[Updated June 20, 2023, with a new section on the media engine. Updated July 9, 2023, with two reviews of the Mac Studio’s performance.]
With its latest releases, Apple now offers M2 versions of three desktops: the Mac mini, Mac Studio and Mac Pro. The goal of this article is to help you decide which hardware best meets your needs as a media creator, then provide tips on how to best configure the system.
Any of these computers can easily edit video. Unlike days gone by, media creators no longer need the biggest and fastest computer in order to do professional work. You may want the biggest and fastest, but you don’t need it.
Based on my recent extensive tests with Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro:
While I haven’t directly tested them, I would expect Avid Media Composer and Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve to behave similarly.
NOTE: For audio editing and mixing, CPUs are used more than GPUs.
SIDEBAR: WHAT ABOUT OTHER SYSTEMS?
The general rule holds true: you pay extra for portability. If you need a laptop, none of these systems will do. But, if you don’t need a portable system, these systems deliver more power, less heat and more ports than a MacBook Pro.
While the iMac is an excellent general purpose desktop computer, you will get more performance by combining one of these three systems with a third-party monitor. (You could also choose the Apple Display, but other monitors are cheaper and look as good.)
Here are some criteria to use when deciding which system to get.
M2 Mac mini
The M2 Mac mini is an editing powerhouse, especially with the M2 Pro SoC. It easily handles all SD, HD and 4K single camera editing, as well as up to 20 multicam streams, depending upon the speed of your storage.
NOTE: Here’s my review of the M2 Pro Mac mini.
M2 Mac Studio
The M2 Mac Studio is probably the best balance between performance and price. Single camera editing up to 12K is easily supported. Multicam editing is limited only by the speed of your storage. It has better heat management than the M2 Mac mini. The big advantages of this system are additional memory, more ports and faster render speeds.
M2 Mac Pro
The key advantages to the Mac Pro are the addition of PCIe ports to connect external hardware and expandable internal storage (but not RAM).
WHICH SoC TO PICK?
There are four variations of the M2 SoC (System on a Chip):
WHAT ABOUT THE MEDIA ENGINE?
The built-in media engine for all M2 SoCs accelerates ProRes, ProRes RAW, H.264 and HEVC files. This acceleration supports larger frame sizes, more multicam streams, faster rendering, faster exports and faster compression.
You can use other media formats, such as XDCAM, RED raw, and many, many others, but you won’t see the same performance. Playback of non-supported codecs at larger frame sizes may stutter. The NLE may not support as many multicam streams. Rendering may take longer.
Still, there are benefits to using non-ProRes media in terms of camera selection, lenses, and recording systems. The workaround is to convert your source files into ProRes proxy files for rough cuts or multicam editing. This harnesses the performance benefit of the media engine as you explore how to structure your project. Then, when it’s time for final trimming, effects and color grading, switch back to the camera native media.
This provides the greatest flexibility in selecting the media to shoot combined with the maximum performance from your NLE without spending a fortune in hardware.
HOW MUCH RAM IS ENOUGH?
All NLE software requires a minimum level of RAM for editing tasks, then uses any excess RAM to cache files to improve performance.
NOTE: For the Mac mini, buy as much RAM as you can afford.
HOW MUCH STORAGE IS ENOUGH?
Apple’s internal storage is very, VERY! fast – more than twice the speed of Thunderbolt! But, it is also very, VERY expensive. If you need the absolutely fastest performance store media and projects on the internal drive. This is especially true for multicam editing.
However, even for small projects, the internal drive will fill quickly. This is why I recommend purchasing 1 or 2TB of internal storage to provide plenty of room for the operating system, applications, work files and general purpose storage. Then, store the huge files that media editing creates on external storage. For the fastest performance, use hardware that features NVMe SSDs. For more cost-effective performance use spinning hard drives – ideally a RAID. However, spinning media is inefficient for multicam editing.
NOTE: My general recommendation is to always buy more internal storage than the minimum offered by Apple. This is especially true for the Mac mini.
As you look at these systems, you’ll notice that I don’t recommend taking the system with the highest GPU core count. The reason behind this is that I haven’t found any media editing software that uses all the CPUs or GPUs in a system.
I also don’t recommend buying the maximum internal storage. It is too expensive and, even if you do, you’ll still need external storage for most media projects.
Mac mini – Low Budget
NOTE: Don’t buy the Mac mini with 256 GB of storage. Its performance is intentionally limited.
List price: $1,199.00 (US)
Mac mini – optimized for media editing
List price: $1,899.00 (US)
Mac Studio – optimized for editing
List Price: $2,599.00 (US)
Mac Studio – optimized for rendering visual effects
List Price: $4,799.00 (US)
NOTE: If you need the Mac Pro, you also know which PCIe cards need to go into it. Here’s what I would recommend as a starting point.
List price: $8,199.00 (US)
When it comes to media creation, we have never had such a range of incredibly powerful systems. My key point, though, is that we don’t need to buy a fully-maxed out system in order to get our work done quickly and efficiently.
Find a system that matches your workflow. Given Apple’s traditional build quality whatever you buy today will most likely last a decade.
I’ve waited for these upgrades ever since the M1 was announced. So, I purchased my system the day Apple announced it. What did I get?
List price: $2,999.00 (US)
Here are my two reviews on its performance:
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