iMac specs for video editing

Discussion in 'iMac' started by biomes, Sep 30, 2017.

  1. biomes macrumors newbie


    Sep 30, 2017
    Nashville, TN
    I've been wanting to switch to a Mac for video editing for a really long time and now I finally have the ability to do so! I feel like any iMac I buy is going to be an upgrade from what I've been using, but I want something that I can upgrade even more later on down the road. I'm a multimedia artist mainly working in the realm of video art. I'm shooting on a T5i and working with Premiere Pro, but I will also be working with After Effects (looking to get the whole suite actually). My current projects don't exceed 30 minutes in length (most of the time, they are under 10 minutes).

    In case you were curious, this is what I have been working with:
    Sony VAIO laptop running Windows 7, Intel core i3-2370m CPU @ 2.40GHz, RAM 4GB

    I've had that laptop for 6 years now and it's been a bit of a struggle running Premiere on it, but hey, I'm patient! I just don't know how much more it can take and I'm working way more in video than I have since college (where they had like 10 Macs per student!), so it's time to let this old friend rest a while.

    Any advice would be fantastic! I can give you more info if you need it ;)
  2. poematik13 macrumors 6502a

    Jun 5, 2014
    I'm assuming you want the 27". The 21" isn't ideal, as it has non-upgradeable parts and similar specs to a 15" MBP.

    You definitely want to max out your CPU and GPU as these can't be upgraded later and modern codecs and resolutions love to use as much resources as they can. Especially Premiere, which is a notorious CPU hog.

    So 4.2ghz i7 and 580 GPU for sure. You can drop to 575 GPU if you don't have the budget. VRAM is critical for when you start working with UHD/4K resolution, so the 580 future proofs you.
    Get the 8GB stock ram and upgrade it yourself from amazon (crucial is cheap)
    Make sure you have an SSD. Get the small one if it's all your budget allows. Keep all your projects on external drives, and always render out to an external drive as that increases speed.

    If you have to do the 21" for budget, make sure it's the max (i7, 560 GPU, and at least 16GB RAM. SSD is a must too)

    This computer will last you a long time and you'll have a lot of great projects with it.
  3. kschendel macrumors 65816

    Dec 9, 2014
    I agree with most of this, but a clarification: the internal SSD will be faster than any external drive. Get the largest internal SSD you can afford / need and keep your current projects on it, with inactive / less active stuff on external drives. For what you're doing, I think I would avoid the Fusion drives.

    Don't forget to plan for backups!
  4. Wondermutt macrumors newbie

    Sep 30, 2017
    Is this the case even if you order the iMac with an SSD?
  5. Samuelsan2001 macrumors 604

    Oct 24, 2013
    Nothing on an iMac is upgradeable down the line that simple really if you want to be able to upgrade anything other than RAM then a desktop tower is your only option, laptops and all in ones may take a little more ram or bigger hard drive but that's where your upgrades end and apples proprietry drive connectors for SSD's make even that very difficult.

    If this does not put you off, then we will need far more detail on the sort of editing you wish to do (1080p 4k etc frame rates colour gamut etc) and which software you want to use. For example FCPX is brilliantly optimised for macs and runs rings round most anything else on the same hardware but adobe products won't run any better than on a PC.

    Also you may want to think about what you plan on doing over the next 4 or 5 years, will your needs change much??

    I would recommend for a general editing machine at least the 575 pro card and a 512gb SSD on the 27 inch machine, you can upgrade the ram yourself so no worries there, the i7 can be useful in video editing it will really lower the export time in some multithreaded apps but its not a must.

    Anything you get will likely be a ridiculously huge improvement over the vaio you are using though so if this computer makes you money getting a new one is a must.
  6. BeechFlyer macrumors regular


    Nov 5, 2015
    Cedar Rapids, IA
    That's good advice. The SSDs in the new iMacs are very, very fast. For serious video editing work, get at least the 1TB SSD if you don't have enough money saved for the 2TB SSD. If you don't have enough saved for the 1TB SSD, save until you do - thank me later.

    A RAID of mechanical drives - while great for backup purposes - may give you around 500 MB/s. The new iMac's SSD will do over 2 GB/s. They are simply in different leagues.
  7. poematik13 macrumors 6502a

    Jun 5, 2014
    Yes. A project stored on the internal SSD and rendering a deliverable file out to an external drive will always be faster, because you're doing all the reading on one (SSD) and writing out to the other (HDD)
  8. kschendel macrumors 65816

    Dec 9, 2014
    Unless you have numbers to prove this, on a 2017, I don't believe it. If the rendering can run fast enough to keep reading from the internal SSD at max transfer rates, it *might* be true that writing to an external SSD would be faster, but not an external HDD. SSD's don't have seek delays so unless the render process is almost entirely I/O bound, which seems unlikely, the best way forward is to write to the fastest device, which is the internal SSD. (Those writes ought to be cached filesystem writes which the OS can flush out while computation is taking place; if that's not how it is working, either the app or the OS is doing something wrong...)

    Now, if we were talking about a machine with internal SATA SSD, I'd be more willing to believe; but the 2017 internal SSD isn't SATA, it's direct PCIe. (whether nvme or something else, I don't know, and it doesn't really matter.)

    In any case, the buying advice remains the same, which is to buy the largest internal SSD that you can afford.
  9. joema2 macrumors 68000


    Sep 3, 2013
    This is an important point. While this is a Mac forum and we obviously like Macs, the OP was running exclusively Adobe software. It does not run any better or faster on a Mac than a comparable PC, and in fact Adobe is slower to update items on Mac such as Quick Sync transcoding.

    There are lots of good Windows machines which will deliver more performance per dollar than a Mac when running Premiere Pro or After Effects, plus they are upgradable (which the OP wanted). The in-app UI is essentially the same.

    Some Adobe software is so poorly written that there is simply no choice but throw massive amounts of hardware at it to try and improve the performance. E.g, even on a top-spec 2017 iMac 27, some LightRoom CC functions actually slow down when enabling GPU acceleration. On a Windows machine you can add a GTX 1080 Ti, overclock it, liquid cool it -- whatever it takes to compensate for the slow software. You don't have those options on a Mac.
  10. MacStu09 macrumors regular

    Aug 27, 2009
    Honestly, ^joema hit the nail on the head. There is no reason for you to spend the extra money on a Mac for an Adobe workstation setup. You can get significantly better performance, as your options are much greater on a PC. In addition to that, you'll have far more upgrades along the line.

    If you get more into color grading and complex AE animation, you'll hit even the current high end iMac's limits fairly quickly, and then you're back in the boat of needing an upgradeable PC workstation anyways. If you shop smart enough, you can pick up a decent used mac and a nice editing PC for the same price as a brand new mac, if not less. I use a Macbook Pro for all my personal stuff and a PC Workstation for my professional work, and I'm very happy with that setup.
  11. Sirmausalot macrumors 6502a


    Sep 1, 2007
    Joema--If I'll be editing Pro Res HQ 4:2:2 4K footage, would Final Cut Pro X be better/faster than Adobe Premiere Pro? I've heard slightly conflicting views? It will be a long form project. I'll be running external RAID 0 drives and I'm also wondering if total cache on the drives (256mb versus 512mb) will make a difference in 4K editing performance.
  12. CaptRB macrumors 6502a


    Oct 11, 2016
    LA, California
    As stated many time before, I work in the Hollywood community.

    Professional editors with these new machines work with external drives PERIOD. Some of the editing suites have the 2 TB FD drives and some have 512 or 1TB SSD, but they all have external SSD where the bulk of the work is handled. They don't like to work with the internal SSD because the work is more vulnerable to a system failure.

    Top level i7 with the 580 card is the most common configuration. SSD's are varied, but the Samsung units seem popular.

    I know folks who handle animatics for movies and cut features. It's 27" i7, 580, 32GB RAM, SSD or 2TB FD and a bunch of drives which handle various cuts and backups. Naturally you can do work with much less of a system, but this is the current level for off-the-shelf video editing stations.

  13. Michael Scrip, Oct 4, 2017
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2017

    Michael Scrip macrumors 603

    Mar 4, 2011
    Isn't there some point of diminishing returns?

    Yes... the iMac's internal SSDs have a 2,000MB/s read speed.

    But will you actually notice a difference editing video from that fast internal SSD versus an external SSD that has a 500MB/s read speed?

    Don't get me wrong... I absolutely agree that you should have an SSD as your boot drive. It's 2017 and your OS drive should not be any sort of spinning disk (including Fusion)

    I'm just wondering if you'll notice the speed editing from an external SSD media drive.

    500MB/s isn't exactly "slow" for editing DSLR footage. I see a lot of editors using Samsung T3 or T5 as their media drives.
  14. BeechFlyer macrumors regular


    Nov 5, 2015
    Cedar Rapids, IA

    It probably depends a lot on what exactly you work on. I do a lot of multi-camera work, so there's a multiplier (four to six on my typical projects) on the required data transfer rate. I can see how for a single video stream, even using high quality codecs, it might not feel much different.
  15. xWhiplash macrumors 68000

    Oct 21, 2009
    I agree. Adobe runs best on Windows so I would just get a Windows PC. However, if Final Cut Pro X interests the OP at all, I would say go for a Mac.

    I hate using my Adobe programs on my Mac. In fact, I got rid of my full suite subscription and just got a subscription for After Effects. Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer are much smoother and all I need.
  16. poematik13 macrumors 6502a

    Jun 5, 2014
    No numbers, just experience. It's the way NLE's (FCP, Premiere, Resolve, etc...) intrinsically work when writing out/delivering files. Fast internal (SSD) that dumps to something external (HDD, etc) will be faster than internal doing both at the same time on itself. This was a lot more dramatic of a difference during the days when everything was HDD, but the principal still holds.

    I agree that the machine should always be SSD, it's the most ideal internal storage system with today's tech.
  17. phobos macrumors regular

    Feb 25, 2008
    As everyone else mentioned already max out everything and you’ll have a) a really capable machine that will do everything you want it to do and b) you’ll have a machine that will last you a few more years.

    The good news is that whatever you buy it will be able to handle everything you throw at it.
    I’m still editing 4K and doing lots of 3D work on a late 2012 maxed out iMac. And I can do everything with relative ease.

    Of course there are some stutters here and there but I can’t complain. It’s a 5 year old machine.

    Definitely consider getting final cut x. It’s ridiculous how optimized it is!
  18. joema2 macrumors 68000


    Sep 3, 2013
    This is not my experience, at least when exporting to typical long GOP formats like H264. Rendering, encoding and exporting is a chain of events. A chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

    The writing rate to the output file is typically low because it is CPU or GPU-limited -- that is usually the weak link. Strengthening already-strong links (such as I/O) generally does little to improve export performance. No need to take my word for it -- anyone can examine this by using Activity Monitor and looking at the writing rate to the output drive during export from FCPX or Premiere CC. On a 4k H264 video I just exported from FCPX, the average writing rate was about 5 megabytes/sec. That is on a top-spec 2017 iMac 27 with 2TB SSD. That SSD is capable of over 2,000 megabytes/sec, but this did nothing to accelerate the file export since it was already bottlenecked at the CPU & GPU.

    Repeating the test with a plain H264 4k file produced similar results -- despite using Quick Sync "faster encode" to reduce CPU load, plus GPU not loaded due to no effects in the timeline.

    If output is 4k ProRes or DNxHD or uncompressed RAW video, this situation totally changes. In those cases the I/O rate can be can be relatively high (over 100MB per sec) and if all the content is on a single drive the I/O streams for cache and media could compete with that.

    If editing a multicam ProRes or DNxHD timeline, then the I/O rates can be very high. However in those same cases the data volumes are typically too large to fit on most Mac internal SSD drives. So in that case a 3TB Fusion Drive might be big enough but not fast enough, yet a 512GB SSD would be fast enough but not big enough.

    The OP is using a Canon T5i so he's not using 4k, ProRes or DNxHD -- he's using long GOP 1080p H264, which has a low I/O rate.

    I think the free Magic Lantern firmware for the T5i can enable RAW video, which would drive up editing I/O rates tremendously, but I doubt the OP is planning on that:
  19. poematik13 macrumors 6502a

    Jun 5, 2014
    Our deliverables are almost always prores so that was the perspective I was coming from. Even back in the DSLR stone age we still transcoded all the dailies to prores with

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18 September 30, 2017