Switching to the Mac (On the Cheap)

How to transition to the Macintosh for all your vidding (fan video editing) needs.


“I really really want to get a Mac (for vidding), but I can’t afford one.”

I’ve heard this so many times, so I thought I’d make a page about it! (Well, it’ll end up being a few pages. You’ll see. . . LOL.)

So, you’re dying to try out the Macintosh, and want to learn how to use the industry standard in video editing, Final Cut, but you figure that it’s out of your reach due to the price? Perhaps not! Even if you only have a little over a hundred bucks, you can edit video on a Mac! More details below.

But before we get started . . .

Make sure you are realistic in what you want.

I’m not discouraging anyone from switching, but I don’t want you to think that transitioning to the Mac will make the sun shine brighter every morning, and that your food will taste better. It’s just a computer, after all! But if your reasons and expectations are realistic (you’re sick of virus worries, you want to learn Final Cut, iMovie, Garageband, or just OS X), and you’re looking forward to learning how to do things the Mac way, then go for it!

Introduction to Mac Switching, the On The Cheap way.

So you don’t have a lot of money, but you’re eager to get a Mac. As I see it, there are two separate ways to approach this.

  1. 1. Buy a new Mac Mini.

As of this writing (Summer 2010) the low-end Mac Mini at the Apple store is $699 US dollars for a Core 2 Duo Mac with 2 GBs of RAM. This is pleasantly sufficient for running iMovie 09 and the current version of Final Cut (Pro or Express). Buy an external firewire drive (approximately $100 for 500 GB) and you are set. Then you can buy Final Cut Express ($150 used, $200 new) which is a great starter for video editing. 

Cost: Approximately $800 for hardware (Mac Mini and external drive) plus $150 for Final Cut Express (purchased used on eBay) or $200 new.

TOTAL: Approximately $850 to $900 for hardware and software.

Comment: I have an early 2009 model Intel Mac Mini (Core 2 Duo 2.0 GHz, 4 GB of RAM) and it is just fine for fan videos! Before that I had a 2007 Mac Mini with 2 GB of RAM—also great. If you have the money, get a new Mac Mini!

  1. 2. Buy an old G4 Power Mac.

Options to fit almost any budget. I’m a big fan of eBay, having bought my first G4 there (and it’s still in use!). There are plenty of suitable G4 Macs to choose from, and there are enough purchasing safeguards in place so you shouldn’t be too afraid to take the plunge (especially since we’re talking a lot of times about sub-$100 prices here!).

If you are okay with keeping your current PC for more demanding tasks, you can get an old G4 Power Mac very cheaply and familiarize yourself with Final Cut and Mac OS X. (I get into details, instructions, and guidelines about how to do this on another page, but let’s stick with generalities right now!)

Don’t get caught into the trap of thinking that you have to have the fastest and bestest to get anything done. Think about it. How did video professionals edit film in the year 2002? What hardware and software did they use? What’s so terrible about you using the same systems that they used back then?

I’ve edited fan videos on an old circa 2001-2002 G4 Power Macs, and yes, it took longer to get things done, but it wasn’t torturous. That old G4 would have cost over a thousand dollars when it was new, but now you can get it for maybe $50 (or less!). And newer G4 Macs (from 2002, 2003) are also quite cheap.

So let’s look at some costs: (As of mid-2010)

HD-capable G4 Power Mac: 1 GHz (or higher) G4 “Quicksilver” or “MDD” Power Mac: Approximately $90-$125 on eBay ($125-200 if you get a dual-processor), with shipping. 1 GHz is the minimum to edit HD, and not all of us are editing HD yet, are we?

Upgrades: $35-$80 for two to four sticks of 512 MB RAM (depending on G4 configuration). $35-$45 for additional internal 120-320 GB hard drive. (You can also get an external firewire drive.)

Final Cut Express, versions 1.0 to 3.5: Approximately $20-100 on eBay.

TOTAL: Between $180 and $425 (approximately) for hardware and software. Higher if you add more hard drives or other upgrades, or get a faster dual CPU G4.

Low-end cheapo G4 Power Mac: 533 MHz G4 “Digital Audio” Power Mac: Approximately $50-80 on eBay (including shipping).

Upgrades: $35-50 to add two or three sticks of 512 MB RAM (purchased on eBay). $35-40 for additional 120 GB internal hard drive on eBay. (You can also get an external firewire drive.)

Final Cut Express 1.0 to 3.5: Approximately $20-100 used on eBay.

TOTAL: Between $140 and $270 (approximately) for hardware and software. Higher if you buy additional upgrades.

Comment: This is the way to go if you want to get your feet wet with Mac editing, and/or are really broke. Plus, I love these old Macs. I keep on collecting them, even though I have an Intel Mac and don’t strictly need any more Macs! LOL. They are super easy to upgrade (they’d have to be, if I’m able to upgrade them!) and don’t be fooled by the MHz/GHz speeds—Macs are different from PCs, and the clock speed doesn’t directly compare. (A 1 GHz G4 will be faster than a 1 GHz PC in most cases.) Read more about these individual G4 models on my G4 Vidding on the Cheap Buyer’s Guide Page.


But I want to use the latest version of Final Cut Pro! What’s the point of using an old moldy version (or “Express” version) instead?

Again, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you must have the latest software! Yes, each new version of Final Cut Pro adds something new, and it’s always good to have the latest version if you can afford the software and hardware. But, Final Cut Pro and Express have had a similar interface since the very start. (For example, I’ve played around with Final Cut Pro 2—circa 2001—and yes there are differences, but at first glance it looks very similar to the current version of Final Cut.) Furthermore, feature films were edited on these older versions. There’s plenty they can do, and much you can learn from them!

Final Cut Express’s interface is very close to Final Cut Pro. In fact, many software reviewers have been amazed at how much Apple “gives away” in the inexpensive Final Cut Express. It has many of the features of the Pro version, and sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart at first glance. If you learn how to use Final Cut Express, the transition to using Final Cut Pro should be quite easy.

Here are some examples of fanvids edited with Final Cut Express: Shame on the Soul, Man on Fire, and No Air.

On this page I go into more detail about Final Cut Pro vs. Final Cut Express, and using an older version of Final Cut on a G4 PowerPC.

Why get an old G4 Power Mac? Why not a G4 Mac Mini, or G5 Power Mac? Would a G3 Power Mac be even cheaper? How about an iMac, or Mac laptop?

After some investigating, here are my conclusions:

While you can technically run some versions of Final Cut on a G3, it’s much slower, and G3s are not much cheaper on eBay. (Perhaps $10 less at most, if that.)

iMacs usually cost more, and are harder to upgrade. The display (monitor) that comes with the iMac might be starting to fade or dim, or just be getting funky. The same applies to laptops—more expensive and the screen may be getting a bit dodgy. Better to pay less for a G4 Power Mac and use your own (presumably newer) monitor.

A G4 Mac Mini can have a similar processor speed to a Quicksilver or MDD (Mirrored drive door) G4, but you can’t upgrade it as much. It’s also more costly on eBay. When I first got into vidding, I was using a G4 Mini (which was fine) but a Power Mac (with the ability to take more RAM and a faster hard drive) would have been nicer.

The G5 Power Mac is a beautiful machine, and definitely faster than the G4s, but they have higher-than-average failure rates. They are also more expensive on eBay. I don’t think they’re worth the risk, if your goal is to go on the cheap.

Why do I need all the extra hard drive space?

Whether you edit on the Mac or PC, you need plenty of disk space. The appropriate editing codecs (often DV MOV for Mac, or DV AVI for Windows) take up approximately 1 GB per 5 minutes of footage. You run the risk of crashing or instability when you directly try to edit those downloaded smaller-sized AVI, WMV, MPEG-2, etc files. This is doubly true on a Mac. Final Cut (Pro or Express)  won’t edit compressed codecs (like XviD/DivX AVI, etc) without a lot of hassle. That’s because Final Cut is a professional tool and professionals do not work with those types of files.

Overall, what can and can’t be done on an old G4 Power Mac?

Old Macs can do email, iTunes, most internet surfing, word processing, Photoshop work, and of course, video editing. The latest OS X version a G4 can run is 10.5, Leopard (some older G4s may only be able to go up to 10.4 Tiger). DivX/XviD AVI, WMV, other various MOV and AVI files should play, and dial-up and/or medium quality iPod and H.264 files should be playable. You’ll have to lower your playback settings, but you should be able to still use YouTube (though depending on your Mac’s processor and graphics speed, playback may be a bit choppy).

A while ago my Intel Mac Mini had to go to the Apple Store for repairs, and for that time when I was Mini-less (which was longer than normal because I had scheduling/transportation difficulties) I got along just fine on my old 533 MHz G4. I updated web sites with Dreamweaver, made new graphics with Photoshop CS2, and even edited a little fan video!

Unless you have an upgraded graphics card, you probably can’t play the high end HD H.264 video files on an older G4. Editing in HD will be slower (but if your Mac is within system requirements, still possible). Running Windows is slower and more arduous (you’ll have to buy an emulator application like VirtualPC). Editing and processing video footage for editing is slower (but you’ll still get there!).

Isn’t there *cough* a free way to get all this software?

I think the word you’re looking for is “bootleg,” but yes. You don’t necessarily have to pay to acquire Final Cut or any version of Mac OS X. I’m not a huge fan of software piracy (most of my own software is legally purchased and registered). However, I’ll give you some facts and opinions; use the information as you will.

  1. 1.Apple does not receive any profit from the sale of old versions of OS X, Final Cut, iLife, or whatever. Those high-priced copies of Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard you see on eBay and elsewhere—that money all goes to the individual vendor, not Apple.

  2. 2.No software made by Apple has an “activation” process (like Windows XP, Vista, etc). While you do need a valid serial number for some apps (like Final Cut), the actual Mac OS X disk itself has no serial numbers, and will install on as many Macs as you like. (In some cases doing this will break Apple’s EULA, but as far as I know, Apple isn’t making the Mac “phone home” and report on you.)

  3. 3.Those ginormous torrent downloads of Final Cut Studio don’t always work. They can take forever to download, parts may not install properly, and the serial numbers can be wrong (or can “break” after an Apple update). Though . . . some people do get these downloads to install successfully.

  4. 4.Many Mac fans strongly believe that when you bootleg Apple software, you are lessening the chance of new software being developed for the Mac. While Macs have a lot of great software available, there is still room for much more, and many Mac fans feel that we all need to pitch in and encourage further software development by purchasing Mac software from the original vendor or developer.

  5. 5.A recent bootlegged copy of the Mac-only application iWork contained some form of trojan. While viruses, trojans, worms, etc on the Mac are (so far) very rare, never say never. Downloaded bootlegged software is more vulnerable to having nasties embedded in it.

  6. 6.(This is my personal opinion.) Sometimes software downloading has its place. When your install DVD or CD is busted, I don’t see anything wrong with downloading a copy instead. (This has happened to me recently with a shattered CD of Mac OS 9.) If you’re not sure you want to buy the software, it’s not the worst thing in the world to download it first, try it out (assuming no demo version is available) and then if you like it, buy it. I’ve done this several times (and yes, I have gone on to buy it).

  7. 7.That “upgrade” version of Mac OS 10.5 Leopard, that shipped with new Macs in the Fall of 2007? (It was available to anyone who purchased a new Mac around the time that Leopard was released.) Even though all the new Macs being sold at the time were Intel-based, the “upgrade” DVD works on G4s as well, provided that the Mac has OS 10.4 Tiger installed. (Tiger is needed to qualify for the upgrade.)

Read more about upgrading to a G4 Power Mac on my special page, Mac Vidding on the Cheap G4 Buyer’s Guide.

Learn about the different versions of Final Cut Express and Pro, and which versions can run on your old G4 Mac on this page, Final Cut on an Old Mac.

Still more to come!

KEYWORDS: Mac switching, Power Mac, G4, PowerMac, Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, eBay, budget, cheap, inexpensive, upgrading, vidding, fanvids, video editing on the Mac, editing fan videos.