Configure an iMac Pro for Video Editing [u]

[ Update: On March 19, 2019, Apple released updates to the iMac Pro. The new system features expanded RAM and an updated GPU option. While the new system improves performance, the recommendations in this article remain unchanged. ]

Ever since Apple released the iMac Pro, my email has been clogged with people asking advice on how to configure their system. So, I did some research and here’s what I learned.

This article is designed to help you make more informed decisions when you don’t have an unlimited budget. Also, the iMac Pro is designed for many different markets. In this article, I’m just focusing on digital media.

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


If money is no object, buy the top of the line. It will be blindingly fast, it will work great and you’ll have enormous bragging rights.

But, if money IS an object, then you need to make trade-offs, balancing the performance you need with the money you have.

The good news is that you don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line to get a system today that can meet your editing needs for the next several years.



When Apple rebuilt Final Cut to create FCP X, they focused on upgrading its underlying architecture to take advantage of coming advances in hardware. This includes an all-64-bit architecture, optimization for core technologies including Metal, tight integration with both CPU and GPU, and the ability to take advantage of faster i/o – both to the processors and storage.

There are no optimizations in Final Cut, Motion or Compressor that focus specifically on the iMac Pro. Instead, Apple’s media apps take advantage of whatever technology or performance benefits are provided in the hardware.

In other words, there are no new features in FCP X that appear if it is running on an iMac Pro. What does appear is faster performance.

Apple’s website states:

iMac Pro takes Mac performance to a whole new level, even when compared to our fastest quad-core iMac.

NOTE: Keep in mind that Apple reports these performance numbers are based on: “Testing conducted by Apple in November 2017 using pre-production 2.3GHz 18-core Intel Xeon W-based 27-inch iMac Pro systems with 128GB of RAM and pre-production 3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W-based 27-inch iMac Pro systems with 64GB of RAM, both configured with Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics with 16GB of HBM2.”

In other words, these numbers are based on the high-end 18-core system, which won’t be shipping until next year and, as you’ll see, may be more than you need.


Well, “need” is a relative term. If you principally work with SD or HD material, an iMac will be perfectly fine. The performance benefits of the iMac Pro don’t justify the expense.

If you are hobbyist, no, you don’t need an iMac Pro. This is not the same as not wanting one, but you don’t need it.

However, if the bulk of your work involves 4K or greater frame sizes, 360° VR, RAW files, or HDR, the performance benefits of this new system make it worth considering, because the design of the iMac Pro significantly speeds working with larger frame sizes, faster frame rates, more effects, more processor-intensive codecs (such as HEVC).

With that being said, let’s take a look at the specific components to see which ones make the most sense for video editing.


The iMac Pro uses the same display technology as the 5K iMac. So everything you see on a current iMac looks the same on the iMac Pro:


But, while the display of the iMac Pro is the same as an iMac, the display capability of the iMac Pro is greater:



Before the shouting starts, let me say again that if money is no object, buy the top-of-the-line iMac Pro. However, for most of the editing that most of us are doing, we don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line system to get significantly improved editing performance.

The 8-core system is fine for most editing and compression. For example, H.264 compression takes advantage of a hardware encoder which is built into all current Macs. This hardware encoder is independent of CPU cores.

However, there are benefits to more cores, especially when decoding and encoding heavily threaded codecs like ProRes or HEVC. Also, the 10-core system offers a higher Turbo Boost speed of 4.5GHz versus 4.2GHz for the 8-core CPU. This additional speed benefits rendering and exporting.

The 14 and 18 core systems are designed for other applications than video editing. I would invest my money elsewhere in the system because video editors will see greater benefits in upgrading RAM and GPU when using Final Cut Pro on an iMac Pro.

An exception to staying within a 10-core system is that editors using RED RAW media or working with multiple streams of ProRes — for example, multicam work — will see improved performance with higher-core systems.

Larry’s recommendation: 8 cores for general editing. 10 cores for multicam editing and RAW video workflows.


One of the issues I’ve heard about the current Mac Pro is that it has a problem with heat under heavy load. What I discovered is that, even more than the Mac Pro, the iMac Pro internals are designed specifically to dissipate heat under heavy load.

Outside, the iMac Pro is millimeter for millimeter the same size and shape as a standard 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display; outside of the space gray color and a few extra vents on the back. But, on the inside, it’s radically different.

One of the key things Apple was able to do is make the system all flash-based; 3 GB/s of fast SSD is pretty darn fast! Switching to all flash allowed Apple to remove the 3.5” hard drive and use that large space for a dual blower design and a massive heatsink and heat pipe architecture.

This delivers 75% more airflow and 80% more thermal capacity, enabling far more CPU and GPU power in the box over a traditional iMac. It is also worth noting that it does all this while still being super quiet (it is an iMac, after all), letting you focus on your work.


In general, editing video tends to use more of the CPU while effects and graphics tend to rely more heavily on the GPU. Increasingly, both FCP X and Premiere rely on the GPU for more and more tasks. Also, the greater the VRAM, the better the GPU performance.

Whether you use Motion, After Effects, Premiere or Final Cut, investing in the best GPU will be a wise choice.

NOTE: While VRAM is important, VRAM is not the only determinant of a superior graphics card. For example, the Vega 64 is significantly faster in addition to the larger amount of VRAM. Also, more VRAM offers benefits when working with large frame sizes, multiple video streams (i.e. multicam), multiple displays, and complex motion graphics.

Larry’s recommendation: Upgrade to the Vega 64 graphics card or better.

UPDATE: It important to note that buying a better GPU does not improve image quality. What it does, instead, is work faster. Specifically, faster rendering and exporting. If time is scarce, an updated GPU will speed effects rendering, exporting and, in some cases, video compression.


The 32 GB default RAM is fine for virtually all editing. If, on the other hand, you run multiple applications at once – say FCP X, Motion, Compressor, Photoshop and a web browser – 64 GB of RAM is better.

While there is value in more RAM beyond 64 GB, you won’t get enough bang for your buck to justify the additional cost.

Larry’s recommendation: 32 GB for people on budgets, with a maximum of 64 GB for serious multi-application users.

UPDATE: The latest updates allow expanding RAM to 256 GB. Cool. But all you really need is 32 – 64 GB.


The iMac Pro ships with a 1 TB SSD. I have’t measured it, but it is probably way past blindingly fast. (Apple says 3 GB/second!) The problem is that most media projects today far exceed 1 TB in storage. You will need an external high-speed, Thunderbolt 3 RAID system for even medium-sized projects.

Larry’s recommendation: Stay with the 1 TB SSD. Spend your money on faster, bigger external storage.


Unlike video editing, video compression has its own requirements for system resources. While this is worth its own article here are some thoughts.

Both H.264 and HEVC are relatively highly compressed formats. This compression, of course, leads to smaller file sizes, but the resulting compression requires more processing power. With H.264 and HEVC, decoding and most encoding actions are processed via dedicated H.264 hardware within the system.

NOTE: A select set of custom H.264 encodes in Compressor may use the H.264 software encoder, which is threaded across multiple cores.

So while ProRes encoding benefits from faster, higher-core CPUs, H.264 and HEVC are not similarly CPU bound. Also, it’s important to note that video compression often includes other operations including retiming, scaling, and color conversion — all of which use the GPU.

If you are interested in HDR, 8-bit HEVC does, in fact, support HDR. Still, 10-bit encoding is recommended for the highest quality HDR output when using the HEVC codec. The reason this is important is that current Macs only support hardware acceleration of 8-bit HEVC. This makes the iMac Pro about 3x faster in HEVC encoding than an iMac.

For 10-bit encoding, the HEVC software codec is threaded and can therefore take advantage of multiple CPU cores when encoding; more cores means faster video encoding.


First, Apple has announced and reiterated that they are working on a new, modular Mac Pro. However, they haven’t announced specs nor a release date.

The current Mac Pro is getting long in the tooth. In terms of performance, the iMac Pro is a better choice.

That being said, there are still two reasons to consider the existing Mac Pro:

For me, while these benefits are not trivial, the hardware inside the system has not be upgraded in several years. If you are focused on video editing, the existing Mac Pro is not the best current choice.


Here are my two recommendations for an iMac Pro for video editing: a budget version and a “top-of-the-line-for-editors” version. (The mouse and keyboard come standard, I make no recommendations about either of these.)



As always, let me know what you think.

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98 Responses to Configure an iMac Pro for Video Editing [u]

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  1. Marko says:

    Hey Larry,

    So I recently purchased the iMac Pro 2.3GHz 18-Core w/ 128GB RAM, 2TB SSD & Radeon Pro Vega 64.

    I have this connected to a QNAP external drive via thunderbolt 3. It has 4x Seagate 8TB IronWolf NAS SATA 6Gb/s NCQ 256MB Cache drives.

    I am mainly editing 4K files and when I first got the machine it was rendering a 15 minute clip in 3-4 minutes but now its taking almost 20 minutes to render the same project.

    One thing thats been occurring w/ this imac is that it will turn off (completely shut down) after about an hour of idle. Even though my settings are so it never goes to sleep or turns off, it still does it. I don’t know if its a power supply issue but Apple has already sent me a new power cable which didn’t change anything.

    I’m curious if the shut down issue could also be connected to the render time increase?

    I’ve tried using a G-Raid thunderbolt 3 external drive to edit the same project and the render time is about the same, maybe a little slower w/ the G-Raid. So I don’t think its a hard drive issue.

    Thanks for the help Larry!


    • Larry says:


      There’s a bigger problem with your computer – this is not your software acting up. Get back in touch with Apple Support – there’s a problem in the OS or with the hardware.


    • Erik says:

      Same things happens to my iMac 27″ late 2014. After a while it just turns off during rendering/compressing .h264. It seems to have something to do if I have Safari open or not. I always restart and only run FCPX when starting an export.

      • Larry says:


        There’s no reason for an iMac to shut down during normal operations, regardless of which apps are open or running. This is something you need to contact Apple Support about.


        • Jeff says:

          Hey guys,
          Larry is correct, however, this is a wide-spread problem for which Apple has yet to address in full.

          My iMac Pro 18-core, 128 RAM, Vega 64, etc. was jittery the graphics at login (e.g. like watching a 60fps+ video at 5fps), and then began completely blacking out (as though power was cut) during video transcodes, opening project files, rendering animations, and on to what seemed to be a melt down over a short time.

          Apple attempted to repair what they thought was the problem (replaced logic board, screen?, fans, and other components), but to no avail.

          So, they have since replaced the machine with a brand new one. No flickering at login. Had one crash while trying to scrub the timeline in Premiere Pro.

          I have read about this on several sites (x100), and these kernel panics crashing the machines. Catalyst(s) ranging from Vega 64 getting throttled, T2 chip, or a design flaw. This all transpired over the last month and a half. Just got the new iMac Pro.

          Hope this is resourceful. I’ve had none of these issues on my Mac Pro at home, which makes me pretty sure it’s not the apps or OS.

  2. Jason says:

    Is the 10 core and 64 ram really enough for 4K premiere or should I get 128 ram? I run photoshop and Lightroom at the same time. Would the higher Ram help make it so no proxies have to be used, any benefit to that or the 14 core?

    • Larry says:


      Editing 4K video really isn’t CPU dependent. More often, bottlenecks are caused by storage which isn’t fast enough to keep up. Proxies are most often storage dependent, not CPU dependent.

      Yes, a 10-core CPU is more than fast enough to edit 4K video. And you won’t need more than 64 GB of RAM, personally, I recommend you install 32 GB.


  3. Justin says:

    Hi Larry,

    Slight diversion but I’m planning on getting a 2018 Macbook Pro 15″ and debating between 16Gb vs 32Gb Ram. Is the extra Ram really necessary for up to 5minute 4K editing? Do more effects take up Ram or more GPU? I’m intending to switch from Premiere to FCPX too.

    Planned specs:

    i7 6 core 2.6Ghz
    1Tb SSD
    Pro Vega 20

    I’m hoping the 6 cores, SSD and GPU upgrades will outweigh the need for extra RAM, as I don’t do more than Lightroom, Photoshop and Premiere (Soon to be FCPX) at the same time.

    Any thoughts?

    • Larry says:


      Given the rest of the specs of this system, 16 GB of RAM should be fine.

      You have a VERY fast GPU and EXTREMELY fast SSD. Those will help keep your system peppy.


  4. Pete says:

    Hi Larry

    Recently I’ve been editing 6k r3d/red files, for (very independent) tv/film productions with premiere. So timelines could be from 1-2hours. (on my system now I have to edit with 1/4 res for smooth timeline playback and exports are brutal.) I don’t do anything else in post besides the edit, but I am interested in training myself to color grade with Davinci. I was wondering if you think the 10-core, 64gb memory, and Vega 64 graphics would be powerful enough for my work?


    • Larry says:


      I would expect that iMac Pro system to be plenty powerful for your work. Keep in mind that you’ll also need fast external storage.


  5. Mark says:

    Dear Larry,

    I want to to buy a iMac Pro now. Mostly for editing HD with Avid and After Effects.

    Would you still recommend to buy it right now or is it worth to wait for an update?

    Would you recommend me the budget version? The top-of-the-line one seems to be a bit to much…

    Thank you so much!

    Mark (writing from Munich, Germany)

    • Larry says:



      The iMac Pro is available today. That’s a big plus. Apple has announced a new Mac Pro, coming “later in 2019”. But we don’t know what or when. That’s a minus.

      Would I recommend it? Probably yes, though I would check with Avid to make sure they like it – Avid is VERY particular about specs.

      This article talks about the trade offs you need to make. I recommend the 10-core, not more than 32 gig of RAM. Then, talk with Avid about what they recommend for GPUs.


  6. Richard F Randolph says:

    We’ll wait until the 2019 Developer’s Conference before making my decision. With the cost of Apple hardware these days, I’m going to have to live with my decisions for a while. Larry, do you recommend buying a small amount of memory from Apple and then getting the new system and installing very good third party memory as a way to bring the cost down?

    • Larry says:


      Yes, I recommend this, however only the Mac mini and 27″ iMac can be upgraded this way. (Maybe the iMac Pro, I can’t remember.)


      • Sarote says:

        Upgrading the RAM on the iMac Pro is much more difficult than previous iMacs. You need to remove the entire screen from the case (requires striping the glue and re gluing afterwards) and remove the boards so its not for the faint of heart!

  7. Loïc says:

    Hello Larry,

    Thank you for these valuable recommendations.

    I want to upgrade my workstation (iMac 2011) and edit on FCPX (which is why I stay on Apple system). I work on long formats with lots of rushes (documentary editing), and I sometimes do multi-cameras editing, which I still can do on my machine with proxies. Over the next few years it is not impossible that I sometimes work on heavier files, 4K or RAW: I just followed a 1 month training on DaVinci Resolve and I would also like to develop an activity in the color grading area. Generally I can take the time to convert my rushes to optimized media or proxies.

    I have a dual Thunderbolt dock: I put my 4TB HDD for media, and a 500 GB SSD for rendering.

    Here I am : I have the budget for a basic 2019 5K iMac: i5 hexacores, with 256GB SSD instead of the Fusion Drive, Radeon Pro 470 and 16GB RAM.

    Or for a MacMini, i7 hexacores, SSD of 128 GB, 16 GB of RAM and a eGPU box with a Radeon 64.graphic card. 

    The 5K screen of the iMac represents a comfort of work but I can do without and acquire a more modest screen for the workspace. Later I will buy a reference monitor for color corrections.

    I have the feeling the second option is a bit hazardous but potentially more powerful than the 1st one… 

    I am wondering about:

    – the heat management in both machines, and durability.
    -the power of eGPU and its optimization at the present time
    -to the Radeon Pro 570: Is it sufficient for my use? Does the 5K screen not draw too much resources on it, leaving little power for the rest?
    -iMac i5 (will it be enough?)

    What do you think of all this? What would you advise me?

    Thank you in advance for your patience and listening,


    • Larry says:


      Thanks for writing.

      “What do you think?” Smile… I think you are worrying too much. Any 2019 iMac you get today will be multiple TIMES faster than your 2011 system.

      * Longevity. Look how long your system lasted. I’m using a 2014, 2016 and 2017 iMac with zero problems. Any system you get should last years.

      * Heat management. Yes, I’ve read about this, too. However, it has never caused problems in real-world editing.

      * eGPU. I don’t advise them for iMacs. eGPUs are designed to boost the power of laptops. Most eGPUs simply equal what ships standard with a mid-range iMac.

      * CPU. Truthfully, for what you are doing, spending more to get the i9 will be worth it, especially for video compression. However, if you don’t have the money, the i5 won’t let you down.

      * I recommend the Fusion drive over the SSD. VERY similar speeds to an SSD for frequently used applications and media, with much greater storage. Yes, the SSD is “faster,” but the Fusion drive is very competitive, for less money and greater storage.

      * The graphics requirements of the display are factored into the GPU. Again, your choice of GPU is light-years ahead of your 2011 system.

      Multicam editing emphasizes the CPU. Editing 4K also uses the CPU. GPU is used in color grading, effects rendering and export.

      Hope this helps.


  8. Jacob Ritz says:

    Hello Larry,

    I have the iMac Pro that fits your “top of the line editorial version” and I edit multiple HD & 4K projects with adobe premiere pro.

    I have experience many issues regarding the color of clips after they have been imported into the software. Premiere Pro on the iMac pro blows out the whites and crushes the blacks, and adds contrast automatically upon import. These effects carry throughout the export.

    However when I work on the same project on an average iMac all the footage looks correct in matching the way it was shot. The export matches as well.

    This seems to be only an issue with the iMac Pro, I have been dealing with this for months now, and have been unable to find a solution. I am wondering if this is just an issue with adobe and the fact that they haven’t found a solution to dealing with the iMac Pro.

    I would love to know what you think, thank you!

    • Larry says:


      I don’t have an answer for you. However, I’ve forwarded your comments to my contacts at Adobe to see if they either have a solution or want to work with you to figure out the problem.

      I’ll let you know if Adobe gets back to me.


  9. Remi Solanke says:

    Hi there,

    I am looking to upgrade to iMac Pro, but I need to spec the machine so it can handle lots of FCPX, Adobe Premiere for video editing and After Effects (E3D, Trapcode Particular etc) Cinema 4D and other misc 3D rendering programs. What would you recommend?

    • Larry says:


      It really depends upon your budget. Based on your description, the system I recommended in my article is a good choice.

      More RAM will benefit After Effects. A faster GPU will benefit Cinema 4D. So, clearly, you can spend more money.

      But for an overall balance between budget and capability, I recommend the system in this article.

      BIG NOTE: Keep in mind that Apple’s WWDC is coming the first week in June. If they plan to offer a new “high-end pro” system, I would expect it to be announced there.


  10. This is the most helpful article I’ve come across — thank you! I am looking at editing 30-minute 4k videos each week on Final Cut Pro X, while running more basic applications like web browsers, word docs, etc. in the background.

    Is it a better value to get the 2019 iMac configuration of:
    3.6GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor, Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz
    64GB 2666MHz DDR4 memory
    Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB of HBM2 memory
    3TB Fusion Drive storage
    Magic Trackpad 2
    Magic Keyboard – US English

    Or a refurbished iMac pro configured as:
    3.2GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.2GHz, 19MB cache
    32GB 2666MHz DDR4 ECC memory
    1TB SSD storage1
    Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics processor with 8GB of HBM2 memory

    My sense is that I do not need to pay for 10-core instead of 8-core, but that it might be worth the value to have 64 gb vs 32, as well as a larger fusion drive to a smaller ssd. But, everything I find indicates that the extra 300 for an iMac pro in particular is a better deal, leaving me a bit conflicted. Is the 4200 refurbished iMac Pro more appropriate for my editing needs, or the 2019 iMac configured as above for around 3900? Or, would you recommend a different configuration altogether?

    Thank you! Very new to learning about these systems!

    • Larry says:


      Thanks for writing. This question can’t be answered in the abstract. It is similar to asking: “Which is better, a sedan or a pickup?” In both cases, the answer depends upon the work you are doing.

      A pickup is better for hauling stuff, a sedan is better for hauling people.

      So, BOTH these systems will be excellent. Key questions are:

      * Are you doing single camera or multicam editing?
      * What codec does your camera shoot and what codec will you be editing?
      * Are you editing, SD, HD, 4K or HDR material?
      * How many effects and what type of effects in a typical episode?
      * Are you running FCP X and Motion at the same time? (or Premiere / After Effects / Media Encoder for Adobe folks)?

      However, frankly, either of these systems will handle just about anything you throw at it. In both cases, I would get the 27″ display, because not only will you appreciate the greater real estate, both allow you to upgrade the RAM after purchase.


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