How to build your own 4K video editing computer
The goal of this article is to inform you about what to look for in the different components for video editing. And that way you can make your own choices that will fit within your budget or preferred brand. Now, building a computer for video editing is a little different from a gaming pc. You want to spread your budget correctly over the components so that you can take the maximum performance out of your machine for the tasks that you do. One of the biggest misconceptions is the graphics card. It plays an important role, though, but it’s not the most important. That is the processor. Modern video editing tools like Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects, Sony Vegas, Resolve, etcetera, are designed to utilize the cores of a processor. Having an 8-core processor means Premiere Pro, for example, can perform multiple calculations at the same time. And that’s also why the processor speed is less important than its amount of cores. You’ll get much better performance from an 8-core running at 2.5 GHz than a quad-core running at 4 GHz. So I would always suggest getting as many cores as you can. It’s even possible to install two processors in the right motherboard, which could give you easily up to 20 cores or even more. Do however check your video editing software first to see if it’s compatible with a dual CPU. And the number of cores you’re about to install. Always remember that the software is the weakest link in your setup. Our system came with the Intel i9-7900X, which is a 10-core CPU running at 3.3 clock speed. This is a beast of a CPU and it’s giving us extreme performances inside Premiere Pro and when exporting a project. You can see it very good in the task manager how Premiere Pro is utilizing each core. Of course, this is a more expensive CPU. The great benefit of it now is that the CPU is future proof. But an Intel i7 will definitely work superbly too for 4K editing, and there are even a few i5 processors that I could recommend that have 6 cores inside. I would not go below 4 cores unless you’re not planning to edit 4K footage any time soon. Ideally, you want to sit around 6 to 8 cores. Now, having a large multi-core processor in your system comes with a flip side, which is heat. Make sure to keep some money over for a decent CPU cooler. For high-end processors, I would even recommend going for a liquid cooler. Cooler Master is a very popular brand for these, basically, they have their fans up in the case blowing the hot air directly out. And this hot air comes through the liquid, which is being pumped from the processor to the fans. Speaking of cooling, your case is an important factor here too. MSI Send us a very awesome looking case, with big LED fans on the front which you can even change the colors of and a glass cover on the side. This one also came from Cooler Master, but of course, a fancy case will not help you to get better performance. The number one reason that you should choose a case is for the air flow, the second reason could be the looks. To find out if a case has good airflow, look at the fans it comes with. Ideally, you want to have a fan on the back and on the front. One of them should suck the air in and the other one blowing it out. Only then you have good air flow. The larger the fans are and the more you have, the better your air flow will be. And of course, the last point to pay attention to- is that all your other hardware will fit in it.
Modern editing software is able to utilize the graphics card more and better these days, but still is a fraction of what a GPU is capable of. In Premiere Pro you can actually see a symbol next to the effects that can be accelerated through the graphics card. This means that you can apply and even stack effects on a clip which can be played back in real time. The same thing goes for Color Grading inside Premiere. But all the rest of the effects will use 100% of the processor to render. When searching for a graphics card, one of the first things you’ll notice is the memory it comes with. And for video editing, don’t mind this too much. Video memory is needed for animations and 3D modeling, for video editing I wouldn’t spend extra money on just some more VRAM. What is important, though, is the number of cores in your graphics card. Nvidia calls these CUDA cores and AMD Radeon cards have stream processors. They are essentially the same but are built upon a different technology. AMD cards use OpenCL and Nvidia have their own CUDA technology. The more of these cores you have, the better performance you will see in both playback and rendering. I would suggest getting at least 1000 cores if you’re looking into editing 4K footage. And then there are the different technologies that the graphics cards come with. For example, if you would like to edit in virtual reality, then you have to make sure that your card supports that. MSI provided the GTX1080 to us. It’s a beast of a card but, honestly, we’re not seeing much difference between the 1070 or even 1060 we also have at the office. That again proves that the processor is the most important part within the chain, which we do notice a big difference from between the various processors we have. When you’re searching for a graphics card, you’d probably find various brands providing the same Nvidia card. The architecture is always the same, but the difference sits within the cooling of the card, LED lighting, factory overclocking, etcetera. What makes the MSI card stand out is their cooling design, which they also won a price for.
Next up comes the memory. There’s this general rule of having at least 16 GBs for full HD and 32 GB for 4K editing. Now, does having more RAM means rendering will go faster? Not really. To a point there is, but that threshold sits around 8 GBs of memory, maybe. Further up, the performance is barely noticeable. And if you want to see a full test of that, I’ll leave a link to Max’s video He even found out that having too much RAM in your system could slow down rendering time. But then, why do I recommend to have so much memory? Well, usually you’re not solely working in your video editing application. You might be going back and forward between After Effects, Photoshop, your web browser, Premiere Pro and a bunch of other applications. Well, every single one of those applications is going to need some working memory. And this memory is being used to write temporary actions that are needed by the program. You could essentially use a portion of your hard drive memory, but that will go super slow. And that is why the speed of the memory is an important factor. These are the megahertz displayed on the DIMMs. The MSI build came with the HyperX Predator memory. These are DDR4 DIMMs, which is the latest technology, and offer great speeds. If your budget allows that, definitely go for DDR4 memory, DDR3 is definitely not bad, below that I wouldn’t go. That brings us to the next component, which is storage. It’s pretty straight forward, the more you have, the more video you can store. So that’s something that you have to decide for yourself. But knowing that there are many different storage options, its worth to talk about. There’re mainly 3 categories: you have the normal hard drives, the SSD’s and finally the M.2 SSD’s. And the difference lays within the speed of the storage. Does that mean we have to look for fast storage? Well, not exactly. It’s not going to help much with the performance while editing or rendering. And that’s why I would even suggest going only for a traditional hard drive if you’re on a small budget. When you do have some more money to spend, look at a combination of a traditional hard drive and an SSD. SSD’s are super-fast, which means that your computer will start up much faster, programs will open up a lot faster and you can drag media around a lot faster. But it comes with a price tag and as a video editor, you probably need a lot of storage. And this is why I would recommend installing your windows and applications on a fast SSD. And your media on a hard drive. For an even faster experience, you can go for an M.2 SSD. These are chips which install directly onto your motherboard and have tremendous speed performance. Our system came with the Intel 600P M.2 SSD, of 256 GB storage, which is enough for our operating system and all the applications. It’s a beast of storage with reading speeds up to 1.5 GBs per second. As for the media drive, we got the Seagate Barracuda Pro. It’s a 10 terabyte drive designed for creative tasks. It runs at 7200 rpm, which eliminates any delay during rendering.
But you could also go for a 5400 rpm drive if that fits better within your budget. But, again, remember that you don’t need an SSD. It’s a luxury, once your Windows is booted and you have started up your editing programs, you won’t notice much of having an SSD at all anymore. The final thing I want to talk about is the motherboard. Although it just seems like a large connector for all your components, compatibility is one thing, but utilizing the capabilities of your components is a different story. If you would purchase fast RAM memory, but your motherboard doesn’t support the speeds, then you might only be using half of the speed of what your memory is capable of. So, in terms of budgeting, this is important to know. If you don’t have the money to go for a high-end motherboard, they also don’t spend extra money on a fast memory. And the same goes for your processor. If you would look into the specifications of a processor, you will find the maximum RAM speed it can handle. Furthermore, you want to double check that your motherboard has all the connectors that you need, and that it is compatible with all your components. If you bought an M.2 SSD, you’re going to need a socket for that on the motherboard. What I would always suggest is to work together with an IT store. Let them check your wish list and let them build your PC. If anything wouldn’t work, you can always go back under warranty. Trust me, it’s worth the extra 50 bucks you’re paying for that. Best of luck.