$700 Mac mini M1 vs $9,000 Mac Pro from a Video Editor’s Perspective

Apple claims their new Apple Silicon chips, beginning with the M1, are the next big thing for computing. With plenty of pretty graphics and little actual data or numbers behind them it was tough to see exactly what type of performance we would get—especially considering that most programs would need to be running through emulation at first to even work. Power-hungry NLEs didn’t seem like a safe bet.

However, early responses to the new M1 Macs have been shockingly good. Some people have even tried out video editing applications and found them to be leaps and bounds better than older models even through the app translation layer. Filmmaker Michael Tobin wants to see what is going on and how it relates to video editing, so he picked up a $700 Mac mini with M1 Chip to compare to his workhorse $9,000 Mac Pro.

Looking at the specs, the Mac Pro is the base 8-core model with upgraded RAM (Tobin said 160GB, but the $9k configuration lists 192GB), the Radeon 580X GPU, and base 256GB SSD.

He also added a W5700X graphics card and a 2TB NVMe to give it a bit of a boost. The Mac mini is the base model with nothing special added. Most of the tests are being done on the internal SSDs to ensure best performance.

While benchmarks aren’t the goal of these tests, one test was on SSD speed. The Mac mini’s, presumably, newer drive actually writes at nearly double the speed of the stock Mac Pro.

Arguably, the bigger SSDs likely perform better on the Mac Pro but the added NVMe SSD will also improve performance on the Mac Pro.

The first test is to check Final Cut Pro X export performance with a full YouTube video timeline. Exported to ProRes 422 from DaVinci Resolve, since the native BRAW files are supported, the timeline is brought into Final Cut. The Mac mini actually beat the Mac Pro handily by about 5 minutes.

Progress was consistently about 5-10% ahead of the Mac Pro. Tobin assumes that if you work with ProRes a lot you might pick up an Afterburner Card, but I would say that ignores the price to performance aspect of this comparison. That card alone costs hundreds more than a Mac mini, and only might, allow the Pro to get better performance.

Considering many people don’t use Final Cut, Tobin moved back to DaVinci Resolve to do an export test with a full video. With exact number, this test showed the Mac Pro delivering a file in 26 minutes with the Mac mini taking 39 minutes.

A 33% difference is a lot, but maybe not worth the $8,000 difference. However, Tobin points out that the general performance improvements with the Pro are likely where you see the whole difference.

Multitasking is another point of consideration, as a lot of people need to work on something else as a render runs in the background. The Mac mini, to its credit, appeared to work without lag on any of the programs running in the foreground.

However, it did slow down the render significantly. On the Pro these extra tasks didn’t seem to hurt render times at all. The minimal 8GB RAM was likely the sticking point for the mini as loading up an 8K video essentially locked things up.

RED has become known for footage that can be difficult to work with. That made the next test with 8K Helium footage quite fun. This was a music video with plenty of color work added on that can definitely be a strain on many systems.

With a 4K timeline and optimized playback it worked well on the Mac Pro. The Mac mini had issues. It wouldn’t scrub smoothly until all the color effects were off and it was set to 1/4 resolution. This makes it seem less and less likely that Mac minis are going to replace Mac Pros around the world.

We haven’t even gotten into the actual design and I/O. The Mac Pro cleans up here. With expandable PCI slots, the ability to add new internal storage, increase RAM, pop in new graphics cards blows away the very limited interfaces of the Mac mini.

The Mac mini is a great sign of things to come. Maybe don’t go for the Mac mini today, but I think the next-generation iMacs and Mac Pros with Apple Silicon might give us huge performance boosts.

What is your take on the latest M1-equipped Macs?

[source: michael tobin]

Order Links:

  • Apple Mac mini w/ M1 Chip (B&H, Amazon)
  • Apple Mac Pro (B&H)

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