Configure a 2019 iMac for Video Editing [u]

Posted on by Larry

[ Update: On March 19, 2019, Apple released updates to both 21.5″ and 27″ iMacs. These new systems feature improved CPU and GPU options, though the display and storage remain the same as earlier versions. I’ve reflected these new options in my recommendations below. ]

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.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

If money is no object, buy the top of the line iMac. It will work great and you’ll have bragging rights over all the other systems.

But, 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.

ALSO: Here are two other configuration articles you may find useful:

YES, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE IMAC PRO?

Holy smokes! What a system.

This review covers the iMac. Click here to read about the iMac Pro.

YES, BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MAC PRO?

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 in 2019.

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.

WHAT SIZE SCREEN?

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.

WHAT SPEED CPU?

UPDATE Intel’s latest 8th-gen and 9th-gen Core processors, including up to a 3.2GHz six-core 8th-gen Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz for the 21.5-inch 4K iMac and up to a 3.6GHz eight-core 9th-gen Core i9 with Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz for the 27-inch 5K iMac.

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.

UPDATE: The choice in the 21.5″ iMac is between i5 and i7. The i7 is worth the money because of its support for multi-threading. The choice in the 27″ iMac is harder: between i5 and i9, because it’s a $500 differential. Unlike the i5, the i9 supports multithreading. If you are doing multicam, 4K or HDR editing, or lots of video compression, the i9 is worth the money.

HOW MUCH STORAGE?

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.

WHICH GPU?

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 while we don’t need the high-end CPU system for most video editing, 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 575X is a perfectly adequate choice.

NOTE: The difference between the 575X and 580X is performance. The 575X has a peak performance of about 4.5 Teraflops, while the 580X 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.

UPDATE: When looking at GPU performance, use the specs for Metal or Metal II. OpenCL will not be supported going forward. Also, while eGPUs are attractive, I don’t see them, yet, as a big enough benefit for iMacs. eGPUs are principally designed for laptops.

HOW MUCH RAM?

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, 32 GB of RAM will be sufficient for virtually all projects.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND?

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: $2,499 (you’ll still need to spend additional money for 3rd-party RAM)

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

If it were my money and I was doing mostly video compression, I’d get the high-end Mac mini. (This, in fact, is what I did personally.) Here’s an article that explains this in more detail.

As always, I’m interested in your opinions.


Bookmark the permalink.

289 Responses to Configure a 2019 iMac for Video Editing [u]

← Older Comments
  1. Andrew says:

    Hi Larry,

    Thank you this insightful article and for all of your videos on YouTube. I have learned so much from you. Quick question about this system or your suggested mac mini or something else…

    I am going to be using FCPX to shoot 4k video for instructional music videos. My need for 4k is to be able to use one shot of my upper body and crop if needed. Then duplicate and crop/trim the original shot twice to ultimately create a 3 way split screen. Viewers need to simultaneously see my original shot (upper body with instrument), plus one angle of just my right hand and (then the original shot cropped again) to show just my left hand.

    As a professional musician, my space, workflow (and budget) work best if I use one camera instead of three. I plan to shoot and edit 4k then export to 1080 to upload. The length of these videos will not usually exceed 10-15 minutes. Mostly under 10 minutes.

    I wonder whether the latest mac mini you wrote about, with the specs you suggested, will be enough (under USD $1,500) or the new iMac with specs mentioned above is necessary. Or do my needs require a new iMac with slightly upgraded specs than mentioned above. I do need to stay under $3k.

    For your readers ease of reference, below are the mac mini suggested specs ($1,499) and a link to your mac mini article:
    https://larryjordan.com/articles/configure-a-mac-mini-2018-for-video-editing/
    • 3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz)
    • 8GB 2666MHz DDR4
    • Intel UHD Graphics 630
    • 512GB SSD storage
    • 10 Gigabit Ethernet (Nbase-T Ethernet with support for 1Gb, 2.5Gb, 5Gb, and 10Gb Ethernet using RJ‑45 connector)

    As a full time musician with many career obligations, spending less time waiting on FCPX and computer is a priority.

    Regarding either, a few questions:
    -For consideration, I already own two 17 inch HD monitors – possibly need to buy a 4k monitor.
    -Should I max out the RAM to 64gb all at once or start with 32 and see how I do?
    -Is a 500gb ssd faster in a six core mac mini or is the 8 core recommended in the iMac with a 1tb fusion drive? I will be using an external hard drive usb 3 – with 4tb.
    -Am I overestimating my needs for a more expensive machine because of 4k?
    -If I spend more on the iMac now will it last me longer than the mac mini?
    -Is applecare a necessity, in your opinion?

    Thanks so much!
    Andrew

    • Larry says:

      Andrew:

      These are great questions and some of them will require me to do some research – which sounds like a very cool way to spend a Saturday. However, here are some initial answers.

      * You don’t need to “duplicate” your 4K clip, simply edit the same clip as many times as you need it into the Timeline. Duplication won’t gain anything and you’ll just use up disk space.

      * The gating factor in your system will be the speed of your storage. If all your clips are short, you can keep them on a large, internal SSD. However, you would be wiser to budget for a reasonably high-speed SSD or RAID for the work you are doing. The USB drive, unless it is USB 3.1 Gen 2×2, probably won’t be fast enough to support 4K. However, this is easy to test in real life and replace if needed.

      * If all you are doing is scaling, the speed of the GPU won’t help a whole lot. If you are adding effects or color grading, it will. The speed of the GPU is the main deciding factor between the Mac mini and the iMac.

      * You aren’t creating 4K projects, you are creating 1080p projects using 4K media, which you are cropping and scaling. You don’t need a 4K monitor. However, you can always add one later should you need it.

      * Given your description, you don’t need 64 GB of RAM. You probably only need 16 GB, so 32 GB is a nice compromise.

      * The SSD will be at least 2X faster than the Fusion drive, but it won’t hold has much.

      * Yes, you are worrying too much. But, that’s OK, prior to purchasing a system.

      * Both systems will last equally long.

      * I always buy AppleCare for all mobile devices, and any device used for business-critical work. For computers used at home, its a toss-up, based on your finances.

      Hope this helps. I’ll work on testing CPU load with multiple 4K clips over the next week or so and publish the results in my weekly newsletter.

      Larry

  2. David Johnston says:

    Hi Larry – thanks so much for taking the time to get all this down. A quick opinion – I need a new mac for video editing and sound recording at home. It needs to be quiet though as I have a voiceover mic right in front of the screen (so the current mac mini is tucked-away out of earshot.) I’m leaning to the iMac now from this review for my FCPX work – will the fusion drive/fans on the iMac be quiet enough for audio recording? Thanks for your time! David

    • Larry says:

      David:

      I have both a 2013 and 2017 iMac. And I use the 2013 version every week to record voice overs for my weekly podcast.

      Audio recording does not challenge the iMac at all – I’ve never heard the fans turn on when I’m recording. And, if you get an iMac with an SSD, that is dead quiet. As for the Fusion drive, I’ve never heard it.

      Larry

  3. Pete Claproth says:

    Aloha Larry, thanks for your article. Really helps. I’ve just pulled the trigger on high end iMac and upgraded to the i9. I really wanted the 580 gpu w 8gb. I use premiere and shoot 4K and render projects. I also shoot 46mp photography and use Lightroom. I will add 32gb ram to the 8gb. It was more than I thought i would spend, and the only reason was to get the 8gb 580 GPU. I’ve been using a 13 2014 mbp and it worked well but I’ve got some TV programs to work on and so it’s time for something faster. Thanks again!

  4. Thoughts on the top 21.5″ iMac having Vega 20 as an option over a 560X? It doesn’t have user-upgradable RAM for the 2019 compared to the 2017, so you’re out $540 to get up to 32GB of RAM.

    • Larry says:

      Daniel:

      Personally, if you are doing video editing, I strongly recommend the 27″ iMac. First, the additional screen real estate makes big difference. Second, the RAM is upgradable, which means you can save money at purchase, then add 3rd-party RAM as your needs and budget allow.

      All you are getting with an updated GPU is more speed, not higher quality. If you can meet your deadlines now, get the graphics card you can afford. If you can’t meet your deadlines, opting for a faster (higher-end) GPU will make more sense.

      Larry

  5. Simon says:

    Hi Larry,

    Great article. The only thing I’m stuck on iMac-wise is between the Radeon Pro 580X with 8GB of GDDR5 memory or the Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB of HBM2 memory. I didn’t see mention of the Pro Vega 48 and I’m really not sure how much benefit it is.

    I’m happy to spend the money if I get a significant boost as I do a lot of heavy video editing.

    Thanks!

    • Larry says:

      Simon:

      A faster GPU won’t help your editing. Editing is all CPU-based. A faster GPU WILL help your rendering and export. If you aren’t on tight deadlines, with lots of color grading and other effects, there isn’t a lot of value in spending extra money.

      However, if you are creating projects that use lots of color grading, gradients, alpha-channel effects with impossible deadlines, a faster GPU speeds rendering which also speeds exporting.

      Larry

  6. ray says:

    Simon:
    I just bought the 27″ with the 3.7 6 core CPU. I see everyone saying they upgraded to the I9 and have yet to hear from anyone, anywhere say they purchased the 3.7 6 Core version. Did I make a big mistake? I already upgraded the RAM to 32g plus the original 8. I’m also going to replace the 2 TB Fusion with a 1 TB SSD myself.

    So, did I make a mistake? I mostly work on Premiere and AfterEffects.

    • Larry says:

      Ray:

      Did you make a mistake? Probably not.

      It all depends upon what you want to do and your criteria for deciding which computer to buy. The 6-core CPU is fast with an excellent clock speed. The faster CPU will be a help in both Premiere and After Effects, which, so far, have not implemented a lot of GPU processing into their apps.

      The different CPUs deliver different amounts of performance, but not differences in quality. Adding more RAM is an excellent idea and the performance of an SSD will also help a lot.

      Larry

← Older Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Larry Recommends

Final Cut Pro X 10.4

FCPX Complete

Edit smarter with Larry’s brand-new webinars, all available in our store.

Access over 1,900 on-demand video editing courses. Become a member of our Video Training Library today!

JOIN NOW

Subscribe to Larry's FREE weekly newsletter and save 10%
on your first purchase.