iMac Pro: The MKBHD experience

iMac Pro
iMac Pro (Image credit: iMore)


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Rene Ritchie: I'm Rene Ritchie and this is "Vector." Vector is brought to you today by Mint Mobile. Mint Mobile is like one of those big bulk discount warehouses, but instead of giant packages of paper towels, you get US wireless service at low, low prices.

Right now, if you buy three months, you get three months for free. You'd also get free first-class shipping on any Mint Mobile purchase by going to and using promo code VTFREESHIP. Thank you, Mint Mobile.

Joining me today, a man who really needs no introduction, [laughs] but I'm going to give him one anyway, MKBHD himself, Marques Brownlee. How are you, Marques?

Marques Brownlee: I'm great. Thanks for having me on.

Rene: Thanks for being here. I usually get only to see you at shows. It's great to have a chance to talk to you when a million things aren't going on.

MKBHD: Exactly. We're usually super busy.

Rene: [laughs] You got to spend, was it 10 days now, it was a week originally, with an iMac Pro?

MKBHD: Yes, a couple days before it was starting to ship, and a little over two weeks now.

Rene: Awesome. Before we dive into the iMac Pro, could you give people just a sense of your general workflow? I want them to feel how hard you're actually hitting a machine.

MKBHD: That's a big part of the reason why Apple figured it would be well-tested in my hands. I am a YouTuber, so I work with a lot of video. A big part of that has been trying to make as high quality of video as possible.

I'm shooting 8K R3Ds from a Red camera, usually pretty high frame rate, low compression ratio, pretty taxing stuff for Final Cut Pro, but that's been a big part of...The difference between this machine and others is how well it handles that, so that's been pretty exciting to see so far.

Rene: Up until now, you were doing that on a 2013 Mac Pro?


Rene: What was that like? Was it just slow with the rendering speeds? Was it everything?

MKBHD: [laughs] Pretty much everything.

Rene: [laughs]

MKBHD: Obviously, it's not the newest machine. In the past, I've been shooting 5K, 6K raw, and it could kind of keep up with that, which is still really impressive. If you're editing 4K and below, if you're editing ProRes, it's not raw. There's not a whole lot of transcoding to do.

Mac Pro will cut through that pretty quickly, but once you start to get above 5K, 6K, 8K, it starts to choke. It doesn't really keep up with playing back and not dropping many frames. That was definitely a not-so-hot experience, especially in the last two or three years of Mac Pro trying to keep up.

IMac Pro, the difference is actually night and day, and this is a 10-core iMac Pro with a 16 Gig Vega GPU. It's been great.

Rene: One of the things people may not be familiar with for people who do editing or any sort of creative work on the high end is that if you can't do real time, it's hard to get your flow going. If you have to apply and effect, come back...You go out to dinner, come back, it's very hard for you to do any sort of creative work.

MKBHD: 100 percent. Yeah. A lot of times, there would be things that I wouldn't catch in final export of the video until it's exported. There would be maybe one frame of something is missing or there's a split second of the camera shaking.

I'm editing at 15 frames per second on the Mac Pro. It's hanging in there and I have pretty good idea, but I'm not pushing it too far with plug-ins and color.

I sit there and wait an hour for it to export. I'm about to upload and I catch there's a dropped frame, or there's a frame of these artifacts in the video that I have to go fix that I didn't see when I was playing back in real-time. It definitely helps that I can handle that now.

Rene: It's fair to say that people who are at the high end of creativity are also at the high end of control. You really want to know exactly what every frame of your final video is going to look like.

MKBHD: Yeah, for sure. There's two playback settings in Final Cut Pro, better performance or better quality. I can, most of the time, deal with better performance, which is going to take a little bit of a hit to the quality, but that's just me doing the rough cut and chopping and things like that.

At the end of the day, when you go back through and you do all your coloring and you do all your visual effects, you want to have as accurate as representation of the final file as possible. Being able to look at it in better quality and have no frames dropped is a huge advantage.

Rene: It's not like you have an entire team of Pixar, or ILM, or Weta, and their server farm is behind you to do all this. [laughs]

MKBHD: Yeah. No, it's just one machine.

Rene: When you first heard about the iMac Pro, what did you think because it wasn't the Mac Pro reboot that we were hoping for? It was a very different machine.

MKBHD: I originally thought it was a trap.

Rene: [laughs] [inaudible 4:50]

MKBHD: I may mentioned, it might have been the same event, but they said, "OK. We're working on this new Mac Pro. It's gonna be great. It's gonna be modular. It's gonna come in the next two years. Just wait for it. It will be awesome."

Also, in the meantime, here is this iMac Pro and it will do mostly everything you seem to want. That's exciting obviously because I've been waiting for this upgrade for a more powerful Mac as a Final Cut editor.

It's a major advantage. My first impressions were hesitant like, "Well, should I jump on this or should I keep waiting?" I'm pretty glad I jumped on this.

Rene: You're extremely technical too and a lot of people at your level of expertise, they want to get their hands in there. They want to be able to play with the cards, the RAM, the storage, all those things.

MKBHD: Definitely. Even just the fact that you can't upgrade the RAM later puts some people off just because it's, air quotes over here, you can't see me, but a "pro machine." Immediately, people want to be able to upgrade it. It seems like it needs to be modular. It feels like a departure from what most pros are currently using, especially when they're doing heavy video editing and things like that.

It seems to keep up with and handle everything I'm throwing at it now, which is a great test of what I need it to do now. That's a question mark for the future.

Rene: I thought it was really smart what Apple did, because they gave the iMac Pro to you. They gave it to music editors, visual effects editors, scientists, a couple developers. You got a really well-rounded set of views from people from a variety of pro-level spectrums.

MKBHD: Definitely, and some people pushing it way harder than I am with their rendering and their effects. Obviously, the new version of Final Cut Pro has a bunch of new tools in it that I was really happy to play with, as well, so, just been messing with that.

The new color controls...I was using a combination of a couple different plugins to Final Cut Pro to mess with color. Haven't installed any of those in this new version, just using the built-in Final Cut Pro color effects, and they've been awesome.

It's a nice spectrum of different people using it for different things. It seems to handle all of them pretty well.

Rene: At the demos they ran last week, they had the Cinema 4D guys in there, and they had the main GPU running plus two eGPUs. They started to say they'd done much more than that, and Apple was like, "Shh, quiet. We haven't announced the number yet. We haven't told people how many they can use yet." [laughs]

MKBHD: It seems like it'll be very capable just because of, obviously, all the extra Thunderbolt 3 now. Which I had been waiting for, because I have a Promise Pegasus3 on my desk, which is a Thunderbolt 3 external RAID enclosure just for dropping media.

It's fast enough to edit from, but I was going through an adapter to get into the Mac Pro before. Now there's no adapter. Now it's way faster.

Rene: What did you think when it first arrived, from unboxing to setting it up and getting started with it?

MKBHD: Honestly, first thing I thought was, "Wow, this is really good-looking."

Rene: All that space gray? [laughs]

MKBHD: Yeah, and it's really that, because it's not the most modern look. It still has huge bezels. It's still not the best looking all-in-one, obviously. The space gray just matches a lot of what's already going on in here with my setup.

I was hesitant to switch to an iMac in the first place because of the display limitations. I liked using my own display, or plural, displays, previously. I ended up switching, and I don't think I regret any of it.

Rene: What kind of displays were you using before?

MKBHD: It was a pair of Asus 4K...I forgot the exact model number. I actually just looked that up earlier today, but it was a pair of Asus 4K displays. They're much less glossy than the iMac display. That was a big thing, because there's a lot of lights in here.

Rene: You're using a full studio setup. I remember when I first saw the 5K. It was just the plain vanilla first-year 5K. It was so dense at such a big size that it felt almost like a window, and then they added the P3 color spectrum to it. More recently, they added that temporal dithering to it, so the amount of colors...It's starting to look better than my real life, which I resent.

MKBHD: It looks great, especially with someone who works...If you're a photo editor or a video editor, this is a great display. Seeing it in person would confirm that faster than just knowing that it's 5K and glossy, and really bright. It's done pretty great.

Rene: Are you shooting in HDR? I know it's internally capable of HDR, but the screen is not OLED, so you won't get the full contrast ratio.

MKBHD: My workflow is still not HDR. I'm technically shooting footage that can be converted into HDR after the fact, just based on what Red's capable of, but my workflow is not HDR. I'm still publishing regular standard dynamic range footage.

Rene: This is fast enough that if you went to HDR, you wouldn't have too much of an issue. You got it set up, and again, you're coming from the Mac Pro. Did you just start throwing stuff at it to see how well it would work?

MKBHD: Pretty much. Final Cut was my first challenge. I was just dropping footage in there, putting plugins in it, adding effects and tracking and all that stuff just to see how fast it would go.

That was my first challenge, but obviously, being a 10-core, it's got a pretty great single-thread performance. I'm just messing around with, obviously, Skype here, Twitter, a couple browser tabs. It can handle real life, as well. It was pretty satisfying to see that. Really, my biggest test was Final Cut Pro.

Rene: The 10 core seems to be the sweet spot because that has the highest turbo frequency. They were showing us. Again, in the demo, they launched three different simulators, iPad, iPhone, iPhone X, Windows running Chrome in a virtual machine, an older version of Mac OS in a virtual machine, and Ubuntu in a virtual machine.

None of them were perceptibly slowing down as they were running them.

MKBHD: Nice, but can it run Minecraft though?

Rene: [laughs] That is the big question, or any of those electronic apps. What was it? Did it change your workflow at all? Did you start to be able to do things you couldn't do before?

MKBHD: I think so, yeah. Again, a lot of the plug-ins I was using for Final Cut Pro were four-color. Things like applying 3D Lutz or applying color masks to images and then adjusting specific colors of certain objects or certain hues in a shot. Plug-ins like Colorista or Color Finale were pretty big resource hogs.

I don't know if they're well optimized at all because sometimes they could literally bring the Mac Pro to a crawl, and I wouldn't be capable of opening Safari at the same time. The fact that I don't have to use any of those plug-ins, and I can still do all those same things I want and still play back in real time is completely unheard of. It did change my workflow in that way.


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Rene: It goes up to 6K now in Final Cut, not the full 8K? Or does it go to the full 8K for you?

MKBHD: Yeah. H.264 is limited to 4K, but you can export 8K today, if you wanted to. You just couldn't play it back, obviously, because of the display.

Rene: I think Judd was showing off the 8 -- was it the 6K playback -- and it was going pretty fast.

MKBHD: You can playback. If you're shooting 6K, you can play it back. Hopefully, it won't drop any frames. That's definitely not something you could do before.

Rene: You mentioned expandability before, and that really is the stress area there. Obviously, for some pros, if you're a developer, it might not hit you for years. If you're someone on cutting edge media, I assume if they start shipping 16K Red cameras next week, you'd buy one.


Rene: How do you look at it? Do you think that this will last you for a while, or do you think Thunderbolt 3 eGPUs are going to be a solution for you? How are you seeing that?

MKBHD: I'm on the fence about it because it's four Thunderbolt 3 ports right now. On my desk, I have three Thunderbolt 3 accessories already. I have the Ray, which is one. I have an Apollo Twin, which is my audio interface going to my Yamaha. That's two. What is the third? I have a third. Oh, it's my Red Mag reader.

That's already three of the four taken up. If I want to add two displays, or if I want to add a GPU, I'm already reaching that max. I still think that Mac Pro that's upcoming is probably going to be the answer to people who'll do more with it. I think having, maybe, six or eight is ideal.

For now, it's handling what I'm throwing at it.

Rene: You're still stuck with two controllers, so even if you threw a hub on there, you'd have to start splitting bandwidth at some point.

MKBHD: Right, which is not good for an eGPU, if that's the last thing I want to add. That's not too great.

Rene: Also, it's interesting because the eGPU will make things more parallel. We'll have to wait and see what eGPUs come out, but theoretically, putting that on you're still Thunderbolt 3 constrained. You're going to be constrained about what drivers and what companies to support it, theoretically.

MKBHD: Is Apple still making one, or is that a thing that we can still buy? I remember they showed that at one of the latest events. They had a developer kit, eGPU. Is that something we can get?

Rene: You can get that off the developer site. You can buy it. I bought one just to test it because I only have the regular. I feel bad now because I only have the regular iMac, and I needed that to plug the HC5 into.

They're planning on shipping it this spring, the actual versions of it. That was the thing that surprised me because in your video you show how quiet it was. When Cinema 4D was running multiple eGPUs, it was no longer quiet. The enclosures for the eGPUs are fan-based.

MKBHD: Yeah, the enclosures, obviously. The iMac Pro, I haven't gotten it to spin up loudly in any way, which is impressive. I've gotten it to heat up a lot. I put my hand behind it, and I can feel it pulling cool air in from that big bottom slot.

Then, hot air comes out the middle, but I haven't heard it at all, which is impressive.

Rene: It made me wish that Apple would design an eGPU enclosure when they make that new Mac Pro so that it's just as quiet as everything else is going to be.

MKBHD: Yes, please.

Rene: That was the thing. When Apple stopped making the displays, my biggest worry is that it's surrendering the experience because the screen is how you look at the computer, how you interface with it. I'm staring now at this LG screen, and that's not what I want.

It turned out the displays weren't great. They would turn off if you would put them next to a router. Those are all things that wouldn't happen if Apple was still making those Cinema displays.

Especially at the Pro level, it's great they're making the Pro display, but I think if they just own that entire experience, it's better for everybody.

MKBHD: I wondered about that when that LG 5K became the default display. They're, obviously, going to have to step that back up when the new Mac Pro comes out, owning the whole experience again. I'm expecting that at this point.

Rene: It's like, for some reason, they ran out of insulating tape in Korea for an entire generation of products.


Rene: If they'd just put tape on everything, we would not have problems earlier in the year.

MKBHD: They've learned from that, too.

Rene: Totally. How are you using it now? Do you shoot, you go right into the iMac Pro?

MKBHD: Yeah, again, I have the Red SSD reader. Basically, as soon as I'm done shooting everything, I have everything I have on this media card, I can import it all.

What I do is I bring it all to the interior SSD, which used to be a one terabyte. Now, it's a two terabyte. You can get up to four, which is awesome for people like me.

I do all of the editing locally. Once I've done that, exported, uploaded, and everything, then I can take all that footage and archive it externally. Basically, when I do all my editing, it's from all the local media, which is super useful, if you have 900 gigs of footage to import.

Rene: Would four terabytes be your sweet spot?

MKBHD: Yeah, I think so. I ordered [laughs] an 18 core maxed out. I made sure to make sure it's the four terabyte, of course. That's going to be a killer machine.

Rene: For sure. It depends on what your profession is, but the speed on those internal SSD...Some people still think they're drives, but they're chips. It's almost like a smartphone, they're just folded right on the board, and the throughput was amazing.

MKBHD: Yeah, it's a big deal. When you're editing, and you're playing back that footage, it's reading and writing every single time. If I'm playing back 8K, high-bit rated video from an external drive, it can be really fast and still drop frames, because it's not quite keeping up.

Being able to keep all of it locally is pretty important for, again, that whole real-time workload experience, and then dumping it later.

Rene: They added that P2 chip now which takes all the controllers and puts it into a single unified place and then just does all the processes in hardware-accelerated real-time. You're not even paying a software penalty for a lot of the stuff that you're doing.

MKBHD: Yeah. I have to read about that because a lot of that's not user-facing...

Rene: [laughs] Yeah.

MKBHD: I'm not aware of it as it's going on. I didn't have the reviewer's guide. I just had to use it and figure things out, but now, reading about, that's all super impressive stuff, also. I'm glad it works that well.

Rene: Is that kind of stuff like real-time encryption, is that important to you? Are you concerned about like locking everything down and follow-up on it all?

MKBHD: Minimally, just because there may be a bit of a target on my data, I guess I have to have a peripheral awareness of that. It's never really been a huge concern. I'm glad they're making that so easy, I don't have to think about it, but I don't think it would ordinarily be a reason why I'd buy the iMac Pro. It's a nice bonus.

Rene: That's the important questions, Trackpad or mouse?

MKBHD: I use both.

Rene: [laughs]

MKBHD: I know that makes me weird. People were asking about that when I was first showing my iMac Pro set-up. I'm a right-hand on the mouse and left-hand-on-the-Trackpad type of person. I might be weird.

Rene: Do you use them simultaneously, or are they for different tasks?

MKBHD: I swipe through spaces on the Trackpad, and then I scroll out on the Trackpad, but everything else is a mouse. It just seems to be a waste mover that way. If I try to scroll with the step wheel on this Logitech. I don't know if you can hear that?

Rene: Yeah.

MKBHD: It does pretty well, but obviously OS X does it really smoothly with the Trackpad.

Rene: I've tried doing gestures on the Magic Mouse and it seems like the worst possible surface to do all that stuff on.

MKBHD: It's terrible. I hate Magic Mouse. [laughs]

Rene: I've never liked any of their mouse. It's almost like that one thread on the app scan. It's the one thing that Apple can't do well is make a mouse.

MKBHD: You would think they could just like buy up Logitech real quick and have a great fleet of mice. I know, the Magic Mouse is pretty bad.

Rene: I don't know. Tim Cook's fovea change, like a change in the fovea, you could just pull it out and buy a mouse company, like they did with Beats, and then just start shifting that stuff.

MKBHD: Exactly.

Rene: We talked a little bit previously about what Apple is doing with the Mac Pro. How would you like to see that computer play out?

MKBHD: It's skewed because I used the 2013 iMac Pro for so long, so I imagine a bigger version of it with more ports and faster internals, but that thing also turned out to be a bit of a thermal nightmare. I've had GPs die in that thing twice, and a third one, the last one I was using, was in the process of dying.

I would like to see a better focus on airflow and thermals and not trying to make it so pretty and small. You can make it full, big, desk-top. I'll buy that.

I've seen people even mess with the old iMac Pro enclosure and put really high-end workstation stuff in it and that things great thermally. That's, I guess, concern number one. Other than that, I have faith that they'll put in...I'm expecting a Thunderbolt 3 ports, full-sized USB.

It'll probably be aesthetically brilliant just because it's Apple, but that's not a huge concern, and then just a step above iMac Pro.

Rene: I have the Nehalem, the cheese grater Nehalem Mac Pro, and it's genius, like the way you can just take the side off. You didn't have to do, because I was working on PCs for a long time, and you had to unscrew everything. You needed a toolkit, and you had to get through the wires.

This you would just pull it out, drop a hard drive in, close it, and screw it back. You needed no tool. That, I think, is the brilliance that was lost when they went to the trash can Mac Pro.

MKBHD: Yeah, if they want to focus on being modular, they should do that again. They should make it big, easy to get a drive out and a new drive in. That would be awesome.

Rene: Some people are like, "Why don't they just make it like a perfect little core, like an Apple TV with the most amazing processors in it?" but then you start dangling everything out again. It's just a mess of wires and cables and it will never be as fast.

MKBHD: Yeah. External expansion only means so much if it's limited. You want to be able to do as much internally as possible before you have to leave.

Rene: Absolutely, totally. I had a friend who, on the current Mac Pro, he would just run "Tomb Raider" on one of the graphics cards and "Batman Arkham Asylum" on the other one until the entire machine would just fall down.


MKBHD: It sounds like a good stress test to me.

Rene: The machine has to be more than that. It has to be something that's super robust and that you can configure the way you want it, and a sound engineer the way they want, and a scientist the way that they want it. The Mac Pro is good for all those things, and they have a variety of skews, and you can choose your memory and all those thing.

But, when it comes to the Mac Pro, I think it has to be one of those things where you can choose your video card and then change it if your needs change the next year, and swap out your 2-terabyte drives for 4-terabyte drives, and suddenly you're at 16 internal terabytes.

MKBHD: To think, as tech changes like where all the specs that comes with it are great now, but if a pro is using a machine for like five years and they can't add RAM. Obviously that's not a good situation to find yourself in, so being able to add drives when a 16-terabyte drive is standard, and I want to just drop it in, that should be as easy as possible.

Rene: Is anything on your wish list for Final Cut to run on those sorts of dream machines?

MKBHD: The collar controls are so good this time. Honestly, I don't have that many things on my wish list for Final Cut Pro. They just added a 360 degree video. That's awesome. I'm excited.

I don't really do that much 360 consumption or viewing now, but the fact that it's showing up on Final Cut Pro could mean we start seeing a little mini rebirth of that. I'm pretty satisfied with Final Cut Pro at this point. I just think it's a matter of the hardware.

Rene: It was neat how they have the ACC Vibe with a viewing monitor for the 360 videos.

MKBHD: That was cool. I liked that demo.

Rene: Are you playing around with the Vibe on the Mac Pro at all?

MKBHD: I have it on the iMac Pro. When we did that little demo, he was showing me that, so basically editing and then just looking around your own edit in the Vibe, which is awesome.

At this point the only thing I've used the Vibe for is a couple of VR games, which have been just seeing what they're like, and they're pretty cool.

Rene: It seems like we're on the crux of that. We're going to enter that VR world, maybe through AR at some point, but it's still leading-edge technology. If you made an iMac Pro for it, you wouldn't be able to produce video for a lot of people who could watch it. [laughs]

MKBHD: Yeah, definitely.

Rene: Your final thoughts on the iMac Pro. It wasn't the machine you wanted, but it's the machine you have. If feels like the end of dark night that way.


Rene: Are you going to use it for the next year at least?

MKBHD: Yeah. As long as it's the most powerful Mac, I will be using it. I said I would give it a chance and obviously it's a big upgrade over the Mac Pro I was using. It's way more powerful. It's faster, so yes, I'm happy with what it's doing for me right now.

My big concerns with future proofing will play out in the future. We'll find out as maybe a new Red camera does come out pretty soon that starts shooting 12K, 16K. Maybe compression ratios get better. Maybe we need to push more data.

That's the point where we'll really see if this thing holds up a year, two, three, four years down the line, but for now, I'm a satisfied user and hopefully that lasts.

Rene: Just to cap us off, I remember Apple would stagger the release of Mac Pros and iMacs for a while, and they put out the first iMac with the 27-inch screen, and they did not update the cinema display, and I went and bought one. Then, as soon as the Mac Pro came out, I used target display mode to turn the entire iMac into a screen.

It was like a screen...


MKBHD: I like that idea. I like that for literally just meshing them because they work that well aesthetically. That's not the worst idea I've heard.

Rene: If you could do that, and then just plug the Mac Pro into your iMac Pro over Thunderbolt, or over a 10-gigabyte Ethernet, and then just have the machines make almost like a Euro-style cluster network.

MKBHD: Yeah, and I could keep them both around.

Rene: Exactly. Apple would do that. All right, I really appreciate your time. That was terrific.

MKBHD: No problem.

Rene: If people want to find you, everyone knows where to find you, but just in case there's a couple of people haven't found you yet, where can they go?

MKBHD: On YouTube, MKBHD. That's where the videos are. If you want to find me anywhere else on social, it's that same acronym -- Twitter, Instagram, Facebook -- all of them, .com/MKBHD.

Rene: Thank you so much for your time.

MKBHD: Thanks for having me.

Rene: You can find me @reneritchie on Twitter and Instagram. You can contact me,, with your thoughts on the show. I'd love to hear them.

I want to thank you so much for listening. If you haven't already, you could subscribe. The links are in the show notes below.

Please, if you go to iTunes or Apple Podcast and leave a review or leave a rating, it really helps them learn that people love the show. Maybe they'll promote a little bit more and we'll get a few more people to love it as much as I love making it.

Thank you all so much. Have a great day. We are out.


Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.