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Find the Best Computer for Video Editing at Any Budget

The best computer for video editing provides optimal performance for running Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, After Effects, Maya, and other professional editing programs. Rendering and encoding footage at HD and higher resolutions demands a mid- to-high end CPU and a good amount of DRAM. Which components provide the non-negotiable performance needed for the job? Which ones provide the nice-to-have benefits that fall within your budget ranges?

We’ll ferret all that out in this post. Here’s a quick set of component recommendations for the best computer for video editing at several price increments. Windows PCs are the primary focus here.

Learn more below the table about how I arrived at these, and viable substitutes for each.

CPU Video Card Storage Memory
Entry Level
($750)
Intel Core i5-6600K GeFore GTX 780 1x 256 GB SSD
2 x 1 TB HDD
8-16 GB DDR4
Mid-Range
($1000)
Intel Core i7-4790K GeForce GTX 980 1x 256 GB SSD
2 x 1 TB HDD
16-32 GB DDR3
Standard
($1500)
Intel Core i7-6700K GeForce GTX 1060 1x 500 GB SSD
2 x 4 TB HDD
32 GB DDR4
Professional
($2000)
Intel Xeon E5-1650v3 GeForce GTX 1070 1x 500 GB SSD
2 x 4 TB HDD
32 GB ECC DDR4
Ultra
($3000+)
(2x) Intel Xeon E5-2660v3 GeForce GTX 1080 1x  1 TB SSD
2 x 2 TB HDD
32-64 GB ECC DDR4

xeon-e5-300

The best computer for video editing largely depends on the CPU

Software for content creation is designed for multi-core processors. A CPU with Hyper-Threading adds a logical, or virtual, core to each physical core built into the die. So, an OS sees a quad-core CPU with Hyper-Threading as an eight-core processor; a six-core as 12-core, and so on. The more cores a processor has, user benefits include:

  • Faster generation of previews
  • Faster encoding of files into playable formats
  • Better responsiveness when running multiple programs

How many cores are ideal? Puget Systems’ benchmarking of multi-core processors with Adobe Premiere says more is better—to a certain point. The figures below show where CPU cost-to-performance ratio is the most efficient at each level of video editing.

  • A four-core CPU is most efficient for 1080p encoding to MPEG-2
  • A six-core CPU is most efficient for 4K encoding to MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 (AVC)
  • A four-core CPU is most efficient for 1080p preview generation
  • A 6-8 core CPU is most efficient for 4K preview generation

Performance gains flat-line for Hyper Threaded CPUs with more than 10 cores physical cores, or 20 logical cores. Operating frequency is a determining factor for computer responsiveness as well. The sweet spot for Adobe Premiere Pro is 8-12 logical cores, and a clock speed above 3.0 GHz.

It makes sense, then, that the Intel Core i7-6700K (logical 8-core, 4.0 GHz) is popular processor for professional video editing workstations. High-end systems with an Intel Core i7-6900K (logical 16-core, 3.2 GHz) or an Intel Core i7-6950X (logical 20-core, 3.0 GHz) are shown to push performance a bit further, but at diminishing returns for the price difference.

In the sense that the best computer for video editing is largely a price-to-performance proposition, processors with 16-20 cores only add value when Premiere Pro is used with in tandem with another program such as After Effects, for example. In this case, a good bang-for-buck CPU is an Intel Xeon E5-1650v3 (logical 12-core, 3.6 GHz) or Intel Core i7-5820K (logical 12-core, 3.5 GHz)—both provide a good mix of cores and clock at a reasonable price. It’s all about value.

Motherboard sockets: Intel Core i7-6000 ‘Skylake’ and ‘Broadwell-E’ processors fit the socket type on LGA-1511 motherboards; some of these will require BIOS updates to run properly. Intel Xeon and Intel Core i7-5000K series ‘Haswell-E’ processors fit the socket type on LGA-2011v3 motherboards.

Dual Xeons: Big-time television and film production studios use extremely powerful workstations with dual Intel Xeon E5-2600 processors (on a LGA-2011v3 dual socket motherboard), for maxed-out performance using Premiere Pro. This dual Intel Xeon configuration is the vendor-recommended setup for Avid Media Composer when conducting multi-stream AVC video work and 4K video editing.

geforce-960-300

Video editing only needs a mid-range GPU

Adding a desktop video card accelerates the rendering process for editing, but is not as important to overall performance as the CPU.

Editing programs like Media Composer, Premiere Pro and After Effects are designed to utilize Nvidia’s propriety CUDA framework, therefore GeForce video cards tend to work very well. You do not need expensive Quadro workstation video cards, or even a top of the line gaming card to edit video. A hobbyist filmmaker with a decent CPU plus a GeForce 750ti will get by just fine putting together video.

At the professional level where time is money, the best computer for video editing benefits from a GeForce GTX 1060 for editing 1080p footage, and a GeForce 1070 if working with 4K. Make sure to note the VRAM capacity on the video card as it affects the display resolution.

  • Editing 1080p footage displayed at 1080p should have 2 GB VRAM
  • Editing 1080p footage displayed at 4K should have 4 GB VRAM
  • Editing 4K footage displayed at 1080p should have 4 GB VRAM
  • Editing 4K footage displayed at 4K should have 6 GM VRAM

ddr4

How much system memory (DRAM) is best for video editing?

Digital filmmaking programs will perform adequately enough with 8-16 GB of memory when editing 1080p footage. Performance minded professionals that run Media Composer or Premiere Pro alongside complementary editing applications tend to opt for more—16-32 GB of system memory for 1080p and 4K video work, respectively—for more responsive performance.

When it comes to motherboards, the long and short of pairing CPU sockets and DIMM slots does not follow an obvious pattern so make sure to evaluate on a SKU-by-SKU basis using filtering tools on the motherboards page.

For example, motherboards with the LGA-1151 socket fitted for Intel Core-6000 ‘Skylake’ series CPUs have DIMM slots that support DDR4 memory, though there are a few that use DDR3L. The LGA-2011v3 socket motherboards fitted for Intel Xeons support error correcting ECC server memory; this is not the case for Intel Core i7-5000 family ‘Haswell E’ processors that use regular DDR4.

Learn more about finding the right memory for your system if you need help.

Storage drives

New systems combine a small, fast SSD (solid-state drive) with one or more high-capacity hard disk drives for local data storage. The Samsung 850 EVO is the best-selling SATA III drive and has great customer reviews. For a performance bump, get the M.2 form-factor Samsung 950 PRO, an NVMe SSD that is placed in the high-speed PCI-express lane in the motherboard. Again, check the motherboard specifications, as some motherboards don’t support PCIe SSDs in the m.2 slot, and some only support PCIe SSDs in the m.2 slot

Placing the operating system and video editing software onto the SSD will result in a noticeable performance boost. Store larger video footage files on a 7200 RPM HDD.

To prevent footage loss resulting from drive failure (it happens) it is recommended that you use multiple HDDs in a RAID configurationMid-ATX towers have room to store several hard drives internally, or you might consider using an external RAID enclosure if you’re using a laptop for a small form factor PC for editing. Depending on how much data you’re storing and the hardware you have, learn more about the difference between software RAID vs hardware RAID to implement backup and restore plans.

Power Supply

Use this handy tool to calculate the Wattage for the sum total of your computer components when choosing a PC power supply, and add 10-20% to ensure the PSU has enough head room. I used reviews, sales metrics, and price per Watt to determine the best value PSUs.

 

Recommended pre-built PCs for video editing

From a cost and value standpoint, the best computer for video editing is probably one that is built from components. There are a number of worthy pre-built workstation PCs  that will do the job nicely if you prefer to purchase a complete system

Click for pricing Form Factor CPU Video Card Memory Storage
ABS ALI106 Mid-ATX Intel Core i7-6700 GTX 1070 (8 GB 16 GB 240 GB SSD
1 TB HDD
HP ENVY Mid-ATX Intel Core i7-6700 GTX 970 (4 GB) 8 GB 128 GB SSD
2 TB HDD
MSI Stealth Pro-041 Laptop (15.6”) Intel Core i7-6700HQ GTX 1060 (6 GB) 32 GB 128 GB SSD
1 TB HDD
Lenovo IdeaCentre Mid-ATX Intel Core i7-6700 GTX 970 (4 GB) 16 GB 120 GB SSD
1 TB HDD

 

 

System Requirements for Pro Video Editing Software

 

Conclusion

Value is important, but the best computer for video editing should far exceed the minimum system requirements of the software. This will provide only a sluggish, bare-bones level of performance. If you are using these applications in a professional capacity, time is money. A responsive user experience requires a system with a multi-core CPU and plenty of DRAM, but don’t go overboard for the type of work you are doing. Achieve a balance between components and budget; then you will find the best computer for video editing.

Stay tuned for Part II: network infrastructure setups for professional video editing

Summary
Article Name
Find the Best Computer for Video Editing at Any Budget
Description
The best computer for video editing provides optimal performance for running Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid Media Composer, After Effects, Maya, and other professional editing programs. Rendering and encoding footage at HD and higher resolutions demands a mid- to-high end CPU and a good amount of DRAM. Which components provide the non-negotiable performance needed for the job? Which ones provide the nice-to-have benefits that fall within your budget ranges?
Author
Adam Lovinus

Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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