Building a PC for Video Editing

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Video editing PCs are not like your typical gaming build. Though they share a lot of components, this type of build requires more of focus on processing and quick storage over sheer graphical horsepower. The following PC build should serve the purpose of photo and video editing very well, and would even perform 3D modeling much better than your average computer. Please note that we will focus on having reasonably-priced components, instead of recommending best-in-class items that not everyone can afford.

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K

The CPU is the most important element in an editing machine. Slower CPUs take longer to finish tasks, wasting your time and resources. Because editing is CPU intensive and multi-threaded, it is important to get a powerful CPU that can handle as many threads as possible. An Intel quad-core with hyperthreading is the minimum for a serious editing machine, and going for a hexacore is perfectly logical too. Unfortunately, AMD’s hexacore and octocore CPUs do not match the performance of the Intel CPUs when it comes to video editing, even though they have a similar core count and a lower price.

The Intel i7-4770K runs off their latest CPU architecture, Haswell. It is currently their flagship processor and contains four cores which are hyperthreaded, meaning that they can process up to eight threads at any given time, which is crucial to many editing processes. At the time of unboxing it will be clocked at 3.5 GHz with a turbo clock that reaches 3.9 GHz. This said, it can be over clocked higher since it has an unlocked multiplier due to it being a member of the K series of processors. If you are reading this blog post late, you may look for the i7-4790K, which is an update to the i7-4770K, and is expected to be available for purchase towards the end of June 2014.

Alternative CPUs: Intel Xeon E3-1230V3 (also a quadcore with hyper-threading, but cannot be overclocked), Intel i7-4930K (6 cores, 12 threads, needs a 2011-socket motherboard)

Sources for CPU performance:

Anandtech 4960x review

Bit-tech 8350 review

Motherboard: Asus Z97-A

Since this is a Haswell build, it is of course necessary to get a build that has an LGA 1150 socket and supports the chipset. This is an extremely full featured board for the price, containing USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, SATA 6 Gb/s ports, and four DDR3 RAM slots, allowing plenty of room for upgrading in the memory department. All of these high-speed storage interfaces will help to make the editing process as fast and smooth as possible.

Memory: 16GB (2×8 GB) DDR3 RAM

The brand of the RAM doesn’t matter all too much as long as it is clocked above 1600 MHz, as is the case in the very good Corsair Vengeance series. RAM is one of the most important parts of building a computer for video editing. Most editing programs, such as Sony Vegas or Adobe Premiere, will use as much memory as they can. With two 8GB sticks, you’ll have the option to upgrade to 32GB total if you decide you want more.

GPU: GTX 960

The graphics card has historically never been the most important part of an editing computer since the process of rendering is mainly a CPU-intensive task. However, there are some GPU-accelerated tasks that use the GPU, and having a good GPU means that the PC can be used for editing and gaming also, if you wish.

Additionally, modern editing programs have begun to leverage GPU performance for real time rendering applications, such as Adobe Premiere’s Mercury Playback Engine, which has a huge impact on editing smoothness.

The Nvidia GTX 960 fits this bill perfectly due to its large number of CUDA cores (Nvidia’s proprietary CUDA technology has more support in the video editing world than the open standard of OpenCL), large 256-bit memory interface and 2GB of VRAM with greater support for high resolution workflows.

This can be swapped out for a GPU of lower or higher cost (such as a GTX 750 Ti for $100 less) since the amount of gaming you may do on it can vary, and it is also viable to just stick with integrated graphics, which have been greatly improved with the Haswell infrastructure. However, the GTX 960 is a great card for a great price.

Sources for GPU performance:

Adobe Premier Pro GPU-accelerated effect

Puget Systems Premier Pro GPU Acceleration benchmarks

SSD: 240GB or 256GB (Sandisk Extreme II or Samsung 840 Pro)

Not every build requires a SSD, but in the case of editing, the extra speed can certainly help if you install your editing software on the drive. Along with this, the SSD doesn’t need to be very large since you should have little issue storing all of your editing software on 256GB. Please note that this is a guide for a reasonably priced PC, and having a 1TB SSD for $500 extra is considered perfectly viable for those who insist on editing only from the SSD.

Keep in mind that you will likely still need hard drive space for storage and archival, and that SSDs will generally wear out faster than HDDs under heavy workloads.

Storage: 1TB (Seagate Barracuda or WD Black)

Input/Output performance is the most common bottleneck when it comes to video editing, and due to the fact that the price-to-storage ratios of SSDs have not yet reached the level of hard drives, we recommend a multi-drive setup. Refer to this guide for guidelines on disk distribution. The 3-drive setup is a strong starting point.

When combined with an SSD as your system’s “OS drive,” you get the best of both worlds, since you can still get the fast boot-up speeds while having a large amount of data storage. The Seagate Barracuda is a perfect drive for this purpose and has plenty of storage at one terabyte, but can be easily upgraded if you need more. The WD Black a great option too, with a better warranty than than the Seagate, but at a higher price.

An excellent tool for gauging drive performance is Blackmagic Design’s Disk Speed Test application, available as part of their driver package located here. It provides you with a quick and easy reference as to what kind of video data streams your I/O can handle.

PSU: Seasonic M12II 620

This power supply is fantastic in any build. 620 watts of power will by more than enough to get this rig running up to speed and the 80PLUS Bronze Certification means that its high efficiency will keep it from jacking up your electric bill too much. Lastly, its modular nature means it will be easy to assemble the computer and organize the parts within the case.

CPU Cooler:  Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO

This fan has a well-deserved reputation as one of the best heat sinks out there, and for good reason. It is very cheap, providing great and quiet cooling that won’t break the bank. Its universal mounting solution also ensures that it will work with the motherboard and other components found within this build.

Case: Rosewill R5

This case is a great value for its price point. Its three fans will ensure a good amount of cooling. The dust filters also help to ensure that your case will remain relatively clean and free of particles that may hurt other components. It also has 6 internal drive bays as well, so it can easy support both the SSD and hard drive with space to add even more storage if desired. Along with this it has three USB ports, including one that is USB 3.0. Lastly, it supports ATX motherboards, so it is compatible with the other components.

Parts List (prices as of June 11, 2014):

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770k – $315

Motherboard: Z97-A – $140

Memory: 16GB (2×8 GB) DDR3 RAM – $155

GPU: GTX 960 – $200

SSD: 240GB Sandisk Extreme II – $170, (or 256GB Samsung 840 Pro – $200)

Storage: 2x Seagate Barracuda 1TB – $110, (or 2x WD Black 1TB – $160)

PSU: Seasonic M12II 620 – $90

CPU Cooler: Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO – $35

Case: Rosewill R5 – $70

Total Price: $1,285

There are, of course, components other than these that are necessary to build a great PC, such as the operating system and peripherals, along with various other options such as an optical drive. However, the parts within this build will put you well on the way to having the hardware of your new editing PC sorted out. If you need help choosing peripherals, such as a mouse or monitor, be sure to check out the Logical Increments peripherals guide.

Extra sources:

Tomshardware 8350 review

Xbitlabs Haswell review

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