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The Comprehensive Guide To Building Your Own Video Editing PC

Robbie Janney

Building your own PC can dramatically increase your editing performance for a fraction of the cost of buying a pre-built machine.

Cover image via EKKAPHAN CHIMPALEE.

I know it’s intimidating. The idea of building a PC, to someone who has barely researched the topic, conjures images of soldering wires and furiously coding in a BIOS system just to launch the desktop. Well, here’s the good news: building a PC is almost like putting together an expensive Lego set. You put a piece of hardware where it belongs, screw it in, rinse and repeat, and bam! You’re done. All right, it may not be as simple as that, but if you have ever put a Lego set together, you’ll be fine.

Why You Should Build Your Own PC

  • You will save a heap of money compared to buying a stock PC from a big-box electronics store. Computers on the shelves have all of the same components but at a huge markup.
  • You get way more bang for your buck. A $1,500 computer that you built yourself will be remarkably faster than a stock computer at the same price.
  • Customization. If you have specific needs, you can build your computer to suit and skirt any extras that you don’t need.
  • Upgrading your computer is incredibly simple. Just replace the part that needs replacing without the hassle of sending it off somewhere or scrapping it entirely for a brand-new computer. You could keep a custom computer that runs at high speeds for up to 7-10 years with routine upgrades until it’s a full-blown Ship of Theseus.
  • It’s crazy fun. Getting to know how a computer works from the inside out can bring you loads of helpful knowledge that will come in handy when you need to know what exactly is making your computer run.

What You Need To Know

There are three main components to your PC: the CPU (Central Processing Unit), the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit), and the RAM (Random Access Memory). These three pieces of hardware are going to determine the speed and processing power of your computer. To know what kind of computer build will best suit your needs, you need to know which piece of hardware does what.


The CPU

The Comprehensive Guide To Building Your Own Video Editing PC — CPU
Image via Iaroslav Neliubov.

The CPU is the brain of the entire operation. Think of it as part crazy-fast calculator and part director: it performs all of the logic and binary calculations to execute a task, as well as dictating which piece of hardware will complete each task. Typically, CPUs adhere to a pretty uniform price-to-quality scale: the more you spend on your CPU, the faster it will be. Be wary about this, though: you shouldn’t cough up over $2k for a processor. Those are usually reserved for large servers, and they probably wouldn’t even fit inside a conventional PC.

When it comes to editing video, your CPU is going to be your biggest asset when trying to edit high-quality, full-size video. Many people think that the GPU will perform this task, but it’s really the CPU that is running your non-linear editing program and creating the video previews. If you are tired of viewing your pre-rendered footage in an edit at 1/4 or 1/8 quality, expect to spend the most on a high-performance CPU.


The GPU

By Iaroslav Neliubov — GPU
Image via nikkytok.

The GPU is basically a second computer attached to your main computer, and its only task is to render 3D images. It’s also going to be the biggest item inside your PC, since it has to house everything that a normal PC has inside a smaller tray.

When building a gaming PC or an animation PC like this one, this is usually your big-ticket item. In terms of PC gaming, the better the graphics processor, the better graphics and frame rate you’ll get out of your machine. But for this build, we are mainly talking about a conventional video editing PC. You are going to want a quality GPU in case you want to handle any 3D animations for your videos, but don’t spend more than $400 on it. Save most of your money for a top-of-the-line CPU.

Note: if you edit in DaVinci Resolve, than you need to completely reverse my recommendation and spend the big bucks on a high-end GPU. Resolve is the only major NLE that primarily uses the GPU for its rendering and image processing. It’s just how the designers built the program. If you want to build a GPU-based computer, check out this RocketStock article on how to assemble a graphics-based PC.


Memory

The Comprehensive Guide To Building Your Own Video Editing PC — Memory
Image via Danylo Samiylenko.

Your RAM (Random Access Memory) processes information in active programs. This description from RocketStock says it best:

Think of it like short-term memory for your computer — it will handle processing in the current instance, but when you shift programs or reset your computer, your RAM resets as well. Your RAM drives can get overwhelmed if there are too many programs open, so the more RAM you have, the more programs you can run at high speeds at the same time.

Now, a lot of people associate RAM with a fast PC. The notion that more RAM = more speed is only half true. Computer programs only require a certain amount of RAM. For example, say that Adobe Premiere requires 9GB of memory to operate at top speeds, and you have 8GB of memory in your PC. Of course, when you upgrade your memory to 16GB, the program will run faster since it was limited before. But if you upgrade to 64GB of memory, the program is not going to run any faster than it was with a 16GB set up.

What you have to think about with memory is how many active programs you’re going to run at a time. Say you’re editing a video in Premiere, but you also have Photoshop and After Effects open to create title graphics. That’s going to add up to a significant amount of active memory usage. So to be safe, you’re going to want at least 32GB of memory in this PC. Nothing is worse than building a computer that can’t live up to its full capabilities because it doesn’t have enough memory.

I will warn you, though: any more than 64GB of RAM in your computer will only yield diminishing returns on your investment since you won’t be using enough programs at a time to justify all that memory. (Unless you like playing Skyrim at 120fps on one keyboard while you’re rendering liquid animations on a second keyboard. If so, go ahead and get 128GB of memory. If not, you’ll be fine with 32GB-64GB.)


 Hardware Tip: HDDs vs. SSDs

The Comprehensive Guide To Building Your Own Video Editing PC — HDD vs SSD
Image via Patrik Slezak.

In recent years, SSDs, or Solid State Drives, have become massively popular. They are the next generation of data storage, and they are insanely better than HDDs (Hard Disk Drives). The difference between the two is that SSDs solve a speed problem that has daunted HDDs since their inception: HDDs have to scan a spinning disk to access data, while SSDs instantaneously access data. SSDs use the same principle as a flash drive — there are no moving parts. They can access data at the speed of light, while HDDs have to scan a spinning disc to find the data you’re searching for. When it comes to starting up your computer, an SSD will start in about three seconds, while an HDD will take about 30 seconds. Seems like a simple choice, right?

Well, since SSDs still have not overcome the price barrier that keeps them out of every computer, a smart choice for video editors is to buy two drives: an SSD as your start-up drive (and to house all of your programs) and a large HDD to house all of your media (photos, videos, etc.). As you will see under “budgeting” below, HDDs are really cheap — you can get about 3TB of storage for under $150. All you need for your SSD is about 250GB to store all of your programs.


Assessing Your Budget

The Comprehensive Guide To Building Your Own Video Editing PC — Budget
Image via DedMityay.

Your budget is the biggest factor that will affect your build. In my opinion, a custom-built PC is an investment. The better your PC for editing videos, the faster you can work, and it creates a platform from which you can start a freelance editing business. I built my first PC for about $1,500, and I’ve made that money back and much more.

For this article, we’re going to explore three different builds at three different price points: $1,000, $1,500, and over $3,000. $1,000 may sound like a lot for the low-end build, but when you’re investing in something that will potentially earn you money, it’s worth spending a little more.

Quick note: I will not include the prices of any operating systems in these builds. Typical Microsoft software is going to run you about $80. If you choose to go the Hackintosh route, feel free to explore that option on your own.

Double note: As of the publication of this article, prices for GPUs are seriously inflated. Since the rise of cryptocurrencies, people have been building computer rigs to mine Bitcoin, Ripple, etc. through connections to a block-chain. These computers rely heavily on GPUs to complete block chains, so the world’s supply of GPUs has dropped significantly. If you know basic economics, when the supply is low and the demand is high, prices will skyrocket. So when building your PC, don’t be afraid to buy your GPU used. Especially when the crypto market crashes and people sell off their GPUs at crazy-low rates. But when you are dealing with a market as volatile as this, who knows when that will be?

The Tight Budget Build — $1,000

If your budget is tight, and you really can’t spend more than $1,000, this is the build for you.

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

Type Item Price
CPU Intel — Core i5-8600K 3.6GHz 6-Core Processor $256.79 @ OutletPC
CPU Cooler Cooler Master — Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler $28.49 @ OutletPC
Motherboard MSI — Z370 GAMING PLUS ATX LGA1151 Motherboard $111.98 @ Newegg
Memory G.Skill — Ripjaws V Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2400 Memory $169.99 @ Newegg
Storage Kingston — A400 120GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $49.99 @ Amazon
Storage Seagate — Barracuda 2TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $54.99 @ Amazon
Video Card MSI — GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB Video Card $201.99 @ SuperBiiz
Case NZXT — S340 (Black/Red) ATX Mid Tower Case $49.99 @ Newegg
Power Supply SeaSonic — 520W 80+ Bronze Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $49.99 @ SuperBiiz
Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts
Total (before mail-in rebates) $1,014.20
Mail-in rebates -$40.00
Total $974.20
Generated by PCPartPicker 2018-01-24 15:57 EST-0500

This configuration can crank out quality 1080p videos in your edits without a hitch. You may have some trouble with 4K and/or LOG footage, however. You will most likely have to edit those at a 1/4 or 1/8th quality in your preview window to get continuous play. We were also able to squeeze 16GB of RAM into this budget build, which is going to handle just about all of your editing programs.

The GPU is on the lower-quality end, so if you are building a rig to handle DaVinci Resolve, this might not be the one for you. It does have 4GB of memory, which will meet most of your needs, and if you’re planning on gaming with this machine, it will handle most of what you throw at it.

You will notice that there is a 120GB SSD in this build. It’s the lowest amount of storage you can get, and at 50 bucks, it’s not a bad deal. Honestly, at this point, an SSD is a must-use as a startup disk. 120 will be plenty for your OS and a few essential programs. The 2TB HDD will be large enough to host all of your videos, and if not, you can buy an external drive for the rest.

The Mid-Tier Build — $1,500

Here’s the Goldilocks build: right in the middle to meet all of your needs.

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

Type Item Price
CPU Intel — Core i7-7700K 4.2GHz Quad-Core Processor $326.29 @ OutletPC
CPU Cooler Cooler Master — Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler $28.49 @ OutletPC
Motherboard MSI — Z270 GAMING PLUS ATX LGA1151 Motherboard $86.98 @ Newegg
Memory Crucial — Ballistix Sport LT 8GB (1 x 8GB) DDR4-2400 Memory $87.89 @ OutletPC
Memory G.Skill — Ripjaws V Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-2400 Memory $169.99 @ Newegg
Storage Samsung — 850 EVO-Series 500GB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $139.99 @ B&H
Storage Seagate — Barracuda 2TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $54.99 @ Amazon
Video Card PNY — GeForce GTX 1060 6GB 6GB Video Card $499.89 @ OutletPC
Case Deepcool — TESSERACT SW ATX Mid Tower Case $36.99 @ SuperBiiz
Power Supply Corsair — CSM 750W 80+ Gold Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply $69.99 @ Newegg
Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts
Total (before mail-in rebates) $1,561.49
Mail-in rebates -$60.00
Total $1,501.49
Generated by PCPartPicker 2018-01-24 16:25 EST-0500

Now this thing is the perfect build in my eyes. You’ve got the processing power of the industry-standard Intel i7 CPU combined with the reliability of a GTX 1060 GB GPU. This will handle 4K footage like it was compressed 480p SD footage. LOG footage will be easy to edit and manipulate. Simply put, if you are an editor looking for the perfect fit at a reasonable price, this is your build.

We’ve included a 500GB SSD, which will be plenty to handle your OS and just about all of your programs, plus some project files if you want to access them faster. You’ve also got a 2TB HDD to store all of your media.

The GPU is a 6GB monster, and it will solidly execute most of your GPU-heavy tasks. With this GPU, you’ve also got an amazing gaming computer on your hands. This will play any game you’ve got, at a reasonably high frame rate.

This build has plenty of room to expand, too. If you want to add more memory, there are four slots if you decide to invest in more in the future.

The Baller Build — $3,300

All right, if you have money to burn, or if you want a PC that will last you for years and years, this monster is for you.

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant

Type Item Price
CPU AMD — Threadripper 1950X 3.4GHz 16-Core Processor $839.99 @ Amazon
CPU Cooler Corsair — H100i v2 70.7 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler $103.99 @ Amazon
Motherboard Asus — ROG ZENITH EXTREME EATX TR4 Motherboard $479.89 @ OutletPC
Memory G.Skill — Ripjaws V Series 32GB (2 x 16GB) DDR4-3200 Memory $359.99 @ Newegg
Storage Samsung — 850 EVO-Series 1TB 2.5″ Solid State Drive $299.99 @ Best Buy
Storage Seagate — Barracuda 3TB 3.5″ 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive $79.89 @ OutletPC
Video Card Asus — GeForce GTX 1070 8GB Dual Series Video Card $899.00 @ Newegg Marketplace
Case Corsair — 750D ATX Full Tower Case $139.99 @ Newegg
Power Supply EVGA — SuperNOVA G2 850W 80+ Gold Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $156.89 @ OutletPC
Prices include shipping, taxes, rebates, and discounts
Total (before mail-in rebates) $3399.62
Mail-in rebates -$40.00
Total $3359.62
Generated by PCPartPicker 2018-01-24 17:10 EST-0500

My God, this thing is a beast. This tank will handle absolutely anything you put in it like it’s nothing. Want to run a VR simulator while editing 4K video? Check. How about rendering liquid animations to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool? Double check. You could honestly run any video game in the world at its highest settings, and this PC would laugh in your face. To be honest, the first computer to become sentient will probably be this Cyborg Cthulhu. We might as well pledge our allegiance to it now before it thinks we’re its enemies. WE BUILT YOU! WE MEAN NO HARM!

All jokes aside, if you are truly looking to master your destiny while editing 3D footage or compiling 6K cinema footage for a full-length film, this build can handle it. Maybe you win the lottery, or your employer gives you the company card to buy supplies that you “need” for your job, or you just flat-out have they money to spend. However you go about it, enjoy your dream machine.


How to Put the Pieces Together

Now we could sit here and tell you how to build your PC step by step, but that would take an extraordinary amount of time. For this step, we’re gonna leave you to the experts. BitWit is a pro in the PC-building world, and the tutorial above will guide you through everything you need to know about assembling your first computer.


Final Thoughts

This may seem like a lot of information, but trust me: when you build your first PC, you will create so many opportunities for your very own editing station. You can finally start that editing freelance business you’ve always talked about, or even venture into animation now that your PC can handle it. It’s a seriously fun hobby to take up, but be careful: it’s easy to get lost in the sauce and blow your paycheck on a new GPU because it has 2GB more memory than your old one. $1,500 may sound like a lot, but if you use the PC to your advantage, you can make that money back easily. I assembled my PC for about $1,300, and so far, I’ve made that back plus some in just the last year.

So go forth, my friends, and start building!

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