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For AMD setups, disregard the mentions of sockets and the like but the general recommendations still hold.
When you need a new PC for editing purposes, you basically have three choices:
1. Buy an off the shelf system from companies like HP or Dell.
2. Buy a custom built PC from a specialist company, like ADK Pro Audio| Digital Audio workstations, Pro Audio Laptops, Pro audio interfaces, Pro audio softwa...
3. Build it yourself.
Solution 1 can offer good prices if you stick to their standard configurations and it is easy. But remember that these companies make their profit not on the base system, but on all the options they offer. If you follow their recommendations and upgrade memory, hard disks, or choose a better video card or a faster processor, they steal you blind.
I have nothing against HP or Dell, I have bought systems from them, but usually that was because of a great offer with all the features I needed at the time and applied to notebooks, desktops and servers.
Solution 2 is usually costly, but you get what you pay for. You get the expertise of the seller/builder in selecting the right components, he builds it, installs the software and tests it before delivery. The downside is that often these specialists have their own favorite hardware, like Matrox or Canopus and try to get that into the deal, which increases the price.
Solution 3 is usually the most cost effective and the most flexible, but the largest drawback is that you need to choose all the right components, to be aware of potential incompatibilities and build it yourself. Many see that as a major stumbling block, but really it is not difficult. Another drawback is support. You have to do it yourself.
The first steps to take are twofold:
1. What material do you want to edit and how do you want to deliver the results?
To put it bluntly, if you want to edit material, recorded with a mobile phone, a digital still camera, recorded off the internet from YouTube or similar, recorded from TV, grabbed from the screen, encoded with any unsuitable codec like DivX, XVid, or the like, or ripped from DVD, and that is your major purpose, no need to read this further, just use a consumer application like Windows Movie Maker or Magix for your editing.
This guide is for people who use a VIDEO camera and want to edit that.
So for people with video cameras, what is the main format you use? DV, HDV, DVCPROHD, AVCHD, XDCAMHD, other?
Do you deliver for the web, on BR or DVD or all of those?
2. What is your budget?
Once you have answered these two basic questions for yourself can you start the selection process.
It will require you to read quite a lot about PC's. Good general sources of information are:
As a general rule of thumb you can say that the minimum requirements in terms of CPU, despite what Adobe mentions as minimum requirements, are:
1. For DV: Core 2 Duo
2. For AVCHD: i7 with HT or dual Xeon's 55xx
3. For other HD formats: Core 2 Quad
It generally does not pay to get the fastest CPU, unless you have an unlimited budget. Their price/performance is usually not the best and you will find a step down gives you nearly the same performance at a much lower price. And there is always overclocking, but I'll come back to that later. To give an example, the Core 2 Extreme QX6850 is currently more than 4 times as expensive as the Core 2 Quad Q9550, but does not deliver any noteworthy performance improvement. And both are quad cores.
To help you narrow down your choices, it is worthwhile to have a look at these charts:
Likely a new version for Q1-2009 will come out shortly.
In deciding on your shortlist, keep in mind that for video editing FSB speed and cache size are very important. First look at FSB speed (the higher the better, so if you have the choice between 1066 or 1333 FSB, always choose the higher one if it fits your budget). Next narrow down your choices by selecting the CPU with the largest cache. 6 MB L3 cache is better than 3 MB.
Let's assume that after studying all these sites and reading a lot about CPU's, you have made a shortlist of possible candidates, that fit the minimum requirements indicated above, you have to identify what socket the CPU uses. Is it a 775 pin socket (Core2), a 1366 pin (i7 or Xeon 55xx) or a 771 Xeon 54xx or lower (old generation) socket. This will largely determine your choice of motherboard and memory type you need and as a consequence the case and cooling you need.
In general the chipset on a 775 mobo uses DDR2, dual channel memory, which is widely available and relatively cheap. On a 771 mobo the memory used is FBDIMM (fully buffered DDR2) with ECC (error correction) which is much harder to get and significantly more expensive. On a 1366 mobo the memory is triple channel DDR3 which is faster than DDR2 but also more expensive. For Xeon 55xx based boards memory used is FBDIMM's triple channel with ECC, which is hard to find and costly.
The main difference between DDR2 and DDR3 is that dual channel requires two populated memory banks for dual channel operation, whereas triple channel DDR3 requires three banks populated. That is the reason that mobo's with DDR2 usually come with 4 or 8 GB RAM and DDR3 mobo's with 6 or 12 GB RAM. DDR3 is faster (at the same specs) than DDR2. To complicate matters further, most 775 mobo's offer 4 memory slots, 1366 mobo's usually offer 6 memory slots and 1366 dual socket Xeon boards usually offer 12 memory slots.
I see you are losing interest, this is getting way too complicated. Well, I'm sorry but if you want to make an informed decision on what your next system should be, you need to understand these basics or buy a Dell or HP or even Alienware (a Dell subsidiary). And I continue to bore you with these technicalities in order to help you make a good purchasing decision.
When selecting a mobo for the CPU you have selected, read tests on TomsHardware or AnandTech to help you find the good performers that have the right set of features for your job. Good brands are ASUS, Abit, Gigabyte and MSI for single socket use, for dual socket the best one to check out is SuperMicro or possibly Tyan.
Pay attention to the features a board offers, like dual NIC's (network interface controller), dual firewire, number of SATA ports, chipset used for the SATA controller, IHCR and/or Marvell raid capability, on board sound, etcetera. Pay special attention to the board layout, where the PCI-e slots are located in relation to PCI slots. I have once built a machine where I knew I had to use a PCI firewire board and due to the location of the PCI-e slot and the size of the video card (dual slot size) the PCI slot was no longer accessible. It caused me quite some headaches to find a PCI-x firewire replacement board, because I had forgotten to have a close look at the mobo layout. Just a warning, so you don't fall into the same trap I did.
Ok, we have now decided on the CPU and the mobo. Let's have a look at memory.
General rule: Get as much as you can and don't spend it on higher clock capable versions! You will gain more from slower memory in large quantities, than from faster but less memory, even with 32 bit apps like CS4. One of the side effects of more memory is less use of a pagefile, which is far slower than RAM, so even if the application can not access more than 4 GB, your pagefile use will be much lower with more memory installed.
Memory is offered with various ratings. Often in marketing jargon these are dubbed as PC3-8500 or PC3-10600 or PC3-12800 up to 16000. This is all hype. The price tag increases significantly with higher numbers but the performance gain is negligent, in the order of 1 or 2 %. Your best bet is to get memory that is suitable for the FSB speed you have. If you have a FSB of 1333, use memory for 1333 FSB (10600), if you have a FSB of 1066, get 1066 capable memory (8500), it is a complete waste of money to get 1600 capable memory if your FSB does not support it. What is important however is to get the best timings you can find.
The lower the CAS latency, the better. Also look at tRAS (ROW-ACTIVE-TIME) results. These timing figures may give you better performance than spending money on higher clocked memory. On my system I have 6-6-6-18 timings for memory (even when overclocked by 35% and without increasing the voltage), which gives far better results than 9-9-9-27 timings. BTW, timings are usually measured in CAS, RAS-to-CAS, tRP and tRAS sequence. The lower these numbers, the better it is.
In general get at least 4 GB on a 775 or 6 GB on a 1366 mobo, but you may benefit from doubling these figures if you are multitasking, for instance having PR, AE and EN open for dynamic linking, or changing to PS for text or still manipulation.
Next: Storage. I point you to a previous guide I made which gives you the basics about disk setup:
Next cases. I suggest to only look at big towers or server towers, depending on the mobo of your choice. For dual CPU sockets a server tower is almost always a must, decause of the use of e-ATX size mobo's and the requirement for specialized cooling, often using an air duct, which is only available in server cases. SuperMicro is a prime supplier and my personal favorite in terms of build quality, expansion capabilities and reliability. Be aware however that the power supply in those cases are pretty noisy. For single CPU solutions there are many choices, often based on looks. What is much more important however is the expansion room and the airflow in those cases. You don't want to pimp your editing machine with LED illuminated fans, transparent sides and the like. It needs to be functional. Antec, CoolerMaster, Lian Li and ThermalTake are common brands and worth having a look at. Looking at smaller cases with a sexy look will often lead to disappointment in the future, since they often lack the capability to add additional disk drives or burners internally or get so full with equipment, that cooling is going to be a real problem. Do take into consideration that you may need 1 or 2 5.25" slots for burners.
Warning: COOLING is essential for reliability and longevity of your system. We'll get to that in a minute.
If you work long form projects, have a multitude of projects or other situations that may require a large number of disks in use or for backup, it is worth to have a look at cases that offer SAS backplanes and (hot-)swappable disk cages. Often on various sites you may find entries to case modding, where you can find other disk cages that allow you to use four 3.5" disks in the space for two 5.25" slots. In my case I had 6 3.5" slots as is was delivered. I have modded my case to now contain 14 3.5" disks just on the front with room for another disk. To avoid disappointment in the future and a lot of work of rebuilding your PC into a new chassis, plan ahead for the storage requirements you may have in the next years. If you start out with 4
disks now, but expect to use 8 next year, be sure that they fit in, even if it requires different disk cages. Make sure that there is adequate cooling for the disks in the disk cages, preferably with 80 or 120 mm fans in front of the disks and use a replacable dust filter.
By this stage we have found the CPU, mobo, memory, hard disks and case. Time to have a look at video cards.
General: CS4 will not significantly benefit from a high end video card. The marketing hype wants us to believe that the nVidia
Quadro CX will give enormous benefits for encoding H.264, but that is just what it is: "Hype".
For general NLE work you are better served with more CPU power, more memory and more hard disks and possibly a better raid controller with more cache than with a video card that costs you at least $ 1 K extra in comparison to very good cards. Better spend the money where you benefit from it. SLI or CrossFire is a complete waste of money and only applies to gamers. Everybody serious about video editing will NEVER install a game on his machine so forget about those things.
If you make sure that you have at least 512 MB on a decent modern video card, you will be hard pressed to see significant differences in performance. ATI Radeon 4xxx and nVidia GT 2xx series are all well up to the task for editing. If you use GPU intensive plug-ins like Colorista or Magic Bullet you may be wise to choose for the more powerful versions of these cards, since these plug-ins are very demanding when rendering.
These video cards get very hot in practice and especially under load. If your case is very full or you have another card in the next PCI-e slot, reducing airflow to the video card, you may consider exchanging the stock cooler on the video card by a special cooler like the Accelero Twin Turbo from Arctic Cooling to keep temperatures in hand.
Now go to http://extreme.outervision.com/psucalculatorlite.jsp and use the PSU calculator to roughly decide what your power supply needs to deliver in terms of Wattage. I strongly suggest to get the PRO version (it is cheap!) but it saves you from fatal mistakes. A PSU (power supply unit) is one of the most overlooked and neglected components in a PC and very often the cause for all kinds of mysterious faults, hangs, BSOD's, restarts etcetera. Let me tell what nearly happened to me when building a new PC. I had checked the power supply requirements, checked reviews online and found one PSU that appealed to me, based on the reviews. It was a Zalman 1000 W. Great, looks good and in stock at an attractive price. I then got the pro version and rechecked, with the extra info on the various rails. The Zalman did not have enough power on the 5V rails that I needed. So I had to change the PSU, otherwise I would have been in for a lot of strange, unexplainable and foreall unexpected hangs, restarts and the like, apart from the reduced life expectancy of the PSU.
Now, we're finally getting somewhere. Only cooling is left, then all the hardware components have been chosen.
CPU cooling: Again check sites like AnandTech. They regularly perform extensive tests on CPU coolers. Be aware that test results differ widely from site to site, but some of the names to consider are Noctua, Scythe and Thermaltake. It is best to choose a vertical heatsink cooler with 'push-pull' configuration, meaning one fan in front to push the cooling air in to the heatsink and the other fan at the rear to pull out the air. That generally delivers the best cooling performance. These things can be quite heavy so they are not suggested for LAN parties. Install it and leave your PC where it is, otherwise the weight may damage your mobo. When installing the heatsink be very sparing in applying cooling paste (Arctic silver is a good
If you have followed my advise in getting a big tower you have room for additional fans in the case. There may not always be holes to attach screws for mounting, but what also works quite effectively is using heavy duty double sided tape to attach fans to a side, on the PSU (if it is mounted at the bottom of the case). Scythe has some very good fans that give a large airflow at reasonable RPM's and low sound levels.
Once you have built your system you need to decide what OS to use. 32 or 64 bit? The point seems moot now. 64 bit Vista is your best option currently. No driver problems anymore, somewhat decent stability and the use of all your installed memory. Windows 7 is only a RC currently, so I would not advise that on a production machine, but on another machine I would definitely try it. It is as stable as Vista is now, but drivers are still somewhat lacking. XP is out, despite the best stability on a clean and mean system, due to the 32 bit nature.
After installing the OS, first check your device manager. Make sure that all your devices are working and there are no warnings. Then update Windows, drivers and other system utilities. Then check your hardware, using CPU-Z and HWMonitor, check the cooling and voltages. Your disks should be below 35 C at all times. Then tune your Bios. Once you have completed these steps, proceed with installing your software. Start with essential system tools like Process Explorer, Beyond Compare, etc. and then continue with tuning Windows, removing sh*t you never use on an editing machine, like MSN or Games, setting unneeded services to manual, disabling Windows Defender and installing Symantec Endpoint protection if you have it, and only then start installing CS4 and related programs.
When all is well, you may consider to start overclocking. TomsHardware and AnandTech have published several articles on how to do that. If you do it right you will not lose stability and may get significant performance gains. It does require more attention to the temperatures in your case.
When I recently built a new system, my first PassMark (a common benchmark testing program) score was around 3600. After finetuning the system, optimizing Windows and overclocking, I got a PassMark score of 4733.8, which even after a month is still number two in the worldwide ranking.
For my system specs, look below, maybe you can derive some ideas from it for your next configuration:
I hope this has been informative and that you can profit from my remarks.
I'm sorry this was so long and taxed your patience to the extreme.
Further suggestions and enhancements are welcome.
Another excellent, informative guide.
Excellent and informative post Harm!
I went for solution 3 when i bougth my new computer and have a server case, beefy PSU, great cooling with a fan controller that controls all fans so i can speed some of them up when rendering to keep temperatuers quite even. That gives me a quite computer as well. I get great results in PassMark as well; 9369.
Bottom line: I have no chrashes, no BSD's. I have a computer that is solid as a rock.
Read Harms post carefully because he is giving you pearls here, so you cannot go wrong with your new computer if you follow his advise.
This thread must be in the FAQ.
Thanks for the compliment.
Just a short question.
I get great results in PassMark as well; 9369.
If this is not a typo, how come you did not post those results? They are INCREDIBLY HIGH. Absolutely stellar performance.
Can you give some details on your system? For comparison, look here:
Harm, the specs are as follows:
MB: Intel S5000XVN
Processors: 2 x Intel Xeon E5450, 3.0 GHz
RAM: 16GB FBDIMM
HDD: 1x300GB WD Velcio Raptor 10K, 4x1TB WD Caviar Black, 7.2K
OS: Win Vista Ultimate 64-bit
I did post the results and they ended up here: www.cpubenchmark.net/multi_cpu.html
(I got a slightly higher result than average.)
That seems to explain it all, ie that there is a baseline score and CPU score. My score is a CPU score.
That explains it. Nice system BTW. I have been considering such a setup for a long time, with the E5472's, but decided to downgrade a little and save quite some $. Currently, and this of course changes every month, I think the top performer would be a dual socket W5580, albeit at a hefty price.
My CPU rating is 9471. It seems to bear out what Bill Gehrke said to me when testing his PPBM+ CS4 suite:
Phenomonal results as I expected from your setup.....
Makes your decision to go single i7 overclocked processor an ideal and extremely cost effective solution!
The PassMark score I referred to in the original post was the System score of 4733.8
A previous system score of my system, but less overclocked, was 4300.9 which still holds position 7. The same system but at a lower BCLK setting.
BTW if you want an APPLE computer disregard the Original Post
Wow wish I could have just read a post 7 years ago when I put together my first computer. (wasn't for editing back then). I've always put own computers together.
You explained everything perfect and I disagree with nothing (don't remember if I read you telling the need for an anit-static band, but I know you weren't doing a a step by step).Great summery though. I bet I spent 30 hours learning everything you wrote in one little post.
I never understood why people who fairly computer savvy are so scared to put together there own machine. There are plenty of free guides to putting together you own computer, it's not hard at all. I never in my life took a class about computers and got interested in them when th eInternet exploded and it became possible to edit DV footage on a computer. First time I edited digitally was on Adobe Premiere 4.2 for Silicon Graphics in 98 or something like that. Stared building editing computers about 5 years ago.
Brilliant and timely post. It's a good time to buy an i7(270+), a fan to overclock it (30+), get 12 gigs of DDR3 ram (275+), a new power supply (65+) and a new motherboard (180+). You might be able to use your old case, optical disks, harddrives (if you can't afford or already have a 10,000rpm boot drive) ect. Also your old graphic card will work for now most likely. GO FOR BUILD YOUR OWN FAST ASS COMPUTER. That's under a grand and you can get Windows 7 until you can afford to buy Vista 64. Even though I know better I do most of my work in Windows 7. I do have to boot back to Vista to be able to watch LOST episodes on ABC.com (there player doesn't work with Win 7)
Great stuff Harm. Should be made a sticky.
Good move Eddie. Considering at least two great and informative posts by Harm on hardware, I would hope that both have found their way to the wiki. Now, I need to bookmark that specific page, as I will reference it, with proper attribution to Harm, in many replies.
To Harm - thank you!
The PC Mag article on building a computer linked above mentions the need for a "HDMI capture card". I'm completely new to building computers (but am looking to do so), is this necessary? Is it simply because it has HDMI inputs?
The HDMI card referenced in that article is the BlackMagic Intensity.
There is a lot of confusion about what HDMI can achieve for your editing system. To put it bluntly, it is a simple DISPLAY connector. It is intended to transfer video signals over a single cable in HD quality. It is not a means to transfer video DATA for editing, at least that is not what it was intended for.
When you have a camera with HDMI connectors, the first thing you need to figure out is the exact location of the HDMI chip in relation to the DSP (digital signal processor). You need the electronic scheme to locate that. In almost every consumer camera the physical location of the HDMI chip is located BEHIND the DSP. This means that the signal put out from the HDMI chip is no different than what is recorded on tape or card. It has been compressed to MPEG format, whether that is HDV, AVCHD or another format. Whether the camera electronics uprezzes the signal on output is irrelevant, since the MPEG compression has already taken place and information has been irretrievably lost.
HDMI is a poor man's HD-SDI at most because of the flimsy connection, the short length of the cable and the electronic position in relation to the DSP. Once recorded, the signal over HDMI is no better than over firewire.
When using HDMI for 'capturing' you lose all timecode information, all metadata, like exposure data, date and timestamp, and you will not gain any benefit. In addition, with HDV material you lose all capability of using scene detection. If you have the choice between HDMI and firewire, use HDMI for display and use firewire for capture.
If there is any camera where the position of the HDMI chip is located before the DSP (I am not aware of any camera with that capability) theoretically you can transfer a full uncompressed HD signal (4:2:2 or even 4:4:4) to the PC at a signal rate of up to 1.485 Gbps (comparable to HD-SDI), if your PC can stand that.
Thanks for the reply, that helps...
Would you be willing to review some specs that I am considering? (most of which a friend put together for me...)
Just post your specs... maybe in a new thread with your own title... I am sure somebody will comment
No problem, but I suggest you start your own thread, to keep this thread relatively clean.
I'll look at your config and report my suggestions.
Maybe this scheme will help to understand what HDMI can do, IF the HDMI chip is located before the DSP.
Of course the problem is 'live' recording with it's massive data rate, that no notebook can handle without extensive help in terms of raid controller and external disks. So the only feasible way to do 'live' recordings over HDMI is by using your workstation. Then the size, weight, power requirements, fan noise and the limited cable length with the flimsy connector are all disadvantages.
This post should BE the requirements page. Thanks you don't know how long I've been looking for this info.
Harm your raid 30 is AWESOME. 802MB/s average. Does that playback uncompressed 4K?
I haven't the faintest idea. I only use DV, HDV and XDCAM-EX/HD and have never tried it with any (RED) 4K material. I assume it should be sufficient to handle that. But let's be honest, when I increased my raid array from 10 to 12 disks, I did not notice ANY performance gains. The limiting factor must be the PCI-e bus or the Areca controller, that just does not show any improvements from adding a couple of disks. Another thing to consider is that the various benchmark programs widely in use show quite different results.
As an example, here are two images from HD Tune Pro, one for my 2 disk raid0 on the Marvell chip and the other from my 12 disk raid30 array. First of all, HD Tune shows the wrong size, it is not 2199 GB but should be 10000 GB (at least that is what Areca claims as shown in the last picture), second it ONLY performs at around 745 MB/s transfer rate.
The most noteworthy item to look at is the rapid performance degradation of this raid0 when the disks get fuller. An average transfer rate of 165 MB/s is quite acceptable for a 2 disk setup, but seeing it go down to below 100 MB/s when the disks fill up is bothersome. It will not allow you to handle uncompressed HD at all.
Great stuff Harm thanks man. I'm gonna build one someday (raid30) I already build my own comps..
Absolutely, an excellent guide. Not only well structured and fully explained, but excellently written.
I build my own, always have.. And I follow a research and component choice pattern that is fully covered in your very comprehesive guide. I learned most of it the hard way--trial, error, and experience. Having a guide like this would have saved me endless frustrating hours and many wasted dollars. I am sure that it will be a great help to a lot of of participants here--and from elsewhere. You can bet that I will be giving out the link every time I get asked the question: "how do I build my own computer". Supurb contribution.
Bloody brilliant post there Harm....based on what I have and what you recommend its time for a rebuild I reckon
When you say XP is out, does that mean I must upgrade or that there are problems? Are AMD systems OK?
If your XP system is performing satisfactorily there is no need to upgrade. Harm's guidelines are for new system builds. At the current time for CS4 it appears that the new Intel chip is superior to what AMD is offering. Until we have some evidance to the contrary unless you are an AMD employee or own stock in AMD it is not a wise buy.
If your XP system works satisfactory, there is no need to upgrade to Vista. If anything, skip Vista altogether and go to Windows7. Vista, despite reasonable stability, is still a process and memory hog and even Microsoft excuses itself for bringing out Vista and advises to skip Vista completely.
If I were to rebuild my system at this moment, I would go for the Windows 7 RC with a complete fresh install and repeat that after 10.22.09 when the final release is out.
Whether AMD is still in the picture for a good performing system, I rather doubt that. All tests till now indicate that AMD is outclassed by Intel on all fronts. If you further take into consideration that the CPU price is only a small part of the overall investment, it seems pennywise-poundfoolish to go the AMD route.
The IT staff where I work are in the process of building 4 new network servers... video requirements are not as high as for editing, but the data throughput is certainly important
They are using Antec nine hundred cases... which I'm told is due to the 120mm case fans that move a lot of air while not spinning as fast as smaller case fans, so there is less noise
They are using the Gigabyte EX58-UD4P motherboard, reviewed at http://www.techspot.com/review/136-gigabyte-ex58-ud4p/
I am looking at building an i7 computer in 2010, after Win-7 is at SP-1 level and CS5 (?) is issued for 64bit, and will take a look at the Gigabyte or the Asus P6T Deluxe reviewed at http://www.techspot.com/review/129-asus-p6t-deluxe/
I am NOT going to overclock, but will still look into one of the CPU coolers mentioned in this thread
I figure it will cost me "about" $2,000 to build, with the i7 920 and 6Gig of DDR3 memory as a starting point... luckily, I work at a University which has an agreement with Microsoft, and I'll be able to get Win-7 for either just the cost of the media and shipping if I opt for a DVD, or for free by download (already have Vista64 for free, but then decided to skip that and wait for Win-7)
Should be fun