I see this sort of question coming up all the time – especially on social media. Will my (insert model here) Mac be good enough to run Logic Pro? That kind of thing. Regular group participants get sick of this type of question. So here’s my version of an answer to it.
Almost any Mac will run a version of Logic Pro, but maybe not the latest version.
As of April 2021 only Big Sur and Catalina are the supported MacOS versions. So for a start you need to make sure your Mac will run one of these versions. Ideally the very latest version for additional future-proofing.
Get MacTracker to see what your existing or potential-purchase Mac is compatible with. Then you can think about your actual hardware details.
Note that Apple are currently in transition between Intel chips and their own Silicon-based products. Intel is currently better for compatibility purposes with existing hardware/drivers/apps/plug-ins, but is more expensive and runs hot/consumes power. Apple Silicon is very fast, runs cool and is cheaper than Intel equivalents, but doesn’t have as much memory and is not natively supported (yet) by some hardware/drivers/apps/plug-ins.
General consensus seems to be that getting M1-based Mac now is mostly fine (still a few incompatible things yet) but will likely be even better and more compatible in the future.
There is also some contention with the architecture having limited memory size (currently it’s only a max of 16GB) and on-chip rather than separate graphics, however both of these connect with the CPUs at much higher speed than other architectures so it may not even be an issue – it’s a complete paradigm shift. And as they’re likely running memory-compression (basically squashes even more data into memory which makes the memory seem effectively larger) then it’s less of an issue anyway.
Whichever model Mac you have or intend to get, there are three aspects to focus on:
- CPU type, speed and number of cores. There are various model types, but for pro audio you’re going to need as many CPU cores as you can get – with at least four. Avoid the dual processor Intel i5s as they often don’t even do hyper-threading (virtual cores). NB. Some later laptop i5 versions do. Other models of Intel CPU have two virtual cores for each real one, so if you have four real cores you get 8 virtual cores. This improves processing efficiency through multi-threading (eg running application processes in parallel). CPU speed does make some difference but not as much as it used to. You’re probably better to go with more cores and slightly slower max speed if it’s a choice between the two.
- Storage (aka Hard Drive/SSD) size. This should be enough to be useful, as it is becoming impossible to upgrade later in many new models. I wouldn’t go less that 1TB now. And 2TB would be even better if using large sample libraries etc. I run both Logic and Ableton Live and the combined full factory libraries of these two alone are nearly 200GB.
- Memory (aka RAM). When you run apps/sample libraries etc, they are loaded into RAM. When your RAM runs out of space, data is swapped out to Storage/Hard Drive as you switch between threads, apps or documents. It happens all the time regardless, as the OS will always try to keep the RAM full, but if it’s happening too much your computer will struggle and be slow. Nb This is also why upgrading your old hard drive to a sprinty SSD can make such a big difference. So in regards to memory, 16GB would be the minimum and ideally it would be 32GB or more for those using large orchestral sample libraries. It’s not unheard of for composers to be running Mac Pro’s with dual 12-core Xeon processors and 384GB of RAM. I use 16GB with several sample libraries loaded and it’s mostly fine.
Don’t get confused between Storage and Memory, even though they appear similar and are becoming blended together somewhat within the Apple Silicon systems. In other words, if you get warning messages about memory running out, don’t start deleting files and plugins from your storage system (unless your hard drive/SSD is almost totally full!).
So which model type should you get (if you don’t already have one now). Whether you get an iMac, Mac Mini, Mac Book Pro or Mac Pro comes down to the performance you want and where/how you will use it.
If you’re planning on performing live or you travel a lot, then a laptop is very useful, but you’ll want to max out some of the specs as much as you can afford – ideally get plenty of storage. You can often get away with a small screen if you use an external monitor, but 15″ or more is best for live use. Mac Book Pro hardware is better than plain Mac Book or MB Air. Expensive – but if you have one you’ll never want to not have one. If you know what I mean?
For home systems, iMacs are pretty good value as you get a nice built-in screen, and some models are upgradable in regards to memory or storage. Basically just pick the screen size you want and the optimum specs for the items above.
If you already have a decent screen, the Mac Mini is very good value (I have the 6-core Intel model). The downside with these are that they don’t have a separate graphics card/chip so they struggle with lots of large monitors and graphics-heavy apps. I find that I sometimes get graphics corruption after running Logic for a while.
For rich, serious or pro users (perhaps those running professional studios) the Mac Pro might be a useful investment as they can be upgraded and can also accept PCI-e cards – useful for certain high-end audio interfaces, RAID arrays etc.
But with the rumoured upcoming high-performance Apple Silicon macs on the horizon, it might be worth waiting to see what comes out next.