Computer Systems

Understanding your Mac's internal operations is not a prerequisite to working with Final Cut Pro, but it becomes increasingly necessary as you demand more from your system. The range of systems and workflows that FCP supports are discussed in detail in the first section of this book, which means in this lesson we can focus on the individual components and their role within the system.

As you assess the needs and demands of your workflow, it's vital to consider the complete system configuration. For instance, the processor and RAM in an eMac may meet the minimum requirements for DVCPRO HD, but the graphics card does not offer nearly the same performance of those installed in high-end pro systems.


Computers in the current Macintosh lineup include either a PowerPC G4 or PowerPC G5 processor. The G5 provides many advantages over its predecessor in terms of power and speed. Perhaps the most significant difference is that the G5 is built to support 64-bit computing. If the next generation of Final Cut Pro is written to take advantage of the G5 processor and the 64-bit capabilities of upcoming versions of Mac OS X, we may be on the cusp of a new era in hardware acceleration.

More Info

Jon Stokes has published a comprehensive history of the PowerPC processor from 19932004 at

PowerPC G4

The G4 debuted in 1999 and is the current processor in the Mac mini, eMac, iBook G4, and PowerBook G4 computers. It is a 32-bit processor that features AltiVec technology, symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) support, and clock speeds that range between 1.2 GHz (12-inch iBook G4) and 1.67 GHz (17-inch PowerBook G4).

More Info

The Freescale Web site features detailed specifications of their PowerPC processors, which are used under the name PowerPC G4 by Apple:

PowerPC G5

The G5 first appeared in 2003 and is currently the processor used in iMac G5, Power Mac G5, and Xserve G5 computers. It is a native 64-bit processor that features SMP support and clock speeds, which range between 1.6 GHz (17-inch iMac G5) and 2.5 GHz (Power Mac G5).

More Info

The IBM Web site includes information about their PowerPC processors, which Apple dubs the PowerPC G5:


Random Access Memory (RAM), or system memory, provides temporary storage for data the processor needs. RAM works to ensure that the data is available when the CPU needs it. In this way, it creates a bridge between the CPU and the much slower, but much larger, data storage provided by hard disks (hard disks are discussed in detail in the next lesson). Although the current dual 2.3 GHz and dual 2.7 GHz Power Mac G5 computers can hold up to 8 GB of RAM, 32-bit systems are only able to make use of 4 GB. The transition to 64-bit computing means that applications will, in theory, be able to access many times that amount. That said, the current cost of RAM makes the acquisition of large quantities impractical for all but the highest of high-end users.

Installing more RAM is one of the easiest ways to upgrade your Macintosh, letting you handle larger projects or keep Final Cut Pro, Motion, Live Type, and other production tools co-resident in memory. In most cases, RAM is categorized as a Customer Installable Part (CIP). This means that as long as you follow the specified procedures and do the installation correctly, you can install RAM yourself without voiding your warranty.


On some portable computers, only one RAM slot is accessible. Check the documentation that came with your Macintosh for the status of your system.

If you decide to add more RAM to your computer, follow these general guidelines:

  • Follow the installation instructions for your specific model at all times. This includes using any appropriate tools and making sure you understand Electrostatic Discharge (ESD) precautions.

  • Since there are many different types of RAM and a multitude of vendors, check your System Profile or the documentation that came with your computer before making a purchase to make sure the new memory exactly matches the specifications required.

  • Choose vendors that explicitly state that their RAM is Mac-compatible. RAM is such an important part of your computer that you want to make sure it meets the standards set by the rest of your system.

  • Because your system has a limited number of RAM slots, plan your upgrades with an eye to the future. For instance, the four 512 MB cards that filled your 1.8 GHz Power Mac G5 may have made sense at one point, but now you will have to lose some memory before you can upgrade beyond 2 GB of RAM.

  • After installing new RAM, run the extended system tests on the hardware test CD or DVD that came with your Mac. Current Macs are very sensitive to variations in the speed and timing of memory, and bad memory can manifest itself as random crashes, kernel panics, and other hard-to-predict behaviors. Although Apple's memory test routines aren't 100 percent perfect, they are your primary tool for detecting memory that isn't quite up to snuff.


    RAM cards must currently be installed in equal sized pairs on all Power Mac G5 computers.


The speed and power of the Graphic Processing Unit (GPU) in your computer has a direct impact on Mac OS X's capability to accelerate the rendering of complex images. The GPU is the display card's engine for texture mapping, compositing, shading, and other graphics-rendering tasks. Mac OS X currently uses a range of display technologies, such as OpenGL, Quartz, and Quartz Extreme, which take advantage of powerful GPUs. Motion similarly relies on the GPU for its operations. The promise of Core Image, Core Video, and other embedded technologies in Mac OS X is that they will further accelerate graphics performance in the Pro Apps when paired with a powerful GPU.

More Info

You can find additional information on the various graphics and media technologies in Mac OS X v10.4 (Tiger) at, and in John Siracusa's extensive review of the new Mac OS X at, specifically pages 13 through 16.

As with standard RAM, the amount of dedicated RAM installed on the display card determines the amount of data it can handle at any one time. Current Mac GPUs have anywhere from 64 MB to 256 MB of dedicated memory. Graphics acceleration technologies such as Quartz Extreme require graphics memory to run, and as time goes by, these technologies only increase their appetite for dedicated memory. Higher screen resolutions and dual displays also demand more memory. FCP workstations are well served by having the most GPU memory available; the performance of Motion is directly dependent on the amount of GPU memory available, and FCP will likely exploit the GPU's memory directly in future releases.

Dual-output cards let you drive two monitors simultaneously from a single GPU. (PowerBooks similarly let you extend the built-in display with an external monitor.) A dual-display system lets you spread your FCP workspace over more screen real estate, or lets you dedicate the second monitor to FCP's Digital Cinema Desktop Preview function.

You've probably already discovered that computer displays use a range of different connections. Common standards found on Macintosh computers include Video Graphics Array (VGA), Apple Display Connector (ADC), and Digital Visual Interface (DVI). DVI itself supports both digital-only connections (DVD-D) and digital or analog connections (DVI-I), depending on the pins in the DVI connector.

You can find inexpensive ($15 to $30) adapters to connect ADC cards to DVI- or VGA-equipped monitors, and DVI cards to VGA monitors. Connecting DVI cards to ADC monitors is also possible; ADC is essentially DVI with added power lines. However, a DVI-to-ADC adapter has to supply power to the monitor, so the integrated power supply boosts the costs of these adapters to around $100.

Which bus, or connection path, your graphics card uses is also important, because that will directly affect its capabilities and performance. A high-speed bus is important in a system that needs to process large, complex images.


Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) is a newer, faster alternative to the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus used for other plug-in cards in your Mac. AGP handles data more efficiently than standard PCI. It's designed expressly for interfacing to the GPU and works to reduce demands on both the CPU and RAM. AGP is the current standard for graphics in every Mac and is used by the fastest of the current generation of high-performance cards.

Device Drivers and Interconnections

Although AGP is designed specifically to increase graphics performance, several other technologies are employed within the current Mac lineup to connect devices. Some of the current standards include ATA, SATA, SCSI, PCI, PCI-X, FireWire, and USB. Exactly which of the standards your system uses depends on the specific model and revision. Details about the hardware configuration of your Mac can be accessed through System Profiler.


From the Apple menu, choose About This Mac.


Click the More Info button to launch System Profiler.


Select listed hardware components to see which standard they use.

FireWire is discussed in more detail in later sections of this lesson; hard drive technologies (ATA, SATA, and SCSI) are addressed in relation to storage in the next lesson.

More Info

You can find technical details about particular Mac device drivers and bus technologies on the Apple Developer Connection (ADC) Web site at You can find information about PCI and PCI-X technologies at

When adding new devices to your computer, make sure that you review the manufacturer's documentation and follow guidelines carefully. For instance, PCI and PCI-X cards need to sit correctly in their slots and should be installed to maximize performance. This last point is particularly important because the PCI and PCI-X buses are a shared resource and can only operate at the speed of the slowest component you have installed. Improper installation may mean that the 33 MHz Ethernet card you salvaged from your last system could hamper the operation of your new super-fast PCI-X video card. Worse yet, you could permanently damage your system by installing a card in an incompatible slot.

More Info

You can find information on installing PCI and PCI-X cards in the following Knowledge Base article: You can also find information at corresponding ADC resources:

Apple Pro Training Series. Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System. A Technical Guide to Real-World Post-Production
Apple Pro Training Series. Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System. A Technical Guide to Real-World Post-Production
Year: 2004
Pages: 205 © 2008-2017.
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