Video Editing – One of the most popular things you can do on a Computer or Workstation.
No wonder so many people are looking for the perfect Machine for their Video Editing needs. A specialized and optimized Computer for Video Editing can save you time, a lot of frustration and in the long run, lots of money.
Back in the old days, the only way you could edit your analog video, was by using cutting machines that were huge and heavy, and unbelievably expensive. You needed a team to operate all the Video Editing machinery.
With modern day computers, digital video and the speed at which Computer Technology is evolving, anyone can be a Video Editor, at least from a technological standpoint.
It doesn’t matter if you are editing your birthday video, a documentation for a local wildlife broadcaster, a commercial for the big Brand’s washing machine or edit huge Hollywood productions.
There’s a Computer and very specific kind of hardware components for anyone and every kind of budget.
The same can be applied to Video Editing Software. It does not matter if you are using Windows Movie Maker, Sony Vegas, Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid, Davinci Resolve or any other of the gazillion Video Editing Applications out there.
All of these run on a Computer that you can get off the shelf.
And let me tell you this right now: The best Computers for Video Editing aren’t all that expensive anymore.
Not for Professionals – because they earn their money with it, and a great Computer is just worth every penny – and not for Video Editing Amateurs, because a Computer that you can edit a Home-Shoot Smartphone Video on, really doesn’t have to be expensive.TABLE OF CONTENTS
How does Video Editing utilize your Computer’s Hardware?
If we want to build the best Computer for Video Editing, the first step is to analyze what Hardware your Video Editing Software actually uses the most and in what way.
Now, there are so many different Video Editing Applications out there, but I will focus on one for now:
Adobe Premiere Pro. It is a very popular Video Editing Software, that many professionals and also amateurs edit in and is perfect for our analysis because lots of other Video Editing Apps use the Hardware in very similar ways.
Let’s take a look at how I myself would Edit a Video in Premiere Pro, and we can go from there and take a closer look at what these steps imply, hardware-wise.
My typical Video-Editing workflow:
- Load Footage into my Project
- Create Sequences and rough cuts with this footage
- Play-Back my timeline a lot of times, to be able to edit
- Add Transitions, Effects, Titles
- Add Sound Effects and Music
- Render out my Timeline with the actual non-proxy footage
This is a very rough workflow of the basic steps a Video Editor would be doing throughout a typical day, nothing fancy.
If you think about it, Editing Video, from an underlying Hardware perspective is something that can be broken down into a few simple steps:
- The Software reads Data (the Footage) from your Storage Medium.
- Your Editing Software has to decode this footage.
- The Software then manipulates this Footage depending on the effects and color-grading you are using (if at all).
- This manipulated footage is then usually stored in the Memory (RAM), so you have a real-time experience when playing back the timeline.
When rendering out your final project, the only thing you add to this chain is:
- Encode the timeline into your desired codec and
- Save the finished encoded Data to the Storage Medium.
It is these 6 simple steps, that we will have to optimize as much as possible to build our Best Computer for Video Editing.
Let’s step through them one at a time as see what Hardware Part is responsible for speeding each of these up:
Reading / Loading of the Footage
This is an easy one: Your Storage Device and the transfer Bus are responsible for the speed at which your footage can be read from a Storage Medium.
There are three popular Storage types that you can choose from nowadays:
The Hard Drive (HDD)
The Hard Disc Drive is the slowest of these three options. Sequential Read speeds are usually around 150Mbyte/s. Random Read and Write is a multitude Slower.
Hard Drives have great Cost/GByte, but rank last place in speed.
Hard Drives are great for Archiving and Backing up large Data, that doesn’t have to be accessed all the time, but I would not recommend using an HDD as an active working Device for your Footage.
You can get HDDs in sizes up to 14TB, though the best price/GByte mark lies somewhere around 8TB.
Next up is the Solid State Drive (SSD)
A Solid State Drive (SATA) is usually about 4 Times faster than an HDD and will speed up the reading of your Footage a lot. SSDs aren’t all that expensive anymore and prices are coming down quite fast.
I recommend to minimally get an SSD as your active Footage Storage Medium.
The Samsung 860 EVO or PRO, that come at reasonable prices in sizes from 256GB up to 4TB is a great SSD with high-end performance.
As Video Footage can become quite large, you will want a Storage Medium that has the maximum of Sequential Read and Write Speeds that you can get your hands on for a reasonable price, and that brings us to NVMe SSDs:
NVMe SSD (Non-Volatile Memory Express) Solid State Drives, basically are SSDs on Steroids. They use a different Socket / Bus on the Mainboard and can reach much higher performance than a regular SATA SSD.
They can be over 5 Times faster than even SSDs at sequential read and write speeds and will make reading large Footage an easy task.
Although slightly more expensive than SSDs, they are definitely worth the money. Highly recommended!
NVMe SSDs will help you read even RAW Footage in 4K+ Resolutions in real time.
Let’s start with adding a Samsung 970 PRO 1TB to our Best Computer for Video Editing Build. That way we should already be able to rule out the Storage Medium as a bottleneck.
What’s next in our Video Editing Workflow?
Decoding the Footage
Now, reading alone usually won’t be enough to be able to see the footage, as almost every Footage is encoded in some way. If it’s encoded (usually mainly to save space) it has to be decoded before playback and viewing.
Decoding is something that is usually done by the Processor (CPU). Unfortunately, there is no one CPU that is best for all types of Footage “Codecs” or Video File types.
It seems to be as follows: RED Footage likes CPUs with lots of cores. The AMD Threadripper 2990WX is the best CPU for decoding and playing back RED Footage:
H.264, DNxHD /HR or ProRes Footage seems to be easy enough to decode, that almost all CPUs perform more or less the same here.
Or in other words: The Decoding part in these three Footage Types usually is not the bottleneck in a slow playback experience, as we can see in the following graphs by Pugetsystems.com:
To summarize: For a smooth playback experience only, we would have to know what type of Footage we usually use and depending on this, get the right CPU.
BUT. Of course, playing back the Footage gets us only half way there. We want to apply some Effects to our Footage!
Manipulating the Footage with Effects, Transitions, Trimming & Titles
If your Edits are Effects intensive, then you will want a maximum Core-Clock CPU.
Effects are calculated in hierarchical order and most can’t be outsourced to other cores, meaning one Core will be crunching all the numbers for all the Effects on that one Frame.
Let’s make an example:
Your Footage has the following Effects applied:
- Brightness / Contrast
Seems like a pretty basic setup. The thing is, you can’t have 4 Cores calculate these 4 Effects simultaneously on the same Frame because they are all dependent on each other.
You first have to Time-Remap your footage before you can edit the Brightness / Contrast and so on. This is one Core stepping hierarchically through the effects chain.
Sure, other cores can start working on the effects of other Frames, but some Effects aren’t just dependent on each other on a per frame basis, but in-between frames.
Such as the Time-Remap.
Having a high-clocked CPU will benefit you in Effects heavy Projects.
But of course you have to take the type of footage you are using into account: If you are using hires RED Footage, you should use a high-Core-Count CPU for best decoding experience.
If you have both, RED Footage (or similar) AND heavy use of Effects, you will have to find a middle ground:
It really is quite unpractical. Because CPUs have to stay inside specific thermal- and power-limits, there is no one CPU that has lots of cores AND a very high core clock. This would, of course, be optimally for Video Editing, and for many other use cases too, but we have to find the best middle ground for us here.
Now that we have found the CPU for our Footage-decoding and Effects-Calculations, the next step in our Editing Experience usually is:
Storing Cached Footage in RAM
This is usually done automatically by the Editing Software you are using.
The moment you either play back your timeline, scrub your timeline or manually press some kind of “calculate or prerender effects in timeline” button, the Software will:
- Read the Footage
- Calculate the Effects on the Footage
- Store the Result in your System Memory (RAM)
This is usually known as Caching. All cached Frames are saved, in your RAM, so the next time you want to view a frame or a sequence, the Software doesn’t have to calculate everything again, but can read the already calculated result from RAM, which is much faster.
When you play back the Timeline, usually the Editing Software looks ahead and calculates the frames to come.
Sometimes frames are calculated right away and others have more effects on them, this is why the Editing Software in a way “buffers” ahead, as not to interrupt your real-time playback experience.
Now, RAM is easy.
RAM is so fast, you could get the worst kind of RAM and it would still be fast enough for almost any of your Editing needs.
The only important thing, when buying RAM for Video Editing, is getting enough. As we discussed above, the RAM has to be big enough to store the cached result.
If it is not large enough, the Software will Cache to your Disc, and that will slow things down a lot!
Check this in-depth article on how much RAM you should be getting.
These 3 Steps – Reading, Calculating, Caching – will be done again and again, during Video Editing Sessions.
When you are finished with the Edit or want to show the current status to a client, you will continue to the next step:
Rendering out the Project to a Video File
Rendering out your Timeline uses the same steps that we have already discussed above. You read your footage, apply the Effects and store the resulting frames into a Video File.
If the Timeline has already been cached, all the Video Editing Software has to do, is read the cached Frames from RAM and save them to the Video File.
Now, there is one more thing that is important in Rendering out your Video, namely the Encoding Stage.
You usually don’t just dump your calculated Frames onto your disc uncompressed but want to package and encode/compress the Frames into a File Format that:
- Can be played back with your targeted System / Video Player
- Is as small as possible without losing too much Quality
There are lots of different Codecs available for encoding. Some popular ones include H.264, H.265, WMV9, ProRes, DnxHD, Sorenson, Cinepak and many more.
Most of the more popular codecs use the possibility of saving only the difference between two frames instead of saving each frame in its entirety, as the difference between two frames is usually much smaller in file size. Others block Pixels together or reduce color and contrast information to save space.
But these are only some of many tricks how Codecs keep your Filesize low and provide a smooth playback experience.
To summarize the Video Rendering Process and the Hardware that is mainly responsible:
- Read Footage (SSD)
- Calculate / Apply Effects in your Timeline (CPU, GPU)
- Store the Frames in RAM (RAM)
- Read Frames from RAM (RAM)
- Encode Frames (CPU)
- Pack frames and Audio into a Video Container (CPU)
- Save Video Result on Disc (SSD)
The SSD can usually be ruled out as a bottleneck in this Rendering /Encoding Process, as it is more than fast enough to save your resulting Video File UNLESS of course, you are rendering out uncompressed Videos, huge EXR Sequences or other very large Files (Think 100s of MBytes per Frame)
The RAM too should always be fast enough as to not slow down the rendering process. Of course, the RAM has to be large enough to fit the Frames that are being rendered.
Almost always, the CPU will be responsible for the performance in encoding your Frames. Let’s take a look at some Benchmarks:
For Rendering out your projects, having higher core-counts is the way to go. But there seems to be an optimum around 16 / 18 Cores and a slightly higher Core-Clock than having double the Cores with a lower Core-Clock.
Both the AMD Threadrippers 16-Core and 32-Cores, as well as the Intel Core i9 16 and 18-Core CPUs have a solid lead over the higher clocked but lower-core-number CPUs such as the i7 8700K.
This time the RED Media Results are comparable to the non-RED Media Performance.
Best Computer for Video Editing – The Hardware
What components do we need for a working Computer anyway? After this quite in-depth material, let’s break it down to some concrete Hardware Suggestions:
Best performing CPU for Video Editing: Intel i9 9980XE
Best CPU for Video Editing under 500$: AMD Ryzen 9 3900X
Take a look at the following Video Editing (Premiere Pro) CPU Benchmark Scores by Pugetsystems. This table shows the overall score across all kinds of CPU benchmarks based on several real-world Premiere Pro Projects:
|CPU Name||Cores||Ghz||Premiere Pro Score||Price $||Value|
|Intel i9 9980XE||18||3.0||916||1979||0.463|
|Intel i9 9960X||16||3.1||896||1684||0.532|
|Intel i9 9940X||14||3.3||846||1387||0.610|
|AMD Threadripper 2950X||16||3.5||845||729||1.159|
|Intel i9 9920X||12||3.5||815||1189||0.685|
|AMD Ryzen 9 3900X||12||3.8||779||499||1.561|
|Intel i9 9900K||8||3.6||767||488||1.572|
|AMD Threadripper 2920X||12||3.5||762||369||2.065|
|Intel i9 9900X||10||3.5||732||989||0.740|
|AMD Ryzen 7 3800X||8||3.9||726||399||1.820|
|Intel i9 9820X||10||3.3||708||889||0.796|
|AMD Threadripper 2970WX||24||3.0||707||1300||0.544|
|AMD Threadripper 2990WX||32||3.0||701||1699||0.413|
|Intel i9 9700K||8||3.6||696||362||1.923|
|AMD Ryzen 7 3700X||8||3.6||673||329||2.046|
|Intel i9 9800X||8||3.8||627||589||1.065|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600X||6||3.8||620||249||2.490|
|AMD Ryzen 7 2700X||8||3.7||603||251||2.402|
|Intel i5 9600K||6||3.7||585||262||2.233|
|AMD Ryzen 5 3600||6||3.6||572||199||2.874|
|AMD Ryzen 5 2600X||6||3.6||527||149||3.537|
|CPU Name||Cores||GHz||Premiere Pro Score||Price $||Value|
The i9 9980XE is the currently best performing CPU for Video Editing. It does cost a lot though and its value is quite low compared to many of the other CPUs.
If you are looking for a great CPU for Video Editing that costs less than 500$, there are two excellent options: The AMD Ryzen 9 3900X and the Intel i9 9900K
The i9 9900K especially has high Clocks (Up to 5GHz Turbo Boost on limited Cores) which is great for calculating your Timeline-Effects and it has 8 Cores / 16 Threads which seems to be high enough, to also be great in exporting and encoding / decoding your Video Files.
Best Storage for Video Editing: Samsung 970 EVO / PRO
If you can spare the cash to get an NVMe SSD, this should be at the top of your buy list. These type of SSDs offer excellent speed, especially when you are working with large footage.
Get SATA SSDs for your OS and Software and HDDs for backing up your Data regularly and you should be all set, storage-wise.
Best RAM for Video Editing
As discussed above, Video Editing is not very dependent on the performance of the RAM, but dependent on having enough of it.
Any DDR4 RAM will be more than enough for Video Editing, but be sure to get enough of it!
I would set 16GB of RAM as a baseline for small Projects with lower resolutions < 2K, but as soon as you get to larger Footage, that also has 2K or higher resolutions, you should be getting 32GB or more.
Especially with 10Bit Footage, RED Media, 4K, 8K Footage you’ll be happy to have 64+ GBytes of RAM.
As was benchmarked recently, Memory Clock Speeds and Memory Channels don’t impact performance all that much. You might gain 4% performance increase on optimal settings, but usually pay a large premium for doing so.
If you fear no extra costs and would still like to optimize your RAM as much as possible, the rule is as follows:
- Look for High Clock Speeds, so say 3200Mhz is better than 2400Mhz
- Look for Low CL Latency, so say CL14 is better than CL16
- Go for higher number of Channels, so Quad Channel would be better than Single or Dual Channel. Usually, the amount of RAM Sticks define the Channel Width. 4 RAM Modules = Quad Channel RAM (2 = Dual, 1 = Single), but this can vary on different systems
Best GPU for Video Editing
We didn’t talk about Graphics Cards in Video Editing all that much yet.
The reason being, that GPUs still don’t have a huge impact on any kind of Performance improvement when Editing Videos.
Yes, there are the occasional Effects that might be GPU-Accelerated but as you can see in this Benchmark overview, the only real difference I can tell, is that AMD GPUs seem to be performing worse than Nvidia, at least in Premiere Pro:
You might want to check with your particular Video Editing Software of choice, but what is usually the case, is that:
- Nvidia GPUs are superior to AMDs GPUs
- Nvidia GTX or RTX GPUs have a better price/performance ratio to Nvidia Quadro GPUs
- and having a multi-GPU Setup does not benefit you in Video Editing.
If you are GPU Rendering in 3D then again, of course Multi-GPU setups will scale almost linearly!
I recommend an Nvidia RTX 2070, as this is a fairly strong GPU, that ranks top in price/performance in a multitude of Benchmarks across many different use cases.
Anything above an RTX 2070 will be much more expensive for just a very few extra performance points.
A note on Quadro though:
If you are dependent on driving 10bit displays, then, of course, having a Quadro might be mandatory for you, as GTX / RTX Cards will only output 8Bit to a monitor. But there is another way to drive 10Bit Monitors:
Blackmagic Decklink Cards
If you would like to go the GTX/RTX way for your standard workflow and Monitors, but would still like to output to a 10Bit Reference Monitor, you can get a Blackmagic Decklink Card.
These Cards are made for to HDMI / SDI in 10Bit, but beware, that your Monitor should support your Project Framerates.
Decklink Cards are also great for recording hires (4K or even 8K) 10Bit Video in Real-Time if that is something that you are planning on.
So a combination of GTX/RTX type of GPUs with such an additional PCI-E-Decklink Card might just do the trick for you and save you some money.
Best Mainboard for Video Editing
The Mainboard in itself should adapt to the other Hardware Components that we discussed above, as it is basically “just” the Hub that connects all of the components together.
After you have selected your desired CPU, you can already narrow down the number of compatible mainboards by choosing the right Socket that fits your CPU.
You will need a TR4 Socket for example, if you are planning on running a Threadripper CPU, a Mainboard with an LGA 1151 for an i7 8700K or i9 9900K CPU and a 2066 Socket for any type of i9-X type of Intel CPUs such as the i9 9980XE or i9 7890XE.
There really isn’t all that much that you can do wrong here:
Almost every ATX standard sized mainboard has enough PCIe Slots for your GPU and potential additional Cards, enough SATA Connectors for your drives and usually come with 4-6 + USB Ports for anything external you might need to plug in.
Most Motherboards nowadays have at least one M.2 slot for your NVMe SSDs, most have 2 or more.
One thing you should look out for if you are planning on using lots of GPUs, of course, is getting a CPU that has enough PCIe-Lanes to support these GPUs.
Also beware of M.2 cards sometimes sharing lanes with SATA Ports if you have too many of them running at a time: Say, you have 8 SATA SSDs hooked up, then your M.2 Slot will run in lower speeds or might not work at all, on some Mainboards.
But that is something you only have to worry about when you really want to have 8 Drives hooked up.
ATX is the most popular Mainboard Size and will fit into an ATX Sized Computer Case. It’s as easy as that!
Best Computer Case for Video Editing
Apart from the Monitor and Input devices, the Computer Case is the main Piece of “Furniture” that will be visible to you and clients or other visitors.
It is lots of fun to browse for just the right case with just the right combination of looks, functionality and noise features. As there are so many different Brands and case types out there, I’ll let you pick one for yourself. Be sure your case is big enough to fit your components, but if you don’t go overboard, any ATX Midi Tower or Big Tower will do the trick for you.
I often recommend the Corsair Carbide 400C because it is professional and minimalistic looking and has some noise dampening features, but you might prefer a different brand.
Build your own Computer!
I recommend this in all of my articles and will say it again here – Building your own Computer has lots and lots of benefits:
- You save a lot of money from getting individual parts.
- You can get exactly the kind of parts and part combinations you want
- You learn a lot about how a Computer works
- You can upgrade your Computer yourself now
- With all the extra Computer knowledge, you can fix problems that might arise later-on yourself
- Assembling a Computer is easy, it’s basically just plugging different parts into each other
- It’s fun!
Here’s a nice Step by Step Video showing you how easy it is to assemble a Computer. Follow this along and you will be done in less than 2 hours.
There is so much more I could discuss in this Article for finding the Best Computer for Video Editing but I think I have covered the basics and will now show you some finished Builds that you can use as inspiration. You can use the following Builds as-is or configure your own Video Editing PC, depending on your Budget:
Pre-selected PC-Builds at different budgets
Best Computer for Video Editing, AMD at ~1400$
This lower-end Build features the AMD 3600X, which is good for Effects Calculation but is surpassed by higher-core-count CPUs in Encoding / Decoding and overall Video Editing Speed.
16GB of RAM is quite good already, but feel free to add some more if you have the money.
The Storage System is split up between SSD for OS and Applications, NVMe for Footage and an HDD for Backup and Storage.
To save some more money, I added the Nvidia 1660Ti, but you can feel free to swap it with an RTX 2070 or higher, if you have the extra cash.
Best Computer for Video Editing, Intel at ~2200$
The i9 9900K is an excellent CPU for Video Editing. Although it doesn’t have as many Cores as an i9 9980XE or an AMD Threadripper, it has an extremely high Core-Clock, that makes up for the lack in Cores and speeds up Effects Calculation extremely well.
32GByte of RAM should set for quite some time. If you are only working on smaller-res Projects, you could save some money here and downgrade to 16GBytes, of course.
Same with extremely high-res Projects and large Footage Data 4K – 8K, you might want to upgrade your RAM to 64GByte.
BUT you will need a different CPU and Mainboard for that. Intel i9 9xxx-X Series (like the i9 9980XE) would be the way to go then on the 2066 Socket (Expect a heavy price increase though).
There are many RTX 2070 Versions and one of the main differences between some, is the cooling solution. If you plan on getting more than one GPU, you will have to stack them on top of each other. Here you should go for a blower style variant as this is fitted with a Cooler that performs well in these situations and blows the hot air out the back of the case, instead of inside it.
Go Open Air Cooling solution when you only use one GPU in your PC-Case.
Best Computer for Video Editing, AMD at ~3000$
This is a high Core-count AMD build.
You could even bump up the CPU to a Threadripper 2990WX if you think you need double the cores for Video Editing or plan on using this Build for 3D CPU Rendering and other high-core-count optimized Workloads.
The beQuiet CPU Cooler keeps the CPU nice and cool while producing almost no noise unless you kick the build into high-end rendering.
The Storage is split up into 3 Drives for OS (SSD), your Footage on an NVMe Drive and the HDD for Backing up your Data.
Best Computer for Video Editing, Intel at ~6000$
Featuring the Intel i9 9980XE that already costs around 2000$ in itself, this Build comes at a price but delivers great performance across all workloads in Video Editing.
You will get fast Encoding / Decoding, Live-Playback, Handling of all kinds of Footage Types and quick Effects Calculation. The AMD Threadripper Build above might handle RED Media a bit better and have a better Performance / Price Ratio, but apart from that, this build will give you pretty much the absolute best, money can buy for Video Editing on a Consumer Level.