Is MacBook Pro (non retina) good enough for (HD) video editing?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by James Dean, Sep 22, 2013.

  1. James Dean macrumors newbie

    Sep 22, 2013
    Hey guys. I'm going to film school in a few weeks and I need a new laptop to do (hd) video editing. I've heard everywhere that macbook pros are the ideal option but their specs (at least for the types I can afford at the moment) seem weak compared to windows laptops. Anyway, I have my eyes on two MacBook Pros (non retina), the one having Quad-Core i7 2.3GHz/4GB/500GB/GeForce GT 650M 512; the other Quad-Core i7 2.4GHz/4GB/750GB/Radeon HD 6770M 1GB. I have a few questions about them. First off, is any of them good enough for smooth hd video editing? I'll be doing a lot of that so it needs to be fast enough. Would it be better to buy a price equivalent windows laptop with certainly better specs? If it has to be a macbook, is it that necessary to buy a retina? I know it has an amazing screen but I'll have to save up more and I'd like to know if it's even worth it. Thanks in advance!
  2. Cubytus macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    In film school, as many other art schools, you should never bother buying anything else than Mac, unless specifically requested (in which case I would be wondering about school's professionalism!). Still, they surely have a shortlist of recommended platforms.

    The 4GB RAM is a no-go for HD. You'll want to upgrade that, not necessarily at time of purchase since Apple charges so much for RAM upgrades. And no laptop-sized hard drive would be speedy enough for HD video editing. You'll want to add a RAID-based external drive, and that adds a lot to your base cost. SSD would be interesting, but their prices in higher capacities preclude their use for HD video storage.

    So is it worth it, definitely yes, especially as the non-Retina can take 16GB RAM and boast faster CPUs overall. Of course you won't be able to discern rendering quality, but the advantages make up for that loss.
  3. adamneer macrumors 6502

    Apr 18, 2013
    Chicago, IL
    They are more than capable of HD video editing. In fact, I used a Late 2008 MBP with core 2 duo to edit HD video with very little difficulty. You have to realize that there are many factors that influence the speed and efficiency of video work on a computer. Processing power (the i7 is certainly nice to have but not a necessity), RAM! (with video, more is always better), graphics card (this is actually not as important with editing as it is in compositing/motion graphics since there are only certain features that utilize the gfx card) and probably most important and least considerred is HARD DRIVE SPEED. The hard drive that comes with MBPs is very slow. Luckily, they are cheap and easy to replace on the non retina MBPs. Ideally you would want at least a 2 drive setup, which can be accomplished using an external 7200rpm drive as your media storage and the internal drive with your programs/plugins installed. If you are using Adobe products, you will benefit from the NVidia card more than the ATI because currently Adobe relies on CUDA cores for some of their special features (though they aren't required). Also, with Adobe, you will want to immediately set up a custom location for your scratch disks because the default is a terribly buried system folder which is difficult to locate for quick emptying (the cache files can build up quickly and theres no reason to keep cache files for projects you arent currently working on).

    Anyway, back to the original question, YES.
  4. adamneer macrumors 6502

    Apr 18, 2013
    Chicago, IL
    You will WANT to add a RAID based external drive, but in my experience, outside of long form edits and broadcasting, a 7200rpm drive with proper cooling and USB 3 connection will more than suffice. What I would do is buy an optical bay "data doubler", take out the stock HDD completely, buy a 128gb SSD (id recommend Samsung 840 Pro series or 840 evo as they both have much faster read/write performance than most of the competition) use that for your OS and programs, then put in another 1tb WD Black or Seagate Barracuda (both are 7200rpm) 2.5" HDD in using the data doubler. Depending on the cooling route inside the computer, id put the SSD in whichever location will see less airflow, since youll want optimal cooling for the spinning drive. This drive will be good for leveraging what you don't run off the external 3.5" 7200 drive i.e. media and project files stored on external, as well as disk cache, program files stored on SSD (perhaps, if theres enough space, setup a folder for an alternative disk cache since SSD will provide vastly improved caching speed without seek time, then when you need to render a project, setup a temporary render folder somewhere on the additional internal disk drive so you are reading from one drive and writing to another. the key to everything is that you are never reading and writing from the same drive, and if you absolutely must do so, let it be the SSD since they can do this without the back and forth seeking of a disk drive.
  5. Cubytus macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    Well, doing HD video editing, I bet he will have to install the DVD or Blu-Ray burner somewhere, probably in an external enclosure. This is not too expensive, though. USB 3 is nice, but considering the load CPU will see in HD editing, aren't you afraid the USB protocol would take a significant chunk of CPU power?
  6. adamneer macrumors 6502

    Apr 18, 2013
    Chicago, IL
    its possible he will need the burner, but as you said, thats what external enclosures are meant for. he would be much better served utilizing that SATA III connection for more internal storage. As far as the USB requiring more CPU power, I have not experienced any noticeable difference in performance whether over Firewire or USB3, other than that of the drive speed and data transfer rate. Now, USB2 would be a poor choice for editing via external, but I've found nothing wrong with using 3.0. I think theres a common misconception of how much computing power is required to work with HD video. You are talking about a standard which has been around for about 8 years in the prosumer editing world so computers have been given plenty of time to beef up their processing power to handle it. Besides, even if it is too much for a computer to edit natively, there is always offline editing, where you'd create low res versions of your media to act as proxies to work with until you're ready to export the final product using the full res source files. Also of note: some codecs are much more edit friendly than others. AVCHD and H.264 Mpg files are not as easy on the processor as Apple ProRes or AIC, or the newer MXF files that some Sony and Canon cameras create.
  7. jjhoekstra macrumors regular

    Apr 23, 2009
    I use a rMBP for video-editing, and it is great. I choose the retina version obviously for the screen but even more importantly for the far better cooling-system it has. Video-editing produces a lot of heat and the retina is far more efficient in getting rid of this heat.
    It is also important to realise that the heavy lifting is done by the GPU and not by the CPU, so spend your money on a faster GPU rather than CPU.
    On my rMBP memory-use NEVER goes above 8G, so 8G seems enough for now. I have 16 and it slows the start-up after sleep.
    Finally try to get to get at least 512G ssd. That is enough for 10 or so bigger projects in parallel and is a far faster solution than 2 spinning disks.
    A big external hdd, could be USB, is all that is needed to complete an efficient system. Moving a project to or from the external disk is easily done and takes a few minutes max.
  8. Intlreporter macrumors newbie

    Sep 23, 2013
    Faster is better, but...

    But most of this is gear fetishism.

    I'm a TV reporter, shooting/editing on the road for a decade now. Stuff that networks broadcast. I use 2011 MacBook Pro, shooting 1080i on sony EX cams. But I started with a 2005 TiBook, running FCP7, to edit Sony DV 1080p.. that worked just fine ... not blazing fast, but to deadlines.

    What matters most is the amount of rendering / composting you plan or need to do as student. A lot of FX work? titling? Filtering? That's when a fast processor and max RAM etc matter. But the difference really between models (and even a few year old models) is 30 sec wait, unless you are doing huge amounts of complex pro-level rendering. If you are just doing simple editing, color correction, etc there is no difference.

    So a non retina is just fine, especially is you are on a budget. Some extra RAM is always good. And, yes, if you have many large projects, you will need an external drive for all that footage data, but thunderbolt is more than fast enough. Flash storage is only really needed if you bang up you laptop a lot and are worried about drive failure; or you absolutely positively need the fastest, bestest, look-at-me gear.

    But here's my 2 cents.

    If you are a film student, the most important thing is being able to see your material on screen. A big screen. And a 15 laptop monitor, even retina, means you are staring at small spaces all day.

    I'd, frankly, buy an iMac.

    Unless you're doing huge amounts of rendering it should serve you just fine. (If you have a project and want to send it to film festivals, etc .. Your teachers will probably tell you to take it to a Post shop anyways). Take the money you'd save buying a top of the line MBP retina and but a refurbished Air or something if you need portability. (Yes, you have even do most simple HD editing on an Air ... Or even a iPad and Bluetooth keyboard if you just need to surf, notes, docs, email etc) .

    The most important thing. Garbage in, garbage out. It doesn't matter what kind of laptop or camera you buy, if you don't have a good story (script+character), and don't take the time to setup the shot (framing+light).

    A laptop is just a tool. Film is an art.
  9. Cubytus macrumors 65816

    Mar 2, 2007
    We all know that USB is inefficient at the protocol level itself. Of course CPUs are beefier, but being constantly interrupted with request from USB port doesn't help. I don't know for USB3, it is not in my last-year's MacBook Pro. Thunderbolt should do it, if, and only if he can find a decent Thunderbolt drive that is not priced like gold. Does creating such a proxy takes a great deal of time?

    You mean 2-D decoding is accelerated by the GPU? Should depend on the codec. The first time I read someone telling a more cramped computer cools off better..

    It seems you forgot that a "at least" 512GB SSD is an extremely expensive option. You're not operating on the same budget, clearly.

    The only remark I have is you seem to miss that students need to be mobile. As compact as is an iMac, it is not mobile. And not sure any Air would hold enough power, or RAM, or storage, for even small projects, let alone proper cooling. We all know that SSDs are more shock-resistant, but I am afraid to feel what editing a HD project from a spinning drive while multitasking would give as an experience. Surely painful wait times.
  10. flowareab macrumors newbie

    Sep 23, 2013
    good, That is enough for 10 or so bigger projects in parallel and is a far faster solution than 2 spinning disks.[​IMG]
  11. Intlreporter macrumors newbie

    Sep 23, 2013
    A refurbished iMac 21.5"', quad-core 2.7 i5, 1tb drive p, 8gb ram is about $1100 at the apple store.

    That will do pretty much everything a film student would need to do with HD material (and pretty much the vast majority of editors. Motion pictures were edited on FCP Studio, 5 years ago, on weaker hardware). Big screen, fewer heating and drive concerns.

    S/he can then also buy a refurbished Air, they start at around $750. I've done basic editing on an Air, and it isn't an issue (but, to be fair, haven't tried AVCHD which has been a processor hog .. I understand sony/apple is working on FCPX handling of the codec, and it is getting better)

    Add it up, $1850. $50 more than the 15" non-ret MacBook (with smaller drive, less Ram, comparable processor and graphics). Upgrading to a 27" iMac would still be cheaper than a retina MacBook.

    This is for school. Not business. S/he's not doing intensive, 18hr a day, everyday, professional, workstation editing / rendering / post. And in a few years s/he'll graduate and likely have access to the hardware to really to the high-processor jobs. .. The stuff bought now, will still be good for all the personal computing, portable and home, that they'll need for years to come.

    Of course, the issue now ... New iMacs and MacBooks will likely be annouced in October. .. I wouldn't buy either new right now, and the refurbisheds will likely see a price drop..
  12. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    IPS displays tend to deliver better color, but none of them last forever. I hesitate to say more accurate, as that requires a real explanation on my part (which I don't have time to type right now). They have better viewing angles and things, but it still doesn't grant you anywhere near what you can get from a desktop display of high quality. I wouldn't worry too much about that in school. I suspect some of your more advanced classes go into more than just cutting footage. The ram issue is really going to be a matter of how you use that machine. Some things just soak up ram, so I usually go with more is better. If you're going with the non - retina, it can go as high as 16. The only downside to an imac is that it can't accompany you to class. If you work in the same spot, it's fine. if you were tied to an array of monitors, raid storage, and other peripherals, you wouldn't be very mobile anyway.
  13. adamneer macrumors 6502

    Apr 18, 2013
    Chicago, IL
    I second the suggestion to go with a 27" iMac. the refurbished store usually has some pretty good deals and you will get more for your money. in fact, even though my most recent purchase was a 15" retina, I am still envious of the beautiful 27" iMac. Besides, no serious work should ever be expected to be performed on a completely mobile setup (with exceptions for broadcast journalism and related fields)

    the reason i got my rMBP was that it had higher benchmarks than the iMac that was in my price range, and I needed a laptop to replace my older late 08 MBP for when clients require me to work on site. I already had a current gen Mac Mini for use at home with my 2 large monitors, so it made more sense to upgrade my mobile setup. that said, as soon as i got the rMBP, i no longer found a viable need for my Mac Mini, since I prefer working with the rMBP attached to my monitors so I can utilize the discrete graphics for 3D ray traced After Effects rendering, and it is quite a pain switching a bundle of wires between 2 machines. Plus, trying to keep up with updating software and plugins, as well as project files on 2 different hard drives is a pain as well and it makes keeping backups all the more difficult. I considerred keeping the Mini around to use as a render box, but that seemed like more effort than it was worth and it was too much of a luxury to justify not selling it. Also, it would have required me to keep an extra monitor attached, as well as another keyboard and mouse.

    All that, to say, you can do basic edits on any number of machines. HD is not as demanding as you think (4K is a whole different story though). You can use what comes with whatever computer you end up getting and be satisfied. Eventually, if you are serious about it, you will want to upgrade some of your setup. Thats when bigger, faster drives, maxing out ram and adding additional monitors or peripherals comes in. Industry types will swear up and down you need nothing less than a RAID configuration and workstation graphics in order to edit. Independent freelancers like myself will insist on more of a refined, middle ground setup that gives you more options and makes your life easier in certain aspects. But the truth is, for someone starting out, all you need is a computer made within the last 3 years to edit video comfortably.

    oh, and just to brag, i wanted to mention that i got my 15" retina from the refurbished store for $1600, which, for the 8gb RAM model i ordered, was around a $500 discount from new. When i got the computer though, i discovered that it was actually a 16GB RAM model, making my purchase through apple's refurbished store an $800 savings over new retail. so the moral is, always check the refurb store first!

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