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Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?

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John BaldinoBest Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 9, 2010 at 10:45:40 pm

Hello Cow Community,

I was wondering if anyone had any ideas for the best possible Mac Pro setup for a $5k budget. Using a Final Cut Studio workflow, with mostly p2 (hvx) footage, is it worth it to get the faster 8 core cpu base and skimp out on the others initially (ie storage, gfx card, ram)? Or will I not miss the faster CPU speed?

I also heard that the Mac Pros may be updating if anyone has any thoughts on that as well, it would be much appreciated. I am starting out as a videographer and am trying to decide on the best framework for my system...factoring in future expansion.


John Baldino

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Jeff CarpenterRe: Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 11, 2010 at 6:35:11 pm

Processors are too fast already. I have a 3 year old Mac Pro and when I render video the computer only works at about 80% speed most of the time. It just can't get information off the hard drives any faster than that!

So unless you're in a situation with a fibre connection to a fast server, I would not worry about getting the fastest processor at this time. Put the money into other stuff.

Also, be sure to look at the refurbished Macs on If you can wait for a refresh, watch that area for even better deals! Otherwise, I think this one looks great right now:

Refurbished Mac Pro 2.26GHz 8-Core Intel Xeon
Two 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processors
6GB (6x1GB) of 1066MHz DDR3 ECC memory
640GB Serial ATA 3Gb/s 7200 rpm
18x SuperDrive (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MB GDDR3 memory

That leaves you $2,200 for other stuff which you're going to need to spend on storage space. You ahve a couple of things to consider:

* RAIDING drives together for speed will help a lot. Can you put 3 different 2 TB drives in the Mac to make one big super-fast 6 TB drive?

* That more than doubles the chance of drive failure. What's your backup plan? Perhaps get a Drobo unit and put 4 different 2 TB drives in it? (Or their super model and put FIVE drives in it?) And use that to back-up footage? Drobo is a pain to make it work with Time Machine. Get a program like Super Duper or Carbon cloner to back up footage to the Drobo automatically. (Or just do it manually.)

* Even if the Drobo is backing up your media files, I'd suggest getting a 1 TB firewire drive to use with Time Machine to back up your Macintosh HD. That way you can restore a system from Time Machine if the main HD ever dies.

* You're shooting on memory cards, so no tapes. What's your long-term storage solution? An external Blu-Ray data drive, perhaps?

- - - - - -

Those are all things you have to conisder and have answers to first. Figure that out and THEN decide on the computer based on the money you have left over. (And maybe I've overestimated your storage out the math and figure out how much space you actually need.)

Make sure the computer has 4 or 6 GB of RAM and you should be fine. That's the only thing I'd worry about in any modern Mac. Everything else will be fast enough, for sure.

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John BaldinoRe: Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 12, 2010 at 1:57:27 am

Thanks for the helpful advice, Jeff.

Whew, there's a lot to consider. I'd never heard of the Drobo solution before but I checked it out and it seems interesting. Although from what you inferred it sounds like I could only use it for backup only, because it would be to slow to work off of, I'm assuming? It says that it comes with an eSata interface in addition to usb 2 and 1394 but even eSata is probably too slow I would imagine to work off of in FCS?

So it sounds like what I really need in this case is both a raid array and the external (drobo) solution. Which would mean getting around 8 drives total (ouch!).

Two related questions about the system (OS X) drive (actually I'll probably have win 7 on it as well): a) can it be part of the array? b) if so, is that even a good idea?

If not, I assume then that the best solution would look something like this:

-1 TB System drive for OS X / Win 7, all apps, personal media collections, etc.

3 x 2TB Raid array for speed only (all active media for current projects)

Blu-ray burner for BD-data disk archiving of project files and footage (long term storage solution)


4 x 2 TB Drobo-type storage for media backup with single drive fault tolerance (which, in actuality, is dual drive fault tolerance considering it is all a backup to begin with)

1 x 1 TB firewire 800 drive for system drive backup using Time Machine

Effectively what this would give me is a very fast ~6 TB of available space for projects, as well as a very robust backup solution, but man does it sound expensive...I will have to run the numbers on it. I want to ensure maximum lifespan and upgradability so I would need to also consider getting 4 GB memory modules vs. the standard 1GB.

But man, 9 drives...

John Baldino

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Jeff CarpenterRe: Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 12, 2010 at 5:10:19 am

That's it, but remember I gave you a VERY robust system there.

This gets a LOT cheaper if you do things with 1 TB drives instead of 2 TB drives. Look at the kind of projects you do. How much space do they take up? How long do you need to keep them on your computer? Also, for you does it make more sense to back up to 500 GB firewire drives instead of Blu-Ray? Then you can go back to old projects faster AND it may be cheaper than buying a lot of Blue-Ray disks! Compare prices there and consider that as an alternate idea.

My own setup is like what you've described but has about half the storage space in every part of it. I bought it all earlier when prices were higher so I suggested more for you. Perhaps you don't need all that? If you can get by with less, don't overspend. Cut it all down to smaller drives.

Some other random notes:

* I have a friend who edits HDV video off of a Drobo. I agree with you, it seems too slow to me, I only use it for backup. But he seems to get by fine! So I don't know what to tell you...I don't do it but I know someone who does. So you'll have to make up your own mind there. Maybe Google can get you more stories of others who've tried it.

* The Drobo is actually a TRIPLE-fault protection. You have (1) the footage on your raid (2) the footage on your Drobo, and (3) the footage on another Drobo automatically keeps everything twice to prevent data loss if one drive fails.

* What are you using Windows for? My answer on how to deal with Windows changes A LOT depending on what you're using it for.

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John BaldinoRe: Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 13, 2010 at 8:20:49 am

Yeah, I may decide to do 1TB drives instead.

I'm curious about your friend who edits HDV off you know which interface on the drobo unit he uses? I'd also be curious about which flavor of hdv it is. Those two factors would play into it quite a bit.

To be honest I don't know exactly what my average project disk space toll will be, because I haven't even purchased the camera yet. I'm doing a few gigs prior to getting the gear with a borrowed camera and brother in law's iMac, but the camera I'm using won't be the one I get most likely, so it would probably be too early to judge. This will be my first ever real workstation/studio and while I've been pretty set on a p2 workflow up to this point, I'm starting to have second thoughts. I was planning to get an hvx or hpx 170, but I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't just wait to see what else hits the market in the next few months. Someone from a rental house told me today that panasonic is eventually ditching p2 and that they might offering something new soon that mediates the cost factor of the media a bit (and to compete with sony), so I dunno, I may just wait on the camera and borrow or rent one for gigs for a few months and just focus on dialing in my edit suite.

Re: windows 7....I happened to get a copy of the 64 bit version for cheap several months back but i ended up not being able to use it because my laptop, despite having a 64 bit cpu, had a sound device which had no drivers for win 7. Also, my entire computing life, up to this point, has been in windows, so it seems hard for me to envision ditching the pc world entirely. I guess the question for me is more of, "why not?"

Thanks again for weighing in.

John Baldino

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Jeff CarpenterRe: Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 14, 2010 at 4:34:33 am

I don't know much about my friend's drobo. I do know he shoots Canon HDV and captures it as HDV. (I capture Sony HDV into Apple Intermediate Codec. It takes up a lot more hard drive space but it renders a lot faster. So I trade drive space for speed. He goes the other way and uses less space but his compressions take longer.)

As for Windows, it really depends on what you want it for. If you're running something really computer-intensive like a CAD program or video compressor I'd suggest using Boot Camp. You'd have to re-start the computer to use it but then you'd have full power when working. If you're talking about something like a tax program then I'd suggest either Fusion or Parallels which will run Windows inside of OS X.

But in that case you're sharing RAM and processor cycles and hard drive space to run this entire other OS. So that's why I'm asking the "why" question. I'd want a VERY good reason for why I'm crippling my brand-new computer's speed. If it's something you HAVE to run in Windows then that's the way it has to be. A lot of folks have no choice so that's what they do. But if it's something you can buy a Mac version of, that's going to be the way to go if you want your computer working as fast as you can.

So many things can be bought for the Mac...Word, Photoshop, even the Mail, Contacts, and Calendar on macs all sync with Exchange services if you need them too. If you have the current versions, Adobe has a way to trade PC versions in for Mac versions. Give them a call if you have a lot of Adobe software and they'll explain it to you.

But I know how it mom runs Windows in her Mac just for Word Perfect because that's what she's used to! Yeah, she could get Word or Pages, but she likes Word Perfect!

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John BaldinoRe: Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 14, 2010 at 9:04:25 am

If I were using Boot Camp, which is what I figured I would do, I don't understand why it would cripple my system's speed? Aside from the fact that I'd have to partition maybe 50 GB or so of drive space, how would I be hurting my system's speed by running windows? If I were running it with Parallels I would understand, because that is like running two OSes at the same time. But if I were only running one or the other, what difference besides hard drive space would it make on system resources? I guess I don't understand why OS X would run slower just because I had a win 7 installation on the hard disk. Or what if Win 7 had it's own HD? Does that even matter? I mean, in any case, the system would only be running one OS at a time, so I guess I'm not sure why you think it would slow anything down. Wouldn't the system resources (ie cpu/gpu, RAM, etc) simply be fully dedicated to whatever OS is running at the time? I admit that maybe I'm profoundly ignorant here, so tell me what I'm missing...but it seems like the only issue should be the hard drive space, which, in today's world of 2 TB drives, isn't really an issue at all.

Incidentally I'm not married to having the dual boot...I could always keep my PC active, but I'd prefer to not have to. I also kinda just want to see Win 7 in its full glory since I do own it and haven't had a chance to really use it much yet.

At least your mom is PROFICIENT with a piece of software...better than many of us can say :)

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Jeff CarpenterRe: Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 15, 2010 at 7:56:21 pm

I guess I didn't write that clearly, what I meant was that you'd lose speed with Parallels.

Yeah, with Bootcamp hard drive space and re-booting time are the only things you lose.

If you only want Windows to work with files inside of the Windows partition, you're fine. But if you want Windows to be able to work with files on the OS X half of the drive, or the RAID, or any firewire drives, then you need to buy Mac Drive 8 which will allow Windows to read and write to the Mac's HFS+ formatted drives.

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John BaldinoRe: Best Mac Pro configuration for $5K?
by on Mar 17, 2010 at 12:28:55 am

Makes sense. I think that will probably be my solution. Thanks for all the great info!

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