Six Ways to Soup Up Your Computer for Video Editing

Computers that are capable of editing video are quite common in today’s marketplace, so much so that one entire computer platform–the Apple Macintosh–has made video editing a prominent feature on all of its computers. Affordable desktop video has become almost as common as the word processor or spreadsheet.

Even so, there are a number of tweaks you can perform on today’s off-the-shelf video-editing computer that can greatly enhance the performance of your machine, resulting in fewer crashes, faster rendering and smoother video playback. Though developed over the years by experts in the computer editing field out of necessity, these system tweaks are very easy for novice video editors to perform using today’s operating systems.

In this article, we’ll look at a number of simple things you can do to your computer to change it from a typical workaday desktop computer into a lean, mean video editing machine. We’ll cover simple, no-cost performance tweaks as well as some more high-end, cost-intensive solutions for creating a high-performance video editing machine that professionals would be proud to own.

1. Dedicate Your System to Video

Dedicating your computer to video-only is probably the most important piece of advice we can offer, because a computer system dedicated to video editing will have far fewer problems and conflicts. It’s also the most difficult to achieve, because not everyone has the money to invest in a separate computer system just for editing video. If you must use the computer for other tasks, or if it’s a shared computer, you should set yourself up as the computer’s administrator, if you can, and enforce healthy rules and permissions on other users–or even on yourself, if need be. The goal is to keep the computer from acquiring all of the random junk it tends to acquire when people aren’t paying attention to keeping it error-free. It is possible to run a healthy computer for both video editing and other purposes, but it requires more forethought and care.

2. Install a Video Capture Drive

The hard drive that came with your computer may be able to store 80GB or more. Even so, your system will be much happier if you invest in a hard drive that’s dedicated to video storage. A separate video drive affords the luxury of regular formatting, defragging, and all-around housecleaning between projects, which will greatly improve performance by providing a clean slate to work on each time. Also, keeping your system files and software installations separate from your video capture drive will help keep your software and operating system running smoothly. And finally, can you ever really have too much storage space?

If you can afford it, consider getting a RAID for your video editing computer. They’re not cheap, to be sure, but they can solve problems of massive storage size and performance all at once. Caution: though many newer operating systems offer a simple way to create a software RAID, this solution is not what video editors are after. To get the added performance that video editing machines love, go all the way and purchase a hardware RAID.


3. Buy more RAM

Unless your system has the maximum amount of RAM you can put into it – and if it’s a newer system, that’s a lot of RAM – consider purchasing more. Video editing can potentially make use of about as much RAM as you can install, and both system performance and system reliability are enhanced when you install more. It’s one of the least expensive ways to upgrade your system and see very real results in terms of performance. Today’s video editing computers often have 1 GB or more, but 256MB is often sufficient.

4. Perform Regular System Maintenance

System maintenance is a simple way to keep your system running smoothly. Start by defragmenting your dedicated video hard drive between projects. Watch for critical software and driver patches and updates online. You might even consider completely re-installing the operating system once a year or so. In both the Windows and the Mac world, it’s a good idea to make use of a drive maintenance utility, such as Tech Tools or Drive 10. These offer simple diagnostic and maintenance utilities that can tell you if a drive has a problem, as well as help you fix problems with performance or reliability.

5. Enable Write Cache on your Capture Drive

Capture drives provide better performance if you enable Write Caching. This can provide a smoother flow of information from the video capture device (FireWire or digitizer card) to the hard drive. In Windows, you can often locate the drive’s Device Properties in the Control Panel’s Device Manager and enable Write Caching. Unfortunately, this is not universally true or even a possibility on all drives or systems.

6. Disable Unnecessary Programs

Whether you have a Mac or a Windows machine, your computer automatically runs a number of programs when it starts up, and keeps those programs running in the background. As you install more and more software on your computer, there’s a likelihood that you’ll have more of those little programs running in the background. Each one takes up a little bit of system resources and compromises performance. Virus checkers are a good example. They do provide a much-needed service, but if you can keep your computer off a network and off the Internet, and keep from installing any questionable software, you may not need a virus checker on your video-editing computer. Other programs that run in the background that are often overlooked include instant messaging applications and file sharing software. Bottom line: keep only those programs running that are necessary for keeping your operating system running smoothly and disable all others.

Determine Your Needs

If you primarily edit home videos, you’ll probably only want to worry about optimizing system performance on an as-needed basis. In other words, if it isn’t broken, you probably don’t need to fix it. If, on the other hand, you intend to pursue videography as a business, you’ll undoubtedly want to keep your machinery in excellent working order, optimized and maximized in performance in every way that your budget will allow. This will not only save you heartache and frustration, it’ll save you time and money and could make the difference between success and failure.

Sidebar One: Making the Most out of Windows XP

It’s a great new look and feel for Windows, but is it right for video editors? The answer is "it depends." XP is a major improvement over Windows 98 (or 95), but you are probably OK if you are running 2000. If you keep the following pointers in mind, you’ll have much better success at creating a finely-tuned computer for video:

  • Upgrade all of your drivers to the XP-compatible version. This includes drivers for your motherboard, peripherals, monitors, video display adapters and video capture cards. Many manufacturers have now released XP-specific drivers, but if you have hardware from a company that hasn’t done so, you should consider taking the opportunity to upgrade that piece of hardware.
  • Give your video editing software priority. XP allows you to give certain software applications priority for processor and memory usage. Doing this for your video editing programs may speed up rendering time and minimize crashes.
  • Turn off visual effects. XP makes use of enhanced animation effects for such mundane operations as opening and closing a window. Turning these off will make more system resources available for video editing and playback.


Sidebar Two: Making the Most out of Mac OS X

Does OS X really offer the stability and power of Unix with a friendly Mac interface? Many video editors applaud the OS X solution, especially now that Apple ships all of its Macintosh desktop computers with dual processors (that’s "faster render times" in English). Even so, there are a few things every OS X user should know in order to get things running as smoothly as possible.

  • Don’t set up your system to dual-boot with OS 9.X. This is probably the hardest pill to swallow, because not every piece of hardware and software has caught up with OS X. We are confident, however, that all of the major players will soon be on board. Consider building a new, sleek system from the ground up, software and all, and make it 100 per cent OS X compliant.
  • Turn off animations. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the Dock animation, which makes program icons appear larger as you move the mouse pointer over the Dock. Turn this and other animations off using the System Preferences application.
  • Select programs that address dual processors. Apple’s Final Cut Pro software will make use of both processors in a new desktop Macintosh, but not all software will. Check to make sure yours does before you make a purchase. This will make the extra money you pay for a dual-processor Mac worth the investment.

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