Configure a 2017 iMac for Video Editing

Posted on by Larry

At their WWDC, in June, 2017, Apple announced and released new iMac computers, designed to meet the needs of professionals. These new systems sport a variety of very exciting features. However, if you are on a budget, how do you determine where to spend your money?

This article is designed to help you make more informed choices when you don’t have a lot of money to spend.

NOTE: I have not purchased any of these systems. My recommendations are based on past experience, current system specs and talking with informed individuals.


If money is no object, buy the top of the line. It will work great and you will have bragging rights over everyone else.

If money IS an object, then you need to make trade-offs, balancing the performance you need with the money you have. However, you don’t need to spend a fortune to get a system today that can meet your editing needs for the next several years.

NOTE: If you are looking for a laptop, here’s an article that discusses how to configure a 2016 or 2017 MacBook Pro laptop for video editing.


Holy smokes! What a system. However, it isn’t shipping yet. Not till December, in fact. If you need to get work done today, you’ll need something that’s shipping now to meet your needs.

I’m looking forward to testing the new system. Right now, though, I need to pay the bills.


Given the latest iMac releases, there are very, very few reasons to purchase a Mac Pro right now; especially given its price. Keep in mind, however, that Apple has already announced they are working on a new, top-of-the-line Mac Pro which will ship sometime after 2017.

Given what Apple has announced for the iMac Pro, however, that upcoming Mac Pro will need to be a true screamer to compete. I’m looking forward to seeing what Apple creates – but, as I mentioned earlier, I still need to pay my bills today.

And that leads us directly to the latest updates to the iMac.


Both Final Cut Pro X and Premiere interfaces work best on larger screens. This is not to say they work poorly on smaller screens, but both of these display a LOT of elements on screen. More screen room is MUCH better.

I recommend a 27″ display. Plus, all the new 27″ iMacs now share the same 5K Retina Display.

NOTE: One of my iMacs is an older 5K iMac. I’ve discovered, that while seeing a 5K image is nice, the on-screen text is often very hard to read. So I’ve lowered the screen resolution using System Preferences to make the text larger. I prefer to easily read the text to seeing every pixel in my image.

However, if the purpose of the new system is video compression, you don’t need the bigger screen size. In which case, you can save money and improve performance with a 21″ system.

NOTE: Both H.264 and the up-coming H.265 video codecs are hardware-accelerated in all the new hardware. While this won’t help when transcoding into ProRes, hardware-acceleration will significantly speed compressing files for the web.


All new iMacs have moved up to Kaby Lake processors from Intel. Based upon the reviews I’m reading, these new processors are at least 20% faster than the older systems. Also, don’t worry that these processors are i5 as opposed to the older i7. These are from two different families, so the numbers won’t match.

While CPU speed is important, it is not critical for video editing; remember, iMacs that were current as recently as last month, were easily able to edit almost all forms of SD, HD, and 4K media.

Any of the processors in any of the new iMacs will be fine for video or audio editing.


I really like that Apple has put Fusion drives into all but two of their iMacs. I own two iMacs with Fusion drives and I remain very impressed with these systems. They are an excellent balance between the speed of an SSD with the storage capacity of spinning media.

Keep in mind that the SSD portion of a Fusion drive is only a part of the total storage. For example, the 1 TB Fusion uses a 32 GB SSD, while the 2 and 3 TB Fusion drives use a 128 GB SSD. The OS watches what you do and moves files onto the SSD based upon what you are using most. Which means that a Fusion drive works fastest with files you access over and over.

NOTE: Here is an updated article on storage speeds and media requirements that explains the load your storage system needs to carry.

If you want maximum performance AND you plan to store media on an external drive, get the 512 GB SSD. All the files in macOS will take less than 30 GB, leaving plenty of room for working files and immediate storage.

If you want an excellent balance between performance, price and capacity, stay with the 1 TB Fusion drive. Again, store media externally.

If you don’t plan to purchase external storage – and you will, you just don’t know it yet – get the 3 TB Fusion drive. (An extra TB for $100 makes this a better value than the 2 TB Fusion drive.)

One of my systems has a 3 TB Fusion drive. Currently, I’m using 600 GB of it. The rest is sitting around idle. When using external storage, you really don’t need lots of internal storage.

If you just want maximum performance from your storage, get the 1 TB SSD. It’s pricey, but it’s speed will make you giggle.

Apple notes: “For the best performance, iMac systems with 32GB or more of memory should be configured with a 2TB or larger Fusion Drive or all-SSD storage.”

NOTE: Apple’s marketing materials now define a terabyte as one trillion bytes. This means that when a disk is formatted, its storage capacity will be less than 1 TB because of the differences between how marketing and engineering calculate disk sizes.


Configuring the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is now done when you pick the initial iMac, rather than as a build-to-order option within each iMac family. So, much though I would like to pick the mid-range system and add a high-end GPU into it, we no longer have that option.

Which is a shame. Because we don’t need the high-end CPU system for most video editing, but we would significantly benefit from the high-end 580 GPU in any system.

Both Final Cut and Premiere are increasingly using the GPU for most editing tasks, because the GPU is much faster than the CPU at rendering bitmapped images. Therefore, the best choice is the high-end GPU. The high-end GPU also includes 8 GB of video memory (VRAM).

However, the mid-range system with the Radeon Pro 575 is a perfectly adequate choice.

NOTE: The difference between the 575 and 580 is performance. The 575 has a peak performance of 4.5 Teraflops, while the 580 supports up to 5.5 Tflops. Both will handle video just fine. All of the Radeon chips support OpenCL and Apple’s Metal and up-coming Metal 2 GPU computing API.

Here’s a link to learn more about Radeon’s GPU chips.

NOTE: Again, if you are principally doing video compression, the GPU speed is less important than the CPU speed. So, compressionists don’t need as high-performance a GPU as an editor.


Both Final Cut and Premiere will use as much RAM as you can afford.

Based on my tests with the 2016 MacBook Pro, I recommend a minimum of 16 GB of RAM, though, all my systems here have 32 GB. Again, if you have the money, max out the RAM. However, you probably won’t notice a performance difference in most projects running 32 GB of RAM.


You are going to be using this computer for four years. Spend what you can afford, but don’t be stingy in areas that matter: GPU and RAM.

All the base systems are fine, But, depending upon your needs, you can tweak the configurations to better match what you want the systems to do. All systems feature wireless mice and keyboards; though, in my office, I prefer my mice and keyboards wired.

NOTE: Apple has not yet delivered the Touch Bar on any stand-alone keyboards.

If it were my money and I was doing video editing on a budget, here’s what I would get:

Total: $2,599

However, I wish that Apple made the Radeon 580 available on the mid-range unit.

If it were my money and I was doing video compression, here’s what I would get. Keep in mind that the GPU is slower than those in the 27″ iMac.

Total: $2,099

As always, I’m interested in your opinions.

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66 Responses to Configure a 2017 iMac for Video Editing

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  1. Eric says:

    Thank you. 🙂

  2. John Pinella says:

    Thanks for a great article. Any recommendations for a RAID storage system, and NTSC monitor w/connectivity to the iMac?

    • Larry says:


      There are many RAIDs that are good: OWC, Promise, G-Technology, CalDigit – just to name a few. Lots of choices, configurations and price points.

      As for an NTSC monitor, I don’t think those are made anymore – check eBay for a good used Sony. Do HD video, I’m a fan of Flanders Scientific.


      • John Pinella says:

        Thanks for the reply, Larry. As for the monitor question, I meant high def (at least.) Can you tell me what sort of interconnect one needs to connect the imac to a broadcast monitor?


        John Pinella

        • Larry says:


          This depends upon the montor’s interface. In general, monitors don’t use Thunderbolt. You’ll need a T-Tap from AJA, or similar interface from Blackmagic Design.

          Check with the specific monitor manufacturer for a recommendation.


          • Larry says:


            This is a perfectly fine machine. However, since you don’t explain what you want to do with it, it is hard to answer which processor will be “better.” Both are good.

            For video editing, either is fine. For video compression, the i7 would be better. The KEY is get the best GPU and most RAM you can afford.


  3. Alain says:

    I’m planning on getting the current 21 ” iMac. 32 GB RAM (Max) , faster processor ? I was wondering if I should get i5 or i7 ? Is there a big difference in performance ?
    1Tb fusion while I’m using external disk for editing.

    • Jack says:

      You should get the best CPU/GPU/Storage option you can afford at time of purchase as these features are NOT upgradeable due to the iMac’s AIO form factor (external TB3 GPU’s non-withstanding). You should NOT buy any more than the default 8GB RAM from Apple as it IS an easy DIY upgrade and for much cheaper than Apple charges (BTW, I believe the 27in is upgradeable while the 21in is not). I would recommend going for the SSD over the fusion drive if you’re going to be using an external project drive as boot and app loading times as well as system stability will be improved.

      • Larry says:


        While I agree with your note, keep in mind that the only Mac that allows upgrading RAM after purchase is the 27″ iMac. The rest don’t. This is why it is important to get what you need at the time you order/buy your system.


  4. I need to live capture HD switched cameras with an iMac as you outlined above. How would I integrate that to an iMac and which one.

    • Larry says:


      You need a device that will take the switched master video from your switcher, digitize it and deliver it to you computer. Look at the H.264 Pro Recorder from Blackmagic Design or the IO Express from AJA Video Systems.


  5. Erik says:

    HI I have a iMac retina 5k 4.2GHZ QC I7, TB UP TO 4.5GHZ is posible to upgrade just using two slot with 32 gb each for a total 64? or this machine is capable to move 128gb ?

  6. John Velotta says:

    Larry – your article is excellent. What would be your configuration recommendatons for the 27″ iMac if the budget can be stretched a bit for even better video editing performance? You are correct, external drives are really a necessity. I use a 4T G drive with Thunderbolt and an older drive for Time Machine. I don’t want to buy more than is needed for excellent performance since I am beginning to realize that another external drive is probably be eventually necessary and some $’s might be best spent on external storage and perhaps ssd internal.

  7. xavier pilsudski says:

    As usual, wonderful info!
    I have looking for a machine with your recommendations but I can’t seem to find any with 3.5 GHz i5 processor and Radeon 575 GPU…

    • Larry says:


      A better way to think of this is as a priority list:

      * Buy the fastest GPU you can
      * Buy the most RAM you can
      * Buy the fastest CPU you can

      In that order. CPU speed is the least important of these three.


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