Video Editing Hardware: What You’ll Need To Get Started

Padawan Learner? Or Jedi Knight?

Padawan Learner? Or Jedi Knight?

You wouldn’t be trying to edit video if The Force was not strong with you. Great movie-making is just too bloody hard for Muggles. And the game always changes. We editors—all of us—are constantly learning. How far along in your training are you?  

  • Beginner: If you’re fairly new to timelines and “L-cuts,” the first part of this article is for you. We’ll cover toolsets up to $100. And some that are free. Who doesn’t like free?
  • Expert: If you are already comfortable with “picture-in-picture,” “fit-to-fill” and the like, you might want to jump ahead to the second section called: “Shodan Edit Ninja.” We’ll look at stepping into pro-level packages.

If you are beyond that, you have a show to finish cutting and I’m keeping you from it. But please feel free to comment, suggest and share your professional tips and tricks!

By way of introduction: I’m a digital immigrant. My career spans the transitions: From A/B roll VTR editing (“quadruplex” and helical scan analog) through nonlinear editing (NLE) workstations, to the gathering Cloud of “edit everything anywhere.” I’ve cut and cemented film. I’ve spliced tape. I’ve previewed, pre-rolled, pre-read and waited for large dangerous decks to lock-sync. I have the scars to prove it. We’ve lost a little on the way from A to D, but we’ve gained so much more.

I am not a fine editor. For extremely critical work, I turn to specialist colleagues as a family doctor would turn to an orthopedist or oncologist. I started in audio and music engineering, failed up to television, and rose to ultimate incompetence on the Web. I seldom have time to make the perfect show myself. Once in a blue moon, I have the budget to pay better editors than myself to craft beauty out of lameness.

Thank goodness for the democratization of media that digital enables. As a producer, I can now do on my laptop what I used to pay facilities and specialists more than $350 per hour to crank out. It’s a beautiful world.

An Ugly World — Video Challenges Your Hardware

Video is a pig. There’s not another common medium as data-heavy. Before you pick software to wrangle moving pictures, you need to know that your hardware is up to the load.

Generally, the faster your processor, the fewer hangs and crashes you experience. But faster means hotter (as you overclocking enthusiasts know). Treat your CPU to the best ventilation you can manage. It will be working overtime contributing to global warming.

Get a bigger disk. Unless you’re just making Vine loops, you will need it. Every hi-res source, all those multi-track renders, each level of Undo will suckle upon the teat of storage until fragmented corruption ensues. See? Ugly.

Consider adding a solid-state drive (SSD). On most platforms, video wants to be rendered with each editorial decision, even if only in the background. All that writing and re-writing to disk will hack up your hard drive, with bits of show scattered hither and yon across many sectors. It takes time to locate and correlate a coherent stream of video. The higher the resolution, the bigger the headache.

Take a look at our recommended hardware configurations, organized by the level of work you expect to be doing. And remember to back up everything, all the time. Redundantly. Redundantly. You have been warned.

  • qubits
    software responds to more cores.. ok the i5 can be comparable with the high ipc to a fx 8-core but what the i5 lacks in comparison is in prime numbers and floating-point math.. no?
  • qubits
    i decided to compare synthetics
    i5-4950 and fx-8350 score close in floating-point math and prime numbers but the i5 falls short with a overclock
    fx-8350 destroys i5-4950 in integer math, sse, compression, encryption, physics, and sorting
    i think the fx-8350 may get the job done a little better than the i5-4950 as a pure editing build but the i5-4950 would win to double as gaming and editing plus you got a i7 to upgrade to so after some thought on it i could back you on the suggestion but i dont think a fx-8350 is something to just cast aside as a option.
  • CaedenV
    I came here to tear this apart, but am pleasantly surprised to find that this article is very well done and practical. About the only two nit-picky things I would point out is; that to do the actual editing you can do just fine (at least for 1080p editing) on the entry level with an i3 processor and onboard Intel graphics. Yes, you are not going to get much in-software acceleration for effects, and your export may take a little time, but it is more than enough power to import your clips, set your cuts and transitions, and export overnight effectively on the low end for those starting out. Certainly you would want to move up to an i5 with whatever GPU acceleration is supported by your software of choice ASAP (especially as your income comes to depend on it and rendering time begins to cap your income), but to say that it is required for an 'entry level' system is really underestimating what a modern i3 can do.

    The other little point is that I would never be able to suggest a single HDD even on the entry level. Your storage drive should at least have a RAID1, or you should have a nice fat USB3 external HDD or NAS of some sort to off-load video. Drives fail, it is just a fact of life. But drives are also cheap, and just about every board under the sun comes with a basic RAID controller. I would much rather spend $75 on a 2nd 2TB drive for the worry-free uptime that it brings to the table than $150 on a GPU that is going to have minimal impact on the editing process, and merely accelerate exports which are likely going to be done at the end of the day and are much less time sensitive (at least when starting out). Faster exports are a nice perk, but catastrophic drive failure is catastrophic.

    Still, great article, and full of great information that is sorely lacking in the forums.
  • edwd2
    The Xeon E3-1231 V3 is priced at around $240 tray is the equivalent of an i7-4770 without the iGPU and is compatible with any LGA1150 motherboard. It games and renders better than both the non-k i5s and the FX-8350. It's really the best choice if you're looking for a balanced and reliable multipurpose work and gaming rig.
  • Duckhunt
    You can get a phone now that is 4k.
  • Duckhunt
    I have a 4k smart tv.

    It is much better on my eyes.

    I am trying to say that 4k video on a phone has been done and you can upload it to the pc. Then we have folks talking about 1080p video editing? Are you kidding me?
  • TheFluffyDog
    You dont need a 4k monitor to produce 4k content. When you zoom in on a 1/4 section of a frame on a 1080p monitor you will be seeing a 1/1 pixel ratio. Meaning, when you view the whole frame or the whole clip, you just won't see it how it will look, however you can still edit and render full 4k content.
  • silverblue
    "Most editing software responds well to additional CPU cores, and as a result more cores are preferable to higher clock rates. A caveat: most of the calculations for video rendering are floating-point math. And in most cases, the audio is calculated in floating-point as well. Sorry AMD fans. Those extra integer cores won't help much here."

    The following results may not serve to prove your statement wrong, but will show that it's not a universal truth:

    There may be a question over the amount of power used for the work done, however.
  • harley2ride
    It would have been nice to see a little more information. IE: Capture device recommendations, and a list of softwares would have been nice. Doing mostly my own videos and doing some for friends and family, I use an ADS PYRO AV/Link, and my softwares of choice are Pinnacle Studio Ultimate for simple stuff, and Sony Vegas Pro for stuff I want to look more professional.
  • Demianra
    You can make a review for video editing of Windows vs OSX covering quality, performance and price?