About a year ago I posted one of my most popular articles, “Anatomy of an Edit Suite” where I detailed everything that’s in our edit suites and why. In the interim we’ve ditched Final Cut Pro 7 in favor of Adobe Premiere Pro, added our first Dell Windows Workstation, and have strongly been considering iMacs to replace Mac Pros. That’s a lot of changes in just over 12 months!
Well we did go ahead and install a full blown iMac so without further adieu, may I present an Anatomy of an iMac Edit Suite. As with the original Anatomy article, I have listed all the products at the end of this article. I didn’t have my main camera today so what follows are all iPhone photos… What you see below is Edit 2 at Biscardi Creative Media. That’s Emily at the helm, yeah it’s a little messy, she’s four weeks into a documentary edit.
You’ll note we have the exact same Anthro Fit Console as all the rest of the edit suites. Even though the iMac is an all in one computer, we can still stand up by tilting the iMac backwards. You can also see the KRK Rokit 5 audio monitors on both sides of the console just like the rest of the shop.
Here’s a good look at the iMac configuration, that’s the iMac in the middle, a Dell 24″ monitor on the left and a Flanders Scientific LM-1770W reference monitor on the right. Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 is the editing tool.
The iMac configuration is as follows: 27″, 3.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7, 32GB RAM, 256GB SSD Startup Disc, 1TB Secondary disc, dual Thunderbolt ports.
Yes, you did read correctly, 32GB RAM. You won’t find that option on the Apple website or at an Apple store. I purchased the machine with just 4GB of RAM and replaced it with a 32GB kit from Other World Computing. They assured me before I ordered the machine that the RAM worked, it did not overheat and it did not cause any power issues. 2 months into the running this machine I can report they are absolutely correct.
I added the SSD after Adobe came to the Atlanta Cutters meeting this past May and Dennis Radeke showed me how fast his laptop starts up and launches apps on an SSD. The machine literally starts up in about 5 seconds from power on to log in. Well worth the extra cost for the second drive.
The only downaide to the iMac is that it comes with a smaller keyboard so you don’t get the number pad on the right like a full sized keyboard. It’s somewhat of an annoyance and I’ll probably replace the wireless keyboard with a full sized one soon. As with the other edit suites, I’ll also add a Wacom tablet in the near future.
For audio / video I/O we run the AJA IoXT. It’s essentially the AJA Kona 3 video card inside a nice neat box. All the realtime conversions are in there and it connects to the iMac via Thunderbolt. It has dual ports so it can pass through a Thunderbolt signal to a computer monitor or other T-Bolt device. The IoXT feeds the Flanders Scientific LM-1770W via HD-SDI.
Instead of the Mackie audio boards we have in the other suites, I went with this simple Behringer Minimon MON800 box for the iMac. It accepts multiple audio inputs and controls multiple audio outputs, it even has a built in mic for talkback to an audio booth. We take the Stereo Mini feed out of the FSI Monitor to this box and then from hereto the KRK Rokit 5 audio monitors. Sure we can control the volume via the iMac audio controls, but it’s so much easier to just use a knob. The arrow points to the main volume control to make it easier to figure out in the darkened suite.
About that empty Ethernet port I noted earlier. If you’ve followed my blog, you know we run a Small Tree Communications ethernet based SAN (actually a NAS). Using the on-board ethernet ports on Apple products is a crap-shoot. On some machines we can use that port and everything works as it should. Other machines, they just don’t work right or Apple has taken it upon themselves to downgrade the performance of some models. This 27″ iMac was inconsistent in its performance so Small Tree brought one of their new toys down to smooth things out, they call it ThunderNet.
Thunder Net Rear View. The black T-Bolt cable is connected to the iMac, the white T-Bolt cable is the pass through to the Dell 24″ monitor. The CAT-6 ethernet cable comes from the Small Tree NAS in the machine room.
The ThunderNet allows us to run the Ethernet based SAN (NAS) via the thunderbolt port on the iMac. This greatly improves the overall playback performance on the system. We have a 1Gig connection in our box but we can change that for a 10Gig card to give us even higher data rates to the system. With our native format / ProRes / DNxHD editing, the 1Gig connection gives us plenty of performance.
Overall the iMac makes a very sweet editing system and so far we are very impressed with the performance. The fact that it’s cutting a documentary project, somewhat smaller by our standards, is a pretty good testament to the performance. It’s a snappy machine, cuts well, and even renders quite fast too. Sure it can’t render as fast as a 12 Core Mac Pro, but then this machine is only about $3500 fully configured.
The only real downside compared to the towers is that is does generate some heat so the edit suite can get warm with the door closed all day. If you touch the top of the iMac after a few hours, you will find it quite hot to the touch. With our towers, they are all in a central machine room so the heat is contained in one room and I just chill that room. With our edit suites, we keep the temp around 74 during the summer. All of my edit suites have ceiling fans and that really helps with this room in particular.
So more than just a consideration, the iMac is a very viable day to day editing system. Oh and you may have noticed the dog bed in the first photo. Molly the Wonder Dog decided to sit this photo session out in the hall. The items in the article are below her photo. Happy Editing all!
WH Platts Company One of the best Value Added Resellers in the United States. 80 to 90% of everything in my shop has been purchased through Platts.
Flanders Scientific CM-170W The 1770W is no longer made, this is their current 17″ model which blows away the 1770.