Need hardware recommendations for FCP3

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    • #46972

      Hello. I’m a tech, but primarily (by far) I work on PC’s. But now I’m helping a friend buy new hardware to run FCP3. We want to make the best choices for his budget. Towards that end, I have these questions to help him determine where best to put his money now:

      1) Would it be better to go to 12 GB RAM (triple channel) on a single-CPU Mac Pro, or upgrade to the Dual-CPU (8 Core) Mac Pro, adding more RAM later on?

      In both cases, we won’t upgrade up front to the faster CPUs Apple offers (but we could down the road).
      2) How important is the video card to FCP3? I know CS4 just takes a small advantage of graphics card GPUs versus the CPU when rendering. What about FCP3? Should we stick with Apple’s basic GT 120, upgrade to the offered HD 4870, or go to multiple video cards? We could just order it with the basic GT 120, and then go to third party video card(s), if that would be a significant benefit.
      3) What is a realistic minimum RAM amount to get decent editing and rendering performance?
      4) Any suggestions for a good RAID card rather than Apple’s? We’ll add at least a second hard drive for all the video data, even if we don’t start with a RAID card and striped data drives. What priority would you place on a RAID set-up?
      5) Any suggestions for anything I’m overlooking?

      Thank you! Chuck

    • #193457

      Unless you are going to be creating lots of motion graphics in Motion, you don’t need 12 GB of RAM. If I remember correctly, FCP doesn’t use more than 4GB of RAM, might only be 2GB.

      Also, I don’t think you can upgrade the CPU in a Mac without buying a new Mac.

      Apple’s basic video cards are fine. What you do need is an AJA Kona or Blackmagic card to use for external monitoring.

      4GB of RAM should be fine. Like I said before, if you are going to do a lot of work in Motion (or After Effects), then definitely load up on RAM. But if all you’re doing is cutting video in FCP, 4GB is fine. And, RAM doesn’t help with rendering. If you want faster renders, you need a fast CPU

      As for a RAID…do you need a RAID? You haven’t mentioned what kind of video you are cutting. If you do, Sonnet makes good RAID cards.

    • #193458

      Thank you, Rob! I appreciate the info! Your great response does raise some ideas and further questions for me.

      First of all, to answer your question, right now this is just a hobby for my friend; shooting outdoor hunts. His intention is to produce training videos and he also hopes to get some of his videos on some of the outdoor shows (a friend of his that I don’t know has such a show, so he has an “in”). So I expect that he will have hours of video that he needs to cut and edit, paste together, edit the sound tracks, and make it look “professional”, whatever extra that entails.

      Based on what you said regarding rendering, and based on my expectation that the length of video he will be creating would require quite a bit of rendering, it sounds to me like he ought to go with the base 8-core model to max out the computing power (but not add ridiculously priced MHz by upgrading the CPUs). Do you agree?

      Thank you for the pointer on Kona and Blackmagic. I had not thought about video capture cards, assuming he would transfer in over Firewire. Considering what my friend will be doing, what level card are we talking about here? Is that something he should consider up front, or is that more of a “wait and see” if he needs that?

      And being that I’ve never done any video editing, I’m not quite sure what you meant by “external monitoring” … what would I be looking for there? We had planned on dual 24″ LCDs, if that matters.

      As far as RAID goes, my thoughts there concerned video editing and rendering speed … I was thinking he could get a good boost from having the video on two striped drives. We would leave the OS drive alone. Is RAID not needed? Would he be better off getting a video capture card instead, if his budget allows?

      I looked at Sonnet’s Tempo SATA E4i card, but they don’t list the MAC Pro compatibility — they only mention the G5. I also looked at Highpoint x4 4-port card, but they had fairly mixed reviews.

      Regarding upgrading the CPU later, since these are Intel CPUs, mounted on typical Intel sockets, my thought was that whatever processor upgrade Apple offers at the time of purchase should also be compatible later on. I figured that Apple most likely has only two boards for the Mac Pro (Quad-Core and Dual Quad-Core), and they just put in whichever level CPU the customer orders. So whatever highest CPU the particular board and its BIOS could support for that socket type ought to work when upgraded later. Of course my opinion is based more on years of experience in the Intel/AMD world, rather than Apple’s. I do know that Apple could use a different ROM for each CPU that might go in a Mac Pro, but that would mean a different board for each CPU as well. I hope they’re not doing that …

      Well, thank you again, Rob, for helping out. If you have any further thoughts here, please let me know.


    • #193459

      Sorry, I should have clarified. When I asked “what kind of video are you cutting?” I meant “what video format.” A format like DVCProHD is more demanding than DV/NTSC (miniDV), and therefore, may require more hardware. So…what format is your friend cutting? It’s hard to provide any meaningful answers to your questions without knowing.

      Because this is a hobby of your friend’s, I think a Quad-core will be enough. Just because there is an 8-core available, it doesn’t mean the Quad-core won’t do a good job. A Quad-core won’t have him sitting around for hours and hours waiting for things to render. Sure, the 8-core naturally will be faster than the Quad, but given the situation he is in, is there anything that will justify spending that extra cash…just to save a few minutes? I dont think so, IMHO. Stick with the Quad-Core and save the cash.

      About the Kona and Blackmagic cards…2 Things: 1) I mainly was suggesting these for external monitoring. What I mean by that is: computer monitors don’t properly display video. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time making video, it’s important to know exactly what your image looks like. The solution is to send video out of FCP via the Kona or Blackmagic card and into a broadcast television monitor (or a TV at worst) and calibrate that monitor using color bars. 2) You said your friend can capture using firewire. Does that mean he’s shooting MiniDV? If so, I guess that answers my question about the recording format. But, if he is recording miniDV, then he doesn’t exactly NEED a Kona or Blackmagic card. He can send video out of FCP via firewire, then to a miniDV deck or camera, and then into the broadcast monitor.

      About the RAID. First, I don’t have a RAID, so I can’t answer specifics about which hardware to purchase. What I can tell you is that all a RAID does is help your computer read the data faster, which is necessary for high end video because of the high bit rates. It doesn’t help with rendering time, and it’s irrelevant to ask ” Is RAID not needed? Would he be better off getting a video capture card instead” because RAIDs and capture cards do two completely different tasks.

      I really don’t know anything about upgrading a CPU. If you could some how upgrade the CPU in a Mac, I don’t even know where you’d get a new CPU. In my opinion, I wouldn’t sweat it. There are people still cutting video with Avid on G4s. Having the latest and greatest isn’t the key to making good video.

      Let me know if you have anymore questions

    • #193460

      Hi Rob,

      Thank you for getting back to me tonight. I’ll be seeing my friend tomorrow afternoon, so I’ll find out what model digital camcorder he’s using, and what format it records in, and on what media (I’m suspecting hard drive because I think it’s pretty new). I also think he has either a prosumer Canon or Sony model, but we haven’t discussed that for several months now, so I forget the details.

      I’ll write back tomorrow if I have the time to get online, or else on Monday.

      Thank you again for taking the time to share your knowledge!


    • #193461

      Hi Rob,

      My friend owns a Canon XHA1S digital camcorder. It records on miniDV tapes in both HD and SD. He tells me that he intends to record everything in HD, then down-convert it to SD in the camcorder before bringing it in to the Mac for editing. I admit I don’t know much about editing video, so I don’t understand why he wouldn’t just bring the HD in, but he tells me that is what others are telling him to do, at least to start with. He did say that he eventually intends to go HD from start to finish.

      Regarding my phrasing about the video capture card vs RAID … recognizing that they are two distinct purposes, I was just trying to determine a priority. If we can only do one of those, which is more beneficial?

      As far as the external monitor goes, if the second LCD monitor on the computer was also an HDTV, would that be of benefit to him? But since he’s recording on miniDV, you say he can just hook it to a regular tv (Mac Pro to Canon XHA1S to TV) and watch it that way, to see what it looks like in “real world” viewing? That sounds like a pretty good budget option to me. How much would he be losing comparing that to a blackmagic or Kona card hooked to a regular tv? (At this point, a broadcast reference monitor doesn’t make sense in his budget.)

      As far as processors go, there are lots of sites that sell them, such as cdw dot com, so a future upgrade should be possible.

      And, a bonus to my friend, his wife just went back to school, so he qualifies for the Mac education discounts. Anyway, any further thoughts you could share would be much appreciated. Thank you!


    • #193462

      Hey Chuck,

      I believe your friend’s camera only records to tape, so I don’t know how he will down convert to SD in the camera without initially recording HD. Unless he means he will down-convert during ingest.

      Your friend will not need a RAID. So I’d suggest purchasing a Kona LHi (because it has digital and analog connections), an HDV deck, and something to monitor the video. Simply connecting an HDTV to your graphics card doesn’t help because neither computer monitors nor graphics cards properly generate video signals accurately.

      But like I said before, he should be able to send video from FCP to an HDV deck or camera then to a broadcast monitor or TV if he doesn’t wanna spend all that money for a Kona card or Blackmagic card. The capture card is ideal, but DV, HDV, and DVCProHD can be outputted via firewire. So that’s a cost effective option.

      Also, if he does get a Kona LHi, he will be able to capture his HDV footage as ProRes during ingest, which is a far better editing codec than HDV.

      If your friend thinks he can swap processors later, then go for it. In my opinion, there are other issues to worry about rather than having the fastest processor available, but whatever…it’s his gear. I’ve never heard of anyone swapping out processors on a Mac, so if he ruins it, tough luck for him.

      Let me know if you have anymore questions. Good luck.

    • #193463

      Hi Rob,

      Thank you again! Your knowledge and willingness to share is deeply appreciated. I think I’m starting to grasp this. But I still have some more questions …

      Is importing through the Kona LHi in ProRes any faster than the import (with or without down-conversion) would be through Firewire? Or is it a real time import because of the limitations of the miniDV tape?

      So many questions … I understand that the Kona LHi will also provide the connection to the tv for monitoring. What if we purchased that second LCD with an HDTV tuner internally; would that, connected to the Kona LHi, be a reasonable choice as an external monitor? Or are we really just better off with an old crt tv hooked up to the Kona LHi?

      And I think you’re right; he must have meant that he would have the camera do the down-conversion during the transfer to the Mac Pro. But I like the idea of avoiding that by importing in ProRes through the Kona LHi.

      I looked up a few HDV decks, but (betraying my ignorance again) I’m not sure I fully understand the need for this. My friend’s plan was to do all his editing in Final Cut Studio 3, then burn the videos to CD or DVD initially, adding a Blu-Ray burner in the future. And, if and when he has a need to reproduce in quantity, get a disk duplicator system. The HDV decks I saw were quite expensive. The most budget-friendly one I found was a JVC Professional SR-DVM600US for somewhat less than $1000. Right now the plan was to have the 640 GB hard drive as the main drive, for the OS and programs (FCP3, etc.), and to have at least a 1 TB drive internally to use for all the video footage. What would we lose here without an HDV deck, or what do we gain with one? Or is it primarily to leave the camera’s tape drive just for recording and thus have it last longer? So then we would put the tape in the HDV deck and transfer in at ProRes through the Kona LHi, correct?

      I think we’re getting near the finish line! <g>

      With many thanks, Chuck

    • #193464

      Capturing through a Kona card is no faster than capturing though firewire, and it’s because tape has to be captured in real-time. What the Kona card provides is a means for capturing, conversions during ingest, conversions during output, and monitoring.

      “What if we purchased that second LCD with an HDTV tuner internally; would that, connected to the Kona LHi, be a reasonable choice as an external monitor?”

      I’m not sure what you mean exactly, but if it’s basically an HDTV that you want to connect via the Kona card, then that should be an OK solution if you cannot afford a broadcast monitor – they are quite expensive. But if your friend is going to be editing SD, then he should connect an SD TV to the Kona. You should be able to connect both an HD and SD TV to the Kona card at the same time actually.

      There are a few reasons you may want a deck. First, it’s better for your camera. Some decks may be expensive, but if your camera goes bad, replacing it may cost more than buying a deck to begin with. It’s like one of those situations where if you don’t spend a little more now, you may end up paying a lot more later. Also, a decent deck should be more robust than the camera. Second, a deck with SDI and/or component outputs allows you to connect to a Kona card and capture as ProRes. You will still want to connect the deck to your computer with a firewire too, but only for deck control so that you can control the deck from FCP rather than have to push buttons on your deck while you’re using it.

    • #193465

      My two-cents: robgrauert is right.

    • #193466

      Good morning, Rob,

      You have been very generous with your expertise, and I greatly appreciate it. At this point you have given me a real grasp on what we need to put together to get my friend off on the best foot.

      The only question I have left is which HDV decks you might recommend under $1500 and under $1000. The two I’ve come across that I can get in those ranges are both JVC, the SR-DVM700US and SR-DVM600US, respectively. Do you have experience with either of these, or would you recommend something else?

      Thank you again! Chuck

    • #193467

      Neither of those decks you listed are HDV; they are miniDV. These are the HDV decks that B&H has and I would recommend getting one that has SDI and/or component connections:

    • #193468

      Rob, thank you again! I am going to recommend the HVR-M15AU deck to him.

      So far he has decided on the 8-Core Mac Pro, with 12 GB RAM (he does plan on working in After Effects), the 640 GB Hard Drive, and one basic GT 120 video card. To that it looks like we will be adding the Kona LHi card, FCP Studio 3, two 24″ LCD Displays (one also an HDTV), a 1 TB video data drive, an old SD TV, and the Sony HVR-M15AU.

      So, unless you have any further pointers or refinements to suggest, I think we have a plan. You have been extraordinarily helpful, Rob! I want to thank you once more for sharing your time and expertise to help my friend out. I looked at your web site, and I like your work. May God bless you, and your business!

      Take care, Chuck

    • #193469

      Sounds like a real solid set up. The only thing we never mentioned was audio. Average, dinky computer speakers are no good. You want speakers that have a woofer and a tweeter. For example, I use the M-Audio DX4s, which are very clean and accurately reproduce my audio.

      While you don’t want cheap speakers, I wouldn’t recommend spending too much – simply because your friend probably isn’t an audio engineer. Not that it’s a bad thing that he isn’t an audio engineer, but why spend so much on speakers if you don’t know what blemishes to listen for, or don’t know how to enhance audio. Ya know?

      My speakers were $150. So that gives you an idea of how much decent speakers can cost. I recommend brands like M-Audio, KRK, Genelec, Mackie and Yamaha.

      To keep your audio in sync with your video while you edit, be sure to send audio out of FCP via the Kona card and then to the speakers – just like you would with getting video to an external monitor.

      Good luck and happy editing. Your friend’s edit suite should last him a while.

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