So, this being the first installment, "Let's start at the very beginning," as Julie Andrews says in The Sound of Music. Let's take an initial look at the installation and maintenance of the Final Cut Pro system. Some of this information some of you may know, some of it you may not.
I won't go into too much detail about how to do some of these changes due to space limitations. There are many resources available that will help you learn the basic operations of OS X. To run a healthy FCP system, I hope the reader knows or takes time to learn enough about the basic workings of OS X to make the adjustments outlined here.
What Hardware Does FCP Need?
FCP in pre-version 5 installations will run fine on older G4s. I have FCP-HD running on an old 450/G4, but it's slow. For FCP 5, the minimum requirements are an 867MHz G4 or faster or any G5. I know some of you are running it on less, but for our purposes here I'm sticking with Apple's specs. For HD editing, Apple specifies a 1GHz or faster CPU (preferably a G5). And for authoring, burning, and playback of HD DVDs you'll need a G5.
Unlike Apple, I recommend 1.5GB RAM, minimum. I'd put in as much as you can afford. FCP will access up to 4GB of RAM by itself if it has that much available to it. Remember, the faster the CPU and the more installed RAM, the more real-time use you'll get out of your system, and the less you'll sacrifice to rendering time.
Hard-drive setups will depend on what your needs are, but you will need two drives no matter what. One must be the system drive with the OS and apps on it. The second must be your media drive where your project files and all related media files are stored. This is due to the narrow data pipe of hard drives. As fast as they've become, they're still the second slowest device in your system (the slowest is your CD/DVD drive). The OS and FCP need to read and write tons of data during editing to the system drive. And the project and its media files require a lot of data bandwidth to read and write video, audio, and metadata to the media drive.
A secondary SATA drive in a G5 does the trick quite well. And unlike with cars, the bigger the hard drive, the faster it is. For best performance, a second SATA drive in a dual or quad G5 will work most efficiently. If you need vast amounts of super-fast storage, a RAID system can help but isn't necessary for most wedding/event editing. I'll get into RAID systems in a future edition. Again, get the largest secondary internal drive you can afford. I'd never set up an FCP system for event editing with a drive smaller than 250GB. In fact, drives and RAM are pretty affordable now, so splurge. Once you have all that storage space, you'll wonder how you ever did without.
External drives are great for moving projects between computers. They also are an economical way to add more drive space to a system without the hassle of totally replacing an internal drive. I recommend FireWire 800 drives, although some 400 models perform well with some systems. When I migrated from an older, slower G4 to a dual 2.0 G5, the older FW 400 drive that worked just fine before suddenly didn't hold up. It created a massive data pipe bottleneck. Once I replaced it with a larger FW 800 model, everything ran just fine.
So, the faster the drives, the better your overall system performance. Forget the "required" video stream bandwidth; those are best-case specs, and given all the internal operations that cycle through while you edit, hard drive use is never "best-case." The hard drive is reading and writing information for the application and operating system at the same time, having to share that same data pipe bandwidth. Add more and faster pipes, and you'll reap the rewards.
Fresh Install or Upgrade?
Personally, I've never had problems with running software upgrades. But some people have run across problems. If you run the built-in OS X Software Upgrade app, you have to be very certain that your system is in top health first. Fresh installs are safer in that they usually do system-check and clean-up routines before and after the fresh new application files have been written. If your system has a hiccup of any sort, don't run a software upgrade; you could just make things worse. Generally, I advise against implementing either method until your system is hiccup-free. But even more so for running the Software Upgrade control panel option.
Run Disk Utility and Repair Permissions both before and after you install or upgrade anything to be safe. It's usually not necessary, but the process takes only a few short minutes that could save you a few hours of troubleshooting down the road. Why take the chance?
Your OS X system settings will affect FCP's performance. So a few words about them are in order. Open your System Preferences window to access these settings.
First, remember that all OS keyboard shortcuts take priority over application keyboard shortcuts. So add a modifier key to your Exposé F keys settings (Figure 1)Normally F9, F10, F11, and F12 perform the Exposé functions for navigating between multiple open applications and their windows. In the control panel for Exposé, open the pop-up menu. By default the F keys have no modifiers assigned. Hold down the Control key (Apple key), and then click the pop-up menu, and you'll see the symbol for that modifier key next to the list of F keys. This must be changed to accommodate FCP's use of these F keys for editing functions.
Figure 1. Change the modifier key next to the list of F keys in Expose' to override the OS defaults and accommodate FCP's use of these F keys for editing functions.
Next, turn off all Screen-Saver and Energy-Saver settings. Especially on Powerbooks, you want the Energy Saver turned off. If you have auto-save or background rendering on in FCP, a laptop powering down, or a hard drive spinning down will stop these processes. Screen savers can also interrupt these processes in strange ways. Also, Compressor encoding jobs can be disrupted with these functions enabled and cause you to lose precious work time.
Then turn off File Vault, turn on Use Secure Virtual Memory, and if you have problems, try turning off File Sharing. Also, try setting your Dock to Hide.
Let me clear up something right now. OS X is a UNIX-based system, and in all flavors of UNIX, there are temporary logs and files the system creates, uses, and expands. All flavors of UNIX have a "cron" function that runs specific shell scripts on specific days of the week to clear these out. Some run daily, some once a week, some once a month. But they all are, by default, set to run between midnight and 3:00 a.m. These files don't build up very much in a personal desktop computer like your G5 or G4. So you don't have to run these scripts everyday (i.e., run the system 24/7). But over time it could matter. So running them once a month would be a good idea.
There's three ways to run these scripts. Leave your computer on 24/7. That wastes a lot of electricity when you're not using your system. Or you can run them manually from the Terminal on occasion, but most end users I know aren't savvy about UNIX command-line operations. The easy way is to download a freeware app called MacJanitor (Figure 2). This runs the "cron jobs" without needing to know any UNIX mechanical stuff. It presents you with running the daily, weekly, monthly or all the clean-up scripts. I run the All Tasks option every Sunday.
Figure 2. MacJanitor runs automated "cron jobs" to clear out accumulated temporary files and logs without requiring you to know ant UNIX mechanical stuff. Choose All Tasks to run a complete cycle once a week.
The second thing I do is to run Disk Utilities, Repair Permissions on the system drive, and Repair Disk on all other drives. I do this once a week right after running MacJanitor, as stated above. Finally, once a month I run Disk Warrior (Figure 3) on all my hard drives. Disk Warrior repairs and rebuilds the directory that the drive uses to find where all that information is on your hard drives. The corruption of this directory is the most common cause for hard-drive failures. Once it is corrupted beyond repair the disk must be reformatted. That means you lose all your data.
Figure 3. Disk Warrior repairs and rebuilds the directory that the drive uses to find where all that information is on your hard drives.
Finally, I keep around a handy little app called FCP Rescue. There are now two versions of this app out: the latest version 5 for FCP 5 users and Rescue 4, which supports all older versions of FCP. Be sure you're using the correct version of FCP Rescue with the correct version of Final Cut Pro! Each version has different preference file structures.
This very simple app has only three buttons. Each only takes a second or two to run. The three buttons are Restore, Trash, and Backup. You've probably guessed that this handles your Final Cut Pro preferences files. Any customization you do to button bars, keyboard shortcuts, filter packs, motion favorites, etc., is stored in those pref files. When your FCP system is running smoothly, run FCP Rescue (Figure 4) and back up the files. Trash them and you lose all your custom settings.
Figure 4. When your FCP system is runnings smoothly, run FCP Rescue to back up your FCP preference files. Trash them and you lose all your custom settings.
On the other hand, when FCP acts up in specific ways, trashing the pref files can often fix the problem. With FCP Rescue, you don't have to know where they are or how to handle them. When you have problems, you can launch FCP Rescue (4 or 5, depending on your FCP version), and click the Trash button. Then click the Restore button to install a known working set of pref files. That way you don't lose any customizing you've done with your system. Oh, and remember to run FCP Rescue and click Backup every time you do major customizing to your FCP system!
I also want to make you all aware of a really great source of information concerning these issues: a new book called Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System, the latest volume in the Apple Pro Training Series, Apple's "official curriculum." It was three years and six authors in the making, and it's finally here. Full of great information and a great troubleshooting section, it's almost like having your own Systems Specialist on staff. I highly recommend this book to anyone who makes a living using FCP. I know some of you are very technically adept, but I'd still recommend getting this book. It covers not only technical stuff, but also things like workflow, video formats, capturing, distribution, and much more.
Well, there are some basic setup tips, which will give us all a solid base to start from. In future tutorials, we'll be giving you tips, tricks, and technical info; solving problems; looking at third-party enhancements; and more. Remember to send in your questions, comments, and concerns and we'll answer them here in the column. Happy Editing!