MacBook Pro 15″ Retina 2014 for FCPX

MacBook Pro 15” Retina Buyers remorse: I paid for extra GHz, should I have invested in a bigger SSD?

I’ve finally got my MacBook Pro 15″ 2014 BTO – I went for the 2.8 GHz processor which lead to a 12 day wait as it was shipped to the UK from Shanghai. Was it worth the wait? Did I get the best bang for the buck?

It replaces my Early 2011 MacBook Pro 17″ with 8GB RAM, which has been an excellent machine (with the £800 SSD option, quite frankly the most expensive Mac I’ve purchased), but it now has a dicky GPU and needs to be ‘baked’ now and then to reset it. That’s great as an ‘at-home’ machine, but not good ‘on location’. Hence the new machine.

According to the 64 bit Geekbench tests, the new 15″ MBP with 2.8 GHz processor is about 40% faster than the 2011 MBP17″, achieving GeekBench scores (and this is not a speed test, just a ‘run it and see’) of 3895/15215 over the MBP17″ 2866/10655. My previous upgrades have been stellar, but this was a bit, hmm – ‘okay’.

Lest we forget, my laptop is for editing first. However, it must also be my computer for everything else too.

I have been happy (ish) with a 500GB internal SSD that was super fast. I did no actual work on it (external SSD drives via Thunderbolt was the way to go), but apps did not ‘launch’ – they ‘decloaked’ – just appearing versus the wait and wait from an internal spinning hard drive. This was the big bonus – SSD for the system and apps is definitely the way to go. Do not consider anything less.

The biggest issue for us FCPX editors could be the lack of FW800 ports. I have >75 FW800 drives (mostly LaCie Quadras) and need to access their contents. So I used the BlackMagic Disk Speed Test app to measure performance ‘before and after’ – I already have a Belkin Thunderbolt dock to provide USB3 on my old MacBook, and I checked this out on the new MacBook too, as it could prove FW800.

So, the old MacBook Pro could do USB3 x3 ports on the Belkin Thunderbolt Dock. It could also do Firewire 800 and 1GB ethernet, whilst passing through the Thunderbolt connection to, say, my Black Magic UltraStudio Mini Monitor (HD-SDI output from Thunderbolt – yay!).

But what of the disk performance? The new MacBook Pro does USB3 natively (two ports) but can only do FW800 with a Thunderbolt adaptor, and that soaks up one valuable Thunderbolt port. No loop through. The Belkin does USB and FW800 – AND it has a Thunderbolt loop through.

Here’s my rough findings. These are not optimised results, they’re just what happens when I connect my various drives through the options I have available to me:

MBP15″ 2.8GHz (Read/Write)

  • Direct USB3 – 161W/165R
  • Dongled FW800 – 75W/72R (counterintuitive, but hey)
  • Belkin Dock FW800 – 68W/69R
  • Belkin Dock UBS3 – 94W/97R (that’s surprising)

but then two years ago I did similar tests on the OLD MBP17″ and…

  • Internal FW800 bus – 46W/44R
  • Internal USB2 bus – 32W/33R
  • Internal SSD eSATA – 88W/167R
  • CalDigit USB3 PCI ExpressCard – 96W/138R

So all my older FW800 drives happen to have USB3 interfaces, and I think I’ll be using THAT in the future. FW800 does appear to be dead in the water.

Okay, what these numbers do NOT say is the punch line. The internal SSD does the following – read and weep:

  • Internal SSD – 549W/726R

FCPX users, for the love of your favourite deity, invest in SSD not GHz. Partition your drive to two volumes – a working volume and a boot volume. The cost I had to bear for waiting for the extra GHz does not make a huge difference in the Geekbench scores. The difference of a 500GB scratch volume with those numbers is an immense kick up the backside cache.

Everything about the Mac OS, everything about the future of FCPX, is all about SSD. If you’re into mobile editing, if you’re into smaller projects with sub-10 minute timelines, invest in SSD, not GPU. I wish I’d doubled my SSD rather than get 15% more performance on the CPU.

Hot, dirty Macs

My somewhat senescent MacBook Pro 17” has been doing the ‘fainting goat’ thing recently. We’d be happily chugging away, then suddenly – freeze, black screen (or grey screen) of death – complete lock up. The screen’s backlight was still on (as shown by the glowing white Apple logo on the other side). Cycle the power, it would freeze on the grey screen after the Apple logo appears. But the grey screen was odd (not the moire from a bad iPhone snap – note the stripes!): strangescreen-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg If left for a few minutes (or longer), it would shut down. Powering up again brought everything back. If you held the power button down for >5 secs, it would power down but do the same thing. Hmmm. Clue.

Talks to some Apple dealer and repair folks sounded bad – ‘Graphics chip has gone’, ‘New motherboard’, and ‘bring it in and we’ll soak test it for a week.’ Well, it was happening two to five times a week. Not awful. Worth limping along whilst I decided what new MacBook Pro to buy.

Well, not so fast. I rather like my MacBook Pro – it has a 1920×1200 screen so does HD previews very well. It has a PCIe slot that’s the right size for my SxS cards from the EX1s – very convenient – and it has FW800 on it (I have over 80 FW800 drives). I therefore wanted it to live a little longer, if only to be a nice backup to a newer machine.*

The weather has been hot recently, so I wondered if that was at fault. I installed Temperature Gauge from Tunabelly Software, and this told me an interesting story. During background render tasks, things were getting very hot indeed. CPUs and GPUs would reach 100 degrees Celsius, but more to the point, the fans were pretty much running full pelt as soon as the Mac had something (anything) to chew on.

Sadly, when the Mac did its fainting goat, it wiped the log file for Temperature Gauge (this issue now fixed in v4.4.2), but it was pretty obvious what was going on. The Mac was getting super hot, and was cutting out. It wouldn’t reboot properly until it had cooled down. It dawned on me that this machine is over three years old, and it’s never had the air filters cleaned. I put a date in the diary to take it to MacDaddy to have it sorted (and some extra RAM whilst we were at it).

Then the British weather intervened – the office was getting very warm. The Mac started fainting several times a day even with a desk fan blowing on it, and something really had to be done. So armed with my smallest Phillips screwdriver, a little paintbrush and a vacuum cleaner, I decided to DIY. 10 screws later, and we were in. Pretty obvious once the back was off. Before and after: fans-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg intakes-2014-07-29-10-17.jpgtray-2014-07-29-10-17.jpg So, very easy process – should have done it sooner, wasn’t as bad as suspected.

UPDATE: I’ve been advised by dear friend Marcus Durham that using a vacuum cleaner nozzle close to electronics is not such a wise thing – apparently the air flow can cause static electricity build-up which can fry delicate electronics. Hence the standard recommendation of using clean compressed air (he advises doing this outside). I stand corrected.

Since the cleaning, the fans are running at much more sedate speeds and less often. Of course, when a really big render or encode chugs through, it does warm up quite a bit – but no 100 Degree alarms, no 6000 RPM fans.

And no crashes. No faints. No ‘grey screen of death’ with Paul Smith stripes on it. The MacBook Pro rides again!

 

* And only today have I noticed Apple have refreshed their MacBook Pro line with double the RAM and a few more cycles per second for a little less money all round. Joy!

FCPX upgraded to 10.1

Logo-FCPXOkay, I admit it. On the stroke of midnight, I was pressing the refresh button in the App Store. New FCPX! New Toys!

So – FCPX 10.1 is out. Do I need to upgrade? Yes – there’s enough changes in the system that address current issues. But it requires a major jump in operating system – when your computer is your major money-earning tool and it’s stable and reliable, you don’t touch it unless you have to. I have to switch from Lion 10.7.5 to Mavericks 10.9, and that’s a big leap.

TLDR?

  • Build a new bootable drive with FCPX 10.1 to experiment on – you may not want to update yet
  • Clone your drive to a bootable image (to return to in weeks and months to come) with SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner and make a fresh Time Machine backup – make sure they all work before you proceed!
  • Copy older projects to work with, don’t use originals – Philip Hodgetts has made EventManager X free! Use it to manage your project updates.
  • Prepare for some ‘spilled milk’ with Mavericks (for me, Exchange email is broken)

At first, I thought it odd that Apple released FCPX 10.1 so close to a major worldwide holiday, but on reflection – it’s perfect. Rule 1 of upgrades: never upgrade during a job. Things can go wrong, things like backups and archives invariably take more time than you thought, and what if it’s all horrible and you need to back track? Smaller jumps, a minor ‘point-oh-one’ upgrades can be welcome relief, but this is a ‘point-one’ and it needs an OS upgrade to boot (pun not intended).

The safest option for me is (having backed up your main machine of course) to unwrap a brand new hard drive, format it and install the latest OS on it, then boot from THAT. Install the new software on the fresh OS, and play with COPIES of older projects that you copied across. New versions of software often change the file format and rarely is it back-compatible. You want to play in a protected ‘sand-box’ (I preferred ‘sandpit’ but hey…) so you don’t accidentally convert your current projects to the new system and find yourself committed to the switch.

Really, that is the safest way – but its frustrating as the performance of a system booted on an external drive isn’t quite what you’re used to, and it’s a bit clunky. Plus, it will take time to do the official switch – you’ll have to rebuild your apps, delete old versions that don’t work, sort out new workflows, new versions, reinstall, find license agreements, it all takes time (and it’s not billable for freelancers). But until you’re sure that the new OS won’t kill your current must-use apps, you can simply shut down, unplug, and return to your current safe system.

Then of course there’s the impatient teenager in all of us who, after backing up, installs the new OS on top of the old OS, downloads the new app, finds what’s broken in the rest of the system and fixes it, finds out that a few tools don’t work, plug-ins need shuffling, projects don’t render as they used to, fonts have gone missing… All this takes longer, funnily enough. And then there’s the creeping rot of a brand new operating system ‘installed in place’ over the old one. I did this ages ago, and the problems didn’t show until 12 months on and we’d gone through some minor version changes and bug fixes. Serious, serious problems that impacted work (and backups, and archives). If you’re jumping from 10.X to 10.Y (especially to 10.Z) it’s worth the time it takes to do a proper clean install.

And of course once it’s done, you still may need to be able to go back to the ‘old’ system – so you’ll need to clone – not back up or archive but CLONE – your old system before you start, if only for the comfort factor of running back to it when the new system refuses to do something.

So, I’m spending the first day having to NOT download the update, but format drives, archive disks, install software whilst reading and watching the sudden deluge of 10.1 info. (Note to self – Matt: don’t touch that button! Don’t do it!)

Alex4D has a bunch of links to get you started, training from Ripple and Larry Jordan (hopefully IzzyVideo will have some new stuff soon too), FCP.co discussion forums already alight with debate… and a week or two of holiday season to enjoy it all in.

(And Apple’s official take)

Thunderbolt Stikes Back

UPDATE: Writing >2GB files on SSDs >240GB with the Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adaptor can cause the drive to unexpectedly dismount from your computer with an error (-50). Read the full story and the solution by Wolfgang Bauer.

Following on from my USB3 testing, I’ve finally received an interesting box – the Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adaptor, now in stock for about £100.

The cool trick is that you can connect any ‘bare’ Solid State Drive (SSD) to it, and the price of SSDs is coming down quickly. A 256GB SSD can be had for under £140. Of course then you have to add your £40 cable, but assuming we can use one adaptor and cable for all your SSDs, finally we have a solution for Thunderbolt SSD for editing (and archiving/Backing up to USB3).

The downside is that you’ll probably want to keep the bare drive in the adaptor with some elastic bands or something – very high tech.

So, why would you want to do this?

Because it’s freaking fast. That’s why. Editing with Final Cut Pro 10 on this drive is the sort of experience we assumed it would be. No spinny beachballs of death, no stuttering, just ‘slick demo’ performance.

Drive Write (MB/s) Read (MB/s)
Slow, cheap USB2 drive 21.6 26.2
Western Digital Passport SE (USB2) 30.1 32.8
LaCie Quadra 7200rpm 2TB on FW800 46.6 44.5
Crucial 256GB SSD on FW800 75 81.6
Western Digital Passport SE (USB3) 96.3 108.4
Internal 512 GB SSD in MacBook Pro 17” 88.8 167.0
ThunderBolt with SSD 266.3 381.3

We’re talking 5x the speed of FW800 write, 8x the speed of FW800 read. And then there’s file access times.

With the same cable and adaptor, you can purchase additional SSDs for £140, and pretty soon we’ll see half a terabyte for under £200.

For my little industry niche, that means one SSD per edit for the duration of that edit, then archived off to hard drives so the SSD can be recycled, but happy to have maybe even a dozen of them – which I couldn’t afford with the current clutch of Thunderbolt/SSD combinations.

As I edit on site a lot, this can mean little gotchas like power suddenly dipping or going off entirely. Not talking third world style, just leaving a render in your hotel room and Housekeeping thoughtfully remove your room key that you taped into the slot to keep the power on. Or that moment after a big event where you’re backing up, and the 3-phase power you’ve been living on gets pulled for the de-rig. Which is why I’m so passionate about bus-powered drives that can work with a laptop editing computer.

And then there’s the scary ‘let’s edit this in the car’ or ‘let’s log rushes on the plane’ – with spinning disks? No. Ah – how about SSD? Fine. I’ll be archiving ‘media managed’ videos to thumb drives next.

It makes hard disks feel as old fashioned as tape.

USB3 for Macs – Thunderbolt killer or simple step up?

I’m a dyed in wool Mac User, so for me USB3 hardly came into view. I do remember watching a USB3 demo on a Mac where it displayed sub- FW800 performance – and decided to leave it at that. However, the continuing need to pass on my video work to PC users for archive, and the achingly slow performance of USB2, forced me to at least check it out for myself. At least it would give me something to do whilst waiting for sensibly priced Thunderbolt storage and cables.

After all, the Mac world is still full of USB2 devices: cheap, slow hard drives and computationally undemanding stuff like mice and keyboards. Little USB sticks for storage to perpetuate ‘sneakernet’ file sharing. There is of course, that funny USB3 sticker on most PC drives that claims high performance and that may be good enough for our PC using brethren, but we’re Mac users – why not sidestep the USB3 ‘upgrade’ for the super fast world of Thunderbolt?

That’s the mindset that Apple appears to want us to hold.

But the new set of Ivy Bridge equipped Macs will get, courtesy of their new chip set, USB3 functionality. Will Apple connect this functionality into the OS? Or will they find a way to block it? Should we care?

The world of PCs has been using USB3 for quite a while, scratching their heads over the Mac user’s obsession with FireWire and the ‘Unicorn poop’ status of Thunderbolt. Why are Mac users so precious about FireWire? USB3 blows it out of the water! They want Thunderbolt speeds – for what? And connect them with $50 cables? If the devices are blessed with pass-thru ports – which so many aren’t? (see sidebar below) USB3 has hubs!

I purchased the CalDigit USB3 card which fits into the ExpressCard slot of my MacBook Pro 17” – the choice of CalDigit is significant, as it’s the only one that’s touted to work with pretty much any USB3 drive – other manufacturers of USB3 cards tend to only work with their own drives and thus missing the meaning of the U in USB.

I’m used to working on FW800 drives, and so intended to use cheaper USB3 bus powered disks for backup and for handing over to clients, who could use them on their PCs. However, when used as the main working drive with a disk intensive application like Final Cut Pro, it was obvious that the USB3 drive was a lot faster. FCPX was running far better on USB3 than on FW800.

Enthused by this, I did a quick series of tests of drive performance with the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test app, available for free from the App Store. And so, in reverse order, here are the results:

Drive Write (MB/s) Read (MB/s)
Slow, cheap USB2 drive 21.6 26.2
Western Digital Passport SE (USB2) 30.1 32.8
LaCie Quadra 7200rpm 2TB on FW800 46.6 44.5
Crucial 256GB SSD on FW800 75 81.6
Western Digital Passport SE (USB3) 96.3 108.4
Internal 512 GB SSD in MacBook Pro 17” 88.8 167.0

Of course, what’s missing from this test is the ultimate: SSD in Thunderbolt drive, but these are still eyewateringly expensive.

The £75 Western Digital drives represent the kind of value we’ve been used to with spinning disks, and I can affirm that they work very well with Final Cut Pro 10 – the WDs on USB3 have been my drive of choice for onsite editing, with the added advantage that they’re cheap and compatable and can be passed over to the client without too many caveats (having archived to other drives).

Is USB3 better than Thunderbolt? No – it’s a different beastie. Should we give up on Thunderbolt for USB3? Of course not.

Should Apple now accept USB3 as a non-competitve alternative for non-specialist media use? Of course.

In the days of Steve Jobs, I’d fear that USB3 would be disabled in the new Macs in a fit of pique. The adoption of USB3 in the new Macs would demonstrate a more universal approach from Tim Cook et al.

At least CalDigit offer the option to MacBook Pro 17” users – and for everyone else, there is, of course, the Thunderbolt adaptor for Express Cards. Oh the irony.

Side bar: Thunderbolt devices can be powered via the cable from the host, but only one device per port. So, Thunderbolt powered devices do not have a passthrough port. Powered devices can have passthrough ports, but these are a rarity as most manufacturers seem to feel a single Thunderbolt port is enough.

However, when you’re paying top dollar for a new technology, the idea that a device will only work as the single device on the chain is frankly anathema. Video ingest device with no pass through to a storage device? Storage device with no pass through to a display device? No wonder Thunderbolt is taking its time to get accepted when device manufacturers assume their product will exist in its own lonesome prefecture.

FCPX – partying with your Flaky Friend

Tart

UPDATE: Compound Clips, specifically splitting Compound Clips, and worst of all, splitting a compounded clip that’s been compounded, increases project complexity exponentially. Thus, your FCPX project quickly becomes a nasty, sticky, crumbly mess.

Which is a shame, because Compound Clips are the way we glue audio and video together, how we manage complexity with a magnetic timeline, and butt disparate sections together to use transitions. Kind of vital, really.

Watch these excellent demonstration videos from T. Payton who hangs out at fcp.co:

These refer to version 10.0.1, and at time of writing, were at 10.0.3, but I can assure you that we STILL have this problem (I don’t think it’s a bug, I think it’s the way FCPX does Compound Clips). We return you to your original programming…

Okay, report from the trenches: Final Cut Pro 10? Love it – with a long rider in the contract.

I’m a short-form editor – most of my gigs are 90 seconds to 10 minutes (record is 10 seconds and I’m proud of it). Turn up ‘Somewhere in Europe’, shoot interviews, General Views, B-Roll, get something good together either that night, or very soon afterwards, publish to the web, or to the big screen, or push out to mobiles and ipads…

This is where FCPX excels. As an editorial ‘current affairs’ segment editor, it’s truly a delight. I bet you slightly overshot? Got a 45 minute take on an interview that needs to be 45 seconds? Range based favourites are awesome, and skimming lets you find needles in a haystack. Need to edit with the content specialist at your side? The magnetic timeline is an absolute joy, and don’t get me started about auditioning.

It’s true: in cutting down interviews, in throwing together segments, and especially when arguing the toss over telling a given story, I’m at least twice as fast and so much more comfortable throwing ideas around inside FCPX.

But my new Editing Friend is a ‘Flaky Friend’.

She really should be the life and soul of the party, but somehow there’s a passive aggressive diva streak in her.

There are three things she doesn’t do, and it’s infuriating:

  • She doesn’t recognise through-edits – they can’t be removed, they are, to her, like cesarian scars, tribal tattoos (or so she claims), cuts of honour. We tell her we’re cutting soup at this stage, but no. ‘Cuts are forever’ she says, like the perfect NLE she thinks she is.
  • She doesn’t paste attributes selectively – it’s only all or nothing. ‘We must be egalitarian’ she croons. What is good for one is good for all, apparently. You can’t copy a perfect clip and only apply colour correction to the pasted clip – you must paste EVERYTHING, destroying your sound mix, needing extensive rework to your audio mix, and heaven help you if you change your mind.
  • She flatly refuses to accept that there is already a way we all do common things, and wants to do it her own kooky way. Making J and L cuts into a Tea Ceremony, blind assumption that a visual transition needs an audio transition, even if we’ve already done the groundwork on the audio… girl, the people who think you’re being cute by insisting this are rapidly diminishing to the point you can count them on your thumbs, and we do include you in that list.

So okay, she’s a good gal at heart. Meaning the best for you. But she needs to bail out and quit every so often, especially if you’re used to tabbing between email, browser, Photoshop, Motion et al. She’ll get all claustrophobic, and you’ll be waiting 20-40 seconds with the spinning beachball of death between application switches. It’s all a bit too much like hard work. ‘I can’t cope’, she sighs – and spins a beachball like she smokes a cigarette. We stand around, shuffling our feet as she determinedly smokes her tab down to the butt. ‘Right!’ she shouts at last. ‘Let’s get going!’

And yes, it’s great when things are going right.

But put her under pressure, with a couple of dozen projects at hand, some background rendering to do, it all gets very ‘I’m going to bed with a bottle of bolly’. I’m getting this an awful lot now, and I really resent being kept hanging around whilst she changes a 5 word caption in a compound clip that takes 5 FRICKIN’ MINUTES to change, I resent every minute of waiting for projects to open and close, and whilst it’s lovely to see her skip daintily through all that fun new footage, when it comes down to the hard work, she’s so not up to it…

I am twice as fast at editing in FCPX, but I am a quarter of the speed when doing the ‘maid of all work’ cleaning up and changes. It means that, actually, I am working twice as hard in X as I was in 7, just mopping up after this flakey friend who has a habit of throwing up in your bathtub and doing that shit-eating grin as they raid your fridge of RAM and CPU cycles.

Well, FCPX dear, my flaky friend, you’re… FIRED.

Thunderbolt or USB3? Daddy or Chips?

A lot of hard disks daisy chained via FireWire 800

Thunderbolt (nee LightPeak) is being hailed as a ‘Paragim Shift’ and if it does what FireWIre did fifteen years ago, the moniker is well deserved.

FireWire was a technology that was at the centre of the low cost Digital Video revolution: it enabled simple connection between cameras, disk drives and computers. Suddenly an Apple PowerBook could suck in ‘broadcast quality’ DV and edit it on easily attachable external hard disks. Video before FireWire was an exotic curiosity. After FireWire, it was a commodity.

Rather than rant on, check this short video out:

And enjoy this informative article.

700 Mbps on old kit. Duplicating a 4.5 Gb file in seconds. Playing 5 streams of 1080 footage off a hard disk. All from a not-new MacBook Pro.It’s good to know that, whilst we’re still getting to grips with the extra data and throughput of HD, the wonderful world of 3D (or ‘Stereo’) HD – which would effectively double your storage needs and halve your throughput – now has some headroom to grow. This iteration is only the first round, and 10x higher speeds are promised.

More to the point, it’s going to help the little things. Make the chore of backing up work a little easier. Cloning a 1 Terabyte drive, even with eSata, can take a long time. When you’re under pressure to get things done, taking time out to clone work drives, back up and archive projects gets shunted down the priority list.

Thinking back to iterations, USB3 is out there too – but definitely NOT on the MacBook Pro. Sure, if you get the 17” you can fit a PCI-Express card, but us SxS based editors consider this slot ‘taken’. Current real-world tests haven’t been particularly stellar either, with only around 10-15% more performance than FW800.

Maybe that’s the reason Apple decided to pass on USB3 – which would be very lame. Yes, USB3 is backward-compatible, so a USB3 thumb drive from your favourite PC-based client will work at USB2 speeds on your shiny new Mac, but to deny Mac users USB3 ‘when they have Thunderbolt’ misses the point about compatibility, interoperability and the fact your clients aren’t going to have a LightPeak thumbdrive any time soon.

Also, Thunderbolt is a daisy chain solution, and if my experience with SCSI is anything to go by, there will come a time when you need to briefly add a device, and you already have two that demand to be at the end of a chain. Or that awful moment when you realise you need to swap out one of the drives…

So it appears that the choice between Thunderbolt and USB3 is pretty irrelevant. You can have USB3. If you want to. If someone bothers to make a USB3 interface for Thunderbolt (which must happen). Thinking selfishly, I’m hoping for a Thunderbolt SxS adaptor, so ‘we get Chips!’ – the PCI-e slot is a lovely little thing, but it’s only on the 17″.

I’d like to use the slot for SxS, and for something to drive a broadcast monitor – like the AJA IO Express, for example – and of course the inevitable USB3 adaptor, and the eSata – but these are all in Thunderbolt territory and conceivably there’s a solution for all these uses at the same time. I just hope that third party video kit manufacturers adopt Thunderbolt rather than stick to a USB3 strategy.

I’m very excited about Thunderbolt, but just waiting on the niceties: just how hot is the hot swap? When will we see anything like a hub? How much of a premium will this add to storage devices? And where’s my new MacBook Pro – of course.