderbolt plug. With the possible exception of USB3, everything else is just too slow. 

One problem is when you go back to a previous generation Mac Pro as this highlights the speed differences between the models. There's also nowhere to plug in your new Thunderbolt drives for a start! 

If you edit for a living using Final Cut Pro X, you will not be disappointed. Although the machine may seem pricey to some, the speed boost you'll have will get you finished and out of the door earlier. A recent two day edit suggested by a client was actually completed in a day using the Mac Pro. That included the time installing the machine into an edit suite. Another example was a two hour DVD burning on Apple's USB DVD drive. Outputting directly from an FCPX HD timeline, we only remembered it was burning on the same machine we were editing on when it was ejected from the drive.

So as you can gather, we have been pretty impressed by the combination. It has also reawakened our love of editing, basically it's fun again. After many, many years of broadcast editing, sometimes it can be hard to be enthusiastic about the same thing you've made 10 times over. With the Mac Pro and FCPX 10.1, not only can you make things faster, you can add a lot more polish for the money in the time available. That means happier clients, which is always helpful as they are the ones who pay your bills. 

Is the combination a game changer? Yes. A lot of people in the industry who have turned their nose up at FCPX are going to be in for a rather rude shock when they have to start playing catchup.