NOTE: As with all things tech, change comes quickly. DaVinci Resolve 15 is here, and I originally started this post back with Resolve 11. Please keep in mind this was first written and published in Sept 2015 but after over 160,000 views, hundreds of comments (I always respond) and many emails, I’m doing my best to keep it updated.
Over the years DaVinci Resolve has changed, hardware has changed. Even I have changed.
I’m now doing far less with the big cameras, and instead shooting and grading iPhone videos (don’t laugh… okay you can laugh a bit).
Really though, here’s a frame grab from Resolve… shot on iPhone. Ha.
I’m still a CSI colorist, they haven’t stripped those three letters from me yet. I love exploring and pushing limits, seeing how far professional finishing techniques can take it. It’s still all about the creative and the technology. You can check out my work here.
So this post was first written with DaVinci Resolve 11 in mind, and then 12, 12.5, 14, now Resolve 15. The general idea of this post is still just as valid as it was years ago.
As more and more creators grab hold of Resolve and want to make it the core of their post workflow, many under-estimate how resource intensive it is, and that their laptop or PC might not have what it takes.
Spoiler Alert: I do have Resolve 15 running just fine on a 2015 Macbook Pro with integrated Intel Iris Pro graphics. It’s not fast, and I’m using Optimized Media and Render Cache, but it is working. More on that later.
First things first, you can download the latest DaVinci Resolve 15 configuration guide here.
DaVinci Resolve System Requirements
DaVinci Resolve is an amazing and powerful piece of software, however just installing the software does not constitute a workable system. Resolve is one of the most resource intensive applications you can use and will bring any unprepared system to its knees.
UPDATE: DaVinci Resolve 15 is probably the biggest and most significant update in Resolve’s history so far. Better Fusion integration, more features, more refinement, more everything.
In case you missed it, here again, is the link to download the DaVinci Resolve 15 configuration guide.
Everything I’m summarising here is stated in more specific detail in the official configuration guide.
The point is not to call you out about your hardware, but to help you understand there are some minimum requirements if you want to get the most out of Resolve.
Proxies and Timeline Resolution
First a quick note about expectations and real world needs. For most of us there is little real need for real-time 4K playback unless you’re monitoring in 4K. Even if your media is 4K+ resolution and you intend to render at 4K, you can easily edit in an HD resolution timeline and make far more efficient use of your system resources where real-time playback is essential.
One of the most powerful features of Resolve is how quickly you can change timeline resolution non destructively (at resolutions matching or less than your source media resolution), and for RAW formats you can change decode or playback debayer resolution. This allows you to drop resolution and debayer quality temporarily to ensure playback performance for editing, and then ramp it back up for grading where real-time playback is perhaps not so critical.
In situations where dropping debayer quality and/or timeline resolution still doesn’t result in real-time playback on a particular system (most likely a laptop), there are a couple of ways to handle it. One way is to have Resolve create Optimized Media, these are lower resolution, compressed proxies (copies) of your high res camera source files. These temporary files are entirely handled by Resolve and can work very well for your edit, you then relink to your original full res camera files for grading and delivery.
Resolve’s Render Cache is also a very useful tool enabling a background render of a particular shot, sequence, or even an entire timeline to a intermediary codec to ensure real-time playback.
Let’s talk about hardware.
It’s ALL About The GPU
DaVinci Resolve offloads intensive image processing to the GPU. It also employs YRGB 32-bit floating point processing for exceptional color precision.
Your GPU is everything! It is more important than your CPU or system RAM (both of which should be up to the task too).
Ideally, in a desktop PC, this should be a dedicated GPU just for image processing in addition to the graphics card running your desktop GUI (user interface). In the case that you are using a laptop or any system with a single, or integrated GPU you can still run Resolve, but performance will be compromised compared to a dual or multi-GPU system.
512MB – Forget about it.
1GB – You’ll be okay with basic HD ProRes work, checking RAW files but avoid noise reduction and optical flow.
1.5GB – Approaching the absolute minimum to use Resolve with some level of complexity in HD. Noise reduction and optical flow will still be problematic. I’ve made a 1.5GB Intel Iris Pro GPU work well on a iMac and Macbook Pro, and manage to render a full 4K delivery.
2GB – A comfortable HD experience, limited 4K work.
4GB – Minimum for comfortable 4K work.
6GB – You can tackle pretty much everything a project is likely to require.
8GB+ – You can actually tackle everything any project is likely to require.
Bottom line, if you’re looking at a new system on a budget and you’re working mostly in HD, I’d recommend an absolute minimum of 2GB GPU memory. Performance also depends on the resolution of your media, the resolution of your timeline and the codecs of the media you are using.
The next biggest issue is how fast Resolve can read media from your storage. Expecting real-time playback performance with heavy high res RAW media stored on a single internal spinning hard disk is madness. It’s completely impossible. If you’re considering a laptop, make sure it has SSD or PCIe flash storage, or connect fast external media storage via Thunderbolt or at least USB 3.
SSD, PCIe drives and RAID arrays are the only solution unless you’re connected to a SAN or fast NAS. Using an internal SSD or two in a RAID 0 configuration is a good start on a small scale, but you’ll have limited total capacity. External SSD’s provided they are Thunderbolt or at least USB 3 can also work.
New RAW codecs such as Apple ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW are promising raw quality at lower bit rates. This is exciting, but regardless, fast storage is your best friend, and just because an external hard drive says it is Thunderbolt or USB 3, does not mean the actual drive inside supports the data rate claimed.
External desktop Thunderbolt RAID arrays are perfect solutions for a single system, or you can configure a RAID internally as long as your system chassis has at least four drive bays free and you have a motherboard supporting hardware RAID, or a PCIe slot free for a dedicated RAID controller card.
Generally speaking, your GPU and storage are the primary key factors you have to address with any system you expect to run DaVinci Resolve. Secondary to that, your CPU and system RAM are also important, you should be on 16GB of system RAM at least, 32GB is recommended. Prior to Resolve 15, I’d say 8GB was an absolute bare minimum, but now I’m not so sure 8GB will even scrape by anymore.
These are the basic facts if you expect to get any real work done with DaVinci Resolve.
DaVinci Resolve 15 On A 2015 Macbook Pro
I have Resolve 15 running on a 2015 Macbook Pro with 16GB system RAM and integrated Intel Iris Pro graphics that has access to 1.5GB of shared system memory.
So far, it’s working just fine on HD resolution timelines, even using both the FilmConvert OFX plugin and Neat Video OFX plugin. I have yet to see a GPU out of memory error, however I keep my grades fairly simple and straightforward.
On this system I’m making use of either Optimized Media or Render Cache for everything, every clip on the timeline. This is time consuming but the only way I have real-time playback of H.264/AVC media on this aging laptop.
I would not recommend this for anyone trying to do commercial work. In fact I would not recommend a laptop at all for commercial color grading and finishing work.
However, many creators are starting out, learning, and working with what they have, so I want to put it out there that this older Macbook Pro is running Resolve 15, even with some OFX plugins and still chugging along.
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