4K editing workstation components on a budget
(*with 8K future proofing)
4K Video Editing is now becoming more of a standard reality for YouTuber’s and Creative indie film makers alike.
The Panasonic GH5 camera pushed 4K 60 frames per second and now other camera makers like Gopro Hero 6 and Smart phones can now take amazing 4K video.
“The message is clear, the market is now moving forward to 4K as a standard fast. 1080p will no longer be the standard.”
It won’t be long before there are more options coming to the market. 4K is here and it’s here to stay.
4K means more technology to do the job properly!
But with 4K comes another increase in the demand for hardware on the editing side.
The 1080p editing workstation of yesterday is no longer workable at least without some serious workarounds (there are some, but they will give you more headaches and not save you time).
So you may ask what type of computer hardware and what configuration works best for editing these larger and more bit depth files ?
On top of that, ALL-I frame file sizes although efficiently compressed will still be larger. H.264 was never meant to be an editing format it was meant to be a finishing format. Using all I-frames makes that an editable format.
So my recommendation is always to Build your own computer setup! Why you may ask ?
Because it’s generally considered to give you more bang for your dollar and you will get exactly what you want in terms of performance and know what components are in your system. There are obviously some exceptions for pricing for whole systems as comparisons as PC hardware continues to come down in prices and buying each component separately may or may not be cost-effective compared to say a Dell system.. however when you compare the actual technology you are actually getting for the price you pay, you will agree hand picking works out better and is more robust in the long run.
So what’s involved?
If you have never built a computer before this can be a daunting task. This article will not help you build a system, I will only provide specific choices of components I feel are mentionable and tell you why. My recommendation for actually doing the build is to find a friend who is into computers to help or watch some YouTube videos on computer assembly basics.
This article will assume you have built a computer before or are tech savvy enough to follow our specs for components. For those that have not, you may find purchasing a custom build from your local Computer shop to be the best route. You can also buy pre-made workstations however unless they are on sale, will most likely cost you more and will limit your expansions.
A great YouTube channel that deals with all things tech is Linus Tech Tips. For the hardware geek, this channel delves into a lot of reviews and performance tips but it’s not for the first timer.
Moving on, there are a lot of things to consider and having some experience behind making those decisions will definitely help.
Main Performance Hardware Components for 4K Editing
Gaming and Editing have a few things in common and they also have a few differences. Editing requires more specialized Performance such as high performance I/O and a lot more RAM than a typical Game would need. The more memory the better in terms of Editing is concerned. Lets have a look at the CORE hardware component list.
- Motherboard – One of the most important choices and the basis of all computers, This board will determine all of your interconnects to things like USB 2/3/3.1 ports, internal drive ports, memory slots to address up 32/64/128 GB of DDR4 memory, etc. At a minimum this one should have plenty of RAM memory slots, enough SATA 3.0 ports to run internal SSD drives. Options include U.2 SSD drives or M2 drives. Look for boards that have dual LAN ports running at a least 1 GB and have the Intel chipset for the best performances when running iSCSI to any storage devices (more on this later). Boards that support the CPU performance that you want for editing your videos is also important. You can buy Workstation boards that use professional CPU’s called Xeons or you can use more top of the line Desktop based processors which are also fine. This all depends on your budget of course.
- CPU – The CPU is arguably the first choice however I listed it second because now days, CPUs are so close in performances (even at the bottom range) that anything you upgrade to will do the minimum. However for Editing, the more cores and 2nd and third level cache the processor has the better. Don’t worry about the on-board graphics performance of the Desktop CPU’s we will be adding an external GPU (Graphics processing unit) Card anyways which is far superior.
- Graphics card (GPU) – The main Graphics card in your system. I recommend also getting a graphics card that is near top of the line and can handle 4K frame rates. Also take a look at your monitor setup, do you have larger screens? Multiple screens ? Editing in 4K could mean upgrading them to support 4K so that you can actually see what your content will look like. For those that are downgrading footage or still working in 1080p final output, current 1080p or 1920 x 1200 monitors will suffice.
I am personally in love with nVidia Cards. They have been a trusted technology in terms of drivers and stable hardware since i began buying them. nVidia cards are also made by a lot of 3rd party manufacturers. ASUS, EVGA and MSI to name a few. I am more partial to ASUS cards as i have come to trust ASUS for most things hardware related.
The benefits of buying a 3rd party card is that you can also buy overclocked cards that have custom cooling solutions. These overclocked cards can out perform the stock card from nVidia. Oh… and did I mention 3rd party cards are generally cheaper than name brand NVidia cards? Your only other option is to buy the more expensive nVidia professional cards however the cost benefit to performance of these cards is not near as good. The NVidia Geforce Gaming series cards (at the higher end of the performance scale) are the best buy for an editing workstation.
- Fast RAM Memory – Having fast and Lots of performance System RAM makes your system work that much better. As RAM has evolved faster with each iteration (DDR4 and DDR5 now). The technology has to keep up to the changes in the Processors. Processors are always faster than the RAM they have to address which has always been a problem. RAM is now getting closer to similar performance removing this bottleneck as technology goes on. Buy the fastest and most Memory you can afford. Kingston is a good brand and stand behind their products.
- I/O and Storage Options – Storage and I/O performance is critical in an editing workstation. There are Three components to this. the first being your Operating system performance. This affects how well the operating system runs your Editing Application and your other Windows system in general. Having a slow operating system drive where your windows memory paging file resides for example can cause some performance issues while editing. It is generally recognized to separate your Windows Operating system from your paging file (separate physical drives or Solid State drives) to increase performance. Secondly, Editing software’s like to have a cache or temporary location. In premiere pro CC this is known as your Media cache. The Media cache should also be a drive that has fast performance. Ideally every drive in your system should be an SSD drive but they are expensive and do not hold much data compared to traditional SATA or RAID configured drive arrays. SSD’s should only be used for areas where absolute high performance is required. Thirdly is your storage area that is accessed and written to for your footage, audio, project files effects, etc. This volume should be large. For 4K i recommend at least 16 TB at a minimum if you are seriously doing a lot of projects. This storage array should not be a single drive as a single drive is too slow and can be corrupted easily. For this i recommend a RAID 5 or RAID 10 solution. RAID 5 requires a minimum of 3 drives and uses only 2 of them (the third is for parity information to rebuild in case of a failure). RAID 10 requires a minimum of 4 and is a mirror and stripe-set. If you don’t understand what RAID is check out YouTube videos on the subject or Wikipedia’s page for more details on the specific RAID levels.
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