So, you’re in the market for a new editing workstation, but do you know what components and features are most important to video editing and post-production work? There are a handful of major components, as well as specifications on those components, that dictate your computer's capabilities. Let’s take a look at what they are.
The foundation of your new workstation depends a lot on what form factor suits your particular needs. Does your workflow and space requirements demand an all-in-one solution, or can you make room for a full size tower to maximize performance?
Aside from being able to choose a really cool looking case with RGB lighting and flashy components, towers can be the best route to go with when the absolute most power is needed. With a tower, you simply have more room to fit more parts which translates into more capabilities and better performance. Plus, you’ll have plenty of room in the case to fit large components such as an oversized CPU cooler — great for overclocking, which means even more power — and a big league graphics card, or maybe even two! You’ll also be able to fit more hard drives and solid state drives, providing a vast number of storage possibilities. Although professional tier components can be pricey, they are still more affordable than specialized components designed to fit in all-in-one workstations.
However, choosing a tower does limit your mobility. Typically if you choose a tower, then it will likely remain stationary in your edit bay or home office. Towers can also take up a good amount of space. Having all those extra parts could lead to more problems too. With additional hard drives, cables, and other components, there are more places for things to go wrong, which makes troubleshooting that much more difficult. While towers can be extremely powerful workstations, consider their lack of mobility, and the potential pros and cons before buying.
Whether you’re the kind of producer who is mobile or not, an all-in-one workstation may suit your needs. An all-in-one workstation is just what the name implies — it has everything you need in and of itself to work. All-in-one workstations can also help keep your workspace free of clutter. These compact workstations have been stepping their game up over the last few years, too. They’ve been getting more powerful graphic cards and processors to the point where they can take on the heavy lifting of post-production work.
Unlike with a tower chassis, these all-in-one workstations make it difficult, if not impossible to upgrade the components when the time comes. You’ll probably need to buy a whole new system instead of simply upgrading the graphics card, for instance. On the other hand, upgrading parts in a tower configuration is pretty easy, so you can keep your system at the top of its game for a longer period of time.
The central processing unit, or CPU, is arguably the most important component in the system. The main specifications to consider when choosing a CPU are the clock speed and number of cores. Another factor is what types of memory and speeds are supported by the chip. A good starting point when looking at CPUs is to determine the brand you wish to use. There are two main avenues to choose from — AMD and Intel. There are plenty of those in favor of one brand or the other, and in the past, Intel was the clear cut winner, but currently, the competition between the two companies is closer than ever.
At the time of this article, we found two chips that were priced exactly the same: $379 dollars. The Intel chip had six cores, while the AMD chip had eight cores. So does AMD win in this case? Let’s take a closer look at the specs. The AMD’s clock speed is 3.6GHz, with a Max Turbo Frequency of 4.0GHz; the Intel clock speed, on the other hand, is 3.7GHz with a Max Turbo Frequency of 4.7GHz. In other words, although the AMD chip has two more cores, they are running at a slower speed than the Intel cores. In short, Intel offers better performance per core, but AMD makes up the difference with more cores.
The amount and speed of random access memory, or RAM, is another important consideration to make. RAM allows your workstation to do more things at a time, such as run multiple programs at once. Some editing software will even utilize RAM to increase the processing speeds of certain tasks. There are some specs to keep your eye on when it comes to RAM: type, speed and the maximum amount allowed by your motherboard and CPU. DDR4 is the type of RAM you’ll want in your workstation; however, there is a wide range of speeds to choose from. Common speeds range from 2133 MHz up to 3200 MHz.
If you build your own PC or want to upgrade the RAM in your off-the-shelf model later on, you’ll need to choose a specific speed and amount based on the specification of your CPU and motherboard. The processor you have may only allow RAM speeds of up to 2400 MHz, and going above that threshold could just be a waste of your money.
If you’re choosing RAM when buying a pre-built workstation, then all you need to really consider is how many gigabytes of RAM you’ll need. 16GB is the lowest amount of RAM we recommend for video workstations. Going with 32GB of RAM will make life a little easier, though, so if you can spare the coin, go with 32GB.
Then comes the graphics card, which carries the graphics processing unit, or GPU, which is another very important component to consider in your new workstation. Alongside the CPU, the GPU dictates how powerful your workstation will be. While the CPU handles more of the computational processes, the GPU handles more of the graphical processes. For those creating and using animations, 3D graphics and lots of effects, a strong GPU would allow you to produce more complicated projects without your system struggling to keep up.
Here too, you essentially have two choices in manufacturer — Nvidia and AMD. Nvidia has been favored for video editing, in part because of CUDA, which allows the CPU to pass tasks to the GPU for faster processing. If you buy from Apple, however, you’ll be getting an AMD GPU, and it’s likely you won’t be disappointed. When shopping for a GPU, consider how GPU rendering via CUDA or OpenCL will affect your workflow.
Some of the important specs to look at when considering a GPU are: the amount of VRAM —dedicated video memory, as well as the clock speed and the number of cores the card has. Consumer to professional graphics cards will have between 2GB and 12GB of VRAM. There are GPUs with much more memory; however, they can cost as much as an entire workstation and are usually overkill for video editing.
Just like with the CPU, a GPU has a clock speed. Therefore, it is possible for one GPU with “X” amount of memory to outperform another GPU with the same amount. This is because one of the cards has cores that operate at a faster speed. For example, you can get an GTX 1080 8GB with anywhere from 1607 MHz clock speed all the way up to 1936 MHz. The number or cores, sometimes referred to as stream processors, are another factor that help determine the power of your graphics card. As with other specifications we’ve covered, a higher number means better performance, so a GPU that has more cores, or stream processors, means it’s more powerful.
Types of Work
The CPU is the main piece of hardware that is used in every single task that your computer performs, so it makes sense that investing heavily into a CPU with multiple cores would be advantageous for video editing. More cores especially helps when it comes to live playback, rendering and overall speed. When working with 4K video and up, an eight-core processor will be robust enough to keep up with the workload. Moving into high-end 360 video where the resolutions can exceed 24K, even more powerful cores are needed. Having an insane number of cores is not uncommon. We’ve done some 360 video projects using a system that had 44 cores!
More cores especially helps when it comes to live playback, rendering and overall speed.
While 360 video is on the extreme end of the CPU resource scale, animations are at the opposite end of the spectrum. Working in programs such as Cinema 4D, Maya or Blender will test the absolute limits of your GPU. If you work with any of these programs, or create visual effects in programs such as After Effects, then you’ll want to have a GPU with no less than 4GB of VRAM. However, if this is your main line of work, then you’ll want to double the amount of VRAM; go with 8GB or even 11GB, and you’ll thank yourself later.
Dell Precision Tower 7810
When it comes to power, customization and affordability, the Precision Tower 7000 Series has you covered. These towers from Dell offer options for both single and dual CPU systems using Intel Xeon processors along with up to 256GB of RAM and dual or single AMD or Nvidia graphics cards. The Precision Tower 7810 is fully customizable to meet your post-production needs and is reasonably priced at around $2,000 dollars to start.
With HP’s efficient design and craftsmanship, plus the ability to configure the workstation to your exact needs, the Z840 is can be customized to suit your work – whatever that may be. Fully configurable to your specifications, the Z840 series can be outfitted with some insane specifications like 44 CPU cores, 48GB of VRAM, and up to an insane 2TB of RAM! While those specs are way overkill for anyone not working on the latest Pixar animation, there are still plenty of other options suitable for video editing totally out to less than $3,000 dollars.
BOXX Apexx 4
Being able to fully customize the specs of your workstation is commonplace now-a-days. Another example of a tower that you can customize is the Apexx 4 series from Boxx. You can choose from a crazy amount of customizable components to make sure the workstation you get is exactly what you need. Working on animations? Then focus your budget on more GPU memory with up to 128GB of VRAM! Since the workstations are customizable, you can build one that fits your budget and your workflow. The Boxx Apexx 4 series of workstations offers the power you need in a truly custom built platform, starting at around $4,000 dollars.
Apple iMac Pro
While the iMac Pro might not feature the most cores available in a workstation, it's still no slouch! Featuring some of the most advanced technology and design — plus up to 18 cores and 16GB of VRAM — the iMac Pro has more than enough power for 99 percent of us out there. It also offers more features than a traditional tower through its all-in-one design. We love the big and bright 5K retina display, built-in speakers, and small footprint — all of which helps reduce desktop clutter. The overall hardware design is second to none, and it also features some great wireless accessories to keep your workspace clutter-free. The Apple iMac Pro starts at about $5,000 dollars.
Getting a workstation that’s configured to suit your workflow is key. Remember what specifications are important to your line of work, keep in mind the factors which make each component powerful and be realistic about how much power you’ll need. Getting a new workstation is a fun and exciting experience. Do your research, enjoy the process, and soon you’ll be editing on a new workstation.
Devin loves his new custom workstation with an i7 7820X, GTX 1080, 24.5TB of storage, and 32GB of RAM. He is also the founder of Aim High Media.