FCP X: RAM vs Processor Upgrade

Discussion in 'Digital Video' started by jcmguitar, Dec 30, 2012.

  1. jcmguitar macrumors newbie

    Dec 9, 2012
    I have been deliberating for a while the best system to suit my needs and budget for producing instructional videos for my guitar students. I want to use FCP X, and would like to be quite creative with compositing, several camera angles, graphical fingerboard overlays etc. I would envisage each video to be about 30 minutes long. I don't want to create the next Avatar but do want to produce something more sophisticated than a simple holiday video.

    With my budget in mind and with the help of others on this Forum I have narrowed my search down to the 21.5 inch iMac with Fusion Drive. I have the funds to make only one further upgrade, either:

    - 16GB Ram upgrade (this cannot be done at a later date without computer surgery)

    - i7 Processor upgrade from the i5.

    Both options are the same price, and both options can only be done at the time of purchase (I don't fancy pulling the iMac apart).

    So what are your thoughts / experiences on this issue? Would the additional RAM trump processor prowess in my case or would the benefits of the i7's hyperthreading make it the preferred option?

    Many thanks.
  2. grooveattack macrumors 6502a

    Jan 9, 2008
    Hey, jcmguitar

    If I was in your situation i'd go with the i7 upgrade.

    I've found that for rendering and ingesting etc. the processor is going full pelt, and the hyper threading will help as well. Although saying that the RAM has to feed the i7 but 8GB should cope quite well. However if you want to run something like motion or photoshop as well (for the graphical finger boards) then 16gb of ram should be the way you go.

    FCPx is great in this way because it scales nicely. Does not matter if you have a super computer or a mac mini, it will use all the resources it can.
  3. jcmguitar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 9, 2012
    Thanks for that Grooveattack. Sorry I meant thanks for that, Grooveattack!

    So, more RAM would be better if I had multiple apps open at one time and the i7 would be more beneficial for specific tasks like ingesting, transcoding etc.

    What about the general smooth running of the editing process itself - are there any pros and cons in that department?

    The other thing that worried me a bit about the i7 was running temperatures, noisy fans kicking in etc. Would an i5 setup give a cooler-running system or am I obsessing over a non-issue here?

  4. grooveattack macrumors 6502a

    Jan 9, 2008
    I wouldn't say that heat would be an issue, or noise. unless you intend to be re encoding lots of super hi-res footage. HD should be perfect for the i7.

    RAM will be your best friend if you want final cut and photoshop open at the same time. but if its just final cut then 8GB should cut it fine.

    In terms of just a smooth running of the app an i7 would do well but like I say, if you intend to open up another pro app then you should be leaning over to the RAM upgrade. More apps open = more RAM

    Its annoying with the new 21 inch imac that you can't do the RAM later. That you have made life alot easier.
  5. jcmguitar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 9, 2012
    Yes - non user upgradable RAM was a bit of a shocker for me when the machines came out.

    I can foresee situations when I would need several Apps to be open along with FCP X so it may be unwise to ignore the RAM upgrade.

    Strong case for the i7 too, so it makes me wonder if I should skip that fusion drive upgrade although I would be reluctant to do this (was really looking forward to the snappy user experience).
  6. grooveattack macrumors 6502a

    Jan 9, 2008
    Sounds like the RAM might be your best option then.

    The fusion drive would be great for starting up apps and turning on the machine, much faster.

    But I'd imagine that all your footage will either be on the 1TB internal or an external so in terms of actually editing I doubt you'd see much improvement. once the apps are open the fusion drive would no longer be an advantage.

    Could you squeeze an extra $200 out of your budget and get the ideal machine??
  7. jcmguitar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 9, 2012
    I have been thinking about that suggestion a lot and it would not take a lot of persuasion, but when I add the software, cameras, scratch drives and other bits and pieces, the old "set your budget and stick to it" protocol is glaring at me!

    Your insights have been great thanks!
  8. bkd0255 macrumors member

    Dec 22, 2012
    Get both and ensure your computer is future proof for longer! You will be thankful for it in a few years if not you will look back at it in a few years and be like i should have gotten both. :cool:
  9. nateo200 macrumors 68030


    Feb 4, 2009
    Northern District NY
    Always and I mean ALWAYS ensure you get the maximum RAM you can get when your machine has soldered in RAM...Max out the machine so in a year you don't have regret with no option to fix it. When I went from 4GB's to even 6GB's of RAM I had a much nicer experience in FCP X...though I would recommend always getting 8GB's+ these days.
  10. chiefroastbeef, Jan 2, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2013

    chiefroastbeef macrumors 6502a

    May 26, 2008
    Dallas, Texas/ Hong Kong
    Get i7 and max ram... no need for fusion drive, you don't need to shave those extra seconds when opening apps, or start/shut down computer. You need more ram and cpu power to feed fcpx, or Adobe Suite if you have it. The stock drive is a bit slow at 5400rpm, but if your scratchdisk is stored on an external thunderbolt drive, the internal drive speed shouldn't matter too much.

    From what I'm seeing with the 21" iMac tear down on ifixit.com, the hard drive can be easily replaced, while if you want to replace the ram, you must unglue the screen before doing so. So the only logical choice is the upgrade the ram, and upgrade the 2.5" HD at a later date. :)
  11. phuocsandiego macrumors member

    Jun 19, 2012
    This is the correct call.

    Fusion Drive will do nothing to improve your editing work. NOTHING and I challenge anyone to show me why as it relates to video editing. You simply are not re-using enough of the same assets to make caching them give you a useful benefit, which is what the Fusion Drive is doing. Perhaps things like assets for your title sequence, credits, etc. are the same but that's small. The stuff in the middle, your main content, won't be used between different video editing sessions to make a difference.

    If you're set on the Fusion Drive though and must make a decision between the RAM upgrade or the processor upgrade, I vote for the RAM first.

    But this is just one person's opinion.
  12. jcmguitar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 9, 2012
    @chiefroastbeef and phuocsandiego

    Thanks for that. So do you reckon the money would be better diverted from a fusion drive to fast external storeage for footage etc. Interesting slant on things.
  13. matteusclement macrumors 65816


    Jan 26, 2008
    #1 is CPU
    #2 is 2nd hard drive
    #3 is ram

    I would switch 2 and 3 if it's soldered in.
  14. chiefroastbeef macrumors 6502a

    May 26, 2008
    Dallas, Texas/ Hong Kong
    Yea, I'd get a faster external drive instead, with thunderbolt. Video scratch files should be stored on a separate drive from the boot/programs drive anyways.

    PM me if you have more questions.
  15. Unami, Jan 6, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2013

    Unami macrumors 6502a

    Jul 27, 2010
    +1 for ram & cpu upgrade. fusion drive/ssd does nothing for your video-editing. and you'll need a fast external drive for video-data anyways (thunderbolt might be a bit expensive, though - a fast usb 3.0 drive should work as well)

    btw. afaik, fcpx uses a lot of ram if it gets access to it - but it's not dependent on it and runs just fine with 16gb or even 8.
  16. mauvehead macrumors newbie


    Jan 7, 2013
    I'm a new FCPX/Motion5 user (as of 7 months ago) and my current Mac is an '2011 MBP 17" with 8GB ram and a 500GB SSD and I'm still on Lion (I don't remember which quad-core processor I have...and I'm not on the MBP right now to verify). At any rate, I've recently done some work for hire that is very closely related to what you are talking about by way of a series of guitar demo videos for Vibrance Guitars. I used multiple camera angles for certain segments (everything from GoPro cams on headstocks to cheap webbie cams to a nicer Sony HD video cam to a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera). The biggest issue I've run into with this set-up has been when ingesting new footage from SD cards into FCPX...the importing process isn't too bad but the rendering and transcoding takes quite a while, and so much of my time (while filming) was spent waiting on FCPX to finish analyzing new footage.

    Also, I use an external Lacie RAID drive (2x 3TB 7200 HD's) with Thunderbolt to host all of the video footage and I just stream directly from that external drive when editing and honestly it seems like the Thunderbolt keeps the pace just fine and doesn't factor in as far as any lag goes. That being said, I do usually have to wait a few seconds whenever I add any sort of transition effects, color adjustments, or any other clip-related edits within FCPX...it's definitely not an instant rendering...but it isn't bad either. But the editing work is definitely workable with these specs/set-up. That being said, I can't help but think that having an SSD is a big benefit to the whole editing process, and it especially helps whenever I need to transfer large amounts of data back and forth between the Lacie and the MBP's internal...a 100GB transfer typically takes 90 secs or so. It's crazy fast and it spoils you pretty quick.

    On the other hand, when working in Motion 5 it seems like there is a complete different set of issues, namely the MBP's built-in graphics card struggles with any sort of intensive graphics rendering. To support the Vibrance demo videos I contacted all of our pedal, amp, mic, interface, etc manufacturers and got permissions to use their logos, mention their names in our equipment credits, and make vector animations of the gear we used. So then I bought Motion 5 and learned how to make graphics/animations, at which point I started designing the pedals, the amps, mics, the interfaces, etc, all with moving knobs, tubes that light up, LED's that dance as if being fed with signals, power lights that turn on/off, switches that can be flipped, etc.. In the course of doing all of that I started noticing serious lag issues when trying to play back my animation sequences in real time and so it made a lot of the editing a bit trickier, to wit I've had to guess on a lot of the edits, render out a test video to check how the edits looked, then go back in to make small adjustments again, etc., over and over until I got things to my liking. So the real issue here has been the lack of horsepower in the MBP's graphics card. So if you plan on doing a lot of graphics stuff (as a front end to FCPX or whatever), you may need to mentally prepare for challenges there when it comes to playback within Motion 5 itself. That being said, Motion 5 is a great piece of kit and for somebody like me who hadn't done any graphics or video work until 7 months ago, it has been very accessible and it has been fairly easy to get my head around. I'll link one of the Vibrance demos below to give you an idea of what sort of work I've been using FCPX for. The equipment animations won't be featured in a video until after the main guitar demos are finished, but I can PM you a link to a privately hosted video example of the Motion 5 stuff if you like (I sent out a forum friend request to facilitate this). Here's a link:


    Hope this has been helpful!
  17. jcmguitar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 9, 2012
    Many thanks for taking so much time responding to my thread.

    Your real-life insights are very helpful. The video looks good!

    The impression I get is one of max out what you can. Interesting thoughts on Motion too. I hadn't really fully considered how I was going to do the graphics, but what you are saying has helped confirm my decision against going for a Mac mini wit its integrated graphics.

    I would be very interested in the link, and think I have pushed the right buttons to accept the forum friend request!

    Many thanks again for your help.
  18. mauvehead, Jan 8, 2013
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2013

    mauvehead macrumors newbie


    Jan 7, 2013
    @ jcmguitar...

    I've run into a small caveat when trying to send you a link (via PM) for the one of the example animations I've been working on. I apparently need to have at least five posts to my credit within this forum in order to have permission to send a PM. So let me remedy that real quick and see if this works... :)
  19. charlituna macrumors G3


    Jun 11, 2008
    Los Angeles, CA
    As someone working in the industry I agree with those saying more ram and the i7 and skip the fusion drive. Yes running off SSD would be a bit faster but only if everything was on it which ain't gonna happen with the baby storage currently available.

    Scratch to thunderbolt drives if you can.
  20. chesbrougha macrumors newbie

    Dec 24, 2009
    Using all computers resources?

    I just wanted to make sure that my system is operating at it's fullest. The activity monitor is a little misleading. I have attached full screen shots of CPU, RAM, disk activity, but below is an example of why I am confused (example is based on the CPU within activity monitor 'while editing scenario'):

    CPU: 170%, 133 threads, 4.43 GB real memory BUT CPU is 82.23% ideal.

    Can someone please explain to me why 100% of my CPU is not being used? I should not have any disk speed bottlenecks as my RAID0 drive performs 350/450 R/W and my OS SSD is the fastest that they make.

    Any thoughts?

    Attached Files:

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