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If you're looking for a serious machine that will handle everything from HD video to visual FX, the Mac Pro is the way to go
Apple's 2.8Ghz dual Intel Xeon Quad-Core (8-cores total!) Mac Pro is one of Apple's fastest computers yet. With the capability to run with 32GB RAM, an excellent graphics card (or two), and terabytes of storage, no job is too big for this beast to handle.
Nine years ago (spring 1999), I bought a 400GHz Power Mac G3 with a whopping 256MB RAM, a 9GB start up drive and four drives I bought from ProMax totaling 120GB of extra space, plus a 17-inch Apple CRT display that looked like an iMac. The whole thing was bondi blue, again like the iMac, and the total was nearly $10,000! But man, it was fast. I used Final Cut Pro 1.0 to edit my first film, SKYE FALLING, and it was great to work with. Until Apple released the G4 later that year, and I learned a quick lesson in how technology works, especially during the tech boom of the late 1990s.
I mention this because look how far Apple has come. The company gave us an affordable edit solution with that set-up, to cut DV, but now we're editing uncompressed HD on an Intel Xeon Mac Pro system with 8-cores and 32GB RAM, not to mention terabytes of storage, all internal. The system I reviewed is a monster! Though graphic artists, animators, visual FX creators, labs computing major calculations and more will benefit from the latest Mac Pro, I took it for a spin using HDV, DVCPRO HD and XDCAM HD editing in Final Cut Pro 6, along with some DVD creation.
In all cases, the Mac Pro, outfitted with 4GB RAM (I recommend a minimum of four, but if you re budget allows it, max it out), handled all three types of video in projects ranging from a short film with completed visual FX, to two feature films, one shot on HDV, the other on XDCAM HD. Rendering times were short, playback was quick and the overall quality of editing was high. Compared to my MacBook 2.16GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2GB of RAM, the Mac Pro left it in the dust.
For example, I rendered a 10 second XDCAM HD clip with a basic Nattress image filter that took only five seconds to render. On the MacBook, the same test took about 41 seconds. My MacBook s RAM maxes out at 2GB, but a firmware update from Apple will allow the computer to read 4GB. I m patiently waiting! For the record, the MacBook isn t a laptop to be laughed at--it s still a fast little machine.
Exporting QuickTime movies (check out my tutorial here) or compressing for DVD via Compressor 3 was a snap, and creating a basic DVD in DVD Studio Pro was a breeze. I m very impressed with the system s speed.
For me, the ultimate test right now is Smoothcam (see my Final Cut Pro 6 review for an example. On a Mac Pro Quad-Core 3.0GHz with 8 GB RAM, a one minute, 3 second (1:03) HDV clip in 24p took around 13 hours to analyze in the background while I still edited or went about my business. On my MacBook, the same clip took nearly 24 hours, but the dual Quad-Core Mac Pro I'm currently testing handled it in about nine hours!
The Mac Pro I was using comes standard with 2GB RAM, a 320GB start up hard drive, a single DVD burner, and an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB graphics card, all for only $2799, no monitor included. The system I used had an extra drive (500GB) and 2GB RAM, plus a very nice 23-inch Apple Cinema Display, and costs less than $5000, if you include taxes and shipping from Apple.com. Throw in Final Cut Studio for $1299, a second monitor for $900, another 500GB drive for $200, and you're looking at a serious machine that still costs much less than my old Power Mac G3 setup from 1999, but is probably 20 times faster, if not 30!
The last Power Mac G5 featuring the IBM dual Dual-Core processors maxed out at 2.5GHz (nothing to sniff at), but the Intel revolution is giving us EIGHT processors (dual Quad-Cores) at affordable prices. The speeds max out at 3.2GHz (base model starts at $4399), and there's a 3.0GHz option (base model starts at $3599). For a single 2.8GHz Quad-Core base system, the price is $2299.
If you're looking for a serious machine that will handle everything from HD video editing and graphics, to visual FX, animation and huge calculations, the new Mac Pro is the way to go. The speeds have even increased since I reviewed the Quad-Core 3.0 GHz system last year (review here ), so if you're looking to upgrade from a Power Mac G5 or older, or even a slower Mac Pro, now is the time with an 8-core system. Find out more at www.apple.com/macpro
Heath McKnight is a filmmaker and author who has produced and directed several independent feature and short films, including Hellevator, 9:04 AM and December. He is currently web content manager for doddleNEWS. Heath was also a contributor to VASST's best-selling book, "The FullHD," and has written for TopTenREVIEWS and Videomaker.