Building/Buying a PC for Video Editing

Building/Buying a PC for Video Editing

2020, Jun 29    

Trying your Hand at Video Editing

My brother just recently came to me with a question. He wanted to try his hand at video editing. He’s got a Music background and wanted to try his hand at producing music videos. He’s not a rich man, so he wanted to do it at the most reasonable price possible. So, this was my analysis and advice to him.

Understanding the Hardware Landscape in 2020

Most people have moved to Laptops as their primary machines at this point. They have cotten cheap and since the invention of utrabooks, starting in 2012ish and significantly improving year over year, they have gotten extremely portable. Macbooks have gotten light as a feather even with the metal exterior. Dell XPS’s are amazingly tiny. With these changes, Hard drives have gotten to basically be another RAM chip and everyone is concerned about power usage, because you gotta make that battery last.

There is rarely a need for a desktop computer anymore. Of course desktop computers are going in two directions. Feeling the loss of a segment of the population for desktops, that segment of the market has specialized towards people who need LOTs of power. They have focused on the people doing extreme gaming or virtual reality PCs.

Also, there’s a minor Cola war going on with Apple and PCs. I use both, though I tend to lean Apple, so I’m making that known. They just make solid hardware, and I never have to guess or research for days to find out if it’s even worth buying. There is an Apple tax though. In general though, good hardware is good hardware. I’m going to pick the computer for the job. If it’s a web server, it’s going to be a Linux PC, for example. I also suggest you think about this if you are willing to learn a new OS, depending on where you are coming from. It takes time.

The Current Video Editor Contenders

Picking the software matters which one you pick because they require different things from your hardware, and thus why I’d pick a different rig for each one.

There are the three primary players in the industry. A couple people still swear by Avid, which is a Pro hardware and software solution only used by Hollywood. Or smaller applications such as Sony Vega and similar. Those are minor market share at this point.

From what I can tell, the professionals aren’t religious about any of them. They all basically work the same, with some exceptions for some of the high end features. In fact, from what I can tell, people usually use two or three of them and switch back and forth depending on the thing they need to do.

  • Adobe Premier Pro - This is part of the original Adobe Creative Suite.
    This is the most costly, because you’ll probably want the Adobe Creative Cloud, which is ~$50/month for the suite or $20/month for just one program, but if you are doing video editing, you’ll probably need 2 (Premier and After Effects). So $40 min/month.
    This is by and far the most supported from a corporate standpoint as the most “industry standard.”
    It’s also been around forever, so it has its cult following. I, personally, remember playing with it in 9th grade, which was too long ago to admit to. This account is tied to you and you can use it on any computer (mac/pc). Premier is known to be a bit buggy, crashing a little too often for most people’s likings. The upside though is that it ties very naturally into the other Creative Suite products, such as Photoshop, which is bar none the industry standard for photo editing, Audition - which is some solid audio editing,
    After Effects, as well as others.
  • Final Cut Pro - When you buy this, it ties to your apple account and you can use it on as many macs as you want. It also is a one time cost of ~$300, but you may have to upgrade if they create a new version for a new macOS. This is only available for Mac. Basically, you are going to want to check the compatibility before upgrading. One of the biggest complaints about this software is that it doesn’t get the love that it should. It only tends to get updates every few years. One of the biggest compliments is that this has the best plugins in the industry. The most notable is the MotionVFX ones, which provide fancy titles and transitions.
  • Davinci Resolve - The new comer on the block. This software was used entirely for color correction, since colors from different locations cut together look like crap. This apparently was the best tool for doing this and has been for a long time. Apparently, this company that made this software, da Vinci Systems, was bough up by Blackmagic. Blackmagic is a company that makes pretty awesome 4K, 6K, and 8K cameras. People who get serious about high end video end up buying this camera. They natively support a format called BRAW (a special kind of high definition RAW format defined by BlackMagic). You can get a plugin for Premier. Final Cut-not so much. Davinci, though, handles it natively. This software has a freemium model.
    Basically, 99% of thefeatures are available for free, and you have to pay ~$300 for up to 2 computers (which is non-transferable, which is annoying). The biggest complaint for this software is that, because it’s the underdog, it’s lacking some of the minor features that the other guys have. However, they have been updating regularly to get caught up with the competition. Also, one of the biggest compliments that this gets is the ease of switching between things that you need to do. Adobe Creative and Apple has this broken into separate products, but Resolve allows you to hit the bottom tabs and do similar things all in one place.

To find out what the professionals use, I did a lot of Google searching, and one guy that I found extremely useful. His video discussing the finer point differences between the software can be found here.

How does the software affect the Hardware

Great question to ask. Most people, after cutting together a video, get to the point that they need to render the final cut, and it takes a REALLY long time sometimes. People don’t like waiting an hour or more for a rendering. So some people want to know what the best way to reduce this time is. I found a really in-depth article covering all of the hardware aspects of how these pieces of software leverage the hardware, which you can view here. Here’s the gist.

Memory - All of these machines work better with more memory. At this day and age, you are going to need at least 16GB or RAM to edit video effectively. If you expect bigger projects, bump that up to 32 or 64GB (if possible).

Storage - Similarly, all of these are going to work faster with faster disks. The technical term for measuring this is IOPS. I suggest you invest in a Solid State Drive (SSD) to get the best performance here. You can store your final products off to a spinning HDD later.

Display - Since Laptops are the most used, I’m going to bring this up - most laptops are designed for general use. If you want 100% of the sRGB spectrum, you will want to buy an external monitor. This also can give you more real estate for doing editing too, allowing you to work on sound in one window and dragging it over to the video in the other. Things like that.

CPU - All of these programs will render faster with more CPU cores. Adobe Premier and Davinci Resolve can run on PCs (as well as Macs), so if you get a PC, loading that guy with an AMD Ryzen will give you the most bang for your buck when getting a machine to use Primier and really reduce that render time. That’s not possible for a Macbook, as you are stuck with the Intel line of processors. The more cores you have, the faster it will go, though having dimishing returns. The math works like this: For a complex project timeline, tests showed that 2 cores produced 2x the performance of 1 core, 5 cores resulted in 4x the performance, and 10 cores produced 6x the performance. Trying to utilize 16 or more cores, however, actually caused a noticeable drop in performance to around 5x. In everything but the Macbook Pro, you will get worse power whenever you are not plugged into an outlet. Macbook has figured out how to keep consistent performance with reduced power.

GPU/Video Card - For Adobe Premier and Final Cut Pro GPUs will do you no good here, as these programs don’t leverage your video card at all. So integrated graphics is probably fine. When using this, it’s suggested that you be plugged in because this is going to use a lot of power. Davinci Resolve is interesting. They have figured out how to leverage GPUs. So if you have a badass PC with a sweet gaming graphics card, you can leverage this and get tons of power on top of your CPU. This makes rendering like 7x faster in most cases. The coolest thing is that this is where things like the Blackmagic eGpu come in really handy.
You can add on processor to beef up your rendering later, if you want.

Ports - As I previously mentioned, newer architecture is better. If you are getting into this, you want fast pipes to and from the processor. I suggest getting a machine with a USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 connection. Preferably a couple of them.

My Suggestion to my Brother

  1. Pick your software first, to make sure you know what kind of machine to make/get.
  2. Make sure you are using the latest version of the CPUs you can afford. 8th gen Intel chips are going to be significantly faster than 6th gen Intel chips. It’s because eveything in the architecture gets upgraded. That matters more than the CPU cycles that everyone cared about in the 2000’s time period.
  3. I suggest buying a Macbook with Thunderbolt 3. Why? Because it gives you access to all 3 pieces of software.
    That’s the only way to play with all of these pieces of software. Plus, Macbooks are solid and hold their value, so if you don’t like it, sell the machine and recoup the majority of the loss. If you need more muscle later, add the eGPU using Thunderbolt 3. Unless you are getting the 2020 model, I apologize for the sticky keyboard.
  4. Learn all of the software, starting with Davinci Resolve (because it’s free). Add on Final Cut when you have a project that you want to add fancy transitions. Then, when you have more or less gotten good at both of those programs, try the monthly subscription of Creative Cloud.
  5. In the long run, you aren’t going to want to be using your laptop monitor for video editing. Turns out, that’s a “nice to have”. If you export it and put it on a TV, you’ll see how it looks on a TV. It’ll take longer to test it, but if you have more time than money, do this. Switch when that equation flips (e.g, you have more money than time).

Update 1/26/2021

My brother bought a new MacBook Pro for about 6 months now for his business. He’s been working on it daily. He is using mostly Davinci Resolve, but he has no qualms as he said it is the best computer he has used yet for video editing.