Category Archives: Mac

FCP X 10.0.3 Update

Massive Update For FCP X

Apple today (January 31, 2012) announced a rather big update for it’s professional video editing software, FCP X, rather modestly, calling it version 10.0.3. Having seen what the update has, I would have thought it was more like a full digit update, something more along the lines of 10.1.0!

This update made me realise just how far things have come; an email press release from Aple announcing it’s launch and moments later I was on the Mac App Store downloading the updates for the suite; Compressor, Motion and of course, FCP X.

Much has been said about FCP X not being ready for the pro environment and a bandwagon of people not really knowing what this means have joined in. Certainly before this update, editors working within a broadcast house or film company where lots of collaboration, specialist PCIe cards for monitoring on reference broadcast monitors, waveform displays and vectorscopes, multi cam work and so on are part of the workflow, were definitely left wanting.

Version 10.0.3 though goes a long way to answer these needs. After attending a press briefing and demo at Apple’s London HQ, I am very impressed with all that has been done. FCP X was launched in June 2011 and had it’s first update in September of the same year. Now on January 31, 2012, it has had what I consider a huge update and one which should bring it in favour with professional editors. FCP X was pretty much perfect for smaller productions and sole video DSLR shooters already, but with this update, it’s even more capable.

FCP X showing it's Multicam abilities. Photo: © Apple

The biggest news for me personally is that it is now fully Multicam capable, offering up to 64 angles! What’s more, all the cameras used (angles) and external audio, can all be synchronised and lined up in seconds! You can even choose the method of synching; audio, time code, markers or time of day from EXIF. With audio, one can even specify the separate audio clip (one often records audio separately on an audio recorder for best results) to be used as the main audio and the audio from the various cameras is then ignored when you come to edit. There is also a very useful and easy to use Angle Editor to handle the multi cam clips. Genius.

Another huge update is the way plugins are used and this has opened the doors for companies like Red Giant with their superb Magic Bullet Looks and GenArts popular Sapphire Edge to bring out their plugins. This is due to the updating of the FxPlug architecture. Rather surprisingly and very much welcome, updates in the XML has also led to Intelligent Assistance launching 7toX –  a way to transfer your FCP 7 Projects to FCP X! I had to question this several times as it was completely unexpected; to say this is absolutely useful would be putting it mildly!

Another new ability which brought a smile to my face as I realised the creative possibilities is FCP X’s ability to now handle layered Photoshop PSD files. The image is imported as a compound clip and each layer can be edited independently; an easy and fast way of achieving After Effects effects.

FCP X showing an image graded using Red Giant's Magic Bullet Looks. The logo on the bottom left of the viewer shows which filters were used and also has an edit button for opening up the Magic Bullet grading window.

Revisiting the ability to run Broadcast monitors, on non Mac Pro setups that cannot use PCIe cards, there are Thunderbolt boxes from various suppliers which will allow such equipped Macs to also take advantage of this feature, allowing the use of Vectorscopes, Waveform Displays and calibrated specialist Broadcast Monitors.

Red Giant's Magic Bullet Looks on FCP X. A closeup view showing the logo on the bottom left of the viewer which shows which filters were used on this shot of model Vicki Blatchley, which also has the all important edit button for opening up the Magic Bullet grading window.

There are also advanced Chromakey capabilities too which not only work accurately, but surprisingly quickly too.

All in all, this is a huge update and has really elevated FCP X from it’s earlier version 10.0.0 which I reviewed on launch. This update hasn’t only made it even more ideal for the solo film maker and editor, perhaps working with DSLRs, but also brought it much, much closer to being suitable for the professional video editor working in a collaborative studio and having specialist hardware needs.

I for one do not miss FCP 7; roll on FCP X!

Final Cut Pro X Review

Is FCP X right for the DSLR filmmaker?

Reviewed July 2011, FCP X version 10.0.0 

Depending who you speak to, the world is either about to end or something wonderful happened when Apple launched it’s professional video editing program (June 2011), Final Cut X. Not so much of an upgrade but a completely new 64-bit program. I’ve never seen so much hysteria about a computer program; some it purely misinformed, others from individuals blindly following what the pro editors are saying and some from very justified sources.

FCP X, showing the Event Library, Clips, Viewer, Inspector (Colour Adjustment), Timeline, Effects Browser and Audio Meters.

The professional editors who rely on Final Cut Pro to make a living do have a point and FCP X is not ready to meet all of their needs. To get an understanding of the issues faced, I contacted Editor and Colourist Neil Patience. “Its fair to say that FCPX received a very negative reaction from many sections of the editing community. The ones who seemed to be shouting “foul” the loudest were those working in TV facilities houses and broadcast environments. As someone who has been working in broadcast television for about 20 years I can understand why they were unhappy”.

“Making television programmes is rarely a solitary endeavour. Collaboration is a key part of the process. TV facilities need to be able to move media along the stages of post production process as efficiently and seamlessly as possible. Shoot, ingest, rough cut, fine cut, finishing, visual FX colour grading and audio dubbing and layback is a common path for many TV shows. Different people bring different skill sets along the way, kit wise, Avid, Apple, DaVinci, Baselight, ProTools and Fairlight are just a few that are used. Getting all those to integrate uses a combination of EDL, XML and OMF files depending on what is going where. The ability to open archive projects is also critical and with no support for opening FCP7 projects, FCPX is again left wanting.”.

“Tape is not dead in our world, we wish it was, but the archive of tape is huge. Apple’s tapeless utopia is no where near a reality. Fifty odd years of worldwide tape based acquisition and mastering adds up, not to mention all the film that was transferred to tape.

Final Cut X, in its current incarnation, literally allows none of the above to happen.

All the tools we need daily to collaborate with our colleagues are missing and the hardware to allow critical external monitoring and measuring to ensure technical compliance is not supported”.

“But it is not all doom and gloom. Not everyone has to meet broadcast delivery requirements or needs elaborate collaborate workflows. The first things that struck me about FCPX is that it feels quick and the timeline feels smooth. The 64 bit architecture is certainly a performance boost. DSLR film makers, for example, can take advantage of this speed and the easy file based importing, everything is geared towards the single user operator. Effects and “looks” can be quickly and easily auditioned and FCPX guides the less technically skilled editors along the way, automatically creating tracks as needed, avoiding clip collisions and keeping things in sync. Background render is a big advantage too. If your main skill is shooting, these features will initially make your life easier as you develop your editing skills”.

Projects Library in FCP X.

I think it’s important to understand all the issues and negativity from parts of the editing community as it will help make an informed decision on FCP X. I would imagine that the majority of the readership of the BJP will be from a background of photography and of creating photographs and video and like me, working on projects on their own or within a small team. For me, the Canon 5D MkII opened up a whole new world of creativity in film making; one that I thoroughly enjoy. Whilst I enjoy the editing process, it’s not my favourite thing. In fact the first time I ever opened up FCP 6, I had to shut it down and only returned to it days later after mustering up enough courage. FCP X is different; the interface is radically different and no longer looks or feels like an ageing OS 9 program. It’s 64 bit which means it can access all of your system’s RAM. It’s also designed to utilise all CPU cores and also use the GPU. I’ve found it to be super fast and stable. It’s also a bargain compared to the £850 or so FCP 7 Studio cost; FCP X is £179.99 and the two other modules, Motion and Compressor, are both £29.99 each and are all available from the App Store.

Armed with Larry Jordan’s brilliant FCP X Complete Training course (which I thoroughly recommend), I downloaded FCP X and began my exploration. Not having much of an iMovie background, it did initially take me a short while to grasp FCP X but it’s so intuitive that I took to it very easily and quickly. This review addresses whether FCP X is right for the DSLR filmmaker. As always, I decided to do real world tests and spent several days editing a project involving video, photographs, music and recorded audio. For another test, I edited from scratch using native Canon 5D MkII files a piece on the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain; the entire process took around four hours:


What’s New?

One of the biggest things is the new magnetic timeline. FCP X has done away with tracks and it’s just a canvas that let’s you drag your video, audio and photographs onto and they just snap on and into place. It lets you move and insert clips and automatically moves the other clips around for you without the need for modifier keys like previously. You can easily connect clips together (such as effects, titles and so on) so when they are moved around, they always stay together and in sync. Compounding clips takes this a step further allowing various elements to be consolidated into a single clip and as such, edited as one clip. All of these make entire process easier, quicker and much less prone to user error. As a bonus, it also takes up much less space which means working on a smaller screen is so much easier. On the subject of photographs, the previous version’s 4000 pixel limit no longer applies; larger photographs can be imported and used.

The Inline Precision Editor lets you do very intricate and accurate trimming straight on the timeline. With Auditions, you can take a segment and try various clip edits, grading and so on until you have got it spot on.

Importing files has also radically improved, especially for the DSLR video user; the import dialogue lets you not only import, but have your video transcoded to Pro Res 422 and have both the video and audio analysed. All of this happens in the background, so even when these processes are occurring, you can still begin your rough cuts, saving a huge amount of time. A misconception is that FCP X won’t work with tape at all; if you have a firewire controlled video camera which is supported (check with manufacturer for a driver), you can import from tape. Importing from professional broadcast decks or exporting to tape is not supported though. A point to note is that you can always use FCP 7 to log and capture your tape, export this as a Quicktime file (say Pro Res 422) and then import that into FCP X for editing.

The transcoding is optional but recommended. If you’re on deadline and editing a small piece, you can just import your DSLR movie files and edit them natively. For best results though, transcoding is always best; with this happening in the background, it’s no longer such a time waster. Another feature is that all rendering is also done in the background, making the entire editing process fluid as you no longer have to keep stopping to wait for rendering to finish.

Another massive improvement is media organisation; the Event Library is where imported clips are saved; you can choose to have Event Libraries on various connected hard drives. The browser lets you easily look through clips and the skimming feature lets you very quickly skim through a clip to find the segment you are looking for. The ‘I’ and ‘O’ let you easily add In and Out points or you can just use the mouse to click drag a selection straight onto the clip. Once you’ve created your Project, it’s then a simple question of adding (by dragging, keyboard shortcuts or clicking on the relevant button on screen) these clips to the Timeline to begin your rough cut. The whole system, of Events and Projects makes it very easy to share or backup your work through the Duplicate function (which can included source and render files too). This new structure has made organising and backing up extremely simple and manageable. Tagging of clips with ‘favourite’ or ‘reject’ tabs in the browser helps speedily locate useful clips and hiding the ‘rejects’ makes for a tidier workspace. Keywords and smart collections help organise your archive as it grows.

There’s also an abundance of control over audio editing, effects, titles and colour corrections and grading with helpful export presets for commonly used sites for the solo filmmaker like Vimeo as well as export to DVD and even BluRay.

All’s Not Perfect

For me, perhaps the biggest disappointment is that previous FCP projects are not compatible, which means that I must keep FCP 7 installed. I do wish that either Apple or a third party comes up with a translator but it doesn’t seem likely as FCP X has an entirely new project architecture and trackless timeline. I’m also puzzled to why Soundtrack Pro was dropped, although there are more audio facilities built in to FCP X. Although not a user of it myself, I think dropping Colour may have been a mistake.

As far as plugins (such as Magic Bullet), camera and video card support and so on, it’s only a matter of time until 64bit compatible plugins and drivers are released. Most of the big name plugin manufacturers have already openly said they are working on upgrades.

Conclusions

I spent a while discussing FCP X with a photographer colleague on Twitter. He was enraged, quoting video editors as to how bad this release is and he can’t trust Apple and is switching to Adobe Premiere and so on. Funny thing was, two days later, this DSLR using colleague actually tried FCP X and had nothing but praise.

With FCP X, Apple has done what Apple does best; it’s looked into the future (remember the outrage when it dropped the floppy drive?). FCP X seems to be designed for the coming decade and not for what went before it. It has revolutionised the ageing look, feel and workflow of FCP 7 and really brought it in line with OS X; it’s intuitive, elegant, solid and stable. With multi-cam and XML support on the way from Apple, with OMF, AMF and EDL support on the way from third parties, I feel that even the video editing community with all their specific needs will begin using FCP X in 8-12 months.

If you rely heavily on plugins or use specific hardware, my advice is wait a month or two until the upgrades for FCP X arrive. It can co-exist with FCP 7 anyway, so you can carry on using it and begin learning FCP X. One thing is for sure though, FCP X is definitely the future and for the indy filmmaker and DSLR shooter, FCP X is absolutely ideal. Having used it for all of the past week, I dread ever having to open FCP 7 again. I rather like it!

Reviewed, July 2011

Snapseed

Nik Software Does It Again

Once in a while, a company comes up with a product that just amazes me and once I begin using it, wonder how on earth I ever did without it. One such example is Nik Software’s Viveza plugin which did away needing complicated layers and masks for colour image processing. It made the process much more natural and saved time with it’s point, click and slide approach. To my utter amazement, Nik has managed to bring a version of this to the iOS (Apple iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch) platform and it’s called Snapseed.

The iPad is definitely heading to becoming an ideal tool for photographers. It was already a great piece of equipment to use as a portfolio for photographs and video, as well as a great tool for researching stories and reading newspapers and magazines via the various Apps available. As I covered in a previous article, there are already some great image processing Apps available and once these mature and the iPad becomes more powerful and hopefully gets built in USB or an SD card reader, it will definitely become a tool more capable of image processing for the pro on the go.

Snapseed has just taken the bar set previously and raised it by a phenomenal amount. This App is practically why the iPad was invented. The touch interface works so well, that within minutes of using it, the most complex of image processing is done in a matter of seconds. User control is basically based around an up or down swipe for choosing an adjustment and a side swipe for a plus or minus value (or strength value, depending on the adjustment chosen). This way one can very quickly run through the adjustments needed and set a value. It’s so natural, simple and intuitive, with so much fine control that the user interface is simply a work of pure genius.

After the image is loaded into Snapseed, there are two sets of adjustments available; the first set are Automatic, Selective Adjustment, Tune Image, Straighten and Rotate and Crop. This set gives absolute control on the processing. The second page brings more set filters; Black and White, Vintage, Drama, Grunge, Centre Focus and Frames. Although the latter set are an automated looks, they do offer several Styles and variables that can be adjusted, with each filter having it’s own applicable set. These include Filter Strength, Saturation, Brightness, Texture Strength, Centre Size and so on.

Snapseed absolutely comes into it’s own when the Selective Adjust is used. Using the Add (a circle with a plus sign along the bottom of the screen), a spot is selected. This can for example be some blue sky, dark storm clouds, a road surface, a face in shadow and so on. This spot is where the colour to be adjusted is chosen and creates a circle, to show the area that will be adjusted. This circle can be increased or decreased using a ‘pinch’ gesture. Very usefully, as the circle size is adjusted, a red mask appears, showing which the size of the area and also which segments of the image will be covered when adjustments are made.

After the area is defined, the first setting shows a ‘B’ in a blue circle at the centre of the area, standing for Brightness. To make an adjustment, one simply touches the screen and slides left, for darker, or right, for a brighter setting. Once done, a slide upwards reveals the available adjustments available; in this case, Contrast and then Saturation. These are adjusted in a similar way. All of these adjustments only work within the defined circumference and only to the colour of the control spot chosen. If for example a blue sky over woodland is the chosen point, all the adjustments will only effect the blue sky and regardless of how complex the detail in the trees are, non of these is effected, leaving a natural and real look, without the tell tale signs of dodging and burning. It’s as simple as that and within a minute or two, a perfect image can be produced. Snapseed also has a Share button once the image is saved and will Email, Print or send the image to your Flickr or Facebook page.

The only downside to this App is what plagues all iOS photo Apps; there isn’t a single solution that does all. One has to use various Apps together to achieve the desired outcome, for example a RAW processing App (although iOS & app updates have added some RAW functionality, such as Canon and Nikon RAW file support), Snapseed and then an App that can add metadata and FTP. Depending on how many Apps are needed, the constant saving after saving of a jpeg will eventually start to degrade the image. Having said this, as an App, this is by far the most amazing photography software I have seen on the iPad, by far.

The Desktop

In January 2012 Nik Software also brought Snapseed to the Mac desktop. This standalone app works beautifully. Allowing all of the iOS adjustments but on a large desktop with huge files. It’s an absolute must have for any photographer.

Travelling Light – iPad or Air?

Are the Apple iPad 2 or 11″ MacBook Air Viable Alternatives For The Photographer On The Go?

Most photographers have back pain or have suffered in the past. It’s the ridiculous loads we often carry. Camera manufacturers think that we all want huge and heavy cameras; a couple of those, a few professional spec lenses, lights and computer equipment results in a fair bit of weight. Always being on the lookout for ways of cutting down weight and size of gear, I was an early adopter of the first Apple MacBook Air. It was certainly thin enough but with the 13″ screen, it was still big. Now that Apple have released an 11″ version, the quest to see if a smaller laptop will work is on again.

The Apple iPad 2 and MacBook Air (images have been montaged from two originals). Photos: Apple

The iPad is another possibility. However with all the talk of it not being for content creation but consumption, it’s not had a great start with the majority of apps not catering for the professional photographer who wants to edit and send images. I have the original iPad; it’s far easier to always have with me, especially compared to my much larger 15″ MacBook Pro. In fact on a day off I was given an assignment by The Times, which I edited and sent from the field on my iPad. One major omission from the App Store was the lack of a RAW converter; now that there is one, things have become very interesting and the iPad is definitely a contender; with the iPad 2 there is now much more processing power, making it an even more attractive prospect.

Both are surprisingly similar in size, with the iPad 2 at 24.1 cm x 18.57 cm and 0.88 cm deep with a 9.7″ inch display (1024×768 pixels). The 11″ MacBook Air is at 29.95cm x 19.2cm and 0.3 to 1.7cm deep with an 11.6″ display (1366×768 pixels). Form factors though differ hugely, bringing with them their own advantages. The Air has a traditional laptop design, meaning a real keyboard and a screen that hinges open. The whole thing can be placed comfortably on a lap or desk and both hands used to type and control the touchpad. The disadvantage though is that it’s much harder to use on the move. The iPad 2 is held in one hand and easily controlled with the other using it’s touch screen interface. This means that for situations where one is mobile, like when covering a demonstration, it’s very easy to work, editing and sending whilst on the move. Although both are extremely light when compared to regular laptops, the 11″ MacBook Air weighs more at 1.06kg compared to 613g.

With Mac OSX, now at 10.6.7, being a mature and fully featured OS, imaging software is freely available. Apple’s Aperture, Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop along with Capture 1, Photo Mechanic an so on cater for all sorts of workflow. iOS on the iPad 2 though is much younger and finding professional imaging apps that are of use to the pro is a little harder.

iPad Apps

PhotoRaw

Essential for basic RAW processing. Although a little slow, it’s very usable and allow the photographer to shoot in RAW and not have to play around with a limited jpeg workflow. PhotoRaw is used for basic RAW processing, the image is saved as a jpeg and then opened in one of the following apps.

Photogene

Full on imaging software, allowing image processing, IPTC metadata and sending, via email and FTP. It has a very usable and easy to learn interface which works well. In tests this proved faster and more straight forward to use than Filterstorm Pro, so we used this for the timed trials.

MacBook Air Software

Any Mac OS X software will run on this machine. One has to be realistic though as even the top of the range model tops off at a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo with 4Gb of RAM. In practice though, it does run Aperture well, which I used in this test (although I would definitely recommend switching off the processor intensive ‘Faces’ feature unless absolutely necessary).

Speed Comparison

The test was to import one Canon 5D MkII RAW file, process the image, add IPTC metadata and save a jpeg version ready to send to a paper, library or magazine.

iPad 2

Importing, basic RAW conversion using PhotoRaw and saving the file as a jpeg took 5 minutes and 11seconds (Camera attached using Apple’s camera connectivity kit). Photogene took 5 minutes and 10 seconds to process the image. Total time for the iPad 2 was 10 minutes and 21 seconds. I have no doubt that with practice a minute or two can be shaved off this time.

11” MacBook Air

By contrast, the entire procedure took 2 minutes and 59 seconds.

By including using an SSD, the speed gains are tremendous. From a cold start the machine is fully ready in 17.6 seconds compared to the iPad 2’s 28 seconds (which does include typing in a 4 number pin). Startup from sleep are a little different with the MacBook Air taking 4.5 seconds (including typing the user password) compared to one second for the iPad 2.

Final Thoughts

With either platform, all isn’t perfect though. Connecting to the iPad involves using a connectivity kit which allows for directly plugging in SD cards or using a USB cable to connect to a camera directly. I would really welcome a built on SD reader on the iPad and a USB port too. There are also issues with the metadata; I have heard from colleagues that this is being stripped by some FTP servers. Photogene seems to be more stable in this. One just has to make sure the image is exported via the app and not just saved. With the MacBook Air, the two built in USB ports are fantastic and a welcome departure of a single port on the original version. I do find myself hoping for more than the maximum 4Gb of RAM and wishful that it also had a FireWire 800 port.

Where both of these platforms come into their own though is their absolute portability; they are smaller and thinner than other solutions with great battery life. Apple’s figures quote the iPad 2 as having 10 hours of battery life and the 11” MacBook Air as five hours; in practice these seem pretty accurate and I would say the MacBook Air actually lasts longer.

For the photographer who wants to travel light on a quick foreign assignment or wants to minimize the gear they carry if on foot, either of these platforms will appeal. The MacBook Air though offers more; the ability to use fully mature imaging software and having built in connectivity gives it the edge. For quick and on the move editing the iPad serves a purpose and can do well. Also, the vast number of extremely useful apps and publications on the platform are fantastic. The biggest thing that’s missing though is a professional imaging App. Idruna, the company behind Phojo should be encouraged to support the iPad; this would then be a killer imaging tool.

I can recommend both; they both do their jobs well but in different ways. It’s up to the individual to decide which suits them best. I personally love the iPad and all the content and apps I get on the platform. For imaging though, the MacBook Air clearly has an advantage on speed, capacity and software.

Addendum: This article was originally written for the BJP in May 2011. Since then, a faster MacBook Air 11″ has been released by Apple as well as an app which I highly recommend for the iPad by Nik Software, called Snapseed.

Workflow With Nik Software & Aperture

Nik Software Webinar Recording

Here is the recording of my Nik Software webinar from September 2011. I share my workflow using Nik Software’s plugins with Aperture, but also demonstrate how they work in Photoshop.

 

The Passing Of A Genius

So sad to hear of the passing of Steve Jobs. An amazing man with astonishing ideas & foresight. RIP.

The Apple website with a touching tribute to the co-founder of the company:

SSD – The Need For Speed

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSD

The main cause of a sluggish computer is generally a low amount of RAM, slow processors and slower hard drives. The best advice I can give anyone who wants to speed up their machine and also make it more stable, is to upgrade the RAM to as much as can be afforded. Processors are generally hard to change out or upgrade (as this will often mean either complex adapters or a new motherboard) and hard drives usually do make a noticeable difference when going from 5400rpm to 7200rpm and then to 10,000rpm.

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSDs. After opening the side, the DVD drawer is slid out half way to allow the bable to be unplugged from the rear of the drive before fully removing the tray. August 02, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

A few years ago I got my first ever computer with an SSD; the original MacBook Air. The speed with which it booted up and programs started up was stunning. Roll on a few years and SSDs have come into their own. They are not only much faster but have also dropped significantly in price and the best ones even maintain themselves.

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSDs. Rather helpfully, the late 2009 Mac Pro has two SATA cables with power connectors in the DVD drive bay. August 02, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

I recently decided that I was going to upgrade my Mac Pro to an SSD drive. I use my machine to do image processing (using Aperture), hold my fully searchable archive of around half a million images (using Aperture) and also edit video using Final Cut Pro. The launch of Apple’s OS X Lion seemed like the perfect time and I set to researching the SSD market.

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSDs. The OCZ SSDs; primary boot disk will be the 240Gb Vertex 3 Max IOPS and the secondary will be the 120Gb Agility 3 - shown with a traditional 3.5" hard drive for size comparison. The DVD tray is to the right. August 02, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

I decided to go for an OCZ Vertex 3 240Gb Max IOPS SSD. This has a Sandforce controller (fast becoming a standard and something you should go for both for speed and also maintenance abilities – basically cleaning out any garbage that is accumulated as files are deleted). This would be my boot drive. Thinking things through and being a huge fan of Final Cut Pro X, I wanted to use it as my main editing program, so realised that having a dual boot system would be best as I could then install Final Cut Pro Studio (FCP 7) on the second boot drive, giving me full access to my older video projects (Apple recommends using separate partitions or boot drives for best results). For the second drive I went for a smaller and cheaper drive; a 120Gb OCZ Agility 3 SSD.

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSDs. The OCZ Vertex 3 mounted in the OWC Multimount. August 02, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

With my Mac Pro already having all four drive bays filled, I looked to OWC for a solution. They have a very neat adapter that lets a 2.5″ or 3.5″ hard drive get mounted in the CD / DVD drive bay of the Mac Pro. I had seen this several years ago and feared it unstable because of heat buildup (This bay doesn’t have an intake fan) but knowing that SSDs produce practically no heat (and consume minimal power) meant that it was the perfect solution. Alas I ordered the mount before I had decided on having two SSDs so I also found a similar adapter in the UK made by Akasa which I promptly ordered. I must say that I do prefer the OWC method and may well get another one of their multi mounts!

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSDs. The OCZ Agility 3 mounted in the Akasa SSD & HDD Adapter. August 02, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

My machine is an early 2009 Mac Pro which very usefully already has twin SATA and power cables coming into the DVD drive bay. Earlier models will have the cable for the optical drive and a spare port on the motherboard, for which you will need a SATA cable and a power cable (probably with a MOLEX splitter). My other problem was that as all 4 HD bays were populated and I wanted to use both the DVD bay cables for the two SSDs; what to do about having a DVD drive? I decided to do away with it! With most software being downloaded and image delivery to clients via Cloud drives (like MobileMe and DropBox) the need for a DVD drive was not a priority. For those occasions when I might definitely need one and also for exploring making BluRay films, I decided to get a portable slimline LaCie x6 BluRay drive. This would also come in handy if I decide to fit an SSD drive in the DVD bay of my 15″ MacBook Pro someday!

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSDs. Both OCZ drives in their adapters, fitted to the DVD tray, ready to be installed. August 02, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

The Mac Pro case (which is a work in design genius on every level) was opened and the side taken off. The DVD tray was then pulled out sideways but only half way. The cable was pulled out from the DVD SuperDrive and the tray was removed fully. The SSDs were then installed, leaving a lot of space between them for air to circulate (even though they do run cool – the cooler, the better in my opinion). The tray was put in halfway, both SSDs were attached to the cables, tray was pushed and everything closed up.

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSDs. Both OCZ drives in their adapters, fitted to the DVD tray, ready to be installed. August 02, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

I first started with installing Snow Leopard onto the Vertex 3 SSD and then upgrading it to OS X Lion. Setting were transferred via transfer wizard and I installed all the programs from scratch (using remote disk to access the DVD drive on another machine). I then emptied all the excess stuff from the old hard drive to make it smaller in used capacity and cloned it,  using Carbon Copy Cloner, onto the Agility 3 SSD.

Upgrading the Mac Pro to SSDs. Both OCZ drives in their adapters, fitted to the DVD tray, being installed in the Mac Pro. August 02, 2011. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

The speed difference is amazing. The OS boots up in a matter of seconds and programs open up in a flash. Extra RAM is definitely the first step to a faster and more stable system; changing out your hard drive for an SSD is a very close second!

To give an idea of speed, my old drive was an extremely fast, enterprise class WD VelociRaptor HD spinning at 10,000rpm. It has a sustained read and write speed of 126MB/s. The OCZ 240Gb Vertex 3 Max IOPS has a maximum read speed of 550MB/s and write speed of 500MB/s. That is some speed increase!

Addendum: Although for this project I used a Mac Pro, the same principle is true when  installing a compatible (most 2.5″ drives will be) SSD into a MacBook, MacBook Pro, iMac (although much more complex & possibility of voiding warranty – so do check) and PCs of most shapes and sizes. An SSD will speed up your boot time, the startup of any programs, access to any files on the SSD as well as faster shutdowns. You will also gain from less heat, no noise and less power being consumed.

Since writing this article, I have found a European dealer for OWC products called Macupgrade. The team there have kindly offered readers of the blog a 10% discount across the store. Code: macupgradephoto