Very little ever happens, ideally on the first take. If you want to post a video online, you may want to edit it. While you can make some relatively simple edits on your smartphone when posting videos to TikTok or Instagram, that doesn’t quite cut it if you’re trying to put high-quality content on YouTube or other video-sharing sites.
Cutting your footage and audio together can be pretty rewarding, especially when the end product looks great. But so much of the fun can be leached out of it if you have to deal with a slow computer the whole time. To that end, you want a computer to power through your workload. Unfortunately, getting the best hardware often costs a pretty penny. This article is intended as a guide to what you should prioritize spending money on and where you can save some money when building a video editing computer on a budget.
Step 1: Make a List of What You Need
You’ll have to tick certain boxes with your machine to build a video editing PC. If you don’t, you likely end up with frustrating sub-par performance. You might be happy to accept longer rendering times. You are leaving a render running overnight or while at work is easy enough. Having the actual editing process run slowly, though, is a massive drag. If you’re doing this professionally, then your time is money, and you might want to spend a little more to make your life easier. If you’re doing this for fun, you likely don’t want the fun taken out by poor performance.
The first step to building your new video editing machine is to list all the necessary parts. Technically, a video editing PC will require the same parts as any other computer. You might have to make some adjustments to optimize your PC for video editing, though, especially if you’re trying to work on a smaller budget. One thing to keep in mind is that you may be able to reuse a lot of peripherals, such as a webcam or microphone. If you’re trying to upgrade from 1080p to 4K, you could probably do with a 4K monitor. Peripherals, though, even monitors, are easy to upgrade over time. If you can make do with reusing a lower-resolution screen for a bit longer, you can spend the money you would have spent on a 4K monitor on better hardware.
Step 2: Finalize the Budget, Pick the Parts
Once you’ve figured out what you need, it’s time to pick the exact parts you want to buy. If you’re reusing any old hardware, it’s a good idea to keep track of that, too, so that you don’t accidentally buy something you were planning to reuse. While the more expensive components are generally better, this isn’t necessarily always the case. There also tends to be a point of diminishing returns.
You can generally find solid performance at reasonable prices near the boundary between mid and high-end parts. You may have to accept some less powerful parts if you’re on a tight budget. This may affect the performance of your editing process. If the impact is too significant, it’s a sign that your setup can’t reliably handle the resolution you’re trying to edit.
One thing to consider before deciding on any parts is the software. Video editing software can be expensive. Many options now require a monthly subscription, though you can still find software that is sold for a one-time fee and the occasional free tier. You’ll probably need to factor this cost into your budget considerations if you haven’t already. It’s worth noting that there may well be discounts you qualify for through a work or student program, for example, so those might be worth investigating.
It’s also important to note the system requirements of your editing software. Most software is heavy on the CPU and uses a GPU but only for specific graphical effects. Some software, however, such as DaVinci Resolve, is much more intensive on the GPU. You should factor this balance into your purchasing decisions.
Generally, the most critical part of a video editing computer is the CPU. Video rendering is a process that benefits from performance scaling based on the number of cores. Despite graphics cards being excellent for rendering video games, they’re not as efficient when rendering video. As such, you want a high core count CPU. The obvious choice is AMD’s Threadripper platform. However, these CPUs are extremely expensive. They also require expensive motherboards and don’t offer as much performance in more single- or lightly-threaded applications like games.
In recent years, if you needed a high core-count CPU, you needed to look towards AMD. Even if you had to skip the Threadrippers, its Ryzen lineup offered CPUs with higher core counts than Intel and came in generally cheaper. In late 2022, however, things were turned on their head. Intel has regained the core-count title, though both Intel’s i9-13900K and AMD’s Ryzen 9 7950X offer the exact thread count.
Realistically, performance is similar, so it might be worth planning an Intel and an AMD build to see which matches your budget best. Intel will likely tip the scale as its motherboards tend to be cheaper. With Intel, you also have the option to choose DDR4 memory, which is more affordable than the DDR5 memory you’d have to use with AMD. AMD does have the benefit of a better upgrade path, though. The current generation of Ryzen CPUs has a new socket that will be supported for at least one more full CPU generation, giving the option of a later upgrade. With a tight budget, it can also be worth checking previous generations of CPUs—ideally, older AMD CPUs, thanks to their higher core counts.
The CPU is one of the two primary heat sources in a computer. While editing doesn’t necessarily fully load the CPU all the time, rendering is very intensive, running all cores as fast as possible and generally hitting the CPU’s power or thermal safety limits. The latest generation of CPUs – Intel’s 13th gen Core-i series and AMD’s Ryzen 7000 series – is very power-hungry and has increased power budgets. This means they can kick out a lot more heat when fully loaded. As such, you’ll generally want a pretty big cooler. You don’t necessarily need a high-end cooler if you opt for a mid-range CPU or anything. If you’re going for a new flagship model, you should probably use at least a 240mm AIO.
Tip: You might also want to consider where you’re going to be doing your editing. If you run a hot CPU in a tiny room with no natural ventilation, it won’t matter if you have a big cooler. Space and decent ventilation are likely to be pretty big positives.
The motherboard isn’t particularly important to performance. You don’t want to skimp on the budget here too much. Budget motherboards often aren’t as reliable, especially in providing power to the CPU. Given that your CPU consistently draws a fair amount of energy, you want it to be stable. Budget motherboards may also lack adequate high-speed PCIe SSD connection points. Being limited to SATA speeds may impact performance, especially when scrubbing through high-resolution video.
Like the motherboard, the case provides little to no performance impact. As long as the case you pick is big enough for your components and has enough airflow to keep your computer cool, almost any case will do. This is an excellent place to save a few bucks, as you don’t need your video editing rig to look flashy. You could also go for a sleeper-style build with a retro case hiding some super-processing power.
The GPU is pretty important for video editing. A bunch of effects uses the GPU rather than the CPU. That said, it isn’t the be-all and end-all. At least historically, a mid-range model will do for all but the highest budgets. Especially with some of the creator features that Nvidia has been adding recently, the GPU may be needed a bit more. You may not even plan to use any of those features.
One thing to be aware of is that the video editing program DaVinci Resolve primarily uses the GPU instead of the CPU. As such, if you plan to use it, you should adjust your budget to spend a bit more on a GPU and get a slightly cheaper CPU. Again don’t go too far; you’re probably better off with a mid-range CPU; you need to find the right balance.
Tip: Assuming you’re getting a dedicated GPU, you might be able to save a little bit on the CPU. Intel at least offers some models with an “F” indicator. These have the integrated graphics chip disabled and are typically around $50 cheaper than the equivalent non-F part. It could make a difference if you’re already choosing Intel and a dedicated GPU.
RAM is going to cost you a bit. For video editing, you generally want quite a lot of RAM. If you’re editing at 720p, you can probably get away with 8GB. Generally, though, you’ll want a minimum of 16GB. If you’re editing at 4K, you’ll likely need 32GB or even 64GB if you’re projects tend to be larger. Admittedly though, if you’re only editing short clips, you can get away with smaller amounts of RAM. It depends on the resolution, number of feeds, bitrate of those feeds, and how long your project is.
While capacity is essential, you generally won’t see massive benefits from RAM speed. That’s not to say that we recommend getting the cheapest, slowest, most extensive kit you can find. Mid-range is where you’ll generally find some great deals. Make sure to shop around for RAM specifically, as you can occasionally find a killer deal on a model that wasn’t quite the one you were planning on.
Make sure to verify that your RAM is compatible with your motherboard. We’re currently in the transition period between DDR4 and DDR5 RAM. DDR5 is expensive as it is newer. DDR4 is cheaper but may not be supported on newer motherboards. It may also limit your ability to transfer it to another build in the future.
Storage is essential for video editing. You will be best placed to understand your storage capacity requirements but video storage, especially RAW footage, is generally very space intensive. Regarding storage, you have two choices, SSD or HDD. HDDs are cheaper, especially at larger capacities; they’re also much slower than SSDs.
If you need a massive capacity – as in the tens or hundreds of terabytes – you’re probably best off going for HDDs, as the cost savings will be a significant factor. You might also want to look into implementing a RAID array. This can provide a safety backup against drive failure, increase performance, or both. Unfortunately, this generally comes at the cost of needing to purchase at least twice the amount of storage, doubling your costs. As video files tend to be read sequentially, you at least won’t be playing to the weaknesses of HDDs.
If you don’t need tens of terabytes of storage, you may want to consider SSDs. SSDs can be much faster than HDDs. Even a SATA SSD is better than an HDD, but M.2 PCIe SSDs can be much faster. This is especially important when dealing with multiple high-resolution video files, as that can require a lot of reading speed. The current price sweet spot for SSDs is around 2TB.
Realistically, you may find that the best solution for you is a mix of both. Thanks to slow transfers, it may require some planning, but having an extensive array of HDDs for bulk storage and a couple of SSDs for high-performance editing could work. Of course, the cost will continue to be an issue. You’ll need to weigh capacity vs. performance requirements based on your specific use case.
Video editing does put a fair amount of load on your system, so you’ll likely want a reasonably powerful PSU. 800W should be more than enough if you’re using high-end but not flagship parts. You’ll want to ensure that your PSU exceeds your component’s power draw by about 20-30%. A decent efficiency rating is excellent, with an 80+ Bronze being good enough. The final point to check is if it fits inside your case. Realistically, work out what you need, exceed it, and get a decently rated one. You really shouldn’t blow the budget on overkill here.
If you’re on a budget, it’s best to avoid getting any peripherals or extras you don’t need. If you have a keyboard, mouse, or screen you can reuse, you should. You can always replace them later once you’ve more to spend. If you need to get them, you do need to; remember they’re easy to replace down the line; you can get a cheap model now and upgrade later.
One potential exception is thermal paste. Some CPU coolers will come with some; they may even be pre-applied. While this may sound nice, especially if applying thermal paste is one of the things you’re worried about, it could be an issue. Unfortunately, this included thermal paste tends to be deficient in quality. You can get a tiny – but more than big enough – tube of quality thermal paste for a few dollars.
It won’t break the bank but will help reduce your CPU temperature by at least a few degrees. Cases of a thermal paste change reducing temperatures by ten degrees or more aren’t unheard of. It may not sound like much, but that means less stress on the CPU over its lifespan and potentially slightly higher boost speeds.
Step 3: Hunt for Deals
Once you’ve decided on the parts you want to buy, we highly recommend you shop around for deals. It’s worth looking into nearby physical tech stores if they’re convenient. They can occasionally have excellent deals, especially on used hardware, but you’ll often find the best prices online. Price comparison sites can help, but if you look at very similar parts as well, you may see that there happens to be a great deal on a component that is better than the one you were thinking of. While you can check before, check for deals on the day you plan to make your purchase.
You will also want to double-check that everything is compatible and that you’ve not overspent in an area that will provide minimal benefits. Compatibility is critical for the CPU and motherboard. Be aware that competing and incompatible motherboard chipsets can have pretty similar names. When considering compatibility, remember to check that the parts can work together and physically fit in your case and on your motherboard. There’s no point buying two M.2 SSDs if your motherboard only has one slot.
Step 4: Assemble!
Once you’ve decided on your components and bought them, it’s time to put them together. There are plenty of video tutorials online if you’ve not done that before or aren’t too confident. Make sure to check at least two sources, though, or to at least use a well know reputable source. You don’t want to follow a troll’s instructions and ruin some expensive parts.
Pretty much everything in a computer can only go in the place it’s supposed to. Most things have been designed to have physically different connectors. While some force can be needed, be careful not to force anything, or you may break it. If it’s not apparent where something should go, read the installation guide that will come along with your motherboard.
A video editing computer will generally at least need mid-range hardware. You will likely have to balance your budget with your aims, though. You can’t expect good experience editing 8K RAW footage on a shoestring-budget editing rig. It’s best to plan for what you’d need for the performance you want and then to work out a way to reduce the costs or your requirements if that doesn’t fit your budget.
You’ll do well to work out where you can save a bit if it means that your key components can be that little bit better. Make sure to do your research and plan your build; it will be a big disappointment if you spend a bunch of time and money only to realize they don’t work together.
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