How to Speed Up Final Cut Pro with a New Graphics Card

How to Speed Up Final Cut Pro with a New Graphics Card

When I bought my MacPro I went to the Apple store, I figured they knew something. I should have realized they didn’t because the guy I was talking to didn’t know anything about Final Cut Pro.

I asked the Mac “Genius” about the NVIDIA GeForce GT 120  512MB RAM. He said it would work fine with FCP, so I bought it. As time went by while using Final Cut Pro Studio 3 I became frustrated with video lagging problems. I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t doing “gaming” which I understood to be video intensive, but I guess FCP was proving to be a problem.

My first meeting with CincyFCPUG I asked guys about video problems etc. and no one mentioned that my graphics card could be the problem. They suggested a RAID, trashing preferences, etc., but nothing about graphics card.

I became suspicious because I figured a top end Mac Pro should run FCP with no problems, so I called the Apple pro support and talked to a FCP expert. He told me about the problem with my card and suggested the switch to the 1 Gig ATI Radeon. He also said that $1900 card they were offering at the time wouldn’t be that much better than the $450 card. (He also at the time said the Apple wasn’t abandoning FCP but would be coming out with X but he didn’t have the time frame.)

I bought the ATI Radeon HD 5870, and it made all the difference with 7, and I also now with X. For FCPX you need an OpenCL compatible graphics card from this list endorsed by Apple.  Here is the card I bought:

One caveat I am running 2 monitors, Dell 30″ and Apple 30″ which both have Dual-Link DVI connectors. The 5870 has 1 DVI connector and 2 mini connectors, so I had to buy this: (that is what the Apple tech support guy said)

Now that might not be necessary if your 2nd monitor is smaller than 30″, you might get away with this

Larry Jordan’s recent newsletter mentions these issues, and it is worth a read. You should also check out the official Apple FCPX Troubleshooting Basics. Some cards are flat out incompatible with FCPX because they are not OpenCL compatible. In addition to better graphics Macs spool off other operations to the ATI Radeon cards and the net result is a faster computer.

Broadcast veteran Phil Boyer was experiencing the same kind of problems with his Mac Pro and Final Cut Pro X, so he decided to upgrade. He produced a before and after video that illustrates some of the difference. While not a scientific test it does illustrate the difference. I think Phil’s experience in this report from him is even more indicative:

FINAL CUT itself as a program opens 2 1/2 times faster.  Changing PROJECTS below the STORYLINE took 5″ on the video pre-new card, and now takes 2 seconds. Repositioning pictures in MOTION was a snap with the one I had to do today.

All I can say about it was that Final Cut Pro was unusable before I got the ATI Radeon 5870.

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  1. March 23, 2012 at 11:10 am

    I’m just wondering if you might be able to give me some input on what would be best to get FCP X actually running so I can make use of it instead of sitting around waiting more often than not. Some background… I have a 2009 2.66 Quad Core Mac Pro with 8gb of ram and was just about to upgrade my ram to 32gb because I find FCP X (latest version) to be horribly slo-mo when working to do any edits or rendering and was told by the guys at Other World Computing that ram would help the most over anything else. I have my projects on a separate internal 1tb 7200 rpm drive on am running Lion 10.7.3. I thought perhaps a SSD drive would help, but the tech there said that memory would be my best bet. Then I read your post about the Radeon HD 5870 which seemed to make everyone’s life so much better once it was installed, and so I thought maybe this would be the best thing to do and replace my factory NVIDIA GeForce GT 120. As I can only afford one or the other at this point I’m hoping you might be able to offer me some advice as to which way do you think would be best to go first step wise, that is to say, I know more memory is most always a good thing, but 8 gig is not so bad, or is it? Or would the Radeon Card be the better investment until I can afford both the card, and SSD drive and more memory? I just feel like I am spending many extra hours to do the simplest things like a crop or using transform for example where I cannot even see the screen update for 5-10 seconds or more at times and it is driving me mad where I just want to punch out the screen – obviously not a good thing for the monitor nor my blood pressure (-; Hope I did not go on too much, just frustrated and you seem to have a good handle on the app and how best to make it workable. Many thanks in advance for whatever assistance you might be able to offer in pointing me in the right direction. mikail ps: I am also using the HIDE FCP Events & Projects tips so that I am only working with one project at a time as well as turning off background rendering and only rendering when needed by manually invoking the process, but I still feel as if I am wading through knee deep mud doing the simplest edits so HELP MR. WIZARD!!!

  2. March 24, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    OK, great news!

    On Friday I bought an Apple ATI Radeon 5770 upgrade kit at the local Frys electronics store and thankfully they matched the B&H Photo price of $229. Next I brought it back to my studio, opened up mt Quad Core 2009 Mac Pro and within 15 minutes had the old one out and the new 5770 in place. Next I closed her up and reconnected all of my cables, including my 2 24″ monitors (one on the DV port and one on the Mini Display port via a DVI adapter, hit the power button, then reset my P-RAM, and bingo! Everything worked perfect from the first boot. Next I launched FCP X and dove straight into some heavy duty transforms, cropping and various video effects, and lo & behold everything is just golden and wonderful with no lag time, no stutters, no weirdness or slo-mo madness of any kind!!!! Ah yes, Houston we finally have ignition!

    Next up I ordered 16 gig of Apple Certified RAM with thermal sensors from Other World Computing at $124.99 delivered, which btw was the cheapest I could find it anywhere, plus these folks are great on the phone, help you out whether you are buying form them or not, and backup what they sell with solid warranties (from my experience over many years at least). And the final good news is OWC will be issuing me a rebate check for $24 when I return my current four 2 gig sticks back to them, so all said and done I now have a very happy & functional FCP X workstation for under $340 total cash outlay to get everything upgraded and working ever so smoothly.

    Well as you might expect I could not be happier about this and all because of your blog on upgrading one’s video card to improve performance.

    Big thanks Chris and please keep those useful tips coming!


  3. April 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Good stuff Chris!,

  4. Neeraj
    June 29, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Read many reviews about fan speed problem with apple ati radeon 5770 on 2009 mac pro….is it so?

    • Swainhart
      June 29, 2013 at 9:37 am

      Yes, the fans go out. It shows up by not spinning, then overheating, then crashing the computer. I discovered this by opening the panel and running the computer for a few weeks. This cooled off the card and kept it from crashing, but finally it crashed and I visually inspected the fan and saw it had quit spinning. At one point during my testing the fan on the card slowed and I used a can of compressed air to kick start it.

      I believe the 5770 uses the same fan as my 5870. Replacement fans are available on Amazon for less than $17 and they look simple to replace.

      Mine was under covered under Applecare so Apple replaced the whole card. I was surprised since the card was older than the 12 month warranty that comes with Apple parts, but since the computer was covered under Applecare Apple gave me an advance replacement.

      To get more life out of these Mac Pros read my article

  5. Neeraj
    June 29, 2013 at 11:15 am

    So what can be the best replacement of gt 120, in mac pro 4,1 , with16gb ram, for smooth fcpx operations without any hardware hassels like fans going out, crashing, overheating etc..

    • Swainhart
      June 29, 2013 at 11:28 am

      I can’t say all Radeon fans fail, just mine. Others that I know have had no problems, and I went for a couple of years without issue. The fix seems to be minimal.

      If you want another card, you need a card that supports OpenCL. Look at the links to the Apple document in the post.

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