Configure a MacBook Pro for Video Editing [u]

speed201[UPDATE: In June 2017, Apple updated their MacBook Pro laptops with new processors, more SSD storage and renamed, but not changed, GPUs. UPDATE 2: In July, 2018, they updated MacBook Pros again. While the technology has changed, my general recommendations remain the same for these new units. I’ll add updates for the new gear as I learn more.]

A 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.

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

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.

UPDATE: The battery issue was traced to a bug in the OS. This is no longer an issue.

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.

UPDATE. As the processors and speeds have changed, read this now as: Editing does not require as fast a processor as video compression. The base level processor will be fine for most editing, while a faster processor will benefit compression.

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.

UPDATE: And, the 2017 versions now support hardware acceleration for H.265 video.

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. SSDs have continued to increase in storage capacity. If you plan to store media externally, you don’t need a very large SSD. Again, the OS only takes about 30 GB of storage.

UPDATE: Here’s an updated article on storage speeds and media requirements that will help you put your storage needs into perspective.

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.

UPDATE: With the 2017 upgrade, all GPUs were renamed, but not change. So, the Radeon 450 is now 550, 455 is now 555, and 460 is now 560. Performance and recommendations have not changed.

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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138 Responses to Configure a MacBook Pro for Video Editing [u]

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  1. Matthew Weiss says:

    Thanks Larry! Yes, my computer is a Thunderbolt 3 with the two ports on each side. And though the 6-drive OWC is that much faster than the 4-drive, is it overkill if we’re going to be using 2k ProRes LT footage for our rough cutting/assembling purposes? Will I notice a difference on playback or scrubbing through such footage between the two? Its definitely a matter of cost so unless its appreciable I don’t think the production can justify it. Give me the hard truth!! And again, thank you so much.

  2. Matthew Weiss says:

    Thank you Larry! At this point you deserve a credit on this movie!!! I really apprecaite you taking the time and giving me your expertise – incredibly helpful and stress-relieving!

    Best,
    Matthew

  3. Blazo says:

    I’m thinking of buying the new MacBook Pro 13 inch, 2.8 GHz i7, 16gb with the intel iris 655 Graphics . Would this be enough for heavy video editing / Final Cut Pro , premiere pro, after effects.

    I need portability hence going for the 13 instead of the 15 inch. I configured the 13 inch to higher specs hoping it will handle heavy work?

  4. Blazo says:

    Unfortunately cannot add the Radeon pro graphics to the configuration on the 13 inch/ which is a real let down.

    • PJ says:

      Hi Blazo, I recently purchased a 13″ macbook pro with the same specs. I want to run the same video editing software that you listed. I am a beginner at video editing and now having buyer’s remorse about my new laptop. Did you end up buying it? If so, are you able to run all the video editing software well enough? Thanks!

      • Blazo says:

        Hi PJ,
        I haven’t bought yet the MacBook I’m still looking around.
        I’m pretty sure you can run all the programs listed, and it should be ok. I think if you use a lot of effects/ layers/color corrections etc on the videos it will most probably slow it down when you exporting the final product.

        But since you have bought it you should go ahead and test it and see how it goes.Not sure if you are still under the warranty where you can return it and buy another machine ? (

        You can test it to export various videos.
        Try it:
        Export 5 min 1080- edited video clip and see the timing.
        Export 5 min 4k edited video clip and see the timing .
        Export 1 min or 2 min motion graphics – cinematic title or motion advert in After Effects or Apple motion and see the timing.
        It may not be that bad as you think. Apple laptops are usually good for grsphic/video editing.

        It is very difficult to find a small (13 inch) laptop which will have all top marks for video editing.

        I researched so many different machines in the last couple of months (13 inches) and all seem to lack one thing or another when it comes to video editing. Anytime i find a good one that seems to check all the marks – then I come across some very bad review which puts me off.

        So far I haven’t found even 1 13 inch laptop the has a 100 % positive review for video editing.(based on online reviews)
        Otherwise see with apple if you can exchange it for the 15 inch entry level MacBook Pro ( 6 core i7 16 GB 256 GB, with AMD Radeon 555 4gb dedicated graphics. Not sure where you are based but here [Singapore}, the difference between the two is only 200 S$- and if not for the fact that I need 13 inch machine for easy travel, this would have been my first choice.).

        The other thing to consider if you end up keeping the 13 inch MacBook Pro is , you can always use eGPU for the more heavy work (although the apple eGPU costs quite a bit).

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