How to Build the Best PC for Video Editing
Last updated: June 2017, added new Intel CPUs
Work with video editing, visual effects, and animation requires a high-performing PC to keep things running smoothly and avoid wasting precious time waiting for projects to render and encode. That’s why it’s important to build a computer that will efficiently handle these tasks, which are some of the most hardware-intensive processes the average PC user will perform.
This guide provides all the information you need to build a video editing PC that will be powerful enough to handle your workload -- without wasting money on extraneous features you don’t need. Building your own editing PC instead of buying one pre-built means you’ll get the exact performance you require without breaking the bank.
First, we’ll explain which components are most important for creative work, and how to get the most out of your new workstation.
In Section 1, we’ll review a number of example video editing PC builds.
In Section 2, we’ll go in-depth on how to choose your parts.
In Section 3, we'll wrap things up with a discussion of controllers and extra tips.
Finally, in Section 4, we'll quickly discuss video editing software.
Section 1: Example Video Editing Builds
The following five example video editing builds provide the maximum amount of power for the price. (See Section 2 for a detailed explanation of why we chose the parts.)
Note: When building a new PC, you’ll need to install an operating system. For video editing PCs, we recommend using Windows, which you can purchase here. Some people are eligible to get Windows free through school or work, so you may also look into that.
Note #2: This guide is primarily intended for building a PC to handle popular video editing programs such as Adobe Premiere and Sony Vegas. If you are planning to use DaVinci Resolve, we have included a separate graphics card recommendation, as Resolve takes much greater advantage of graphics processing units. See our section on Resolve for more information about its specific hardware requirements.
Budget Video Editing PC ($750)
Capable of professional and amateur video editing work at 1080p resolution. You can edit 4K too, but it won't be as comfortable as with a faster build.
The CPU comes with a stock cooler that is pretty good, and will keep your CPU cool enough and quiet at default settings. If you want to overclock, the optional CPU cooler is recommended.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 5 1600
Graphics Card: GTX 1050
Motherboard: MSI B350 PC Mate
RAM: 8 GB DDR4
Storage 1: Crucial MX300 275GB SSD
Storage 2: Seagate 2 TB hard drive
Power Supply: EVGA 500 B
CPU Cooler (optional): DeepCool Gammaxx 400
Case: Corsair Carbide 270R or Corsair Carbide 100R
Operating System: Windows 10
This build is for video editors who want a very capable PC for editing high-quality 1080p video on a relative budget. For the price, this build boasts a very powerful 6 core, 12 thread CPU and a fast, affordable SSD. You could squeeze out even greater performance by upgrading to 16 GB RAM, but that is not necessary.
Budget GPU Alternative for DaVinci Resolve
GPU: RX 480 4GB
Power User Editing Build ($1,200)
For professional-grade video editing work up to 4K resolution, while still keeping the budget manageable.
CPU: AMD R7 1700
Graphics Card: GTX 1050 Ti
Motherboard: MSI B350 PC Mate
RAM: 16 GB DDR4-3200
Storage 1: 525GB Crucial MX300 SSD
Storage 2: 2 TB hard drive
Power Supply: EVGA GQ 650W
CPU Cooler: Stock (or NH-U12S SE-AM4 to keep things a bit cooler and quieter)
Case: Fractal Define R5
Operating System: Windows 10
This build will get the best bang for your buck. It has a very powerful AMD 8 core CPU, and an affordable graphic card that will handle reasonable amounts of GPU-accelerated functions. This machine will handle 4K video editing on a budget.
Power efficiency is a nice additional benefit of this build.
For more GPU power, you could upgrade the graphics card to a RX 480 8GB. That would turn this into a very capable gaming PC in addition to an editing powerhouse.
Power User GPU Alternative for DaVinci Resolve
GPU: GTX 1070
Professional Editing Build ($2,000)
For making 4K editing a breeze. This is a great value for a high-end editing build.
CPU: AMD Ryzen 7 1800X
Graphics Card: GTX 1060 6GB
Motherboard: MSI X370 SLI Plus
RAM: 32 GB dual channel DDR4-2666
Storage 1: Samsung 960 EVO 500 GB M.2 SSD
Storage 2: HGST 4 TB hard drive (or 6TB / 8TB)
Power Supply: EVGA G2 750W
CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H110i
Case: Enthoo Luxe
Operating System: Windows 10
A more powerful CPU, a much more powerful GPU, twice the RAM, and a faster M.2 SSD allow this machine to easily handle complex 4K projects, and editing at resolutions above 4K. Water cooling keeps things cool and quiet, even if you want to overclock.
Professional GPU Alternative for DaVinci Resolve
GPU: GTX 1070
Video Editing Supercomputer ($2,600)
For when you need to edit the next IMAX movie, or just want even better performance at 4K.
CPU: Intel i7-7820X
Graphics Card: GTX 1070
Motherboard: MSI X299 SLI Plus
RAM: 32 GB quad channel DDR4-3200
Storage 1: Samsung 960 EVO 500 GB M.2 SSD
Storage 2: 2x HGST 4 TB hard drives (or 6TB / 8TB)
Power Supply: EVGA G2 850W
CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H110i
Case: Enthoo Primo
Operating System: Windows 10
The sweet spot for having an extremely powerful PC before spending huge amounts of money. The i7-7820X provides the best balance of single and multithreaded performance. 4K or higher is still demanding, but this will handle it nearly as well as the much more expensive build below.
Supercomputer GPU Alternative for DaVinci Resolve
God-Tier Video Editing PC ($5,150)
For someone who needs to have the most powerful tools available. Your PC essentially harbors the power of Thor. Even using dual Xeon's wouldn't be any faster.
CPU: Intel i9-7900X
Graphics Card: GTX 1080 Ti (or Titan Xp for about 3% more performance)
Motherboard: ASUS Prime X299-Deluxe
RAM: 64 GB quad channel DDR4-3200
Storage 1: Samsung 960 Pro 1 TB M.2 SSD (or 2TB version)
Storage 2: 2x 10TB Seagate Barracuda Pro
Power Supply: Seasonic Prime Titanium 1000
CPU Cooler: Corsair Hydro H115i
Case: BeQuiet! Dark Base Pro 900
Operating System: Windows 10
With the i7-7900X, we're looking at 10 high-speed physical CPU cores, which is effectively the peak of performance for video editing. And with 64GB of RAM, the fastest SSD around, and a GTX 1080 Ti, this PC will handle any project you throw it, including in DaVinci Resolve.
Section 2: Choosing PC Hardware for Video Editing
The CPU is the foundation of an editing PC. The processor’s power determines how quickly you can accomplish editing tasks. If your editing PC doesn’t have a powerful processor, it’s going to be slow, regardless of anything else. Modern editing software such as Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, and Final Cut Pro will take full advantage of multiple CPU cores and hyperthreading, so investing in a good CPU is crucial when building an editing PC. (If you're using DaVinci Resolve, the CPU is still important, but comes secondarily to the graphics card.)
The CPU is where you should invest the largest amount of your budget. Intel CPUs have long been the most powerful, but AMD's new Ryzen CPUs offer a lot of value for the money for video editors.
For budget builds, we recommend a Ryzen 5 CPU. AMD Ryzen 5 1600 has 6 cores and 12 threads. It will easily handle 1080p resolution, which is the standard resolution for most modern screens and videos. It is capable of editing 4K, although not as smoothly. It is also overclockable, so someone willing to carefully tinker can extract another 10%+ performance out of the chip for free.
The i7-7700K is a good upgrade, even though it only has 4 cores and 8 threads. It is quite a bit faster in single-threaded tasks, such as warp stabilize.
The AMD Ryzen 7 1700 is also a good option here. It has 8 cores and 16 threads that make it good for multi-threaded tasks like CPU rendering, but is slower than the i7s in single-threaded tasks.
The next step up are Intel's i7-7800X, and AMD's Ryzen 7 1800X. They offer about 20% more performance. They are similarly split in that the i7-7800X has better single-threaded performance, and the Ryzen 1800X has slightly better multi-threaded performance. Both are excellent options for video editing.
Moving up to the i7-7820X will get you another 15-20% performance.
The fastest video editing CPU is the mighty 10 core, 20 thread i9-7900X.
The higher the resolution of the video you're editing, the more you will benefit from the faster CPUs.
This might sound counterintuitive, but the graphics card (a.k.a. video card) is a less important component when it comes to video editing and other creative work with most software. Compared to the CPU, it’s usually OK to go a little cheaper with your graphics card. The exception to this rule is DaVinci Resolve. If you plan to edit with Resolve, you absolutely need a powerful graphics card, as that software is powered primarily by GPU instead of CPU. (See our section on DaVinci Resolve for more information.)
In fact, it is not even absolutely necessary to have a graphics card in your video editing PC when using most editing software. However, modern video editing software takes advantage of graphics cards through hardware acceleration for encoding and rendering, and having even a moderately powerful graphics card will make a big difference. You will see diminishing returns if you invest in a high-end graphics card.
When it comes to graphics cards for video editing, NVIDIA used to have an advantage with its CUDA acceleration. Today, AMD's OpenCL offers similar performance for software that supports it. Premiere Pro and Davinci Resolve do well with both AMD and NVIDIA, although Adobe tends to optimize more for Nvidia.
If you're doing GPU intensive tasks, you'll get the best performance from a GTX 1080 Ti. The fastest card, but too expensive for most of us, is the mighty Titan Xp. I wouldn't recommend getting one of these unless you know that your workload will benefit, or you already have the fastest CPU, lots of RAM, and a good SSD.
Note: Graphics cards are very important for gaming PCs. So, if you also plan to play PC games with your video editing PC, you should invest more in a higher-end graphics card.
Having enough RAM is critical for streamlined video editing. If you’re editing video at 1080p, we recommend 8 GB at the absolute minimum. For 4K, we recommend at least 16 GB. In both cases, more RAM is better, although a lower priority than good CPU and decent graphics card. Video editing is one of the few applications that can make good use of large amounts of RAM, so invest as much as you feel comfortable.
When it comes to data storage, you have two reasonable options: solid state drives (SSDs), or hard drives.
SSDs are much faster than hard drives, but more expensive. Your PC does not absolutely need an SSD, but at the very least, we highly recommend getting a small (240+ GB) SSD for installing your operating system and important software, such as your video editing software. This will make a significant difference in the speed of your editing process.
The speed of SSDs vs. hard drives is less noticeable when it comes to the storage of your footage. Thankfully, modern hard drives are generally fast enough for accessing footage while editing.
For large projects, we recommend researching hard drive RAID enclosures, which group together multiple hard drives.
The motherboard is the central component that connects everything else, and you want to make sure yours has everything you’ll need for editing.
Once you’ve decided on a CPU, you’ll need to find a motherboard with a compatible socket, meaning that the socket on the motherboard matches the socket for the chipset. For example, the latest Intel i3, i5 and i7 chips use the LGA 1151 socket, and so you’ll need an LGA 1151 compatible motherboard.
New high end i7s and i9s use the LGA 2066 socket.
AMD Ryzen uses the AM4 socket.
The specs of the motherboard itself will not affect the PC’s performance when editing video, as long as it allows you to use the CPU, RAM, SSD, and other components that you want. But a few other considerations when selecting a motherboard are likely to include the onboard sound and the number of supported USB ports and hard drives.
When it comes to sound, modern motherboards often have very good integrated sound. If you’re especially concerned about the quality of sound as you’re editing, however, check reviews of the motherboards you’re considering to make sure the audio quality is going to meet your needs. If you really need the best sound quality it's more complicated than we want to get into here, but a sound card would help a bit. (Two good sound cards are the Sound Blaster Z for $100 or the ASUS Essence STX II for $250.)
Any modern motherboard will generally have more than enough USB ports to have you covered. Make sure the motherboard supports USB 3 (any recent motherboard should). If you have exotic peripherals like Thunderbolt or firewire, you’ll want to make sure your motherboard supports them.
Finally, think about how many hard drives you’re planning to have. While most PC users get away with having one or two, video editors are very often strapped for storage, as your video footage can quickly add up to terabytes of data. If you think this will be a concern, check how many SATA connections the motherboard supports. If you think you will have an immense amount of footage, you can research hard drive RAID enclosures, which group together multiple hard drives to provide huge amounts of space, with optional redundancy to protect against drive failures.
Power Supply (PSU)
As with any PC we recommend, it’s important to get a high quality power supply for your video editing PC. You don't want an unexpected failure to fry everything. It’s almost impossible to tell if a power supply is high quality without being an electrical engineer, so get a recommendation from a trusted source. We would also recommend an 80+ rating of Bronze or better, which will ensure your PC uses electricity more efficiently, and runs cooler and quieter.
Section 3: Frequently Asked Questions About Video Editing
FAQ 1: Will a CPU with more cores help with video editing?
The short answer: Yes, until you reach a high number of cores.
Video editing uses CPU processing power in two main ways:
- Encoding and exporting the videos
- Generating video previews during the editing process (so you can see what you're editing)
Puget Systems looked into the benefits of multi-core CPUs in a very helpful Adobe Premiere Multi-Core CPU test. They tested video exporting on a system using dual 10-core Intel Xeon processors, providing a total physical core count of 20.
Exporting 1080p H.264 video, Puget Systems’ tests found that Premiere could utilize 10 CPU cores before performance plateaued. 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.
Exporting 4K H.264 video, the CPUs topped out at around 7 or 8 cores. Using 2 cores for a complex timeline resulted in nearly 2x the performance of 1 core, 4 cores nearly 4x, and 7 cores roughly 5x.
Generating video previews with higher core counts provided similar returns. Again, when generating 1080p video clips, the CPUs topped out at 10 cores. Using 2 cores resulted in 2x the performance, 5 cores for 4x the performance, and 10 cores for more than 5x the performance.
Most impressively, generating previews with 4K video clips produced increasing results up until 16 or 17 cores. Complex timelines with 4 cores still produced 4x the performance, 8 cores produced more than 6x the performance, and 16 cores produced nearly 8x the performance of 1 core. This test saw the greatest benefit of multiple cores.
FAQ 2: So, what CPU should I get for video editing?
This will largely depend on your budget.
You are free to try editing videos on any CPU you can afford. A dual-core Intel Pentium such as the G4560 will work for editing videos at 1080p resolution. But the bigger you go with your CPU, the better performance you’ll get.
For 1080p video editing, we recommend a Ryzen 5 CPU, such as the AMD Ryzen 5 1600. An Intel i5 like the i5-7600K is another good option. The Ryzen will be faster at rendering, but the i5 will be a little faster at lightly-threaded tasks like warp stabilize.
For even greater performance at 4K or higher, we recommend the Intel i7-7820X (8-core hyperthreaded). Tons of power for a fair price.
For those with large budgets, the mighty Intel i9-7900X (10-core hyperthreaded) will give you the best performance possible for video editing. Even dual Xeons would give you faster rendering, but would be slower for almost everything else.
Are Xeon CPU(s) worth it for Video Editing?
CPU benchmarks from an excellent Premiere Pro benchmark by Puget Systems
In the past, a dual Xeon workstation was the way to get the best video editing performance. Exporting, rendering, and ecoding all benefit from a lot of CPU cores. Up to about 10 cores improve performance. However, there is a tradeoff between cores and clock speed. The best performance is attained by balancing core count with clock speed. Currently, the best balance of core count and clock speed is the 10 core, 20 thread Intel i9-7900X. Dual socket Xeons offer the same or less performance, even the monstrous Xeon CPUs with 20+ cores won't give more performance.
FAQ 4: Should I get a powerful video card for video editing?
Once you have an OK video card, investing in greater GPU power will not significantly improve video editing performance.
Some people will cite unreliable synthetic video rendering benchmarks, such as the Premiere Benchmark Project, as evidence that powerful GPUs cut rendering time by large amounts. However, in real-world situations, the performance difference between a moderate GPU and a powerful GPU isn't very significant.
Studio1Productions has some great insight in an article comparing video editing performance between multiple graphics cards.
Using the Premiere Benchmark Project (not a real-world test), their GTX 660 graphics card performed a render in 58 seconds. After upgrading their graphics card to a significantly more powerful GTX 780, the benchmark’s render time dropped to 22 seconds. On paper, that seems like an amazing leap in performance.
However, when they used the same two graphics cards to render a real Adobe Premiere project, the GTX 660 performed the operation in 150 seconds, while the GTX 780 took 146 seconds. Not nearly as exciting.
The reason for this difference is that the synthetic video editing benchmarks specifically run your PC through a series of GPU-focused processes. Real video editing, however, just doesn’t have many processes that rely on the GPU, meaning that extra GPU power doesn’t help all that often.
FAQ 5: OK, so what video card should I get for video editing?
One of the ones we recommend above in Section 2.
FAQ 6: How does video editing software use video cards?
Video editing software mainly relies on the CPU, and only uses your GPU for specific purposes. Those specific purposes include:
- GPU-accelerated presets (Fast Blur in/out, Mosaic in/out, etc.)
- GPU features (Blending Modes, Scaling, etc.)
- Video effects (Brightness/Contrast, Color Balance, etc.)
- Video transitions (Cross Dissolve, Dip to Black, etc.)
- Lumetri looks (Cinematic, Temperature, etc.)
FAQ 7: What’s the best SSD or hard drive for video editing?
The difference in performance between solid state drives and hard drives is not enormous when editing video footage. While hard drives are old and slow, they’re still fast enough for reading video footage, and much more affordable for storing large amounts of it.
That said, we highly recommend using a solid state drive to install your operating system and video editing software. This will significantly improve the speeds at which your computer and software operate.
On a budget, we’d recommend any good budget SSD, such as the Samsung 850 EVO.
The Samsung 960 EVO is a great combination of very high performance without too high a price.
For the fastest option available, we’d recommend the Samsung 960 PRO.
For hard drives that store video footage, you’ll be fine with any 7200 RPM drive from a reputable manufacturer. We recommend getting two drives and setting them up in RAID-1, for instant, automatic redundancy. If one drive dies, you still have all of your data on the other drive.
Section 4: Video Editing Software
Once you’ve built your video editing PC, you’ll need to invest in some software to actually make your videos or animations. Let’s quickly review some of the most popular software options available.
Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects
Premiere is currently most popular video editing software for professionals and amateurs alike. It’s relatively easy to get started, but incredibly deep with features. It’s used by everyone from professional feature film editors to popular YouTube vloggers (including our YouTube channel).
You can use Premiere on its own to make incredible videos, or you can use it together with After Effects to add visual effects and animations. In its own right, After Effects can be used alone to create high quality animated videos.
Both Premiere and After Effects work with Windows or Mac and are part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, which is available for $50/month (or $20/month for students). If you just want Premiere, you can get the single app for $20/month.
For people looking to make home videos or simpler videos for YouTube, Adobe also offers Premiere Elements for a $100 one-time purchase.
DaVinci Resolve started as a high-end color correction software, and is still considered the top-tier for color grading. However, since being acquired by Blackmagic Design, Resolve has become an increasingly popular alternative to Premiere as an all-in-one video editor. They even offer a free version that includes many of the $1000 studio version's features, and supports editing at resolutions up to 4K.
Unlike other video editing software which relies primarily on the CPU, DaVinci Resolve is driven almost entirely by the GPU. So, whereas the CPU is the most important component for most video editing software, having a powerful graphics card is critical to editing successfully with this software. It can take nearly linear advantage of GPU power, including multiple GPUs in SLI or CrossFire.
If you're considering building a PC that edits in DaVinci Resolve, be sure to check our Resolve GPU alternative recommendation under each example build above.
Sony Vegas Pro
Vegas Pro is considered a powerful and user-friendly editor for Windows. Its features are similar to Premiere Pro, and it features numerous plug-ins for specific purposes.
Unlike the monthly fee with Adobe products, Vegas Pro is a one-time purchase of $600, usually with a discounted upgrade.
Sony Catalyst Suite
With Catalyst, Sony is attempting to streamline the video editing process with software geared just at video and movie editors, i.e. no animation features. The suite comes with Catalyst Prepare (to organize and prepare your footage for editing) and Catalyst Edit (for editing the footage into the final product).
Sony says they built Catalyst from the ground up with 4K and RAW video footage in mind, so it may overtake Premiere and Vegas in popularity for 4K editing. We’ll see after it launches for $400 in May 2016 on both Windows and Mac.
Windows Movie Maker (Free)
Movie Maker is a very basic, free option if you’d like to simply test out video editing. Download it from Microsoft here.
A powerful video editing PC is build around a powerful CPU. Having a graphics card is also very helpful, but it is not necessary to get a powerhouse of a GPU. Make sure not to skimp on RAM, either, but 8 to 16 GB should be plenty for most projects. An SSD won’t increase raw rendering speed, but will make everything else feel faster and is a valuable addition.
James Andrews is the content manager for Logical Increments. He's a professional videographer and has been building his own PCs for 15 years. He also makes all the videos for the Logical Increments YouTube Channel.
Logical Increments helps more than a million PC builders each year with hardware recommendations for any budget.
If you want to see our build recommendations for general purpose gaming PCs, check them out.
- Studio 1 Productions: Adobe Premiere Video Cards Benchmark Results
- Studio 1 Productions: Video Cards for Adobe Premiere
- Puget Systems: Adobe Premiere Pro Multi-Core CPU Performance
- Toms Hardware: CPU Benchmarks 2015
- HardwareCanucks: 16GB vs. 32GB vs. 64GB RAM - How much do you need?
- Digital Cinema Demystified: DaVinci Resolve System Requirements -- A Reality Check.