[UPDATE 3: In Nov, 2019, Apple released the 16″ MacBook Pro. While these specific recommendations refer to earlier MacBook Pros, my general suggestions in terms of where to spend money remain the same. UPDATE 2: In July, 2018, Apple updated MacBook Pros again. While the technology has changed, my general recommendations remain the same for these new units. UPDATE 1: In June 2017, Apple updated their MacBook Pro laptops with new processors, more SSD storage and renamed, but not changed, GPUs. ]
A frequent email request from readers is help in configuring a computer for video editing. There are many options and, sometimes, it is hard to decide the best place to spend your money.
Yes, the launch of the new MacBook Pro has had its share of controversy. But, what if you still need to buy a laptop for video editing? What do you really need? How much do you really need to spend?
You don’t need to spend a fortune to get the right system. Let me help you decide what you need to buy.
NOTE: Here are three other configuration articles you may find useful:
There are many reasons to buy a laptop, with portability leading the list. However, the MacBook Pro has enough power that you can reasonably consider it for your principle editing system, especially when you combine it with an external 5K or 4K monitor.
WHAT SIZE LAPTOP?
I recommend 15″.
Whether you are running Premiere or Final Cut, larger screen sizes help. Both these interfaces work better on larger screens.
Second, while Apple has expanded – and vastly improved – the speed and storage capacity of the MacBook Pro, I still recommend storing projects and media on an external drive. While there is a benefit to storing everything on the internal hard disk – portability and speed being two of them – using a second drive allows you to move projects between computers, as well as access to your data in the event your computer goes into the shop.
However, for best results, you would be well-advised to consider an external SSD if you want speed, or a RAID if you need more storage space. Single hard disks will work, but don’t equal the performance of the laptop itself, or these other two options.
DOES THE TOUCH BAR MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
I think it does. I found it increasingly helpful as I worked with the unit.
NOTE: Here’s an article that explains how the Touch Bar works in Final Cut Pro X.
SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT BATTERY LIFE?
I think the current battery controversy will be resolved quickly through software. However, even more than that, video editing burns through batteries, regardless of how long they are supposed to last.
For me, all my editing – even on the road – is done when I’m attached to wall power; excepting only the very tiniest projects. Since I’m never on battery power for editing, how long the batteries last is not an important consideration for me.
UPDATE: The battery issue was traced to a bug in the OS. This is no longer an issue.
WHAT SPEED CPU?
If you are principally doing video editing, you can save money by purchasing the 2.6 GHz processor. Both Premiere and Final Cut heavily leverage the GPU and, while the CPU is important, if you are on a budget, you can conserve dollars here.
UPDATE. As the processors and speeds have changed, read this now as: Editing does not require as fast a processor as video compression. The base level processor will be fine for most editing, while a faster processor will benefit compression.
However, if you are principally doing transcoding and compression, then the faster CPU makes sense as both of these tasks use the CPU much more than the GPU.
NOTE: Keep in mind that all the new MacBook Pros use hardware acceleration for H.264 compression, which makes creating videos for the web extremely fast even on slower processors.
UPDATE: And, the 2017 versions now support hardware acceleration for H.265 video.
If budget is driving this decision, selecting the slower processor will be fine, the differences between the two are not significant enough to warrant the extra cost.
HOW MUCH STORAGE?
The internal SSD storage of the new MacBook Pro is the fastest I’ve ever measured. It is SERIOUSLY fast!
If you plan to store your media and projects on an external drive of some sort, then get the 256 GB SSD. The operating system and all your applications will take less than 30 GB, leaving plenty of room for temp files and general work space.
However, if you need to have everything stored on the laptop itself, buy the most storage you can afford. SSDs have continued to increase in storage capacity. If you plan to store media externally, you don’t need a very large SSD. Again, the OS only takes about 30 GB of storage.
UPDATE: Here’s an updated article on storage speeds and media requirements that will help you put your storage needs into perspective.
This is the opposite side of the CPU question. A GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is specifically designed for rendering bitmapped images very, very quickly. For the first time, all MacBook Pro laptops include both the “built-in” GPU from Intel and a discrete (meaning “separate”) graphics system from AMD called “Radeon.”
There are three different Radeon GPUs: the 450, 455 and 460. The distinctions between them are the number of compute units – 10, 12, and 16, respectively – and the amount of VRAM – or RAM attached to the GPU itself. The 450 and 455 have 2 GB of VRAM, while the 460 has 4 GB. More compute units means more processing power, while more VRAM means faster performance.
NOTE: You can read more about these Radeon GPUs here.
UPDATE: With the 2017 upgrade, all GPUs were renamed, but not change. So, the Radeon 450 is now 550, 455 is now 555, and 460 is now 560. Performance and recommendations have not changed.
If you are principally doing video editing or motion graphics work, purchase the 455 or, if you can afford it, the 460.
If you are principally transcoding and compressing, the base-level 450 GPU will be fine.
SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT RAM?
All 15″ laptops have 16 GB of RAM. My tests have shown this is more than sufficient for virtually all video editing.
NOTE: Here’s an article that goes into editing performance on the MacBook Pro in much more detail.
DO I NEED CONVERTER CABLES?
Yes. The MacBook Pro only has USB-C ports. If you have existing devices, you’ll need a converter cable for Thunderbolt 2 devices and a second cable for traditional USB devices.
NOTE: Apple also realizes that we are in a transition phase between ports, so they’ve extended their promotional prices on Apple USB-C adapters (specifically, USB-C to USB-A, Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2, and USB-C to Lightning). Plus, the reduced pricing on the new LG 4K and 5K monitors have been extended to March 31, 2017.
Also, if you have a lot of devices, consider a dock, which takes a single USB-C cable from the computer and splits it into a wide variety of separate ports.
HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND?
The base level 15″ MacBook Pro is $2,399 (US). This will be fine for all SD and general HD editing that is not effects-heavy.
Adding a higher performance GPU to this system will improve effects and color grading performance and be adequate for virtually all HD editing, even multicam work. This raises the price to $2,599.
If you are working in 4K or higher resolutions, do lots of effects work in After Effects or Motion, and are principally focused on video editing, the higher end laptop with 512 GB of storage and a top of the line GPU will be a better choice. This raises the price to $2,899.
And, for those of you who believe that money is no object, the top of the line system complete with all the storage Apple can cram into it, will set you back $4,299.
If it were my money, I’d go with the $2,899 system:
As always, I’m interested in your opinions.
153 Responses to Configure a MacBook Pro for Video Editing [u]← Older Comments Newer Comments →
Thanks Larry! Yes, my computer is a Thunderbolt 3 with the two ports on each side. And though the 6-drive OWC is that much faster than the 4-drive, is it overkill if we’re going to be using 2k ProRes LT footage for our rough cutting/assembling purposes? Will I notice a difference on playback or scrubbing through such footage between the two? Its definitely a matter of cost so unless its appreciable I don’t think the production can justify it. Give me the hard truth!! And again, thank you so much.
For ProRes LT, a 4-drive RAID 5 will be fine.
Thank you Larry! At this point you deserve a credit on this movie!!! I really apprecaite you taking the time and giving me your expertise – incredibly helpful and stress-relieving!
I’m thinking of buying the new MacBook Pro 13 inch, 2.8 GHz i7, 16gb with the intel iris 655 Graphics . Would this be enough for heavy video editing / Final Cut Pro , premiere pro, after effects.
I need portability hence going for the 13 instead of the 15 inch. I configured the 13 inch to higher specs hoping it will handle heavy work?
It all depends upon what you mean “heavy work?” The Intel Iris GPU is not particularly powerful. The quality will be fine, but it isn’t fast.
Here’s an article that explains some of your trade offs. I am NOT! saying this is a bad system, simply that you have choices to make:
Editing pushes the CPU. Effects and exporting push the GPU. And, as the article indicates, larger frame sizes push the CPU harder.
Thank you, for the link. Very informative article.
Unfortunately cannot add the Radeon pro graphics to the configuration on the 13 inch/ which is a real let down.
Hi Blazo, I recently purchased a 13″ macbook pro with the same specs. I want to run the same video editing software that you listed. I am a beginner at video editing and now having buyer’s remorse about my new laptop. Did you end up buying it? If so, are you able to run all the video editing software well enough? Thanks!
I haven’t bought yet the MacBook I’m still looking around.
I’m pretty sure you can run all the programs listed, and it should be ok. I think if you use a lot of effects/ layers/color corrections etc on the videos it will most probably slow it down when you exporting the final product.
But since you have bought it you should go ahead and test it and see how it goes.Not sure if you are still under the warranty where you can return it and buy another machine ? (
You can test it to export various videos.
Export 5 min 1080- edited video clip and see the timing.
Export 5 min 4k edited video clip and see the timing .
Export 1 min or 2 min motion graphics – cinematic title or motion advert in After Effects or Apple motion and see the timing.
It may not be that bad as you think. Apple laptops are usually good for grsphic/video editing.
It is very difficult to find a small (13 inch) laptop which will have all top marks for video editing.
I researched so many different machines in the last couple of months (13 inches) and all seem to lack one thing or another when it comes to video editing. Anytime i find a good one that seems to check all the marks – then I come across some very bad review which puts me off.
So far I haven’t found even 1 13 inch laptop the has a 100 % positive review for video editing.(based on online reviews)
Otherwise see with apple if you can exchange it for the 15 inch entry level MacBook Pro ( 6 core i7 16 GB 256 GB, with AMD Radeon 555 4gb dedicated graphics. Not sure where you are based but here [Singapore}, the difference between the two is only 200 S$- and if not for the fact that I need 13 inch machine for easy travel, this would have been my first choice.).
The other thing to consider if you end up keeping the 13 inch MacBook Pro is , you can always use eGPU for the more heavy work (although the apple eGPU costs quite a bit).
Have look at the following link there are quite a few comments suggestions re video editing (it is from the same author as above
Hello my name is Triumph, im in confusion what laptop to buy for video editing, i saw macbook pro mid 2014.
ram of 16gb, 2.2ghz,core i7.
will it not lag while editing with adobe premiere pro
A mid-2014 laptop will probably be sufficient for standard definition and high-definition media. However, it would not be sufficient for 4K, HDR, RAW or Multicam editing.
I have always kept Final Cut Pro X on the MacBook Pro/iMac while all video files are on the external hard drive. The article seems to recommend keeping both FCP and video files in the same location- either both externally or both internally.
Is that correct? Does keeping them together increase speed and efficiency? Is it possible to keep FCPX copies in both? Thank you, Larry and a belated Happy Thanksgiving.
FCP X should always be kept in the Applications folder. Always.
Regarding media, though, I generally recommend storing it on external storage. While internal storage can be very, very fast, it has a very limited capacity. Even small projects can fill it quickly. For this reasons, I recommend using internal storage of the operating system, applications and work files, with projects and media stored externally.
Thank you. That information is very helpful. If I need to work very fast (breaking news out in the field)I can work internally and then later move the entire project to an external drive. Ridiculously slow compressing is what always slows me down.
And Compressor is, generally, the slowest compression software out there. For H.264 or HEVC compression, look into ffWorks.
I have benefitted greatly from your tutorials and newsletters over the years. I just ordered a late 2019 Mac Book Pro; I Core 9….1TB hardrive 32gb.. 8gb VRAM cost(3,400). I do HD and some 4k video editing on Final Cut Pro. Both of my computers cannot handle intense graphics anymore. I currently own a 2011 I Mac and 2013 Mac Book Pro. I really need an upgraded system. Ming-Chi Cuo indicated on Mac Rumors that Apple will come out with a refreshed 16″MBP in the fourth quarter of 2020 with a Mini LED display and a new I Core 10 core processor. I would hate to spend that kind of money without having the latest updates and experience buyers remorse. I do not have any pressing projects at the moment. I was wondering if I should cancel my order or wait until the refreshed 16″MBP comes out later this year?
The basic rule in all of tech is: whatever you buy today will be out of date in 6 months. Always. So, whether you buy now or wait, you’ll still be buying gear that will be obsolete.
Which means this is the wrong question. The better question is: Is my work today being hampered by the gear I currently own? If the answer is yes, buy now. If the answer is no, wait. A corollary is: Never make buying decisions based on a rumor.
The system you ordered is a powerful system that will blow the doors off the gear you are using now.
Hi. I am suffering from a case of not”taking the leap”. I have a 16 Macbook pro that has been fantastic, up until I started editing 360 and long 4K videos. These are motorcycle videos (lots of action and movement) and I sometimes have to edit in overscan for a virtual environment (maybe twice a year). The videos are often hours long and I have to edit them down to 10 to 20 minutes. I will be using an external 512GB thunderbolt for working files. Below are the two macs I can’t decide between. The MACBOOK has an edge due to portability, but as I said, I can still use my 2016 for mobile stuff. I just can’t see the edit live. It is too jerky to see what the final product will look like.
So, if it were your money… at this price point, which would you get?
AMD with 8GB
1TB SSD storage
Raedon Pro Vega 20
I cannot decide between the two. Help. lol.
You need performance more than portability. Get the iMac.
Looking to pick up my first MacBook Pro. I’ll be using it for video and audio editing. What I am looking at is:
16″ MacBook Pro (Late 2019)
2.6 GHz Intel Core i7 6-Core
32GB of 2666 MHz DDR4 RAM
AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU (8GB GDDR6)
It will be primarily used for recording and producing all aspects of weekly church services for streaming, podcasting, and miscellaneous other video/audio projects. I’ll pick up an external SSD when it becomes necessary.
Being new to the MacBook Pro, I’m weighing whether I should jump up to the 2.4 GHz Intel Core i9 8-Core processor. I’m trying to be smart and not spend money to spend it.
Based on reading your article and others it seems to be, but I figured I’d run the specifics by you to get your thoughts.
Thanks for your time.
Given your description, there’s no advantage to you moving from an i7 to an i9. Stay with the i7. You’ve selected a great system – it should do everything you want.
Larry, I’m so glad you included this article in your latest newsletter – it’s perfect. I’ve been wondering about this very subject as I anticipate purchasing on-the-road editing equipment in the near future. Thank you!
I’m glad you liked it.