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January 2, 2014

Mac Pro or iMac? An In-Depth Economic Breakdown for Creative Businesses

macpro-2013-open-100058793-largeIn the past few weeks, we've covered the release and the early reports of the performance of the new Mac Pro extensively. From what we've seen to this point, it doesn't seem like a stretch of the imagination to say that these machines will become fairly ubiquitous in the filmmaking world over the next year or two. However, there's one aspect to this story that we haven't yet covered, and that's the economic debate of performance vs. price, especially in regards to people who use these machines as the foundation of their creative businesses. Our friend Chris Potter over at Screenlight (a video-sharing software for video pros) has written up a fantastic post about how to make the best economic decisions for your creative business as you look to purchase new hardware.

We all know that the new Mac Pros have some pretty impressive specs, and we've seen that they can perform very well with a newly updated and optimized FCP. Accordingly, these computers come with a premium price tag. We've also talked about the fact that the new versions of the iMac offer fantastic performance in various NLE's and other pieces of high-end filmmaking software. Additionally, a spec'd-out iMac will cost you significantly less than a spec'd-out version of the new Mac Pro.

This begs the question: if the differences in relative performance between the two machines are somewhat negligible in terms of the software that you use to generate income, is there any reason to invest in the more expensive hardware? Here's Chris Potter's take, as he charts out an in-depth look at the economics of that question.

The starting point in determining how to best invest for your business has to start with taking a good hard look at where your business is currently, and more importantly, where you'd like your business to be in the future. For the nitty-gritty of how best to accomplish this, head on over to Chris's article, because he explains the process better than I ever could. Here's a brief snippet from his section on determining where your business is headed in the future:

The rationale here is that any investment decision you undertake needs to support your ability to realize this vision. There must also be a realistic path to get from where you are today to where you want to go. So now is a good time to think about how the kind of work you do is changing? Will you be hiring new staff? Are there new areas of the business that you want to move into? What new workflows do you hope to support? Is there new software that you need to run? Are you going to be spending more time doing color correction, 3D graphics and other computer intensive operations? Where does 4k fit into your plans?

Once you have a sense of where your business is and where you would like it to be, it's time to start considering how new hardware will factor into your business. This starts with determining which hardware options are available, and which of those options would best suit the current and future needs of your business. Obviously in the case of this article, the decision is between the Mac Pro and the iMac, but there are plenty of powerful PC options available for comparison as well. You can also certainly opt for the "do nothing option" if your current hardware is allowing your business meet its goals.

In the Mac Pro vs. iMac financial debate, you should then start outlining the differences in revenue that the two different options would provide. Some of the differences in revenue from these two machines might be:

  • Revenue from work you wouldn't otherwise get with an iMac or with your current hardware. This could come from new jobs you can take on, the ability to do more jobs at once, the ability to do new types of work, the ability to command higher rates because you can do things you otherwise wouldn't have been able to do, etc.
  • Time savings associated with faster hardware. How much time will you save over the course of the year from using faster and more powerful hardware. For example, 20 minutes per day over 200 working days per year at a rate of $50 / hour would be about $3,333 per year. Of course, this time savings should only be included if it will be used for other productive work.

The next step in the process is to forecast your projected cash flows for each of your options. These cash flows are derived from the above revenue differences, and while they're entirely hypothetical, they should take into consideration the internal and external factors of the hardware. In order for this process to provide the most accurate results, it's best to be fairly conservative with your projections so as to avoid making a misguided economic investment based on overly optimistic numbers.

Discounting the cash flows and then adding them up provides the Net Present Value (NPV) of the two alternatives. Comparing the financial benefit of the different options is easy once everything has been converted into today's dollars. The alternative with the greatest NPV is the one that does the best job of meeting the objectives of profit maximization.

Once you have a set of hypothetical numbers for each machine, you can start plugging them into a spreadsheet in order to determine the value proposition for each piece of hardware. As mentioned above, the higher the NPV, the better long-term value that hardware hypothetically represents.

Mac Pro iMac Economic Breakdown

Chris has graciously provided an open google-doc version of this spreadsheet so that you can change these numbers based on your individual business needs. You can view and manipulate the doc here. The numbers in blue are the ones that are meant to be changed for individual projections.

In the case of the above spreadsheet, because the NPV (Net Present Value) of the Mac Pro is significantly higher over the course of the three-year projection, it represents a higher value to this individual business, despite the significantly higher initial investment in the hardware. This is due to the fact that the computer not only represents fairly significant cumulative time savings in the long run, but it also opens up new streams of revenue that would have been otherwise unavailable with the purchase of an iMac.

All of this information represents the bare-bones basics of the decision to buy new hardware. To read the rest of Chris's article, which contains quite a bit more information than was included here, head on over to the Screenlight blog and check it out. If you have questions about the specifics of the process and the spreadsheet, don't hesitate to ask Chris.

What do you guys think? Is this a practical method by which creatives and their businesses can approach the economics of purchasing new hardware? What are your methods for determining the economic viability of new hardware? Let us know in the comments!

Link: Should you buy the New Mac Pro or an iMac -- Screenlight Blog

Your Comment

64 Comments

Are there any options of pc hardware make your self computer that might get into mac level??

January 2, 2014

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There is an even better pc built by ADK. I have been reading about what is better or who is a pro or amateur. They will put together a machine out of this world, a mac pro wont even come near it cause it will eat it for lunch. A dual 12 core with everything you need and more for anybody. Im an amateur in everything when it comes to pc or mac but after researching for months. Im going with ADK , a desktop with a dual 12 core , 128 gb ssd 1600 ram not goin into details cause dont hav d time AND A TECH SUPPORT JUST A PHN CALL AWAY and FOR ONLY $6700.00 this beast will handle anything You want. Im a mac fan by the way. But to make art that can be seen now and when Im gone , the need for the right tools is a must. Call the. And save urself a headache , money , time and will be tuned up for you. Take care

January 3, 2014

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Rome

Yep, it's true, great advice. Eric and the whole ADK crew are amazing.

January 3, 2014

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Anthony Marino

No, at the same high configuration as the mac pro, an HP cost 17 000 $ where the mac pro will only cost 10 000 $, so no, the mac route is definitely not the most expensive. And don’t talk about your shitty home made pc or Hackintosh, we’re talking here about computers that help us make a living not bullshit that make the same noise as a F16 ready to take off a carrier. ADK computers ? Really ? Man look at their site do you really want their computers ? They are ready to fall apart at any moment, they shitty, if you want a PC go see HP or Dell but not ADK and HP and Dell are way more expensive than the Apple Mac Pro . Morron

February 14, 2014

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larry max

Any self built pc can easily beat the performance of these units for far cheaper. So my answer would be Neither. Unless you are stuck using FCPX (oh the humanity) why go the expensive Mac route? No reason that I can see. (Note to Mac types - this is not Mac bashing - this is reality).

January 9, 2014

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Dave Reid

No, at the same high configuration as the mac pro, an HP cost 17 000 $ where the mac pro will only cost 10 000 $, so no, the mac route is definitely not the most expensive. And don't talk about your shitty home made pc or Hackintosh, we're talking here about computers that help us make a living not bullshit that make the same noise as a F16 ready to take off a carrier. Morron.

February 14, 2014

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larry max

Tomorrow on NFS: How to turn on a Mac Pro.

Saturday: Which color should you choose for your Mac Pro?

January 2, 2014

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Sweaterhuh

Next week with a bonus article! : Why choosing a mac pro over an ipad is the most sensible thing for your career.

January 2, 2014

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don hogfan

Next Month Special: should I upgrade my Atari to render in 4K?

January 2, 2014

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jakub

Next year: the vatican canonized Steve jobs. He is now to be addressed as St. Jobs.

January 2, 2014

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thadon calico

What's the problem? I suspect the number of people who whine on this board don't actually make their livings shooting, directing or editing. I for one do, and appreciate the coverage of the new MacPro. It has been a sore spot in Apple's arsenal for a LONG time and now that it is almost here, people like me want to know what it will do for us. The array of options and the cost make for considerable study before deciding what, if anything to get. Keep it up thanks.

January 2, 2014

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Scot

Next century, NFS commenter Scot reincarnates and comes back to life as a futuristic Mac pro, uptight-ass edition. Vacuum cleaners are shoved up the rear to suck out Apple branded dongles up the Mac pro's rear and keep it cool. It's a futuristic DIY thing

January 2, 2014

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thadon calico

Wow, you really showed me huh?

January 3, 2014

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Scot

Next Life: NFS commenter Scot comes back as an Apple branded toilet paper, guess how that ended

January 3, 2014

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thadon calico

It ended with Thadon's ass kicked.

January 3, 2014

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Scot

Enough. Really.

January 3, 2014

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Joe Marine
Editor-at-Large
Shooter/Writer/Director
238

classic

January 4, 2014

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Tyler

Could you recommend PC setup in 3k$ that could use OSX?

January 2, 2014

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Pawel

google "tony mac 86", there you can find WORKING hardware solutions that will run OSX. I built mine a year ago, it cost me $2400 including a $700 27" monitor and I absolutely love my system!

January 2, 2014

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Dimbazzo thanks a lot man ! that's a huge bunch of new knowlage to me. I also think that You could have same funcionally and parameters in PC like in Mac Pro but at least twice cheaper ... Sorry but my logo could be also a plum ... but OSX is bettter than Windows anyway :) oh and FCP is nice soft.

January 2, 2014

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Pawel

Dimbazzo thanks a lot man ! that's a huge bunch of new knowlage to me. I also think that You could have same funcionally and parameters in PC like in Mac Pro but at least twice cheaper ... Sorry but my logo could be also a plum ... but OSX is bettter than Windows anyway :) oh and FCP is nice soft.

Ps. What monitor U choose? EIZO?

January 2, 2014

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Pawel

I built a hackintosh for 2k w better specs tha the upcoming mac pro. Super solid. I run red cine x on it.

January 2, 2014

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ed

Would you be so kind to inform us with any benchmarks which support your statement?

January 7, 2014

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Yuri

Great article Robert. I was definitely underwhelmed after reading initial reviews of the new Mac Pro, especially given the price tag to make it a powerhouse.

I did, however, just see this up on Mashable yesterday: http://mashable.com/2013/12/31/mac-pro-teardown/

It looks like you could go with the $2k or $3k version of the Mac Pro and replace parts yourself (except for the graphics and logic boards, which they say are Apple-specifc).

Do you personally feel like Apple took a step backwards by making the Pro more difficult to mod?

January 2, 2014

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Walter Biscardi had a blog post referencing the fact he replaced most of his machines with Imacs because at the end of the day they fly through anything, especially with Premiere pro handling footage the way it does. He uses his big iron to render out any difficult composites or scenes that eat up the Imac, in which he stated that is only about 2% of my business. It is very detailed, might want to google it if your interested in choosing the Imac. The mac pros weren't on the horizon when he wrote this which leaves us thinking he was definitely a visionary here because the Imac is in its 2nd generation since this blog post. If the original can do this well, obviously the new one can do better.

January 2, 2014

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buddy

Good point re: Walter Biscardi's decision to use iMacs. I recently visited his facility in Atlanta, and the level of thought that he has put into the configuration of his edit suites is impressive. Why not save money on big iron hardware where you can and invest in things like storage, reference monitors in edit suites, etc.

The key here is to think through your own particular needs, bottlenecks in your workflow, and then make intelligent decisions. Walter does a great job of this, and his blog posts help others understand his reasoning.

January 6, 2014

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Not to mention more folks will want the monitor that is no doubt coming from Mac soon, and I doubt it will be 999 and that is the 4k version of the cinema display. I could be wrong but one would think it would be tad bit more than 999 since dell released their information and its 1399 I do believe.

January 2, 2014

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buddy

I'm afraid I'm with the snarky guys. This business case is based on some interesting assumptions. By 'interesting; i mean you could make that 'additional work' number do whatever you like. Let's say you buy the MacPro and you don't hit that number. Well gee, I guess you have a nice MacPro. I've seen MANY people make this mistake with expensive cameras, and they are rather easier to attract work with than a machine back at the office.
I do this for part of my living (quote new kit for people) and I'm only recommending a MacPro upgrade to a tiny percentage of clients with T/O >500k. Maybe 1 in 20 and mainly AE guys.
By mid 2015 we'll have a clearer 4K pipeline picture, pro NLE picture and camera picture. So my hearty recommendation is unless you have a job come in that's going to pay it off immediately (cool!) , get something that you can write off inside 18 months, or limp on through this year if you can. The fall in storage pricing is making fast RAIDs a much cheaper option to squeeze another year out of your edit system for most people.

January 2, 2014

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marklondon

I agree, you have to be incredibly careful and conservative with the numbers that you plug into this because overly optimistic projections will most likely lead you to a bad investment. However, this article and this spreadsheet should just serve as a basic guideline for how to start making economically responsible decisions for your creative business.

My guess is that these new Mac Pros won't be economically viable options (at least for a little while) for most small post houses and freelance post guys. That doesn't mean that these businesses shouldn't be crunching the numbers to figure it all out, though.

January 2, 2014

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Robert Hardy
Writer
Cinematographer / Editor
548

Guys, this is what most of filmmakers should learn before investing in anything that could cost more than what they earn in a month.

Thanks Robert for pointing this out.

January 2, 2014

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Thanks for the comment re: assumptions. You can use them to paint whatever story you want. In a previous life I spent some time in the investment banking world, and it's no surprise that many pitches started with the conclusion people wanted to see and then worked backwards from there to make the assumptions fit the story.

The key thing that I'm trying to get across is that people should really look at their business and the bottlenecks they face before rushing to buy new hardware. Financial analysis is just one tool in an effective decision making framework (and you have to be conservative and honest with yourself to use it).

In the case of my article, the assumptions about time savings etc. were just placeholders where people could input their own assumptions based on their own experience. The last thing I want to do is tell people to buy something thats not going to meet their needs. In fact, I suspect that you are right and that many would be better off delaying the purchase, going with an iMac, or investing the money in other areas like marketing.

January 6, 2014

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Two systems limited by their design. Those who aren't made of money should go the cheaper option, than upgrade when they need to.

January 2, 2014

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moebius22

Well, I think this is an interesting way to look at the decision… if you're an accountant. If you are a professional editor working on client projects that have to be delivered under tight deadlines, you buy the fastest equipment you can get your hands on. There are a lot of intangibles that go with being able to get a project out the door 20 minutes sooner… The value of your own time being one of them; The appreciation of your clients, another. If you are a busy, working editor, the few thousand dollars difference in cost for a faster, more capable machine soon becomes insignificant.

January 2, 2014

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You're quite right. Being able to get projects out quickly can often mean the difference between a happy client and an angry client (even though it's usually due to their unrealistic, last minute changes). This in turn can mean thousands of dollars in ongoing work. Hard to quantify this in a spreadsheet.

January 3, 2014

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Stephen Bakopanos

What would someone recommend that wants to create their own material that isn't getting paid work yet? A Hackintosh? A used IMac/

January 2, 2014

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Andrew Doyle

First you must answer this question: do I HAVE to use FCP (7 or X)? If the answer is yes, then I would recommend an Imac. I bought one slightly used off of Craigslist a year ago and have been very happy with it. I LOOOOVE the screen! It is a great machine in terms of $ vs. performance and yes, I am a pro editor who uses it on paid gigs.

However, honestly, if you are a Premiere or AVID editor (or some other NLE), and since you said this is for your own stuff, I would recommend a PC. And run it as a PC, not a Hackintosh. PCs are simply cheaper, unless you fully pimp one out and then you would be comparable in price to a Mac Pro. Just get a good graphics card, as more and more, the heavy lifting of rendering is shifting from the CPU to the graphics card.

January 2, 2014

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This is quite a good build for $800

January 2, 2014

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January 2, 2014

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Gaming on your work computer. SMH. If you're saving so much money, why not get a PC for each?

January 10, 2014

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Zan Shin

Filmmaking is a team sport. I think the most important question when choosing Mac vs PC is, "What are the other filmmakers in your community using?" If all the people who you crewing/editing for and who are helping on your projects are running Adobe on PC, got that way. If on Final Cut on Mac, go that way. You want to be able to share files.

January 4, 2014

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Kevin

I'd love to see NFS put together a guide for cost effective PC building. I'm running windows 8.1 and Adobe CC at moment and love it. My rig cost $700 + a monitor. I do editing for a living and I can't justify spending anymore than that. Although I probably didn't buy the best parts for my money.

After being on MAC OS X for 12 years it feels fresh to jump into Windows 8.1 :)

A 'PC parts guide for video editors' would be uber helpful to those of us not bothered by what brand sits on our desk.

January 2, 2014

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January 2, 2014

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don hogfan

Another gentleman - well, I assume that Anthony Marino is both male and a gentleman - recommended a company called ADA out of Kentucky. I checked their site out a couple of days ago. They have a full range of custom rigs, from around $1K to well over $30K and - this is very nice - a few charts to show the difference between the various systems. The best thing is that this happens to be their specialty.
.
As to "future proofing" -- I'll quote the late, great George Allen, "The future is now".

January 2, 2014

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DLD

The industry wants us to buy new stuff, new expensive stuff over and over. Now we have come to the point that this new amazing stuff does not give us like 4 hours extra time per day rendering or processing power but just mayb max 30 mins a day.Even if its an hour extra per day, will spending the extra cash help you in getting more money in your small company? I think not. To me it is extra time versus investment. I can afford to even loose a day. Just wait till they dop prices by half and do not get yourselves sucked it. GL

January 2, 2014

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Tom X

Oh boy. Lose a Day?

What a waste of life. Good luck with that.

January 2, 2014

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Greg egan

The iMac should be called the iMac Pro when maxed out. that thing is a beast

January 2, 2014

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thadon calico

Just to provide a different point of view - I love using all this cool stuff to make a better film that (hopefully) will surprise, or at least entertain people - and if I'm lucky convey something personal as well. I make my living another way and would not enjoy filmmaking if all it was were financial calculations and making shlock - commercials & corporate stuff. If you make a living doing that, I'm not knocking it - more power to you. But it would ruin it all for me if it was just about soliciting clients and making crap that I don't care about.

January 3, 2014

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Ed Wright

I've only hit bottlenecks with my $1500 PC when rendering out 3D work or complicated AE work, which I don't do often. OK correction, do very, very rarely. Sure it would be nice for those segments to be faster, but even a major upgrade like this wouldn't change it from a "render it overnight and come back in the morning" situation to a "go have a cup of tea and come back" situation. That would require a fleet of servers like what real 3D houses have. So what's the difference if it takes 3 hours vs. 7 hours to render overnight? Either way I can't let it tie up machine during the day... I suspect I'm not the only one with that sort of situation.

The best thing I did for my computer was create a media drive by striping two SSD's in RAID-0 (no specialized card required- most motherboards support that at hardware level). With a decent cpu and ram and cuda-supported video card, I bet there's nothing more most people need for every day work, including many clips simultaneous on the timeline (without fast media drive- harddrive can be a bottleneck, no matter how fast the computer).

That ~$600 two-ssd drive combo outperforms, by nearly 2x, the dedicated $5000 CalDigit RAID-5 setup at the studio I used to work at (I can dig up exact numbers if needed, don't have in front of me). Granted it can only hold about 500GB of footage, which is not a lot when shooting RAW, but an offline/online workflow solves that situation perfectly and is safer since you can store the original files on cheap HDDs and put them offsite since you won't need them till the end anyway.

Food for thought in case anyone thinks they need a new computer because their multicam edits are sluggish.

January 3, 2014

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Thanks for the post.

January 3, 2014

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moebius22

The guys from that Kickstarter project "the underwater realm" showed their render farm, it was pretty cool. I'm not familiar with how it's made, but it was good.

January 3, 2014

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maghoxfr

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