Configure a 2016 MacBook Pro for Video Editing

speed201A frequent email request from readers is help in configuring a computer for video editing. There are many options and, sometimes, it is hard to decide the best place to spend your money.

Yes, the launch of the new MacBook Pro has had its share of controversy. But, what if you still need to buy a laptop for video editing? What do you really need? How much do you really need to spend?

You don’t need to spend a fortune to get the right system. Let me help you decide what you need to buy.

There are many reasons to buy a laptop, with portability leading the list. However, the MacBook Pro has enough power that you can reasonably consider it for your principle editing system, especially when you combine it with an external 5K or 4K monitor.

WHAT SIZE LAPTOP?

I recommend 15″.

Whether you are running Premiere or Final Cut, larger screen sizes help. Both these interfaces work better on larger screens.

Second, while Apple has expanded – and vastly improved – the speed and storage capacity of the MacBook Pro, I still recommend storing projects and media on an external drive. While there is a benefit to storing everything on the internal hard disk – portability and speed being two of them – using a second drive allows you to move projects between computers, as well as access to your data in the event your computer goes into the shop.

However, for best results, you would be well-advised to consider an external SSD if you want speed, or a RAID if you need more storage space. Single hard disks will work, but don’t equal the performance of the laptop itself, or these other two options.

DOES THE TOUCH BAR MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

touch103a

I think it does. I found it increasingly helpful as I worked with the unit.

NOTE: Here’s an article that explains how the Touch Bar works in Final Cut Pro X.

SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT BATTERY LIFE?

I think the current battery controversy will be resolved quickly through software. However, even more than that, video editing burns through batteries, regardless of how long they are supposed to last.

For me, all my editing – even on the road – is done when I’m attached to wall power; excepting only the very tiniest projects. Since I’m never on battery power for editing, how long the batteries last is not an important consideration for me.

WHAT SPEED CPU?

This depends.

If you are principally doing video editing, you can save money by purchasing the 2.6 GHz processor. Both Premiere and Final Cut heavily leverage the GPU and, while the CPU is important, if you are on a budget, you can conserve dollars here.

However, if you are principally doing transcoding and compression, then the faster CPU makes sense as both of these tasks use the CPU much more than the GPU.

NOTE: Keep in mind that all the new MacBook Pros use hardware acceleration for H.264 compression, which makes creating videos for the web extremely fast even on slower processors.

If budget is driving this decision, selecting the slower processor will be fine, the differences between the two are not significant enough to warrant the extra cost.

speed202

HOW MUCH STORAGE?

The internal SSD storage of the new MacBook Pro is the fastest I’ve ever measured. It is SERIOUSLY fast!

If you plan to store your media and projects on an external drive of some sort, then get the 256 GB SSD. The operating system and all your applications will take less than 30 GB, leaving plenty of room for temp files and general work space.

However, if you need to have everything stored on the laptop itself, buy the most storage you can afford.

WHICH GPU?

This is the opposite side of the CPU question. A GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is specifically designed for rendering bitmapped images very, very quickly. For the first time, all MacBook Pro laptops include both the “built-in” GPU from Intel and a discrete (meaning “separate”) graphics system from AMD called “Radeon.”

There are three different Radeon GPUs: the 450, 455 and 460. The distinctions between them are the number of compute units – 10, 12, and 16, respectively – and the amount of VRAM – or RAM attached to the GPU itself. The 450 and 455 have 2 GB of VRAM, while the 460 has 4 GB. More compute units means more processing power, while more VRAM means faster performance.

NOTE: You can read more about these Radeon GPUs here.

If you are principally doing video editing or motion graphics work, purchase the 455 or, if you can afford it, the 460.

If you are principally transcoding and compressing, the base-level 450 GPU will be fine.

SHOULD I WORRY ABOUT RAM?

All 15″ laptops have 16 GB of RAM. My tests have shown this is more than sufficient for virtually all video editing.

NOTE: Here’s an article that goes into editing performance on the MacBook Pro in much more detail.

cables001DO I NEED CONVERTER CABLES?

Yes. The MacBook Pro only has USB-C ports. If you have existing devices, you’ll need a converter cable for Thunderbolt 2 devices and a second cable for traditional USB devices.

NOTE: Apple also realizes that we are in a transition phase between ports, so they’ve extended their promotional prices on Apple USB-C adapters (specifically, USB-C to USB-A, Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2, and USB-C to Lightning). Plus, the reduced pricing on the new LG 4K and 5K monitors have been extended to March 31, 2017.

Also, if you have a lot of devices, consider a dock, which takes a single USB-C cable from the computer and splits it into a wide variety of separate ports.

HOW MUCH SHOULD I SPEND?

speed203The base level 15″ MacBook Pro is $2,399 (US). This will be fine for all SD and general HD editing that is not effects-heavy.

Adding a higher performance GPU to this system will improve effects and color grading performance and be adequate for virtually all HD editing, even multicam work. This raises the price to $2,599.

If you are working in 4K or higher resolutions, do lots of effects work in After Effects or Motion, and are principally focused on video editing, the higher end laptop with 512 GB of storage and a top of the line GPU will be a better choice. This raises the price to $2,899.

And, for those of you who believe that money is no object, the top of the line system complete with all the storage Apple can cram into it, will set you back $4,299.

If it were my money, I’d go with the $2,899 system:

As always, I’m interested in your opinions.


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13 Responses to Configure a 2016 MacBook Pro for Video Editing

  1. Larry,

    You have provided the hard data for a case I have been arguing for years: the current (and some recent past) generations of the MBPs and iMacs are definitely fast enough for editing HD video.

    My office editing machine is last year’s top-spec 5K iMac: 4GHz quad-core, 24 GB RAM, and the Radeon R9 4096MB graphics card. I use a pair of Mercury SSDs in an OWC enclosure—originally I was intending to use these striped, but in actual testing, found that even mirrored, these drives were way faster than I needed (I used the BlackMagic Design disk tester utility), so decided that an automatic backup of all media while working was just sensible. I archive onto another Thunderbolt RAID with conventional 7,200rpm drives, also mirrored. The office machine drives a second screen (I use this as a Browser in FCP).

    GeekBench scores this machine at 17,860.

    The MBP is late 2013, 2.3GHz quad-core, 16 GB RAM, and an Intel Iris Pro 1536 MB graphics card, and a top-spec Mercury 256GB SSD system drive. When on the road, I only use its screen. Editing using a touch pad is not as easy as the wired mouse I use in the office, but it works just fine.

    GeekBench scores this laptop at 11, 650, so it’s definitely not as fast as the 5K iMac, but in practise, in actual editing work, more fast enough.

    When using the MBP on the road, I have media on a number of 256GB SSDs connected via USB 3 or Thunderbolt; for simpler programs that I need to make on the road, this works perfectly. Speed is never a problem and this size is the ideal price point. I have had one SSD fail, though, so that’s something to keep in mind.

    We shoot multicam 1080p (3 or 4 cameras, and second system sound) and either machine can handle these programs. Compression of the final cut reveals the differences in processing power (we master in 1080p, but output finished programs at 720p for our Vimeo channel; users praise the visual quality even at this lower resolution, and we believe this is because most people view our programs on a phone or tablet), but this is never a problem in practise, as it’s the last step.

    Transcoding the Panasonic G6 AVCHD footage is done on ingestion and is almost as fast as copying card contents without transcoding, we have found (we use ClipWrap for this).

    There are so many top-spec used machines out there that I doubt that we will ever buy new again (when I bought the 5K iMac, that was new, but was literally half the price of the MacPro I was considering).

    Thanks for crunching the actual numbers, Larry: the big surprise for me was that FCP really does not need as much RAM as most users believe. Quad-core processors are essential though, and SSDs mandatory, in my view.

  2. Eric says:

    Can you recommend an external ssd that would be suitable for FCP?

  3. Kevin Hopper says:

    Larry – thank you as always for your great articles and insights. I’ve been waiting for at least six months for the new MacBook Pros. I’m a heavy iMac user for Apple/Adobe photo/video editing but need a laptop because of my heavy travel schedule. I ordered a 15″ unit this morning but didn’t see this article until this afternoon. I quickly read it, wondering if I should fine-tune my order. Fortunately, I’d ordered the 15″ unit exactly as you recommended. Whew, close call. Thanks again.

  4. Elliott Abram says:

    Ordered Dec 7, 16
    Number Ordered Shipped Price Price
    001 Z0SH MBP 15.4 SPACE GRAY 1 1 3,101.00 3,101.00
    SerialNo.: ( C02STCBAGTF1 )

    The unit above contains the following options:

    PROCESSOR 065-C416 2.7GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
    MEMORY 065-C41C 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM
    GRAPHICS 065-C429 Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB VRAM
    FLASH STORAGE 065-C41H 1TB PCIe-based SSD
    Arrived Dec 18, added Apple Care, magic mouse, several USB-C adapters and sold my 3 ½ year old 13″ MBP. Using it for multi-cam in the field and my 27″ iMac at home office. Still learnings Apple keeps updating FCP.

  5. Hi Larry, I noticed this article referenced in the Apple forums when I was look at issues I am having with the 2016 MacBook Pro. Here is my experience with the machine:

    Premiere has been my editing app for 3 years. In November 2016  I bought a 15″ MacBook Pro with the Radeon Pro 460 graphics card. Almost immediately I started having crashes using Premiere. Apple had me do some resets – Pram and something else and it settled down for a short while, but then continued to crash, ending up crashing every time I played a clip. When the the computer crashed I got the green checker box freeze with red flashes. The computer was replaced by Apple. Now the same crashes have started to happen on the new machine. I have contacted Apple and Adobe. Apple has made no suggestions other than to say “Ask adobe”. Adobe had me reinstall the app, but it is still crashing. The new computer has crashed 4 times during 5 hours of work. When I got the first machine in November I did a fresh install. I have little else installed on the machine other than the essential Creative Cloud apps and no 3rd party apps or LUTs. I did migrate to the replacement machine. I am forced to return to my 3 year old MacBook Pro which works just fine using the latest OS and Creative Cloud apps. The new MBP is going back and it’s unlikely I will buy another at this point. 

    • Larry says:

      Gregory:

      Wow…! I’m really sorry for all your problems.

      I have not had the same experience, nor has anyone else reported anything similar. However, this does not minimize the problems you are having and you have my sympathy.

      Thanks for letting us know.

      Larry

      • Darrell D. says:

        I’ve had the same exact issue. I returned my brand new 2016 MacBook Pro 15″ 16gb ram AMD Radeon pro 460 512TB SSD because I can’t work I can’t eat. I ended up going with the 2015 model because of the iris pro graphics. 1TB SSD i7 2.9ghz TB up to 4.0ghz. This is really disheartening I bet Steve Jobs is rolling around as we speak rip.

  6. Mike says:

    Anyone have any hands-on experience/feedback with the 2016 Touch Bar 13 inch and how it handles 4k in FCPX? I’m not looking to accomplish any heavy lifting (3D titles, etc), just basic editing, assembly, a few filters, etc. Thanks for your time everyone.

    • Hi,

      If you’re using FCPX, it handles 4K very well. I’ve tested FCP X a couple times in-store with the 13″ base model (8GB, 256 GB, i5 processor) and it felt buttery smooth. I think this is mostly due to how well FCP X is optimized for the hardware (when compared with Adobe Premier Pro) and the fact that it optimizes footage in background. I’m going to order one with 16GB though, just to future proof it.

      You might also want to check out this video where the new non-touchbar version, that seems to have a very basic specification beats a high-spec windows laptop by far.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NWp9k2lydtk&t=1s

  7. jeremy says:

    Hi, Can you anyone recomment a second screen that will work well with the macbook pro? apart from the LG one which I’ve heard has some issues..many thanks,jeremy

    • Larry says:

      Jeremy:

      There are many to choose from – Samsung, Dell, LG – they all connect via the HDMI port. With the latest MacBook Pro, you’ll need a USB-C to HDMI converter cable, which Apple sells.

      Larry

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