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Workstation for under $600

Approximate Purchase Date: Need it by Jan. 20, 2012

Budget Range: ~$600 (before rebate)

System Usage from Most to Least Important: editing pictures & video, surfing the internet, watching movies

Parts Not Required: keyboard/mouse, speakers and monitor

Preferred Website(s) for Parts:,,

Country: USA

Parts Preferences: Any is fine

Overclocking: No

SLI or Crossfire: No

Monitor Resolution: My monitor 1600x900

Additional Comments: My wife needs a workstation that she can used to edit photos and video of our daughter. I have never build a workstation before. I am not sure if this is called a workstation or a htpc. I do not know which is which. Any help is welcome as I am new to this kind of PC.
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  1. An HTPC would be used purely to play back videos and other media. This is firmly a workstation.
    What programs will she be using, and how intensely will she be working? Are we talking adjusting levels, or are we talking multiple HD video/animation streams? I could max out your $600, but I don't think you need that much money if she's not using top-of-the-line software.
  2. OK, first off this would not be a 'workstation' as workstations are high end machines that employ redundancy and/or error correction, and favor accuracy over speed. A workstation GPU for example starts at $600, where a comprable 'gaming' card is only $250-300. While we are at it a HTPC (home theater PC) is a gutless silent machine for watching (not editing) videos.

    Now that that is cleared up :) you are looking for a good quality mid-range build that is geared towards production rather than video games. If you look at my signature I recently upgraded my old core2duo rig in order to better do video editing in Adobe Premere, and I have to say that it has way more editing power than I will be able to use for a good long time. I was able to cut some corners because I already owned my HDDs, case, keyboard, monitor, DVD drive, fans, aftermarket CPU cooler, etc. I recently purchased the pwoer supply, motherboard, processor, ram, and graphics card (what I call a 'core refresh'), and it totaled ~$650 (most of which was the GPU, but I found killer sales on everything but the motherboard).

    System requirement questions:
    What software will you be using for video editing and picture editing? Different programs take advantage of different hardware. Some will use hyper-threading, while others dont. Some use the graphics card for rendering, while others dont. It is very important to know this before you purchase anything.
    What quality pictures/video will you be shooting? (pictures: 8MP, 12MP? Compressed or RAW? Video: Standard, 720p, 1080i, 1080p, and what compression? The more compression the more important your CPU is, the less compression the more HDD space you need)
    How large of projects are we talking? 5 minute videos for facebook? or 30+ minute productions. General rule of thumb says there is 2-3x raw footage than final product, so keep that in mind when selecting your HDD space.
    How involved of projects are we talking? Simple cuts and fades? Or heavy color correction, and some effects?
    How important is rendering time and being able to preview the final result in real time? I cannot stand editing video without seeing what I am doing, others are much more patient than me and dont mind rendering previews all the time.

    General rules of thumb for a "production oriented PC"
    1) Do not over clock, stability is most important
    2) More cores are better, and hyper-threading is great if supported
    3) 64bit is a requirement for the OS
    4) Ram size is paramount. You will want a minimum 8GB of ram for small projects, and preferably 16GB. The speed of that ram does not matter as I can guarantee that the bottleneck will be at the CPU or GPU, so feel free to save a few bucks on 1333 ram as you will see no difference between it and something faster.
    5) nVidia is the only GPU option. many programs use CUDA to help rendering things for pictures and video, which is an nvidia product. When selecting a GPU pick one with as many CUDA cores as possible. Adobe Premiere requires a minimum of a GTX 570 for CUDA processing, so be aware that some programs will take a "go big or go home" approach. If the software you use does not take advantage of a graphics processor then you can save a bunch of money sticking with the onboard graphics.
    6) silence is golden. Dont buy a case that takes anything smaller than 120mm fans, and set all fans at their lowest possible speed. You do not want to mask over any noises in your footage with excess computer noise.
    7) Disc management. You want a minimum of a system drive (OS and programs), and then a 2nd media drive (for documents and project files). Preferably you would want a minimum 3 drive setup of a system drive, a document/rendering drive, and then a media drive for your raw footage. And if you go nuts then you want a RAID or two... but that is way out of your scope.
    8) Power is... well power. Not all power is equal, and not all power is clean. I highly suggest (even on a small system) to have some sort of line conditioning to plug the computer into (either a UPS or a high end power strip), and then buy a good quality (heavy) power supply. Even if you require little power, that power still has to be clean so that you do not damage your hardware.
    9) Capacity over speed. What matters is that the computer can do a job, and do it accurately, and do it without errors or problems, not raw processing power and speed. One example of this is the Ram, where the speed dosnt matter so much as the size. Same with the HDDs, where more physical drives generally (though not always) trumps disc speed or capacity (it does not take much video to bog down a processor, especially with compressed HD footage). Another example is the processor, a slow quad core will trump a fast duel core all day long for video editing. Everything in video is highly parallel, so redundancy of components almost always wins over raw performance of any part.
    10) Build with balance in mind. Dont go buy a fast processor at the cost of ram or disc space. Everything must be matched well to get the most bang for your buck, and this is much more important in a editing build than a gaming build.
  3. an i5 2500(k) would be perfect here. if you can wait a few months till intels next line of cpus come out the cpu in that price range will be a tad better with the integrated graphics roughly 60% better. thats the speculation atleast which seems to be relatively accurate.

    with that said here we go.


    comes in at 650 but you can cut the ram to 8 gb's idk how much your use would need. you could also get the oem version of windows but if you ever get a new computer to replace this one you couldnt transfer the windows 7.

    you really shouldnt go less then that build honestly. you dont need a gpu as your not gaming or using cad programs so no need for the part. i would seriously get the k version of the i5. IMO is stupid not to get it, you might not want to overclock now but in a year or two when performance is lacking its really nice to have.
  4. Best answer
    OK, here are my thoughts on a build:

    mobo: Intel board with SATA3 and USB3. Limited expand-ability, but should be fine for 16GB of ram, a few HDDs, possible future SSD, and future GPU, as well as USB3 connectivity for fast flash drive, or USB3 external HDD, you really dont need the features of the p67 or z68 boards for your scope.
    Note that this motherboard will not overclock the processor, or use 1600MHz ram. I dont think either limitation will effect you though.

    Processor: i5 2400, quad core, HD2000 graphics. Switch to the i5 2500K for HD3000 graphics for a little extra $, but not really worth it in my opinion as you should buy a dedicated GPU if the onboard graphics are not enough.
    $190 ($220 for 2500K)

    Ram: 16GB 1333 (16GB is important for HD video editing, ok to cut back to 8GB if SD or 720i video editing)

    Case: NZXT, white and black case with 2 pre-installed 120mm fans, looks easy to work on, also doesn't look as dower as the black cases (important for wife's computer!)

    Power Supply: PCPnC 400W, overkill for now, but will allow you to add a dedicated GPU down the line. These are some of the best quality PSUs on the market, and this one is on a killer sale!
    $50 after rebate

    System Drive: 500GB Hatachi Deskstar, space for windows, programs, documents, and scratch/render disc

    Media Drive: 1TB Hatachi Deskstar, space for video footage, and system backup

    DVD burner $20, whatever is cheap and available

    Win7 Home Premium 64bit

    Total: $765

    To stay in budget you could stick with a single 500GB drive to begin with, or scrounge for an old HDD to use until HDD prices go back to normal over the summer/fall (prices are currently inflated due to flooding), but you will find that with video 500GB will fill up quickly, even with SD footage. Really a 2+TB media drive is suggested.
    You could also cut down to 1/2 the Ram to save $40 to start with, but I know many of my video projects have eaten 12+GB of ram just for the project, and not including other open programs, so I am really not kidding when I say that 16GB is a necessity for video; especially HD video.

    Expanding the budget to allow for a hyper-threaded processor (any i7), and an SSD cache (requiring a z68 mobo and an SSD drive) would help a lot, as would adding a 3rd HDD for rendering and 'cold storage' of backup images, and old projects. But it would turn this into a $1000+ computer instead of a budget system.

    For video editing I would highly suggest either Vegas or Premiere Elements to start with. Just promise me that you would not waste a machine like this on the stupid Windows video editing program!

    Lastly, I would highly suggest purchasing a good set of headphones, or some good speakers to edit with. No need for surround sound, but high quality stereo goes a long way in media.
  5. Thanks for all the great responses and clarification between HTPC and a Workstation. We appreciate everyone’s help.

    First off my wife will be using Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD Platinum 11 for video editing and either Corel Paint Shop Photo Pro X4 or Adobe Photoshop CS5 for picture editing. She won't be doing any big projects at all since most of her work is something that she loves to do as a hobby.

    For picture we have our Canon Rebel XS camera that she will be using for taking photos. And yes she does want to compress the files to save space but if our budget cannot afford more space then she would love to have more space. For picture editing her main project will be making wallpaper.

    For video she would like to have 720p and if possible 1080p. But for now she only has the Blackberry Playbook to use as a video camera so anything is fine. As for the length of the video she will be doing 30 min to 1 hour long. And as for rendering she must be able to see it in real time as well. Some projects that she would be doing is making music video, editing some of my video games replays and making video movies of our daughter.

    The build looks awesome. We don't mind going over our budget just to have this pc be able to run for the next 2-3 years or even so 3-5 years. We probably won't be getting the second HDD now but in the next 2 months or so after the computer is built. Everything is looking great. If there is any more questions or parts I should add in please let me know as I will be ordering the parts by the 17th of this month.

    Thank you all again for your help as both my wife and I are grateful for your time and knowledge.
  6. Here's a suggestion for such a build requirement :

    Motherboard & OS: $170- Biostar TH67+ & Windows 7 Home Premium

    CPU & RAM: $213- i5 2400 & Patriot Signature 2X 4GB

    PSU: $40- Corsair Cx430

    HDD: $80- Hitachi 500GB

    Case: $30- Xclio GodSpeed (Or any other which you like)

    Optical Drive: $18- LG

    Total (Excluding Rebates): 551 USD

    Rebates: 25 USD

    There are some promotional discount on PSU , CPU. do look into them.
    In case you want a GPU. Do look into :
    $110- XFX Radeon 6770
  7. Best answer selected by Gn3s.
  8. OK, no GPU acceleration on any of the apps you mentioned (unless something has recently changed with Vegas, I dont follow that program very closely), so I would stick with the onboard graphics. When looking for your media drive in a few months shy away from 5400rpm drives; new 5900 rpm drive (like the Samsung F4) are fine for most video editing applications, and just about any 7200+rpm drive will work well.

    For a video camera might I suggest the SD800K:
    It is an HD camera with 3CCDs at ~$500. The image quality is great! The only problems I have had with it so far are super complex shots (complex digitally, like looking at little waves lapping up on rocks), and when moving from room to room it sometimes takes a little too long to readjust the white balance. Some have complained that when in a room it will randomly loose the white balance for a moment, but I have not noticed this problem. Lastly, there is no decent manual focus on it. Other than those 3 things It has excellent image quality, a fairly high dynamic range, a great onboard Mic (I'm a stickler on that point), and fairly good dark image quality. This model records to SD cards, so be sure to get some large and fast cards (I am using 32GB PNY Pro cards, as they are relatively cheap, and fast enough to get the job done), but getting faster SD cards, or the big brother units that record to HDDs/internal flash may have less problems with complex images as they can record a little less compressed data. It is not a professional camera, but it is a huge leap ahead of other 'consumer' grade cameras, giving the image quality of $1000+ cameras but without the feature set, and I would not be afraid to use it for entry level pro work like wedding videos and such.

    Best of luck, I hope it all works out well for you.
  9. Oh, for photo editing go download the trial for Adobe Lightroom and see if that will meet her needs. It is not as flexable as Photoshop, but you can do batch edits (like color correcting a set of pictures instead of individual shots), and has an amazing built in photo organizer. The limitations is that it is only for editing photos, not really for doing design work where you are adding content to the picture, but most of the photo people I know have really enjoyed working with it, and really dont bother with photoshop anymore (except in extreme cases). Also, my Dad uses Photoshop Elements and is fairly happy with it. I have not used it myself, so I am not sure how limited/dumbed down it is, but it may be worth a look.
    Also, look online for old (unopened and unregistered) copies of Adobe Suites. A few years back I found the CS1 creative suite for $200. Most of the programs were terribly outdated, but it got me the liscense to be able to upgrade Premiere and Audition to current versions (and those are almost exclusively what I use when I have a project). It saved me nearly $1000 over buying those 2 programs at retail price, and gives me an old copy of Photoshop and After Effects to use when I need them.
  10. Thanks a lot CaedenV for the information. I will probably stick to the i5 2400 cpu just to save $20 since the programs doesn't focus a lot on it. I will post up pictures of the PC once I get it build.
    As for the program I will let my wife know. She doesn't mind trying out new program as long as I can get her a trial version to test out before we buy the full version. And for the video camera we'll look into it as well. We're hoping to get one before we head off to Disneyland this summer so we can record our daughter's first trip there as well as our family first trip. She'll be 1 by then.
    Once again, thanks for the help.
  11. Turns out that my brother just gave me his 1 year old pc. Here are the specs.

    Tower - Cooler Master HAF 932 Advance Full Tower Case - ATX, Black
    Motherboard - Intel DP55WG Motherboard - Intel P55, Socket LGA1156
    RAM Memory - Kingston HyperX Desktop Memory Kit - 8GB (2 x 4GB), PC3-12800, DDR3-1600MHz, 9-9-9-27 CAS Latency, Intel XPM Ready
    Video Card -EVGA GeForce GTX 460 SE Video Card - 1GB GDDR5
    Power Supply - Corsair CMPSU-750TXV2 Enthusiast Series TX750 V2 Power Supply
    CPU - Intel Core i5 760 Processor
    Heatsink - Zalman CNPS10X Performa 10X Performa CPU Cooler
    Case Fan - Cooler Master R4-L2R-20AG-R2 R4 Series Case Fan
    DVD/CD Drive - Lite-On IHAS22406 Internal DVD Writer
    HDD - Western Digital Caviar Black Hard Drive - 1TB, 7200RPM, 64MB, SATA 6G

    There is no operating system so I will have to buy a new one which I am fine with.
    Will this be more than enough for my wife?

    He said that I can overclock the cpu but I do not know how. So is it better to not overclock?

    Thanks for any help and advice.
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