Larry’s Thoughts on the New MacPro

Posted on by Larry

First, let’s be clear: The new MacPro is not yet shipping. So, like a group of blind folks describing an elephant, we are getting a lot of different opinions on what this new animal is.

Second, the instant Apple revealed it at the WWDC last spring, I wanted one.

Third, buying new hardware is stressful and expensive; especially when it comes to hardware essential to our business.

So, the question I want to answer today is: Since I need to save my pennies to buy this, where do I get the best bang for the buck? And my answers are the same if I were working with Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere CC, or audio editing in ProTools or Audition.

If money means nothing to you, then buy the system with all the bells and whistles. Then, sit back and smirk while the rest of us hate you. For most of us, buying hardware is a trade-off between what we want and what we can afford. In other words, if finding the balance between the best performance at the best price is important to you, this article is for you.


Last week, Apple posted more details about the MacPro (including performance and tech specs):

They also announced two configurations: a four-core CPU system starting at $2,999 and a six-core CPU system starting at $3,999. Within those two categories, Apple has not yet announced any other options or pricing. The MacPro is scheduled to ship in December. No date was announced.

Based on what we know, there are five areas we can spend money on with this unit:

So, given these choices, where should we spend our money?


Surprisingly, it isn’t the CPU. Any CPU today can easily edit video – even high-resolution video. If you are editing single stream video, even high-resolution, the four-core system will be more than adequate. More cores will be helpful with multicam editing.

Because rendering and exporting is off-loaded to the GPU, a screamingly-fast CPU is not as important as it was in years past. Again, more cores and faster CPU speed is nice, but no longer essential. There are better places to put your money.

Specifically, the best place to spend your money is on the GPU. Get the fastest one you can afford, with as much VRAM as possible. Whether you are editing with Premiere Pro CC or Final Cut Pro X, both max out GPU performance.

RAM is user-upgradeable. This means that you can buy less than you might ultimately need, then upgrade as RAM prices come down and third-party vendors provide reliable upgrades. For me, I’d start with a minimum of 8 GB, then add RAM via third-parties.

NOTE: I don’t expect a lot of RAM options to be available at launch. It will probably take suppliers like Kingston – – or Crucial – – a while to ramp up to meet demand.

SECOND NOTEI spoke with the folks at Kingston earlier today, who told me that, according to the specs of the MacPro: “It can take [RAM] up to 1866MHz in speed, and up to 16GB modules in each of the four slots.  We will have memory for this.  [Since] the product will be released in December we don’t have an ETA on our memory yet.”


The Mac Pro supports up to 1 TB of SSD (Solid State Drive) storage. First, you don’t need that much, and second, I’m not convinced SSDs are the way to go for media. Instead, an SSD drive is ideally suited for the boot drive. I have an SSD-enhanced iMac (a Fusion drive) that goes from powered off to fully operational in nine seconds. I expect the MacPro to be even faster.

SSD drives are ideal for files that are accessed over and over. This means that you get the best performance when accessing operating system and application files. This also means that you don’t need to get the biggest SSD; the OS and applications you get will never fill it.

Let me give you a specific example. On my current MacPro, my Application folder contains the entire Adobe CS6 and CC Suites, plus the entire Final Cut Studio (3) Suite, FCP X, and every plug-in and software gewgaw known to the mind of man. And the total Application folder takes only 42 GB to store.

In fact, everything on my boot drive – EVERYTHING – is only 220 GB. (And that includes a desktop folder that holds more files than I will ever admit to storing in public.) A boot drive of 250 GB is more than adequate for the OS and applications.

NOTE: There’s an axiom in the storage business that the faster a unit transfers data, the less data it can hold and the more it costs.

Rather than buy a large, internal SSD drive, I plan to spend a small fortune on a high-speed, fully-loaded Thunderbolt RAID 5 with a minimum of 8 drives. THAT provides all the storage and performance I need — even for editing 2K multicam clips containing up to 30 angles!

Think about it. Shoots are creating more and more media. My recent 13-episode 2 Reel Guys shoot geneerated 1.5 TB of data. There is no reason this should be stored on a boot drive. External media is plenty fast, holds a ton of media and can be easily transported from one place to another.

Spend your money on external storage, not the internal SSD drive.


Simply connecting a single hard drive to a computer via Thunderbolt does NOT mean you are getting Thunderbolt speeds. Just the opposite. As a rough measure, a spinning hard disk that is not enhanced with a small internal SSD booster, can read and write data about 120 MB/second, whether it is connected by USB 3 or Thunderbolt. (FireWire, by contrast, slows the drive down to about 80 MB/second.)

This means that in order to get the speed you expect from a Thunderbolt connection, you need to keep combining drives in a single unit (which is what a RAID is). To fully saturate (fill) a Thunderbolt 2 pipe, you would need a RAID containing about 20 drives!


There’s been a lot of complaining about the lack of PCIe slots on the MacPro. I’m sympathetic, but, frankly, I’m not bothered by this.

Every significant vendor who supplies hardware to the Mac community is working on Thunderbolt devices. AJA, ATTO, Blackmagic Design, Matrox, Sonnet — all of them. Why? Because Thunderbolt devices are easier to install, configure, and, most importantly, support.

Plus, the new hardware data bus inside the Mac Pro is faster than the PCIe bus we’ve been using in current MacPros.

NOTE: For those with significant investments in PCIe cards, Sonnet has announced an expansion chassis that holds the cards and converts the interface into Thunderbolt 2.

For me, the simplicity of plugging in what I need and getting on with my work FAR outweighs the slight performance increase that might be obtained by custom-building a system. (Then, again, I’ve never been fascinated by doing my own home or car repairs. Others, though, find it fascinating. Each to his own.) I prefer getting work done to wasting time configuring; and Thunderbolt 2 is so blazingly fast, that I don’t expect to ever fully utilize it; even for high-resolution media.


I plan to buy a new Mac Pro the week they ship, though probably not the first day. (As I’ve written before, I prefer to let someone else intercept the first arrows.)

I’ll spend more money on the GPU than the CPU. And I’m already looking for storage for this system. As we get closer, I’ll let you know what I decide to buy and how I configured it.

As always, I’m interested in your opinions.


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96 Responses to Larry’s Thoughts on the New MacPro

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  1. John Lincoln says:

    Great article, Larry, as always. My question is whether there is a compelling reason to install (and to use?) both Adobe CC, and Adobe CS 6, on the same workstation. You must have a good reason. What is it? Thanks.

    • Larry says:

      CS6 was already installed when I upgraded to CC. Since CC doesn’t erase CS6, I now have both. For older projects I use CS6. For newer projects, I use CC.


  2. Nate says:

    Don’t do it Larry. Build a custom Mac, it is cheaper.

  3. Spiro Carras says:

    Thanks Mr. jordan
    1. can you daisy chain the new mac pro and how can you use the CPU for multiple editors working on the same project
    2. how many 2K or 4K displays can you possibly connect for installations involving multiple displays
    3. can you update / replace the graphics card
    4. what about the NEW FCP X … being feature film ready and PROFESSIONAL

    any ideas?

    • Larry Jordan says:


      I don’t know all these answers, but…

      1. The MacPro is for one user at a time.
      2. Apple says three 4K monitors can be connected.
      3. I’ve read rumors that the graphic card can be updated, but I don’t know for sure
      4. “Professional” is a very squirrelly term – we shall have to wait and see what Apple releases.


  4. Ferdydurke says:

    Following up on your recs to spend on video and an outboard RAID – so, you’d recommend the 4 core with the most powerful video chip available? I’d be cutting using AVID MC7 and the Adobe CC suite plus a few oddball utilities – 1080p30 for now, 4K down the road. I have a number of legacy FW800/USB3 RocStor drives which I imagine I’ll chain on one of the Thunderbolt ports using an adaptor, and go TB2 RAID in the future. Dual Apple TB monitors for now? TIA for your advice…

    • Larry Jordan says:


      AT THE MOMENT… before these systems ship… as I am reflecting on this a bit (in other words, I may change my mind after the systems are released)… I am leaning toward getting the 6-core processor with a top line GPU.

      I’d migrate all my FireWire data to a multi-drive Thunderbolt RAID simply for performance reasons.

      Monitors I haven’t thought about.


  5. Nick says:

    Considering the emphasis on GPU power, does the new Mac Pro fall short for Premiere users? AMD chips have long lagged behind NVIDIA, especially in their integration with Adobe products. Does it make more sense to go PC for a Premiere workstation with Apple now firmly planted in the AMD camp?

    • Larry Jordan says:


      My understanding is that these AMD chips are seriously fast. However, we won’t be able to compare them to NVIDIA until the Mac Pro actually ships.


      • Tim Kolb says:

        Adobe uses OpenCL as well as CUDA for GPU acceleration, so in theory at least, the GPUs should work just fine for Adobe work.

        I think my question is still whether there’s enough computer configured in front of those GPUs to actually utilize them to their potential. Powerful GPUs are wonderful, but if they are waiting for data to come from the rest of the machine because the configuration can’t queue data as fast as the GPUs process it, then you have money invested in hardware that isn’t producing results.

        On paper at least, a computer with one CPU (even as robust as these are…) and two monster GPUs appears to be potentially out of balance.

        Only time will tell if Apple has devised a way to utilize these GPUs efficiently which defies standard orthodoxy…though they seem to have defied standard orthodoxy once or twice in the past with some success…

  6. Leo says:

    Larry, a bit off topic, but I can’t spring for this new MacPro (but we all wish we could). I do need to upgrade to a new Mac of some kind and FCPX. So my question is simple. Planning on editing only standard HD video from a JVC GY HM150u which is 35mbps in EXCAM format wrapped in QT so it plays nicely with Apple and FCPX, which way would you go, MacBook Pro or iMac? And would the 21.5″ iMac with 1GB VRAM be good enough for most things like 8 layers or so of blue/green screen video? With the possible expansion eventually to using a Panasonic Lumix which shoots up to 70mbps, I definitely plan on that JVC camera as my main camera.

    I know I need a TB or two of media to write to as well, but what might your system look like if NOT shooting 4k was in the cards for you? Would you go MacBook Pro or iMac?


  7. Andacar says:

    I’m glad to see that Apple has revived the Mac Pro, as I was afraid it was a lost cause. However, as a graphics professional I have to look at computer choice in a cold, rational fashion. Being a fan of a brand is fine if you are buying a phone, an everyday use gadget. But I need a huge monster to crank out video, 3D animation and other gigantic tasks that doesn’t cost a fortune. I don’t care what it looks like because it’s going to sit under my desk anyway. I could care less about browser and OS wars. I gave up on being a computer loyalist decades ago.

    The game is different in the workstation market, because the Mac Pro has to go up against machines like the ones made by BOXX technologies feature for feature, dollar for dollar. I’m concerned that Apple chose DDR3 instead of DDR4. I’m concerned that Final Cut appears to be on life support. Apple fanaticism is cool, I guess, but I can’t run a business around that.

    So what is a simple, sound reason to buy a Mac Pro as opposed to other workstations?

    • Larry Jordan says:


      First, even if you wanted one, the Mac Pro isn’t shipping yet. Until the Mac Pro ships, we don’t know pricing and we don’t know performance specs. All we KNOW is that there are a lot of rumors and hypothetical “what-ifs.”

      What makes the MOST sense, to me, is to wait, see what Apple ships, then have a dialog about the facts, rather than guesses about what the facts might be.


    • Leo says:

      I think you are mistaken about FCPX being on life support. It TOO is getting a major update which will bring back much of what everyone wanted or needed and will go in directions not yet charted.

      Consider the fact that this machine will be cheaper to run since the cooling of the CPU alone won’t run 5 fans or special coolants to keep from overheating. As for fanaticism, it’s what has kept Mac alive in the 90s when their entire business was on life support until now when they have overtaken every other business except fossil fuel giant Exxon although that is debatable every couple of days. My point is building a business around a company’s products that said company isn’t going under anytime soon isn’t a bad idea. 😉

      • Andacar says:

        Leo, I never said Apple was going under anytime soon (although neither is Microsoft). Obviously they are incredibly profitable. I just see their focus moving to different things now, and the Mac in general seems to be less of a priority than iPhones, iPads, and so on. As for the fans bit, the cost of running cooling fans is the least of my concerns.

        • Leo says:

          I wasn’t implying MS as going under, but you specifically mentioned BOXX technologies. They are the Johnny Come Lately that I was implying. Although, they too probably aren’t going anywhere, but they aren’t Apple. That was my point. And Apple isn’t ditching FCP users for iPad users etc since so much of the content people connect to via iPads/iPhonesiWatches (being future conscious) is made on iMacs, MacBooks etc. One hand feeds the other. I think you were scared because they screwed the pooch with the way they handled FCPX. YES! They totally screwed that up. But they didn’t run away from it since they could have, yet addressed fixing everything so far that’s been asked of them. If they wanted to abandon the creative users, they would have by now. Hey, Adobe hasn’t abandoned Mac yet. And they could since they have their own solutions to everything from scriptwriting to final output.

          Oh I am not trying to discount your fear of a disrupted business because of their screw ups. I TOTALLY understand that happened to many many people and businesses. That wasn’t fair one bit! It’s like the stock crash of 1929 caused Groucho Marx and others to lose sleep for years after. It sticks with you. I wasn’t bit because I have not made the leap to HD. I am getting bit now and need to switch over soon. REAL soon! lol But I get the luxury of moving over to FCPX after the shenanigans are over. I get to bitch and moan about workflow until I get the hang of it and realize it’s probably better than before. (That’s what others have told me about it).

          I just don’t see how you can say FCPX is on life support is all.

    • Andacar says:

      That makes perfect sense Larry!

      • Tim Kolb says:

        I’m not sure at what point Apple invented the work station…while “Johnny come lately” BOXX Systems isn’t Apple, they aren’t trying to be… But make no mistake, the new Mac Pro will be measured against the fire-breathing, exceptionally stable (and exceptionally well-supported) BOXX workstations that are used for heavy lifting in post production along with HP’s Z8xx monsters.

        The new MacPro, and its ecosystem of peripherals will need to compete with the expansion potential of these Windows machines, many of which have replaced MacPros which have become out dated over the time the product line has been stagnating…

        Macs are great, but unless FCPX is your specific tool of choice, they have to compete for seats in the world of video post production on the basis of cost-effectiveness. That will only be known once the machines are shipping.

  8. Leo says:

    “Workstation” “MacPro” call it what you will. It’s a computer! BOXX makes their money on what? Selling software or boxes? Mac makes their money on what? Selling software, boxes, tablets, phones, apps, music, video…. So they seemed to have decided that their next machine needs to compete or I guess they’ll fold up that tent. Why else would they bother making a new machine?

    We all know they have not updated the Pro line in a while which is why this is much anticipated. It will either make or break them for about 5 years in this part of their business if they can’t deliver a decent, or GREAT product. So I agree, they do need to compete, but BOXX is not the only company making computer workstations to do video editing on and I doubt it runs FCPX which may actually be the way of editors of the future. Remember, it’s what most kids and teens and young filmmakers are using and will get used to now. So, like it or not, it may be here to stay despite what some of us older folks think about the way it “looks” or “feels”.

    What’s actually nice about this new machine is that many who have adopted iMac as their machine of choice with Thunderbolt peripherals is that they won’t need a whole bunch of new cards to add or internal drives to fit into it. They just plug the thunderbolt add-ons and keep moving, only much faster (we all presume).

    • Tim Kolb says:

      I guess FCPX making the MacPro an obvious choice was my point…I’m significantly less of an FCPX detractor than most non-FCPX users are…the software is being adopted and used and it will have its place, no question.

      My second point though was that the machine will have to compete for seats for users of cross-platform software, and the large Windows boxes have made significant inroads in that market over the last handful of years.

  9. Bill says:

    I admit that I hoped cost of entry would have been cheaper, but a large part of that is the cost to Apple of the components. Intel charges a lot for their high end chips. If I were to upgrade my 2008 8-core to a 6-core 2013 mac pro, it will probably be at least $5000, with the extra peripherals, and give me 80-100% speed improvement. I could still use my raid card with an external chassis, but all that adds up. So the speed improvement really needs to be impressive to justify the upgrade since I can still update to an SSD, already got a 7970 card (which by the way, seems to run slower than the 5770 in fcpx, which I’m hoping will change come fcp x 10.1). So my machine runs around 10,000 on geek bench, the new 12-core is somewhere around 30,000, but is probably going to cost over $7000…so I guess a few tweaks on my current mac pro will probably suffice. I just hope intel won’t take 4 years to update to the next xeon. But then if they don’t have any competition from AMD, then we’re stuck on Intel’s whims.

  10. Bill says:

    Oh, I do think fcpx really does need an ssd, I have a 7200 WD Black as my boot drive and all sorts of user interface lags occur that honestly drive me nuts at times. Plus, when I paste effects to clips, you have to often re-click on the clip to get it to appear…its like the caching of the software reverts to the last clip you were looking at…strange and annoying at times. So hopefully those interface bugs will be addressed as well.

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