In July of 2019, the Duke Media Productions team was due for an upgrade on our computers. Through a mix of research, budgeting, and consultation (the fine folks at Adobe were incredibly helpful) , we arrived at two candidates with nearly equivalent specifications: the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition and the 27″ Apple iMac (2019). Both machines are summarized below:
|Premiere Pro Recommended Specs||Dell XPS Tower Special Edition||Apple iMac (2019)|
|Processor||Intel 7th Gen or newer||Intel Core i9-9900K (8 Core)||Intel Core i9-9900K (8 Core)|
|RAM||32GB for 4K media or higher||64GB||64GB|
|GPU||4GB of GPU VRAM||NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB VRAM||Radeon Pro 580X 8GB VRAM|
|Storage||Fast SSD||1TB SSD||1TB SSD|
*List price from Dell.com at time of writing. This price includes an NVIDIA® GeForce RTX™ 2070 8GB GDDR6 GPU, different from the model we were able to test that is listed above. Quote includes Premium Support. Quote does not include a monitor. This 27” 5K monitor is a close alternative from LG, with a matching resolution, color gamut and brightness. At time of writing, this monitor plus taxes would be $1299.95, bringing the entire quote subtotal to $4864.67.
**This quoted iMac has a current unit list price of $3,999 including the built-in 5k retina display on the iMac. Quote includes $169 for AppleCare+, and $312.60 in taxes.
Because these computers will be used primarily for editing video, we prioritized the processor as a critical focus and identified the Intel Core i9-9900K as the best processor for our needs. Though we are primarily editing on Final Cut Pro X, we will be evaluating each candidate’s performance primarily with the latest version of Adobe Premiere Pro (Version 13.1.2) as it runs on both Mac and PC, and we are considering migrating our editing workflow to that software.
Using the AJA Video Systems Test, I tested the Write/Read speed of a 1GB 1920×1080 HD-1080p, 10bit YUV video file to the MEDIA-OIT network attached storage. On the Dell, the W/R speed averaged 92/99 MB/sec or 17/19 Frames/sec. On the iMac, the W/R speed averaged 93/85 MB/sec or 17/16 Frames/sec. The speed varied, but after repeated tests the Dell and the iMac kept roughly the same pace.
When working off the internal solid state drive, the W/R speed on the Dell averaged 1100/2443 MB/s. The speed on the iMac was around 2000/2555 MB/s.
For the tests below, please refer to this spreadsheet for a summary of scores. In some tests, performance on our current machines (Mac Pro (2013) and a previous generation iMac) are included for comparison.
Output Render Test
In Premiere off the MEDIA-OIT server, I created a project that included a 4K 6:34 clip of an instructor on a green screen and added a basic chromakey effect to the clip. From there I exported an H.264 4K 29.97 FPS video (same as the source) to the same folder on the server. The Dell accomplished this task in 4 minutes and 31 seconds. The iMac took 4 minutes and 4 seconds. For comparison, our old iMac took 5:23 and the Mac Pro 8:25.
Preview Render Test
In Premiere off MEDIA-OIT server, I opened our Rubenstein Wall Screensaver project which is 8K 60 FPS. Selecting the in and out marks of 00:00:30:00 and 00:00:40:00, I rendered the video preview for that selection. The Dell took 9 minutes and 32 seconds. The iMac took 4 minutes.
I ran the Geekbench test, a cross-platform CPU benchmark on all available machines. The iMac 2019 performed the best with an overall score of 6455, compared to a 5867 on the Dell.
I ran the Novabench test, which includes tests for the CPU, GPU, RAM and disk. In the overall score, the iMac received a 2596 while the Dell received a 2562. Notably, the GPU heavily favored the iMac with a score of 558 to the Dell’s 227.
Puget Systems is a company that builds custom PCs with a heavy focus on media production. They provide benchmarking results on a variety of PC builds and recently published the suite of benchmarking tests they use for Premiere Pro. I downloaded and installed the sample project, media and scripting to MEDIA-OIT network attached storage. I then attempted to run the full benchmark suite which tests a mix of 29.97 and 59.94 FPS, 4K H.264, 4K ProRes, 4K RED, 8K H.265 and 8K RED footage. While running the full test, Premiere on PC eventually crashed on every attempt. However, by manually running the individual tests, I was able to gather the data for the full suite of 29.97 FPS footage.
The Puget benchmarks show a fairly large difference between the overall performance of the two machines, favoring the iMac by most metrics. This is most notable in exporting, where the iMac often doubles the performance of the Dell.
The overall scores are heavily weighted by codecs which we are unlikely to use (RED, CinemaRaw Light, etc) so it’s valuable to look at performance using the codecs we’re more likely to use in our workflow.
For live playback of 4K H.264 at 29.97 FPS, both the Dell and the iMac got perfect scores, meaning they read and played footage within the Premiere timeline without dropping any frames. For exporting, the iMac performed with 119% efficiency (as compared to the real-time length of the video), whereas the Dell achieved a 90%.
At 8K H.265 at 29.97 FPS, the iMac had another live playback perfect score of 100; the Dell only managed a 36 (dropping almost ⅔ of the frames). Their export scores were a 78 and 41, respectively.
For GPU-intensive effects (cross dissolves, wipes, blurs, etc) the iMac outperformed the Dell by every metric. For CPU-intensive effects (lens flare, noise, magnify), the two machines performed relatively equally, which makes sense considering they’re both running on an i9-9900K Processor.
The comparative overall scores, even on the easiest of the tests, combined with the inability of the PC to complete the full benchmark suite without crashing, suggests the iMac is a superior choice by a large margin.
I asked the other editors on the team to provide their thoughts after testing the computers side by side. They generally agreed the iMac to have a stronger performance.
Devon: “ I hopped on for a few minutes today to see how Premiere ran on both. Admittedly I have a bias, but while the Dell is okay, for me, the Mac is a clear winner in speed and performance all around.”
Brandon (regarding the iMac): “I did notice a speed difference when editing the 4K video in Premiere. The project load time was shorter than on the PC and playback required less render time.”
Overall, as described above, I found the iMac to have a more robust and reliable performance than Dell’s XPS.
Though the iMac is at first more expensive than the XPS, I believe it has a greater overall value due to its built-in display and a graphics card that far outperformed the NVidia Geforce GTX 1080 on the XPS we tested. Newer equivalent models from Dell include a different graphics card in the XPS so your own results might vary.
Additionally, a large part of our existing media infrastructure is built around Apple and OSX. This includes the editor’s personal Macbooks, the MPS Studio, as well as the Mac Airs that make up the kits that we check out to faculty. By staying on this platform, our production workflow is much simpler compared to jumping between Mac and PC.