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Premiere Pro on a Mac – what is the truth?

Premiere Pro CS5 has been a successful release by any measure and many people have come to know about the Mercury Playback Engine.  What’s been less clear is what the MPE really is and what it means for users of both Mac and PC.

So to begin, it makes sense to start with defining what MPE is.  It is NOT(!) just about hardware GPU acceleration.

The Mercury Playback Engine is three discrete components:

  • 64-bit native application – as opposed to 32-bit like most applications
  • 64-bit memory addressing – use more RAM
  • GPU hardware acceleration for effects – ‘go faster juice’ for your system

Todd Kopriva recently did a run down on MPE, CUDA and what it means to Premiere Pro. You should give this page a peak and then come on back.  By the way, Todd is a great resource and his blog is a great page to bookmark.

Now, lets get specific on the Mac and some of the questions I’ve gotten over the last several months…

Q: Can I use Premiere Pro on a Mac?

YES. Shockingly (at least to me), there is still a portion of users that are not aware that Premiere Pro is available today on a Mac.  It is worth noting that Premiere, which started 20 years ago, originally started on a Mac.  It’s been written from the ground up three times including the current 64-bit CS5 version. With CS3 (our first re-write), we returned to the Mac in response to customer demand and delivered the first Mac version of Production Premium, which is the primary product that contains Premiere Pro today.

Q: Is Premiere Pro 64-bit ‘native’ or ‘optimized’, because I hear there is a difference?

Premiere Pro CS5 on a Mac is a 64-bit native application and all of the benefits that this implies.  Premiere Pro and After Effects in the CS4 timeframe were 64-bit ‘optimized’ meaning they could address more than 4GB of total memory, but did not do much beyond that.   As a side note, Adobe Media Encoder is also 64-bit native.

Q: Do I need an NVIDIA graphics card (GPU) to be able to use Premiere Pro CS5 on a Mac? All of the new Macs (both towers and laptops) use ATI graphics cards and I’m on a budget!

Let me be very clear about this answer – ABSOLUTELY NOT! This is a big one.  As much as I absolutely love NVIDIA technology and what it can do for our users, it is not necessary for running Premiere Pro or any other CS5 application.  Remember: the MPE is a combination of three technologies or features, but you don’t have to have all three in order to use it. If you get a Mac Pro tower and it has an ATI card, you’re still getting two-thirds of the MPE technology and it will still run rings around FCP7 or any other software NLE in terms of how many video streams and effects you can run in real-time.  Why?  It’s the 64-bit goodness and memory addressing that makes up Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop and Adobe Media Encoder.

I’ve been accused of being an Adobe marketing weasel because Mac users and particularly FCP users think that Premiere Pro can’t do it’s magic without a great GPU card.  In particular, many FCP users feel that a GPU is essential in order to edit and playback challenging temporal codecs such as those found on Canon DSLR and AVCHD cameras.  Nothing could be further from the truth!

Q: Okay, if Premiere Pro on a Mac doesn’t need a GPU to actually edit AVCHD and DSLR footage smoothly, then what DOES the GPU add to my editing system?

Great question, I’m glad you asked. 😉

The NVIDIA graphics card provides processing of effects that you apply to your clips on the timeline. Once you understand and process this, you’ll come to this conclusion: Having an NVIDIA GPU gives you the ability to balance the load between different computing components.  If effects like color correction, dissolves, etc. can be moved over to the GPU, then that means the CPUs have more headroom and ability to focus on what they’re good at – decoding video and playing it.

Q: If I have the other two aspects of MPE, what does that really give me?

The 64-bit native nature of the application allows Adobe to utilize all of your CPU cores (and virtual  ones) much more effectively than with a non-64-bit application.  How many cores do you have?  Wouldn’t you like to be able to use all of them?

The ability to address far more than 4GB of total memory with an application also means that large projects or projects that contain After Effects Projects, Photoshop documents and the like will continue to perform well.  To my knowledge, current Macs (early 2011) can address up to 32GB of total memory.  As you can see from this picture, Adobe applications recognize others that are open and can more effectively share or release to another application.  In the case of After Effects, you can also reserve a number of CPUs to remain outside of its domain again allowing other applications to work well (not just Adobe). So, if you have 16GB of memory, you can effectively use it all and recognize performance gains as well.

Many popular applications are 32-bit only and can only address up to 4GB of memory.  As we’ve quickly moved to HD, 2K, DSLR, RED and even DPX files, the ability for a professional 32-bit application to deal with this kind of media en masse has become an increasing challenge.  Take it from us, we went through it!

Q: I need to work with other FCP editors and so I need to use ProRes.  That means I can’t use Premiere Pro for those kinds of projects can I?

You can use Premiere Pro CS5 and cut ProRes all day long.

There are probably two scenarios that I can envision.  First, you start with FCP and want to move it to Premiere Pro.  Second, you start in Premiere Pro and want to hand off to FCP.

The first scenario is really easy.  If the other editor has cut ProRes with FCP, he only needs to export his timelines as XML and give you the media.  As long as your Mac (or PC) includes the ProRes decoders in QT, you don’t need anything else to edit ProRes on a Mac.  While Premiere Pro CS5 doesn’t explicitly give you ProRes presets, it is very easy to create them.

The second scenario is almost as easy.  However, you will need to be on a Mac and have FCP installed.  If you know you’re going to hand off to a FCP editor and need to use ProRes – then use Premiere Pro and Adobe Media Encoder (AME) to create another preset to transcode that footage to ProRes.  One thing that a lot of Mac users don’t know about AME is that you can create a watch folder that will automatically convert anything you drop there to your chosen codec.  This is a 64-bit, multi-threaded, background process that allows you to work on other things even as it’s churning through the media.  From there, do your edit and hand your FCP buddy an XML and pristine ProRes when you’re ready.

Q: Apple is using ATI and a similar technology to CUDA called OpenCL. Will Adobe embrace OpenCL in the future?

When CS5 was under development and I showed the Technology Sneak Peek, OpenCL wasn’t even ratified or finished.  CS5 wouldn’t have had GPU acceleration at all had it been based on OpenCL.  Even today (March, 2011), we don’t have a lot of real OpenCL applications. Adobe is continuing to evaluate OpenCL for future development but today Adobe’s GPU acceleration technology is based on CUDA from NVIDIA.

One final note for Mac users.  There is a great group of passionate Premiere Pro users that have developed a PC-based benchmarking system.  They have been open to developing a Mac-based one, but don’t have the knowledge and Macs to get it done.  Want to find out how your Mac really stacks up?  Volunteer by going to Premiere Pro Benchmark CS5 site.

UPDATE 3/14/11: Dave Helmly has published a short video that shows Premiere Pro running on the latest MacBook Pro (8.3) with an ATI/AMD card. In this video you see the remarkable performance without running a CUDA GPU.  When watching the video consider that he’s running the OS, Premiere Pro and screen capture software all on a fairly measly 8GB of RAM – pretty amazing to me.



I use CS5 Premier Pro alot and have had few issues until the last couple of days. A new project I’m working on has about 30 minutes of HD video from 3 cameras that I am trying to edit down to about a 3 minute final. After making several splices and cuts the project crashes and I pretty much have to start over. Hours and hours of much frustration with this. I even uninstalled Premier Pro etc, but still the same. Any help would be much appreciated. Below is my computer info.
Model Name: iMac
Model Identifier: iMac11,3
Processor Name: Intel Core i5
Processor Speed: 2.8 GHz
Number Of Processors: 1
Total Number Of Cores: 4
L2 Cache (per core): 256 KB
L3 Cache: 8 MB
Memory: 8 GB

[DR – you should check out Adobe.com’s official forums where you can get a lot of help from other users. I’d trash the prefs and clean the media cache as a first step.]

Hi there, I am working on PC with Adobe CS3 Premiere Pro and Adobe CS5 graphics package. I am about the purchase a Mac Pro laptop and would like to transfer the Adobe (2nd licence) to this Mac Pro. I assume I need to update Premier Pro to CS5. Is there any problems at all in running all the graphics packages and the video editing on the Mac Pro? This is for eduational purposes so lots of kids will be learning about editing on the laptop with access to graphics for their video editing. Also for animation, which Adobe program would go well on the Mac? And lasting.. people say that Flash does not like Mac. Is this correct or can I also purchase Flash for the Mac.
Thanks for this JD.

[DR – CS5.5 works on a Mac Pro great, go for it. For animation, there are several types of animation out there that you need to be aware of but the short answer is that After Effects is your best all around animation tool. Flash is fine on a Mac. The player performance is mostly an issue of a few years ago and Flash Professional again works on a Mac just as it does on a PC. Flash Pro is also a great animation tool. Good luck.]

I have recently started using Premium Production Suite 5.5 with updates after years of using FCP. I’m using a 12 core MacPro with 32 gigs of ram. What Nvidia card would you recommend to take advantage of the “cuda” experience? Thus far my migration to Premiere from FCP 7 has been pretty painless via XML with the exception of a rather complex production which I was editing with many audio tracks. I attempted to lengthen one of the audio tracks in the timeline and that has resulted in the entire sequence getting corrupted and now it won’t even play when I hit the space bar. I’ve never had such an experience with FCP. BTW XML migration to Premiere has been much better than migration to FCP X even when I use “7 to X” for migration to FCP X. Thanks for any guidance you can provide on Nvidia card choice as well as the problem I’ve mentioned with a corrupted sequence.

[DR – Welcome Michael! As for CUDA cards, the Quadro 4000 for Mac is really the way to go. I don’t see the old GTX285 anymore (discontinued) and they’re hard to find. I hope this helps.

As for your problem project, I’d open clear cache and clear prefs (similar to FCP) and then open a new project. Then I’d import the XML and do an immediate save. Duplicate the project and then begin to carefully experiment. At the end of the day, our XML implementation is good, but not a miracle worker and there may be some large and complex projects that just don’t want to come over.

Good luck and I hope this helps.]

whew, glad I’m not too late and you’re still answering questions in 2012! I’ve been struggling with the NVIDIA topic. I realize that the 64-bit feature runs smoothly, and it’s incredible that it works so well for Mac (the video with Dave Helmly running a Red file… amazing!). Truth is, I’m a huge Apple fan, BUT I’m in the market for a new computer (I have a ’08 macbook x_x) and want to maximize MPE’s features. If I were to buy a new computer, does it make the most sense for me to buy one with NVIDIA (again, I realize it runs amazing on both mac and PC)? Thanks!

[DR – Hey Lucas, I think the question you’re asking is whether to buy a Mac or PC. Truth is, we try not to make that a part of your decision. both platforms are great and have a lot to offer. If you’re comfortable with Mac, then stay with it and purchase a Quadro 4000. If you like Windows then you have more NVIDIA choices on that platform.]


[DR – I agree. Adobe = Open workflows whenever we can and that includes choice. To that end, having AMD/ATI support would be important. OpenCL though wasn’t even ratified until after CS5 shipped and didn’t really become legit until 2011. I hope we’ll see AMD/ATI support in the future via OpenCL. Until then, CUDA/NVIDIA is your only answer – but it’s a very good one. Thanks for your comment.]


I’m using macbook pro 2011 , 15inch, 2.2 ghz, 8g ram, using premiere pro 5.5.1 with nikon d3100 h264 clips and I can’t get one clip to play back at even 1/4 res without choppy playback. Do you know why?

Would love to read your thoughts on the less than pro FCP X and how Premiere stacks up against FCPX’s new features.

[DR – While I definitely have opinions, I am afraid that sharing them is not something that I feel would be appropriate. Suffice it to say that Adobe likes competition and likes the Apple platform, but our intentions should be on being #1 in the space and for our customers. I think we’re demonstrating that in the last several years.]

I have been needing to upgrade to some new macs for some time. I was waiting for the new Final Cut. Well . . . WTF?? I would have bought Adobe Prod Premium anyway for the other great programs. So now I am looking hard at Premiere and buying a new Mac Pro, which will come with an ATI Radeon 5770 or optionally a 5870. I see your article says that Premiere works fine on these cards, but doesn’t really discuss the alternative. I see there are NVidiaQuatro 4000 GPU’s out there for Mac, and they now have drivers for Lion.
To your knowledge, will I benefit significantly from this extra purchase? Am I likely to have tons of headaches from this optional purchase? Will it help when transcoding files? What about it’s compatibility with other hardware/software? Your opinion, good idea or not?

Just made the switch! Works incrediblly fast and very reliable. Already on my first project. Can anyone recommend some good transition/effects for Mac PPRO? Looking into BorisFX and Red Giant. Are there any other places I should check into? Thanks in advance!

I have the 2010 iMac i7 quad core 2.93GHz with 12GB RAM, and the ATI Radeon HD 5750 Graphics Card with 1 GB VRAM…

I am seeing slow play back when scrubbing in AE and also glitchy/slower play back in premiere when adding color effects (like colorista)…Any thoughts or recomendations? I’m still pretty new to Adobe, and have switched over because FCP (x) isn’t FCP anymore.

[DR – Well, After Effects isn’t a real-time engine – Premiere Pro is… If you’re dropping frames in Premiere Pro, then you might look at your hard drives. Your core specs look just fine to me. Check out the Adobe forums for Premiere Pro – you will find a lot of helpful people there.]

Thank you so much for this article, which is of great relevance for me right now! I was also under the impression, that without the NVIDIA/CUDA, I would be far behind. Thanks for clearing that up. Now, it may not be the right place to ask, but:

I plan to buy the fastest (july 2011) iMac, beef it up with 8 or 16 Gb RAM, and edit H.264 and RED. But I want to run PPro CS5.5 on Windows on the iMac. Because the Mac-version lacs some effects, and also for example the histogram in the Levels effect (why is that BTW?). Here is my question:

Do you know of any issues, specially performance-related, running PPro in BootCamp’ed Win7, on an iMac?

All the best,
Simon (ACE (CS4)) from little Denmark.

[DR – Simon, I don’t have any other tips for you other than to say that I think the rig will run great once you have it set up!]

I am currently using an imac I purchased about 2 years ago. I am using it with premier pro CS5. The graphics card on it is a Radeon HD 4850. The new Imacs have come out and they are saying they have much faster graphics. They are using an AMD Radeon 6970 with 2 GB of GDDRS video memory. (I have no idea what that means.) My question is…would I see a big increase in performance on the new Imac, rendering, etc? If I would see an increase how close would it be if I had a system that supported the Mercury Playback Engine? Thanks, Jeff

[DR – As always, a specific ‘yes or no’ answer is difficult because I don’t know what kind of work you’re doing, the format, etc. Your 2 year old iMac is probably pretty fast, but yes a newer iMac would be faster still. CS5 and CS5.5 are able to use all of the CPU cores so if the newer Mac has more cores and you can put in more memory, your CS5 performance will be faster. The GPU component of the system will not improve CS5 performance because it is AMD/ATI. The GPU hardware acceleration for Adobe requires an nvidia GPU which Apple currently does not support. I hope this helps answer your questions.]

Hey Dennis,

Just found your awesome site. Great info!

I’ve been using Final Cut for many, many years now but recently have been thinking of jumping over to Premiere, in fact the entire CS5.5 production suite. I LOVE After Effects and the idea of similar interfaces and integration are niggling at my ‘just buy it’ buttons. And your site is just making it worse 🙂

I’m also thinking of trashing my old reliable MacPro G5/Blackmagic card setup in favour of (gulp) the latest iMac!

I have a Mac-evangelist expert/friend who is ‘absolutley positive’ that the latest iMac (ie7 with 16GB of RAM) will be more than enough for my needs, which has till now mostly been editing and compositing P2 footage.

I’m a little skeptical but open-minded enough to consider it. The idea of spending up to $3,000 less for the iMac is a big attraction. My only worry is that we’re now starting to shoot RED and Canon DSLR footage and I don’t want to be buying into a ‘slow and frustrating workflow’.

Would love to know if you think the iMac with PremierePro is a workable solution.

Thanks in advance. Cheers,


[DR – With Adobe CS5 and CS5.5 (64-bit native apps) the trick is really balancing the your system between various components. In short, when you have more cores, more memory is always a good thing. 16GB of RAM is good and a quad-core i7 CPU should be pretty spiffy as well. Make sure you have a decent drive system (via thunderbolt, firewire 800 or USB2 – in that order of preference) and you should have a nice system for editing SD, HD or RED. In the case of RED, Premiere Pro gives you definable fractional playback options to give you the best balance of real-time playback and highest quality image. Hope this helps.]

Dennis – I really need someone who knows Mac OS dual video driver issues and what could cause this error. My Macbook is brand new out of the box and has the newly changed graphic cards (AMD, not Nvidia) for 2011 as you know. Everything in CS5 master collection works except Premiere Pro. Btw, I’m using the trial downloaded from Adobe. I cannot find any information about this error. Surely someone else has had this problem.

Upon starting up Premiere (which never gets past this error msg): “Adobe Premeire Pro could not find any capable video play modules. Please update your video display drivers and start again.”

Actions taken thus far with nothing working yet:
1.) System update so everything should be the latest Rev including the GPUs.
2.) Tryed starting with battery only to use the Intel GPU and with the power attached to use the AMD GPU. Rebooted
3.) Tryed both turning on/off the automatic graphics switching feature. Nothing works. Rebooted

MacBook Pro 8,2
Core i7
2 GHz
4 Gb Memory
AMD Radeon HD 6490M, VRAM (256mb)
Intel HD Graphics 3000, VRAM (384mb)

[DR – moments ago (literally seconds!) I just approved and edited your comment… You should ask this question at the Adobe Premiere Pro forum.

Not knowing too much about your problem, I would recommend:
Uninstall, run the CS5 clean script for Mac, reboot and reinstall.

BTW – I would highly recommend going to 8GB of RAM, but that’s not indicative of your problem.

You can also send me a private message on the Adobe forum if you can’t get your question answered.]

Ok you’ve confirmed this works with my latest 2011 Mac purchase. Anyway to get help with premiere pro error, “Adobe Premiere Pro could not find any capable video play modules. Please update you video display drivers and start again.” No one seems to know what this means.

Macbook Pro8,2
Core i7, 2 GHz
OSX 10.6.7
AMD Radeon HD 6490M
Intel HD Graphics 3000
4gb Memory

[DR – This is a perfect question for you to ask in the Adobe Premiere Pro forums


Final Cut Pro X has been announced, 64bit from the ground up.

[DR – Oi, FCP fanboys. You’ve gotta love their dedication! Until a product is out, everything you say is supposition!]

One simple question. Can you recommend an NVidia GPU Cuda card for my MacPro early model with 2×2.66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon and 12 GB RAM, to replace the NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT that is in it in order to maximize all three benefits of PPro CS5. Something around $500 would be ideal if it exists.

[DR – If the Mac Pro in System Profiler (or about this Mac) says it is a Mac Pro 3.1 or higher, then you can install an NVIDIA CUDA card. I looked to see if I could provide you an updated link, but couldn’t find one. I had a 2.1 MacPro and of course it was a bummer that I couldn’t use it.]

If you’re talking about FCP at this present time then sure, but Logic Studio is 64 bit as are all built-in apps; the point I was making was that the OSX platform like the Windows 7 platform are 64bit capable. It may take a while for Apple and other 3rd party apps to upgrade but this is now the benchmark. Again, the link you provide to the Adobe site basically concentrates on the hardware acceleration of MPE. There is no escaping this fact. Hence, unless a Mac user is in the position of buying a 3rd party graphics card (expensive) and this would only occur with a MacPro then the benefits of hardware acceleration will be missing for the majority of Mac users, especially those who choose to do their editing on their laptops.

I do have PProCS5 running on an iMac i7 with 8 virtual cpu’s and 8gb RAM and there are times that PProCS5 maxes out the iMac.

[DR – great! The fact that Premiere Pro can max out your CPUs is a good thing. If you want to get more performance out of a 64-bit application like Premiere Pro, then adding more RAM is the ticket. Todd Kopriva has posted about starving your CPUs of RAM for AE on his blog and the rule of thumb applies to Premiere Pro as well. More RAM is almost always going to pay dividends.]

The two advantages you talk about are now standard requirements for all software on the latest OSX and Apple hardware. One should expect nothing less. GPU acceleration, and this is from Adobe’s own press, (your link) is the big advantage because it kills rendering time.

[DR – The two advantages I talk about are NOT standard requirements. Both Avid and Apple as of today do NOT have 64-bit native applications. ’nuff said.]

Good article but it doesn’t get around the fact that Mac users lose out on the 3rd and certainly most beneficial part of the MPE. The fact that Adobe didn’t/hasn’t as yet come to the party for the current Mac technology is disappointing. That’s not to say that PProCS5 isn’t an excellent product but you can see what’s going to happen. Apple will release FCP8 and it will have all the benefits of PPRoCS5 with it’s own MPE. It’s a shame because Adobe does have excellent companion apps like Photoshop and AE etc but streamlining work flows, something that Adobe could have bottled up IF they had addressed the ATI cards, is where your average punter will go. The big question is why didn’t Adobe address these issues. By the time we find out it will be too late – FCP8 will be here and we wont care anymore.

[DR – Thanks for your comments. Let me try to make some clarifications.

You incorrectly state that the GPU is the most beneficial aspect of the three in the Mercury Playback Engine. It is not. The other two aspects of MPE, from a performance point of view are clearly and demonstrably more important. If you have an opportunity to try Premiere Pro on a Mac without a CUDA card, you will see that. As I said, a Premiere Pro Mac without GPU will still run rings around FCP with ProRes as a codec.

We have come to the Mac party – that was really the whole point of the article. However, because Apple has gone towards ATI graphics cards and Adobe went to NVIDIA CUDA technology, you state that Adobe has not. As I also mentioned in the article, if we had gone with OpenCL, the choice users have of adding a GPU card for extra processing power would have not come to light. OpenCL didn’t exist when the decision had to be made, so your premise is false.

As for a new version of Final Cut, we believe nobody works from a single application (you mentioned Photoshop and After Effects), that competition is good for the industry and that we can’t comment on something that doesn’t exist. ]

Great article, Dennis. Thanks!

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