As a colorist I’ve come to think that no matter how much power you have under the hood of a machine, you always seem to want more. But practically speaking, what is enough power? Especially if you want to invest in a new machine and you’re focused on staying with the Apple products – in particular the new Mac Pro that you plan to use for the next 3-4+ years before starting another upgrade cycle. It’s time for an upgrade in my studio, and I wanted to know if the new Mac Pro would be the right direction for me.
Thanks to OmegaBroadcast here in Austin Texas, who generously allowed me to borrow their new Mac Pro for a few days, I was able to do some testing. This wasn’t the most complete, objective testing one can do, but I just wanted to get a rough feel for what the performance is like on the mid-priced standard configuration show here.
So I brought that little black cylinder home, hooked it up to my environment, and took clips from two full-length narratives I recently completed grading. One film was shot on Canon C300 using C-Log encoding in 1920×1080, which is representative of the kinds of on-going projects I see. The other was an EPIC 5K RED-based 4800×2700 film using their REDLogFilm encoding.
Believe it or not, I’ve graded literally dozens of shorts and long-form narratives on a two-year-old iMac fully tricked out with 256 SSD, 32GB of RAM and 10TB Raid 5 Thunderbolt drive, and I use Resolve 10 for my projects. I have been reasonably happy with the performance of HD projects on this older iMac, and I can even get pretty consistent audio playback. But in general it feels like that machine is at its hairy edge trying to keep up, and I know render times could be better. Needless to say, noise reduction can only be used sparingly. Though I have graded EPIC 5k projects on this machine, it’s a challenge at times and not the most efficient way to work. You work with the tools you have, right? That said, I know the time has come to upgrade, and I’m not going to move to a PC nor am I interested in purchasing an older Mac Pro.
As other bloggers have commented, when you first pick up the little black jewel you can’t help but wonder how in the world they engineered so much power into such a small package. It’s hefty when you lift it – roughly 11 pounds – but your lasting impression is this guy is PORTABLE. I began imagining how I could take advantage of its small size. I have the option of keeping it on my desk to marvel at or easily find room in the cabinets below. This is going to be a popular machine for on-set grading, and I imagine we’ll see hundreds of these Mac Pros sitting in booths at NAB 2014 this year.
You can easily lift off the outside case and look inside. The memory cards and graphics are accessible immediately after lifting the round case, and they appear to be replaceable. The CPU, which is down at the bottom on the daughterboard, is replaceable, too, I’m told, though that would require some disassembly.
Yes, the Mac Pro is quiet. Frankly, I never heard it, as even the quietest disk drives seemed to be louder than Mac Pro. On the tests below where I rendered 5K files using the full debayering feature, the Mac Pro was pushing warm air out the top but there was no loud rush of fan noise. This to me is a huge deal for me. I do a lot of audio work. It’s critical to keep my studio as quiet as possible, so that’s a plus.
Subjective performance observations – booting, loading Resolve, loading stills, moving through timelines – all of these just felt substantially faster, especially with the 5k EPIC files. But even the handling of HD files – which I thought was adequate on my older iMac – was substantially quicker, snappier. The render times for tests are below and they are impressive.
Before I review the testing I did, I ask you to keep two things in mind. One, this was a quick, partially objective, partially subjective testing process for me. I had projects to get out, so my time was limited. Two, if you’re looking for a down-and-dirty, nuts-and-bolts performance analysis, you’ll find that at AnandTech and other places showing detailed performance benchmarks, and they are more comprehensive in their reviews of the Mac Pro features.
Another excellent backgrounder was written by Jason Myers of LiftGammaGain. He was able to run a few different benchmarks, including the Resolve 9 Standard Candle, as well as a variation that Juan Salvo has been working on called the Standard Flashlight, some Sapphire Plugin benchmarks, a 6-node HD encoding test, along with playback performance for a number of cameras. His tests were on the same Mac Pro I used in my tests. Juan Salvo Jason Myers and Josh Petok give an extremely thoughtful perspective on whether or not to buy a new Mac Pro on their latest Coloristo’s #15 Podcasts “The new Mac Pro“.