This article will talk about selecting the right computing hardware components for video editing.
Video processing is one of the most demanding compute intensive tasks. Choosing the right hardware components to speed up your workflow can mean a world of difference.
The Minimal CPU
Lets start off with the Central Processing Unit. Go to Passmark and look at the high end CPU benchmark ratings.
With CPUs, the faster the processing demands, the more expensive the chip. Currently the fastest CPU is the Intel E5-2679 with a rating of 25,236. The price for that chip is very expensive at around $2200. For most of us, that is really way too costly, especially when I talk about running with multiple CPUs later. What really matters is what you plan on doing in your videos. If you are creating 2 hour long movies in 4K raw format, you are going to need something extremely fast to get the job done or wait countless hours for the video to be processed. So before you even think about what CPU you are going to use, pause a moment and think what you are trying to accomplish.
As you know, computer hardware and processing speeds are a constant moving target. Today’s CPU technology will eventually be outdated in a year or two. When you are spending this kind of money on a high end computing system, you need to plan ahead and allow yourself room to grow. My recommendation is if you are just considering a new video editing computer, forget about anything Apple. The price premium you pay for an Apple computer can be made up in cheaper Intel hardware.
You should start with the purchase of a dual Intel CPU motherboard. The best out there are the SuperMicro motherboards that offer Intel LGA 2011 socket support. These are Xeon motherboards typically used for server computing and high end parallel processing. When you are working with lots of video data to convert, you need speed. It is important that you find a SuperMicro mobo that supports at least four PCI-E 3.0 16-bit slot because most GPU cards will be PCI-E 3.0 16-bit. If you need more than one GPU, you will then be able to scale out by adding another card. These higher end cards can support multiple 4K displays and have a lot more CUDA cores for processing.
With motherboard and CPU chosen, lets talk about RAM. You will need to have a motherboard that lets you scale up. Most will let you grow up to 1TB. You have to be careful in choosing the right memory chips though. Because RAM gets to be very expensive at these higher levels, choosing the wrong size DIMM will cost you dearly. Typically, choose the DIMM size that lets you grow up to 1TB. Usually this means starting at around 512GB. Don’t be surprised in that will cost you at least $6500 for 512GB though.
If you can’t afford to scale up to 1TB RAM, start out at the next level down which will get you up to 512GB RAM maximum. You will pay about $1600 for 8 pieces of 32GB DIMM starting you at 256GB.
Next, the next most important thing is your hard drives. You are going to need to have plenty of disk space especially since 4K (and even 8K) format is starting to be widely available. More pixel resolution means more RAM and disk space needed. For raw file output, a one hour RGB output at 24fps you are easily looking at 3-5 TB needed.
You also are going to want to archive these large files in external backup drives at some point. This will get to be very expensive as well. My recommendation is to make sure you get a SAS 12Gb/s RAID with cache controller. Then only buy SAS high quality 12Gb/s disk drives (not 6Gb/s). Do not buy cheap SATA III drives which are slower and are more sensitive to failure. You should get three SAS3 8TB drives to start. That will set you back around $1500 in total. Finally, use a 500GB SSD as a boot disk drive. This will load Windows up faster and allow the virtual memory file to be read and written to on a much faster drive. That will cost about $300.
You do not need SSD all around. It will be far too expensive to purchase 8TB SSD drives anyway. Stick to SAS3 at a lower price point and use RAID.
Now lets talk about graphics card. You are going to pay through the nose for these if you really want high end performance, especially if you are working with 4K output.
At the low end, try to get at least a Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU or better. Currently, these cards sell for around $200. The GTX 1080 is currently the fastest but are more expensive at $600. Each card will have 4 monitor ports on them (1 HDMI, 3 Display Port). I prefer to use three 24″ 4K LCD monitors to have lots of screen real estate to work with. You can pick up the monitors for around $200 each.
You will want to make sure you can upgrade to another GPU if necessary. Video editing software exploits GPU functionality such as OpenCL or CUDA cores. So always make sure your motherboard can support at least 2 PCI-e 3.0 slots to put the GPU cards in.
At the high end, consider Nvidia Quadro cards which are way more expensive and blow away everything there is. GTX cards are typically for gamers and Quadro for high end graphic workstations. If money is no issue, the Quadro P5000 and P6000 are your best bets. Don’t be surprised to pay thousands of dollars per card though. If that is out of reach, consider the Nvidia M4000 priced more reasonably at around $800.
For speakers, never buy those that use special electronics to enhance the sound. You want studio monitors only to hear exactly what is coming out of your audio stream. Start out with Mackie CR3’s, M-Audio AV32s, or JBL LSR305’s. The first two will cost around $100. The JBL’s around $300 respectively for a pair. If you want better, go for KRK Rokit 5’s and 6’s. For the best, Genelec’s. Again, always buy studio monitors, not speakers.
You also are going to need studio monitor headphones. I’d recommend starting off with Audio Technica ATH-M50x at $150 or Sennheiser HD 205-II at $90.
To add vocals to your video recording, use a cardioid condensor microphone for crisp sound. I’ve tried many over the years and many got tossed. The one I like the best is the Blue Bluebird mic.
You can use the onboard audio for your recordings but you may pickup electronic interference from components on the motherboards. Its not the best solution. If you want something better, here are several options:
- An internal sound card like HT Omega Claro or Soundblaster ZxR
- An external sound card like the Scarlett 18i8
- A USB mixer like the Mackie ProFx8
I’m not too high on the internal sound card idea. They are pretty much dated. I’m also not too into external sound cards. I’d rather use a USB mixer like the Mackie ProFx8 to fully control my sound. The ProFx8 sounds super and uses the USB Audio CODEC drivers. It has 4 mic inputs, 8 line inputs and sound effects I can control via a knob. I connect the studio monitors and headphones to this mixer and avoid using motherboard onboard sound altogether. To make 100% sure of this, I always disable the audio drivers in Device Manager except for the USB Audio CODEC shown below:
Full Tower Case
Go with a full tower that allows for at least 4 hard disk drive bays, 4+ USB 3.0 ports, 2+ SATA III ports, onboard audio, and at least a 1000W power supply. You should use liquid cooling instead of fans to keep the CPUs from overheating and to obtain peak performance. You want a tower case that lets you get your disk drives and components in and out easily.
If you are really into this, go buy a rack mount 4U enclosure. Don’t use ATX form factor but rather 4U setups. This will allow you to scale everything in a nice tight rack environment. That is a lot more expensive but will let you grow.
There will come a time when you will have to move all your video project files from your local hard disk onto other storage media. My advice is to avoid using hard disk drives at this point and store on magnetic storage medium. There are several reasons for this:
- Tape storage is much more cheaper than disk platter storage
- More suitable for physical storing on shelves, lockers, and vaults
Today you can go purchase Quantum 10 pack LTO 5 tape data cartridges that can hold up to 3TB for less than $200. That works out to $20 per 3TB cartridge. To compare, low performance 3TB hard disk drives go around $80-100 today. These data cartridges are in LTO Ultrium 5 format and have a lifespan of up to 30 years. That, obviously is way more affordable than buying 3TB hard disks. The cost savings is significant for you to be able to take all your video and put them in an archived storage library.
Of course, you will also need a LTO-5 magnetic tape reader/writer. You will want one that has a high data transfer rate because recording onto tape magnetic cartridges takes much longer than hard disk. Performance wise, LTO-5 can transfer up to 1GB/Hour. The Quantum LTO-5 Model C Half Height external tape drive would be a good choice. It will store up to 1.5TB of native data and 3TB of compressed data onto an LTO-5 cartridge. Transfer speed is 140MBps native and 280MBps compressed.
People often forget about this part of video editing and don’t plan ahead for it until it is too late when all their local hard disk drives fill up.
Finally, make sure you get Microsoft Windows 10 Professional edition. Make sure it is the 64-bit and not 32-bit version. You do not want the regular Home edition.
The reason why is because only the Pro edition runs multiple CPUs. Many people who buy multiple CPU systems make this fatal mistake, only to find out later that they aren’t pushing their expensive hardware to the limits.
You don’t want to spend all this money only to have your system working only halfway do you? I didn’t think so!
Total Estimated Cost
Here’s a rough cost breakdown as of November 6, 2016. These prices, as always, are subject to change. By purchasing products from the Amazon links below, you help support this website.
- SuperMicro Dual CPU motherboard socket R3 LGA 2011 + 4 PCIe-16 slots $500 (Contact SuperMicro to make sure this meets your needs)
- Full Tower case + 1200W power supply + liquid cooling $350 (Contact SuperMicro to get case part)
- One Intel E5-2630 CPU $600
- 128GB RAM $1000 (Call SuperMicro to get exact RAM specifications that work with the motherboard)
- 500GB SSD $200
- Three 8TB SAS3 hard drives $1500
- SAS3 controller with 1GB cache $650
- Nvidia GTX 1060 3GB $250
- Three 24″ 4K LCD Monitors $600
- Triple monitor stand $75
- Mouse and keyboard $50
- JBL LSR305 speaker monitors $300
- Seinheisser studio headphones $90
- DVD RW drive $50
- Microsoft Windows 10 Pro 64-bit $150
- Quantum LTO-5 Model C Half Height external tape drive
- Quantum 10 pack LTO 5 tape data cartridges
Approximate cost: $8400
Pre Configured Systems
If you don’t know how to put a computer together from separate components, you can go to several places to buy this kind of computing gear. ThinkMate is one of the few places that sell SuperMicro components. You will want to stick to ordering a GPU Workstation off their website. I’d recommend currently to consider the GPX XS8-2460V4-2GPU workstation as it is optimized for graphics processing. I am not an affilliate of ThinkMate.
After keying in roughly the same setup mentioned above, you can get a Dual Intel E5-2630 128GB system for around $7080. This system will have 8 16GB PC4-19200 2400Mhz DDR DIMM and only allow up to 16 DIMM pieces to be installed for up to 256GB. If you want to upgrade up to 1TB, you will have to start first with 8 64GB PC4-19200 2400Mhz DIMM which puts the price tag at approximately $13,500. So as you can see, the amount of RAM and DIMM size can add considerably to the cost of your system. If you are planning on doing raw 4K video with long duration movies, you are going to have to purchase this kind of configuration with lots of RAM potential in it, else suffer with slow rendering times.
Buying computer hardware to do video editing and production is not cheap. The computing demands are far more higher that requires deep pockets. It is important to choose a system that allows you to upgrade to the future to add more processing and storage possibilities as the resolution of the video you are creating increases. If you don’t choose the right computing hardware from the start, you will end up buying hardware that you will have to toss and lose good money from the effort. So plan ahead accordingly for adding at least another CPU, additional RAM, and additional GPU with the appropriate motherboard.