Mac users interested in trying out video editing often start with iMovie, but given the much reduced price of Final Cut Pro with the recent Final Cut Pro X version (down from four digits to $299) it’s not long before its worth considering an upgrade to Final Cut. However, while Apple has made upgrades to main processors and video cards in the Mac Pro tower over the last several years, thats about all it has done to it. This means that many people who are running advanced imaging apps are still using Mac Pros of vintages from 2006 to 2009. These older Mac Pros are chugging along when it comes to still image work, and unless Apple decides to update the Mac Pro in a big way, these users are likely to continue using these towers until something catastrophic happens. That might take the form or a post-warranty board failure; but it also might also mean a key application that will not run on those older machines.
Set Up Costs
The bar for entry to pro video editing often does not consist only of the cost of a video editor. There tend to be post processing effects packages, audio and music software, and an array of hardware purchases to be factored in as well. With Final Cut Pro X and a copy of Apple’s iLife, much of that can be put off indefinitely; as a fair amount of post-processing is now built right into FCPX, and basic sound and music work can be done in iLife’s Garage Band. So it would be tempting to think that the single $299 outlay for FPCX would be the only outlay standing between you and the simplest of the advanced video editing systems.
Video Card Issues
With a newer Mac Pro, with at least an ATI Radeon 5770 video card, that may well be true. But with the 2006 to 2009 units, the included video cards, most often the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT, lack the ability to run Final Cut Pro X. However, these are towers, and the virtue of towers, even Mac towers, which are less modular than other types, is that a new video card can be installed. It should still be possible to purchase an ATI Radeon 5770 card from the Apple Online Store for a price in the range of $249.
This will take care of the video incompatibility that will otherwise make it impossible to even buy or download FCPX on such a computer; though it nearly doubles the cost of entry for installing FCPX. But is it the only factor you need to consider? Not, really: communications protocols are another issue. After all, video requires lots of storage, and internal drives might meet your still imaging needs, but they will definitely not be sufficient for any serious video work.
Ports, Ports, Ports
The older Mac Pros offer slow, but convenient, USB2 ports. They do not offer USB3, which is very useful for external drives for use with still imaging. The “fast” protocol for older Mac Pros is FireWire, often offering both FW400 and FW800. FireWire 800 is fast enough for video transfers, if external FW800 drives are optimized drives that run at ratings close to what the protocol can manage. So anyone considering doing video work on an older Mac Pro will have to plan on purchasing FireWire 800 storage large enough for the amount of video they will be working with.
New Investments in Old Technology
However, is investing in FireWire drives at this point in time a clever idea? Drive prices are dropping again, now that shortage from floods in Thailand have been dealt with, and FireWire format drives are a particularly good deal, because it is now an end-of-life format. This is because newer Macs have moved to Thunderbolt for their fast data transfer. Convertors to run FW800 drives from newer Thunderbolt Macs are not expensive, in fact, at prices like $29, they are far less expensive than most Thunderbolt cables. So an investment in FireWire storage now will continue to be usable in the near future. It may not be ideal at a later date, but given the penalty cost of investing in Thunderbolt peripherals at this time, it actually makes a certain amount of sense to continue investing in FireWire for the time being.
Why Talk Thunderbolt?
Thunderbolt is not an option for these older Mac Pros, so why is it even entering the conversation? The simple answer is that its always necessary to try to sum up the total investment in a technology, such as a move to Final Cut Pro X, to compare that investment’s cost, and its forward compatibility, with other options. In this case, the other options that would be most practical would be either the latest iMac or a 15″ Retina display MacBook Pro; either may actually be more powerful than your older Mac Pro, and both would move you immediately into the Thunderbolt world.
Make Your Own Calculations
It will be necessary to do your own practicality analysis and math on the cost of a new iMac versus the receding hope of a significantly improved Mac Pro in the near future, versus the viability of doing your video editing on a MacBook; not to mention the possibility that your older Mac Pro tower may not last as long as you might want it to. Any way you choose to go, the cost of admission is likely to exceed the $299 sticker price for Final Cut Pro.