An Editor’s Eye on The MacPro

Monday, August 7th the Apple community patiently waited for the World Wide Developers Conference Keynote to begin. Everyone knew that there would be something new announced, but no one really knew what to expect. Apple has always been great at surprising it’s users, and this WWDC was not exception. While rumors flourished over the web, with talk of and Apple branded cell phone and new iPods, the announcement of the new MacPro seamed lonely and somewhat disappointing. However, this new tower is a important Apple product, and one that symbolized the end of the Intel transition. As a Final Cut Pro Editor I was very interested in what the MacPro has to offer, and I wanted to take a closer look and see what I would be able to do with one. And that is exactly what I have done over the past two weeks.

The first question I asked myself is will FCP run on the MacPro since it has Intel processors in it? The answer is yes, the latest version of FCP (5.1) is a universal binary that will run at native speeds on both the new Intel Macs and the older PowerPC Macs. I have a MacBook Pro and FCP runs really really fast on it, so naturally I am really excited to see what it will do on the MacPro. There has already been a lot of specs released that show how fast these new machines really are, but is it worth it for FCP?

So the first thing that I looked at was the processors. Obviously 2 dual core 3.0GHz sound like a major improvement or the the last Mac tower, which clocked in at 2.5GHz (also dual core). This speed bump is necessary with more demanding High Def material and especially the dreaded HDV (I will get into why HDV sucks in another post). The 4MB shared L2 cache per processor is a welcome addition, and the 128-bit SSE3 vector engine replaced the old PowerPC “Velocity Engine”. The 64-bit capability is a great feature for us in the video world. While this may still be a feature that is geared more for the future, it is still welcome and I think nessasary. The Lower power optimization 1.33GHz, 64-bit dual independent frontside buses just sounds fast, even though it is not much of an improvement over the last G5 that clocked in at 1.25GHz.

Next I looked at the Memory. The MacPro used 667MHz DDR2 ECC fully-buffered DIMM (FB-DIMM) memory with eight FB-DIMM slots on two memory riser cards (4 slots per card which is kind of cool) supporting up to 16GB (WOW!!!) of main memory up to 256-bit wide memory architecture. Now this is another benefit of the 64-bit processor, more RAM. And we like RAM in Final Cut Studio. While I might not need 16GB in FCP, I could definitely use it in Motion. The problem is the price. It is an additional $5,700.00 to upgrade to 16GB of ram. That is a lot of money. The other interesting thing about the ream is that is is ECC, which I think slows it down. This is what Apple has to say about its RAM.

Because accessing data from memory is much faster than accessing data from the hard drive, the more memory your system has, the faster your system can manipulate your data, resulting in greater application performance especially when working with large files and memory-intensive applications, such as graphics, audio, video and scientific applications.

Mac Pro uses 667MHz DDR2 fully buffered ECC memory, a new industry-standard memory technology that allows for more memory capacity, higher speeds, and better reliability. To take full advantage of the 256-bit wide memory architecture, four or more FB-DIMMs should be installed in Mac Pro.

Please note: Apple created a more robust thermal specification for the Mac Pro FB-DIMM heat sinks that provide more efficient cooling than many other FB-DIMMs. These FB-DIMMs require less airflow to stay cool and allow the internal fans to spin at slower speeds, improving system acoustics. FB-DIMMs made by other manufacturers that do not include a sufficient heat sink may cause the fans to run faster (and louder) or the memory chips to run slower so as not to overheat.

To mean that sounds like if you do not use Apples $5,700.00 RAM you are screwed. Now I am sure that we will see more third party stuff come out eventually, which will almost become a necessity because that is just to much money.

Graphics and Displays, oh yea baby! The MacPro has a double-wide 16-lane PCI Express graphics slot with one of the following graphics cards installed:
NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT with 256MB of GDDR2 SDRAM, one single-link DVI port, and one dual-link DVI port
ATI Radeon X1900 XT with 512MB of GDDR3 SDRAM and two dual-link DVI ports
NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500 with 512MB of GDDR3 SDRAM, two dual-link DVI ports, and one stereo 3D port
Multiple graphics card configurations including two, three, or four NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT cards, 300W for up to four PCI Express graphics cards, support for up to eight displays, support for digital resolutions up to 1920 by 1200 pixels; dual-link DVI ports support up to 2560 by 1600 pixels, support for analog resultions up to 2048 by 1536 pixels, DVI to VGA Adapter included and Dual-display support for extended desktop and video mirroring modes. Wile the stock 7300 is just okay for use with FCP I think the way to go here is with the X1900 XT and it is actually a bit faster (in some respects) than the Quadro and much cheaper. This should be a great fit with FCP.

The internal storage is an editors dream. Especially and editor on a budget. Four independent 3Gb/s Serial ATA cable-free, direct attach hard drive bays; four internal hard drive carriers included and up to 2TB of internal storage. And it looked like it may even be able to extend past the 2TB mark with larger drives. The ability to take 3 SATA drives and raid them it a great feature to have for FCP users.

The extra optical drive is a great addition, but one that should have always been around. While Blue-Ray might not be ready for prime time just yet, I am glad to see that if I want to add a drive I can. The PCI Express expansion slots are not new, but a definite must for FCP editors. While FireWire can do a lot there is nothing like a Kona 3 card for the real professional.

The other great additions are additional FireWire and USB ports on the front and the back. This is a real perk as there is now a FireWire 800 port on the front. I do a lot of arching to FireWire 800 drives and it was always a pain to get to the back of the computer. One other interesting addition is dual ethernet ports. This is great benefit especially if you are gong to use Xsan. And that is another perk, Xsan is now universal so there is really not reason not to get a MacPro. That is unless you are still waiting for Adobe.

So if you are an FCP user it is definitely time to upgrade to the MacPro. If you have a Quad G5, I would wait until rev 2, but there are so many improvements that it is well worth the money (with the exception of the ram of course).

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~ by jpicune on August 18, 2006.

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