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.

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2 thoughts on “MacBook Pro 15″ Retina 2014 for FCPX

    • That’s a pretty open ended question! You’re asking me, a Mac based video editor who needs to travel and edit – I’m biassed and have a pretty limited list of options: MacBook Pro 15″ with 16 GB RAM. I’ve hit a few issues with screen setup and CUDA drivers, so I’m not in a position to recommend it yet – I still like my 3.5 year old MacBook Pro 17″ (available secondhand) though some are showing the same issue mine has – heat damage to the GPU.

      I’m sure folks would also recommend PCs – laptops such as the Alienware Area 51 laptops, for example – but I’ve been scorched by Windows too many times to feel comfortable with it. In my line of work, the cost difference between Macs and PCs doesn’t count – especially when you add your time in terms of support and maintenance. Performance differences tend to be ‘eye-blink’ differences which again mean nothing. Its like owning a Lexus vs owning a BMW. Yes, I’m sure the BMW is better for some people who like outright performance, but I like just getting in it and doing something – the Mac/Lexus experience.

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