UPDATE: Larry has been bench testing his configured Mac Mini, and has updated his initial tutorial to reflect what he has learned. You can read it here.
by Larry Jordan
Last week, Apple announced upgrades to the venerable Mac Mini. And this upgrade turned a diminutive system into a powerhouse. So much so that I’m getting a ton of email about whether we can use the Mac Mini for video editing.
The short answer is: Yes.
Like all computers, you get the best possible performance by buying a fully-tricked out, top of the line system. And, like all computers, that may require more money than you have to spend.
So the purpose of this article is to help you prioritize balancing cost vs. performance.
(All images courtesy of Apple.)
Based on my research, the new Mac Mini is a solid machine for video editing, with the ability to configure the system with up to 64GB of RAM, a 6-core Intel i7 desktop-class processor, and a 10Gigabit Ethernet port. The I/O available on the new Mac mini allows users to connect a number of devices through its 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, 2 USB-A ports, HDMI 2.0 port, and analog audio output jack. With these ports, you can connect a 5K display plus a separate 4K display, or up to three 4K displays.
NOTE: The system offers Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, this means that you’ll need to purchase an adapter to connect any Thunderbolt 2 devices. These adapters are readily available from a number of vendors, including Apple, for about $50.
The system also natively supports:
- Up to three 4K displays:
Two displays with 4096-by-2304 resolution at 60Hz connected via Thunderbolt 3 plus one display with 4096-by-2160 resolution at 60Hz connected via HDMI 2.0.
– OR –
- Up to two displays:
One display with 5120-by-2880 resolution at 60Hz connected via Thunderbolt 3 plus one display with 4096-by-2160 resolution at 60Hz connected via HDMI 2.0
When it comes to optimizing a computer system for video editing, when you can’t purchase the top of the line, here are my spending priorities:
- Storage speed and capacity
- CPU speed
When it comes to optimizing a computer system for video compression, my priorities shift:
- CPU speed
- Storage speed and capacity
While some video transcoding and compressing codecs are multi-threaded (which means they take advantage of multiple cores in a CPU), many others are not. These single-threaded codecs take advantage of pure CPU speed more than the GPU.
THOUGHTS ON THE GPU
Here’s the key point behind deciding which GPU to get. A graphics processing unit is optimized for pixel manipulations: texturing, rendering, color grading, exporting… anything that involves manipulating the colors of pixels. All you are getting when you purchase a “higher-grade” GPU is more speed. Not better quality, just speed.
If you are a student, a hobbyist, or someone with indeterminate deadlines, there’s no compelling reason to get a faster GPU; the faster speed doesn’t justify the cost. If you are someone living with constant deadlines, who does a lot of effects and color grading, and needs projects exported “yesterday or sooner,” then a faster GPU makes sense.
One of the big limitations of the original Mac Mini was its reliance on an Intel Iris graphics card. This was woefully underpowered for any serious graphics work, such as video editing.
That changed with the latest release. All configurations of the new Mac Mini use the Intel UHD Graphics 630 card. For editors who are working primarily in HD with limited motion graphics and effects, or who have deadlines that are flexible, the Intel UHD Graphics 630 will work well.
For users who need faster performance, for example, working at higher resolutions such as 4K, with RAW video, or with more complex graphics and effects, the Blackmagic eGPU or newly announced Blackmagic eGPU Pro are great options for these types of graphics-intensive tasks. The updated eGPU Pro includes a Radeon RX Vega 56 graphics card with 8GB of high bandwidth memory. The card offers similar performance to the graphics card in iMac Pro.
- Here’s a link for more information on the Blackmagic Design eGPU: www.blackmagicdesign.com/products/blackmagicegpu/
- Here’s an Apple KnowledgeBase article on how to setup FCP X in macOS Mojave for an external eGPU: support.apple.com/en-us/HT209134
My recommendation is to go with the internal GPU, until you find yourself spending too much time waiting. A slower GPU does NOT mean you can’t edit, it simply means that tasks like rendering and exporting may take a little longer. If you need more speed, add an external GPU as your budget allows.
Continued at LarryJordan.com, as Larry looks at the RAM, CPU, STORAGE, and his recommended configuration.