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Final Cut Pro 6 and Compressor 3:
Do they fully utilize the
8-core Mac Pro?

Originally posted June 1st, 2007 by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated June 4th, 2007, with comparison of 4-core vs 8-core Mac Pro.

Many of you are curious if the latest version of Final Cut Studio (Final Cut Pro 6, Compressor 3, etc.) takes advantage of the 8-core Mac Pro's full performance potential. The short answer? Yes.

We ran various rendering tests with Final Cut Pro 6 and Compressor 3. We saw as high as 527% CPU usage with only one task (Compressor 3) active:

Any time you register over 400% CPU usage for an individual task, it's very likely that having more than 4 cores in your Mac Pro will be an advantage. We say "likely" because we've seen instances where the 8-core reported higher CPU usage than the 4-core but only finished the task slightly faster. This is partly due to memory bus bottleneck earlier reported.

At the suggestion of a reader, we created a "virtual cluster" by defining 4 instances in Qmaster (see System Preferences). Then submitted our 1080i60 movie to be converted to an HD-DVD (60 min) by Compressor 3, we told it to use our 4 node virtual cluster. It created four subprocesses, each grabbing a half gig of real memory and 1.5GB of virtual memory.
This reduced the render time from 24 minutes to 11 minutes. Check out the Activity Monitor status:

You may wonder if defining 8 instances (and using all 8 cores) would give even faster times than 4 instances. And I'm sure you wonder how a 4-core Mac Pro compares to an 8-core Mac Pro running Compressor 3. We did too.

Another way the 8-core Mac Pro can enhance performance if your work flow features simultaneous renderings.
Here is a sample of what Activity Monitor reports about our 8-core Mac Pro when we rendered with Final Cut Pro, Compressor 3, Motion 3, and Photoshop CS3 simultaneously:

As you can see, the CPU usage totalled 764% for the five top processes, meaning all 8 cores were busy.

Whether rendering a single task with Compressor 3, creating a virtual cluster, or doing simultaneous renderings by various apps, we think the 8-core Mac Pro provides a clear advantage to professional video and audio creators.

In a previous article we showed how After Effects CS3 does its own version of virtual clustering, creating 8 sub-processes each of which gobbled up 1.5GB per process while rendering our sample (for a total of 12GB of real memory used out of 16GB).

Some have asked if the speed increase justifies the higher initial price of the 8-core compared to the 4-core Mac Pro. That's debatable depending on how you use your Mac. However, if you calculate how much your time is worth while waiting for a Compressor 3 or After Effects CS3 rendering task to finish, then the lifetime advantage of the 8-core likely outweighs the initial cost disadvantage.

In addition to this article, we have...

Pure CPU Crunching on the 8-core versus 4-core Mac Pro using Cinebench, Geekbench, Photoshop CS3, Aperture, and QuickTime Player

Multiprocessing (Simultaneous rendering by Final Cut Pro, Motion, iDVD, and Photoshop CS3)

After Effects CS3 -- the first application to use all 8 cores and all 16GB of RAM on the Mac Pro

3D Gaming (Quake 4, Doom 3, Unreal Tournament 2004, Halo, World of Warcraft, Prey) using three different graphics cards

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We have tested the memory from the following companies in our 8-core Mac Pro and can recommend them to you....

We have tested both 2GB and 1GB modules from Other World Computing in our 8-core Mac Pro. They offer a "Trade In Your Factory Memory" REBATE program. designed their own heat sinks with 6 cooling fins on each side (versus 4 on the Apple factory modules) using a special aluminum alloy. We have tested their 1GB and 2GB and 4GB modules in our 8-core Mac Pro.

We have tested MaxUpgrades' memory in our 4-core. They assured us that they have tested their memory on their 8-core Mac Pro without any errors and crashes. They also sell their heat sinks separately as well as a memory cooling kit called "max_flo."

We recommend the Radeon X1900 XT

The Quadro FX 4500 messes up in Maya 8.5. According to the Alias/Autodesk engineering support "qualified hardware" page, the FX 4500 (and GeForce 7300 GT) fails to render shadows properly in the Hardware Renderer and in the High Quality Viewport. However, there are no problems with the Radeon X1900 XT. That's ironic when you consider that Apple promotes the FX 4500 as the "ideal choice for high-end scientific visualization." Unless you do 3D stereo-in-a-window, we recommend the much-more-affordable Radeon X1900 XT.

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1995 - 2007 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist