I love Apple computers. I wanted to get that out of the way first. I still love them, still use them, and still think they're great for many things. I will still be using Apple computers on a daily basis whilst lecturing for things like email, web browsing and will continue to teach students how to create content using Apple machines. Apple computers will be part of my future for some time yet, however........
I started content creation back in 2008, however in as Apple started making waves in the industry with the iMac and release of Final Cut Pro, I knew I wanted this shiny new kit in my workflow. This was the beginning of Apple's push to appeal to professional content creators and artists, and it was working. I bought my first Apple computer in 2011. It was a 24" iMac with an i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 1TB hard drive. 7 years ago it was a beast and I still vividly remember unboxing. Over the years I've upgraded the RAM to a max of 16GB, replaced the internal hard drive with an SSD and I've removed all my content from the internal drive and moved it onto an external RAID array, keeping things running as fast as possible. #runninglikeadream
But alas, all good things must come to an end... so here we are.
Why I Switched
To date, my iMac had been quick to boot, never missed a beat and up until the purchase of a DJI Mavic Pro, handled video content brilliantly. Since the arrival of 4K footage in my content, I learned to live with sloooooooow renders and exports, often planning my workflow around the limitations of my machine. I thought I could live with it, however a few months ago I started getting errors, constant shut downs and loud SOS type beeping noises following shut down. I reinstalled the OS, I formatted drives and she came back to life, briefly, before dying all over again. This was no good for me or my clients, I needed a new computer!
It's definitely no secret that Apple has begun to lose the same demographic it tried to attract back in 2000: professional content creators and artists. Apple computers are still excellent for many creative things, but when you need a lot of CPU and/or graphics power to crunch large video files or 3D renders, Apple has continued to fall behind in that area.
So, I started to weigh my options...
I could get an iMac Pro, which needed a minimum investment of £4,999, and actually more like £7,999+ once I got the specs I needed. I couldn't justify that amount of money for a machine that had limited upgrade options and from experience using iMacs at work, the graphics (and even CPU) performance still wasn't enough for the things I needed to do. It was definitely a step up from my current machine, but it didn't offer enough performance boost to make up for the huge cost.
Sadly, Windows PCs were finally beginning to look like the best option. For a few months, I weighed up the pros and cons, sacrificing work with no machine to edit on. The more I missed editing the more it pushed me to sort a new machine and eventually I crossed over from "just looking" to "ready to jump". So I jumped.
Early on in my research, I discovered building a custom PC was going to be the best and most economical decision for me. There are some good pre-built options out there, but they're either designed for gaming (and look like Lamborghini threw up its concept cars all over a computer store) or designed for video production and priced at a premium.
If I was going to make the switch, I wanted that computer to be worth it and I wanted the most bang for my money. Who wouldn't? So, I set out to build my own PC that was 1) cheaper than most or all of Apple's current options, and 2) faster at video editing and encoding than most or all of Apple's current options.
Here are the specs/requirements I had:
- CPU faster than the top end 27" iMac Pro
- GPU (graphics performance) better/faster than the top end iMac Pro
- Ability to edit multiple streams of 4K/UHD video in real-time without using proxies
- Ability to encode un-rendered Premiere Pro sequences to H.264 quickly
Given those requirements, and after a few months of research and planning, the list below is the build that I ended up buying.
- CPU: AMD Threadripper 1950x
- The new Threadripper was the top choice for my build for a few reasons, but mainly because it offered a huge 16 cores, 32 threads of simultaneous multi-processing power.
- Motherboard: Gigabyte X399 - Aorus 7
- I wanted a motherboard that had room to grow and offered features like overclocking and on board sound. Gigabyte motherboards tend to get excellent reviews for performance, features, price, and durability.
- GPU: MSI GeForce GTX 1080 X 8GB
- This GPU was a no-brainer with its brute force performance.
- RAM: Corsair Vengence DDR4 3000MHz (32GB currently, although the motherboard will support up to 128GB)
- CPU Cooler: Arctic Liquid Freezer 360
- Case: Cooler Master H500P
- I wanted a case that wasn't too flashy, had plenty of room for upgrades and airflow, and was quiet. This case fit all of those requirements and even has some subtle RGB lighting if I so wish.
- System Hard Drive: Samsung EVO PCI Express 3.0 (250GB)
- All my media is housed on other hard drives, so I just needed a system drive that was fast to hold Windows and apps.
- Hard Drives: 2x Seagate 4TB Barracuda 3.5" 5400RPM internal drives. (These are setup in a RAID configuration to provide data redundancy).
- Fans: 2x 200mm fans built into the case with a 120mm fan at the rear for exhaust.
- Proper air flow in your case is critical, especially when pushing the CPU constantly.
- Power Supply: Cooler Master V750 PSU 80 Plus Gold.
- One thing I knew I didn't want to go cheap on was power. When you're pushing a video editing system, you want everything to run smoothly and reliably. Clean and consistent power is essential for that. So, I chose this Gold Certified power supply as a recommendation from several review sites.
- Monitor: ASUS 28" 4K UHD FreeSync Monitor.
Initial Thoughts on the Computer and Process
PC building has come a long way in the last 20 years. Everything is pretty much plug and play. I have built a few computers in my life, but nothing as powerful as this system. Despite this, I had a fully functional system ordered and built within 48 hours. The process is very straightforward and there are great tutorial videos online should you need them.
PCPartPicker is your friend. It has a great and easy to use interface that will walk you through the parts needed for a build. There are also parts lists from others so you can get an idea of cost and performance for certain parts. It will also tell you if there are any glaring compatibility issues with the parts you choose, which can save you a ton of time and stress.
Windows 10 has been extremely solid, and dare I say, as solid as Mac OS. It installed in less than 10 minutes, which Mac OS has never come close to. Drivers were updated automatically in about an hour and I didn't have to do anything extra or manually install any drivers. There's a lot of things I still love about Mac OS, but using Windows after being Mac OS only for quite a few years has actually been a positive experience.
Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Photoshop have been extremely solid as well. Premiere Pro feels quite different on Windows as opposed to the multiple Macs I've edited on, however it's still the Adobe creative suite that we've all come to love, just on a different operating system.
The Threadripper 1950X is pretty amazing, but the GTX 1080 is an absolute BEAST.
Real World Results
After a week of heavy 4K/UHD video editing on the PC, I'm very happy with it and blown away by how much more efficient I am in my editing and workflow. I have successfully cut 4K/UHD streams of video using Premiere Pro without having to transcode to proxy files. The only bottleneck I have now is hard drive speed. I can still play 3 streams of 4K/UHD in real-time, but there is a small hit in frame rate. However, it's not bad and doesn't prevent me from making cuts at the right spots while doing a real-time edits. I will be adding a couple of SSD scratch drives soon, so that should help.
Windows startup is snappy, around 10 seconds, and there is no noticeable lag on any task I try to do.
Why Not Hackintosh?
When planning my build, I considered a Hackintosh for a few minutes, but that's all. I wanted something that was reliable and stable, and there are too many risks involved with Hackintosh builds. Plus, there's limited compatibility with parts and I believe I got way more bang for my buck by sticking with Windows.
Bottom line, my PC build is cheaper AND faster for video editing (sometimes by quite a bit) than any Apple laptop or desktop with similar specs available today. I know there are upsides and downsides to both Mac and Windows platforms, but so far the upsides of speed and flexibility are in Windows' favor. I know I'm still in the honeymoon phase, and Windows will have its issues probably, but so far I have no regrets in the switch and everything has met or exceeded my expectations. Time will tell, but it's looking good so far.