Slugline. Simple, elegant screenwriting.

Red Giant Color Suite, with Magic Bullet Looks 2.5 and Colorista II

  • Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
    Sony Alpha a7S Compact Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera
  • Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
    Panasonic LUMIX DMC-GH4KBODY 16.05MP Digital Single Lens Mirrorless Camera with 4K Cinematic Video (Body Only)
  • TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
    TASCAM DR-100mkII 2-Channel Portable Digital Recorder
  • The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap (Peachpit)
    by Stu Maschwitz

Tall Computers

Today, amidst many exciting announcements about thinner laptops and operating systems, Apple quietly updated their Mac Pro line. As Marco Arment put it:

After two years, the Mac Pro was “updated” today, sort of: now we can choose slightly faster two-year-old CPUs at the top end, and the other two-year-old CPU options are cheaper now.

That’s about it.

Folks who make moving pictures for a living have been eagerly awaiting—and debating the likelihood of—a Mac Pro update. This non-update update does little to squash the debate. Is this a placeholder bump while Apple readies the “real” new Mac Pro? Or is this the death knell for the Apple’s tower line?

When I described the ray-tracing 3D renderer in Adobe After Effects CS6 usable only by those with high-end graphics cards, many commenters took the opportunity to turn it into a Mac vs. Windows debate. That’s not how I saw the problem, but it did raise an interesting question:

Is it Apple’s job to build computers for our (Possibly Adobe) software, or is it Adobe’s job to build software for our (Possibly Apple) computers?

The easy answer is “both.” But there’s more to it than that. Apple clearly showed today a continued commitment to making computers lighter, prettier, and where possible, faster. The emphasis is not solely on performance—performance is one aspect to consider when buying a computer, but Apple has had great success getting customers to consider other factors, such as, you know, what it’s like to actually use the thing.

If Apple continues to focus on thin laptops with long battery life rather than dozen-core towers with $2,000 video cards, should Adobe reconsider its focus on features that require high-end hardware?

Or should Adobe concentrate on making kick-ass software that blazes on modern workstations, and leave their customers to select the best machine for their needs?

“Just get a PC. They’re cheap.” This has been a common refrain in the face of Apple’s seeming disinterest in the workstation market. And it is very true that a pimped-out, top-of-the-line Windows tower can be had for a steal compared to what Apple charges for these barely-reved Mac Pros.

But it’s Not That Simple

If you use a Mac, and you decide that you’d rather run Adobe’s Production Premium CS6 on a “cheap” Windows machine, you’ve got some decision making ahead of you. Most of Adobe’s software (a notable exception being Lightroom) is licensed for one platform only. You can crossgrade your license, but there are some gotchas. If you’re not on the very latest version, you’ll have to upgrade as you crossgrade. But more significantly, your Mac license becomes invalid. If you do the very common (And Adobe-sanctioned) thing of running your CS6 license on both a laptop and a desktop, you can’t split that happy arrangement across OS borders. Switching to a Windows CS6 setup means either giving up CS6 on your laptop, switching to a Windows laptop (ugh), or buying two seats of CS6.

UPDATE: Thanks to those who pointed out that a Creative Cloud membership earns you two platform-agnostic CS6 instalations.

The other issue could be your display. I currently use a MacBook Pro and an iMac. If I bought a Windows tower, I’d need to buy a new display. This is not something I’d cheap out on—you know, because I look at it.

So let’s review. “Get a PC, they’re cheap,” for me, really means buying:

  • A tricked-out PC
  • A high-end display
  • Either a Creative Cloud membership, a 2nd license of CS6, or a Windows laptop (kill me now)

This cheap PC is not turning out to be so cheap after all. And we haven’t even discussed the other software I might need to buy. Not all developers are as enlightened as Red Giant when it comes to cross-platform licensing.

Tower? I Don’t Even Know Her.

I haven’t kept a Mac tower in my home since they were blue. At The Orphanage, I had various Mac and Windows workstations at my desk over the years, but I did most of my work on Mac laptops. Now I split my work between my laptop—often connected to a 30” Cinema Display, and my wife’s iMac.

Of course, I’d re-think that if I was working for paying clients in the room. And even when my only client is me, I’m still not 100% satisfied with my laptop lifestyle. Do I want a pimped-out tower in my office and a lightweight MacBook Air for mobile work and writing? Or do I want a top-of-the-line mobile workstation and a serviceable desktop solution? Could I really run After Effects on an Air? How crazy-making would it really be to use Windows at my office and Mac at home? And sweet mother of internet, which PC would I even get? And which display?

And if I buy a tall computer, am I becoming even more of a niche user than we image-making professionals have ever been—focused on expensive, rarified performance that costs a ton no matter where you find it, rather than on the type of highly usable computers that Apple champions and the world copies? And encouraging Adobe’s rapid skating toward where the puck was a few years ago, rather than pushing them toward creating a great experience on todays lighter, more elgant machines?

Just get a PC, they’re cheap!

If only it was that simple.

Reader Comments (19)

And to top it all off - hackintoshes have never seemed to be stable enough to build a mac yourself with more modern and better equipped hardware - at least from what I've read, I've never been bold enough to sink that much money into something that may not work.

June 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterKevin Dooley

Interestingly enough, with a creative cloud subscription you don't have to choose. They're very explicit your creative cloud subscription allows you to install on two machines, and platform doesn't matter.

If you don't mind licensing the software that does make it a little easier to have a macbook for quick and dirty and a powerful PC for the big stuff.

June 11, 2012 | Registered Commenterjason lange

According to Tim Cook (via macrumors), they are working on something great for the latter part of the year. HOPE!

Maybe in the mean time, i'll do that DIY processor upgrades that peeps have been doing on their 1st gen mac pros.

June 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterMike Cha

You could also setup an Amazon AWS account and use virtual servers to do the heavy lifting in AE. The CS6 AE render engine is free to use now (though the licensing for plugins like Red Giant aren't).

However this process really works best for largely generated animations and becomes a pain if you're processing a large quantity of video footage that you have to transfer into and out of the cloud.

June 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterAlan Hatchett

Just a note, but if I'm not mistaken, the NVIDIA 650M card in the new MBPs supports CUDA, which should take the pain out of raytracing in CS6 AE.

June 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterPaul Belliveau


There are two separate issues here and your normally astute writing has muddled them a bit. I think most Mac users, due to Apple's unclear strategy are more muddled than ever with the lack of any clarity from Apple.

First, there is laptop vs. desktop for power users. This is a decision that is platform agnostic - all OS users have to make this choice. I've tried both and physics is an important factor. The smaller and lighter you make a computer, the more expensive and hotter it will get. So you either have to reduce its performance, increase its price and/or limit its usage model the smaller and lighter you make it. That's why a smartphone that cost the same as desktop offers 1/10th or less of the CPU and GPU power.

Laptops have their place for some power users but usually as the "and and mobile, not primary", but for people who need lots of performance, long renders that don't burn up laptops, fast gobs of drives, a good workstation tower is faster, cheaper and cooler than a laptop with a bunch of eSata and Thunderbolt drives.

And over time, a proper workstation can easily get upgraded CPUs, motherboards, drives etc. - saving money over time vs. performance over life. For big shops and one man rebel crews, those dollars and performance are substantial.

Second - Apple, by removing the range of form factor options available has now made the Mac platform a very problematic one. The range of CPU and form factor choices for power users is very narrow. Right now, for power users, the best bang for the buck CPU is the Sandy Bridge EP CPUs. Best machine for AE and would be for FCPX as well. Not available unless you Hackintosh which is far from ideal (I have one but for utility use only).

You are very right that it's not simple to make a platform change to get a PC. But for Mac users, it's not simple to stay on Mac either. That's an unfortunate situation for Mac users and there is no easy way out. The "upgrade" announcement today was a kick in the groin followed by some rumors that something is still coming late this year or next to try to soften the blow.

But given the minimal engineering required to put current tech in the Mac Pro line, something else clearly is going on. Maybe they canceled the Mac Pro, and now are bringing it back (internally). Or maybe testing market reaction. Who knows.

Bottom line, Mac users now find themselves in a tricky situation and need to think long and hard what makes sense. A knee jerk reaction to only use laptops or all-in-ones or to get a PC is not a great solution. First, you've got to think - what software do I need to run, how do I need to run, how much can I afford to spend running that software and then what's the best hardware to run that software.

June 11, 2012 | Registered Commentertest

Apple has demonstrated over and over that they dictate where things are going in regards to their own platform. More recently, they dictate plain and simple.

Adobe was not ready to give up Flash -- it was not their decision, it never will be their decision on the Mac, and where the Mac goes the rest eventually follow. Now Flash is a corpse. Looking forward is looking were Apple is going. Anything else on that platform is delusional.

Personally I would much rather entrust Apple to innovate than rely on Adobe. Apple is a phenomenon of our age; Adobe, much like Autodesk has proven over the decades that it will drag its heels at all costs.

While Apples own software isn't particularly special, the momentum of its vision of technology has been absolute for a decade and I see no signs of that changing any time soon.

The studios will go for cheap -- pc's -- for their render farms for as long as they can. The ground will shift underneath and whatever idiom emerges will be the way. They are simply along for the ride.

p.s. I run and enjoy Windows only, and don't really care which OS I'm using but, the phone is Apple, as is the tablet, and we can soon add a Laptop to that. Sooner or later I'm gonna get maneuvered on to their os.

June 11, 2012 | Registered CommenterCasey Basichis

When you purchase a TLP Lic. you get both WIN & MAC Serials & media.
Not Sure about licensing terms of using both simultaneously but I think it's worth checking out (especially since you can get it for the same price).

June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterGal Mosessco

I read more about processor, and actually it's not possible to have Ivy Bridge XEON's, cause they don't exist! (except 17W model for low voltage servers). Other processor won't give much speed difference.
I want to think that this is just middle step, till Intel will actually produce Ivy Bridge Xeon's, and Apple will have a chance to produce real Mac Pro.
If they would use other processor , in let's say 6 months they would release other new Mac Pro. doesn't make much sense. Although I feel a bit ofended by this "upgrade", but Mac Pro is not a MacBook Pro where U put newest technology and hope it works without problems.
Crowd which buy Mac Pro buy it for years, so Sandy Bridge upgrade and then 6 months ((depends on Intel) Ivy Bridge upgrade don't sound professional.
It's just a thought, I have no idea what Apple plan.
Sandy Bridge processors are impressive - - let's wait for Ivy Bridge! :D

June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterPrzemek Siemion

I have one of the latest MacPro at home for personal and freelance work and a PC tower in the company i work for.
Form me, the most critic aspect is the OS rather than the hardware.
I am MUCH more comfortable working in OSX rather than having to deal with the clumsiness of Windows (even 7)

Plus, OSX is Unix (for now!) and this is a bless when you have to work with large numbers of files spread across multiple computers.

What really scares the hell out of me is the "iOSization" of MacOSX! That would really mean the death of the professional side of Apple and the signals I see (jurassic MaPros, Mountain Lion..) are not very encouraging!

(Sorry for my goofy english!)

June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterEnrico Targetti

I just ordered a Z820 from HP and can't wait to actually test this beast. I did quiet some research before buying it but found that the ones from HP can't be beaten. They use the latest technology and you don't have to be an expert if you want to change something because it is more or less just plug and play

I use two HP monitors (HP LP2475w and ZR 24w) which are not as high end as a DreamColor but they were a lot cheaper (I even purchased exhibition models) and the 2475w covers 99% the Adobe RGB Colorspace.

If you're looking for an iMac replacement maybe the new Z210 is interessting for you
I also like those Elitebooks they offer

Just in case: I don't work for HP and if they sell something they don't give me money back (but maybe now. HP are you listening?

June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterPascal Fuerst

Sorry if it was me that turned the comments section into a Mac vs PC fight. I didn't intend to pee on your wall. At most, advance a blame Adobe vs blame Apple debate.

I know switching platforms is not easy. Apart from what you've exposed here, some little progs you use on your Mac won't have a version for Windows, or won't work exactly the same way (things like your online storage solution, and such).

I've never used one, but I think you can keep your iMac as monitor if you get a tower with displayport.

(bow, retreat, exit stage left)

June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterSamuel H

I don't think its mac vs PC at all. I really love and respect my mac book pro, but as a freelancer the multicore towers allow me to work/render etc. No doubt the new MBP is gonna scream, but try working in AE, get BG render going or dupe the app and have it rendering in the background. Then open a couple terminal windows, get Lightwave rendering, or c4D or whatever, and then keep working in AE or photoshop etc. I think most of the discontent isn't about the quality of the new laptops (they look great) but for power users, we just need more cores. I don't want nerd bragging rights when I have the above cooking with all the processors pinned, I just wanna get my work done and make as many changes and make my work look as good as it can before deadline.

When all is said and done, I don't need a fashion statement, brushed steel, or a perfect "user" experience. I need a rock solid multithreaded computer, I don't care whose logo is on the front.


June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterAaron Kent

It doesn't need to be this complicated.

Adobe has already coded the CS6 to work amazingly on what you've got, but to really have things sing you will want:

1. ANY Intel i7 or i5 since 2008
2. At least 8GB Ram or more (surprisingly important for not only Premiere & AE/ME, but W7 64bit superfetch... though its still cheap)
3. A CUDA gpu with 1 gb of vram (even crusty old ones from ebay will do equally well - bang for the buck is a 1gb gtx 460, better than 550 ti)
4. SSD for your OS drive, another drive for your footage

There you go. That's it. Your machine will fly (what's faster than realtime?), and you can have a used HP IPS 24 screen, all for less than a grand. Just install a dual boot of Windows 7 64bit on your apple laptop, and you're good to go. (W7 64 is awesome by the way, and the initial discomfort when coming from OSX should not be held against it - for example the slight cmd/ctrl/shift differences can be a trip at first)

*Remember you have to do the 'cuda patch' for said GPU for it to be enabled in CS6*

June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterAlex Mack

Check out the new 27" Catleap monitors on Ebay as well; same ips panel as in the Apple Cinema display, but for $300 from Korea. There is a calibration .icm file on the net to make it color accurate.

June 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterAlex Mack

Stu your article describe one long year nightmare !

Yesterday, Apple with their Mac Pro update bring me to switch on the dark side.

2 weeks ago Adobe organized (in Paris) their Creative week event. I know you already up-date your post : crossing OS though their new marketing license call CLOUD is free. Let me add that updating your CS 3 software give you a year discount on the cloud subscription . And as Steeve said; one more thing Adobe will include for free Lightroom in this CS6 Production at the end of this year !

I am not an Adobe marketing guy.I invested in a Mac Da Vinci solution but on a very bad strategy by trusting on Thunduerbolt.

Even with the New Mac-Pro there is no way to use all the tools i get for color correction : PCI*16 card NVIDIA Quadro Mac GPU, Thunderbolt BMD UltraStudio and Promize Pegazus R12. As blackmagic developed Da Vinci on PC, that the cross platform is free of charge, there is only one way to go for Da Vinci. Note that Thunderbolt external PCI don't go as fast as a PCI*16.

To many disengagements in Apple Pro strategy ( Shake, X-Serve, SAN, FCP redesign ... ) doesn't give confidence. I love Apple as their OS X, Apple design & Apple R&D but I can't follow them totally anymore. No communication on the Mac Pro and about its end rumors was as well a negativ point.

I will still use a Macbook Pro for dailies or other tasks, i still love the Apple & OSX environement. It s just it can't fit on everything.

I wish i were wrong again ... because Autodesk Smoke 2013 MAC Pre-Release Is Ready to Download right now :

June 13, 2012 | Registered Commenterserge bidon

Wow, that $300 Korean thing is a pretty interesting option!
Anandtech review of the 27" Catleap
Thanks for the tip.

June 17, 2012 | Registered CommenterSamuel H

I've worked on both PCs and Macs. For the past 7 years I've grown to love Macs. But for the first time in a long time, I'm considering making to the switch to PC. I feel like Apple is increasingly disinterested in the professional market (FCP X, lack of MP updates). That's their choice, as they know what is their most profitable market is. I've already made up my mind to make the switch to Premiere. Now as I start comparing the speed of computers (Mac Pro vs. HP z820) and Adobe's work with HP, I'm seriously considering a platform switch.
Not an easy choice to make for sure, both with the software and platform. And it's definitely not a knee-jerk reaction on my part. I'm still willing to give Apple a chance to impress me. But I'm quickly losing confidence.

June 25, 2012 | Registered CommenterTodd VanSlyck

Voice of reason, as always Stu - I'm rocking an early '09 Mac Pro for Adobe & Resolve. Apple's announcement was their latest in a line of epic fails!

June 25, 2012 | Registered CommenterAdam Jeal
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Sorry, comments are disabled temporarily while I tweak some stuff.
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