Desktop systems

A desktop system can be configured in many different ways and there are processors from Intel, AMD, a wide range of motherboards, lots of graphic card choices etc.   Below will be some general  information regarding buying at a new system or upgrading an old one, but please contact me to discuss your specific options.

There are quite a lot of considerations regarding a system.

  • Which program are you using to edit?
  • What other programs you would like to use – mainly this would be ones which need specific hardware such as maybe Photoshop or a 3D program like Blender which like to have a nice graphics card or a program that needs a lot of RAM?
  • Are your projects all going to be SD and HD? Do you need 4K output and capture?
  • Are you capturing video from analogue and if so what resolution – SD, HD or 4K?
  • Do you need to capture from FireWire?
  • How much space do you need for video?
Processor

At the moment the best processor to buy in my opinion is Intel’s i9 Alder Lake processor, which they refer to as a 12th generation processor. This is a 3.2Ghz processor which has 16 cores and in my own tests about 10%-20% faster than the previous 11th gen processors. Thee processors have a graphics card built in which gives them specific hardware to encode and decode H.264 and H.265 footage – which is the most commonly used type of footage and found in MP4 files, AVCHD, X-AVC and many other formats. All the editing programs use Quick Sync to help playback footage and when the decoding of footage is being done by Quick Sync it leaves the rest of the processor to do other things – such as add effects, title etc. Grass Valley EDIUS probably takes the best advantage of Quick Sync, where as programs like Premiere or Resolve Studio can use either Quick Sync or your nVidia graphics card to help playback footage (or even both!).

Previously Intel have produced other processors without Quick Sync which are actually faster, but currently they do not have any processors which are better than the i9 Alder Lake. Obviously they are inventing new models all the time and the Covid Pandemic has causes some chip shortages which means they have had to streamline their range a bit.

AMD also produce a range of processors, including their powerful “ThreadRippers” but in all tests I have seen currently the Intel i9 Alder Lake’s are still more powerful.

A powerful processor is very important as it does most of the work in an editing program. Some programs like Premiere and Resolve can use a powerful graphics card can do a lot of the work – in the case of Resolve a powerful graphic’s card is essential and if the card is not powerful enough Resolve may even stop working if you ask it to do too much – but all the programs still need a lot of CPU power as well.

RAM

I have added 32GB RAM. You could have 64GB, it just costs more. If you were editing lots of 4K then 64GB is probably best but for most things 32GB is fine. You 16GB of RAM is ok for editing HD projects, even with some 4K mixed in. 32Gb or higher is better. If editing complex 4K projects I would suggest getting 64GB RAM. DaVinci Resolve recommends 64GB RAM if you are thinking of using the Fusion page quite a lot (I have had problems on a 32GB system in a project with multiple Fusion comps).

For the last few years we have been using DDR4 RAM. The latest Alderlake processors can use DDR5 which is faster, although a bit more expensive as it is very new. DDR5 adds a 10%ish performance boost to an Alder Lake system. You cannot start with a system that has DDR4 RAM and later change to DDR5 – they need completely different motherboards – so it is something you must decide upon when you buy your system.

Hard drives

There are different types of hard drives:

  • “Normal” spinning drives – a good way to get a lot of space for low cost and the type we have been using for years.
  • Solid State drives (SSD) – these are drives which are not made of moving parts. They are faster and smaller. One downside is that if they do not have any power in them for a few months then they may loose data – although just leaving them plugged into a system which is plugged in the mains, even if it is not switched on, is good enough to keep them going. This means “normal” drives are best for long term storage, where as solid state drives are great for every day use.
    A normal drive may run at around 150 Mbs, where as a solid state drive can be 2000 mbs or faster. For most video footage normal drives are ok, but if you using footage which is not very compressed (such as ProRes) or even uncompressed footage solid state drives are better.
  • M.2 drives – this is a special kind of solid state drive which is on circuit board. These are faster and getting to be more common, especially in laptops which space is at a premium.

For Windows I would have an M.2 drive. 500GB is enough for Windows and many programs but you can obviously have more if you want it. I would prefer to have either M.2 or SSD drives for video but large drives costs quite a bit and a lot more than normal drives, so I tend to have some large normal drives for all my video. If I am using After Effects, which caches all compositions in practically uncompressed video, I would want a solid state or M.2 for my After Effects cache as well. I would not want this going on the programs drive because if you C drive gets filled it can cause problems.

Graphics card

Whether you need a powerful graphics card will depend on your chosen editing program.  EDIUS, for example, does not use the graphics card (GPU) very much and so is happy with a lower spec card.  Premiere can cope with a low spec card but will perform better with a powerful card.  Resolve needs a good graphics card otherwise you might get the dreaded “run out of GPU power” type of message and will not be able to edit.

There has been a graphics card shortage over the last couple of years which means you have had to pay inflated prices to get any card. For this reason people are still buying older generation cards such as 1650s and 2060s.

With graphics cards I would stick to nVidia as most video programs are programmed to take better advantage of nVidia cards.  The current range are numbered from 3050 to 3080, with the higher the number, the better the GPU. 

EDIUS does not use the graphics card much. It uses it for the primary colour corrector and decoding some types of RAW footage. A 3050 is fine for EDIUS. Even a previous model such as a 1650 would be OK, even for editing 4K in EDIUS.  EDIUS can even work properly using an Intel GPU. You may get a better GPU for EDIUS if using a plug-in that would use it, like Neat Video, for example.

Premiere would function fine on a 3050 but better on a 3060 or above.  For Resolve I would get at least a 2060 or 3060; there are two variations of 3060 and the cheaper one has more RAM – 12GB compared to 6GB on the 3060TI, which is technically more powerful. Since I have had “out of GPU memory” a few times with Resolve I would recommend the 12GB 3060 in preference to the 6GB version. If editing 4K in Resolve I would get a 3070 or even the 3080 which have more GPU RAM.

Case & cooling

I have used the 12th generation processors with a decent fan-based cooling and they have worked fine but you may prefer a water cooler. The latter are a bit more expensive but generally run quieter. They also need a bigger case in which to fit.

Other software

I would be installing EDIUS X. Apart from that I generally put on this other software:

  • Audacity – a good free sound program.
  • Handbreak – a good free program to make high quality MP4 files. EDIUS 8 is actually really good and better than it used to be so you make never use it, but its free.
  • Imgburn – a free program for writing CDs, DVDs and Bluray. It can write files or images. We used to include an “OEM” version of Nero but I cannot get that any more so it would be a full, and expensive one, which you don’t need because IMGburn does everything you need.
  • VLC -for playback of DVDs and video clips
  • Media Player Classic – which also plays video clips but plays things like GV AVI files.

When I supplied systems I also used to include PowerDVD (an OEM version) for playing Blu-ray and DVDs. The above free programs do everything that did except play Blu-rays -and VLC can be configured to do so for any Blu-rays you create, but it will not work properly on some commercial Blu-rays. A copy of PowerDVD can be added but most people think it is not worth the cots (around £60)

FireWire card

If you want to capture from DV or HDV you will need a FireWire card. EDIUS X can no longer capture from DV or HDV, DaVinci Resolve never had this option. However with both programs you can use a free program to capture from FireWire or HDV and then import the clips into the program.

Adobe Premiere can still capture from HDV and DV but like other programs it is probably quite high on the list to be “depreciated” as the programs do not think many people use these formats any more.

Capture & playback device

With most programs you can play the video full screen on a second or third computer monitor. This is not an option in the free version of DaVinci Resolve but is in the paid Studio version. This may be good enough for you, especially if you chosen destination is a computer screen as your viewers will be watching on YouTube or just watching MP4 files. However, a computer screen generally works at 60hz and works in RGB colour space not YUV like a TV – so the colours and brightness are not quite the same. Computer screens are always progressive which means if you are making an interlace video, like a DVD, you may not see problems until you watch the final DVD. Fs you are making a DVD/Blu-ray or something for broadcast you will want to be able to see a proper video signal on a decent video monitor and for that you will want another device. The most common ones are from Blackmagic and they work with all the major editing programs. They are also the cheapest devices. AJA do some devices which you could argue are better quality and are considerably more expensive. AJA works with all programs except Blackmagic Resolve.

We used to supply a lot of Matrox devices but Matrox stopped making video I/o devices quite some years ago. I can still generally get an MX02 working, even on Windows 11, but not many programs now support them and you cannot buy them any more.

Windows 11 or Windows 10?

Windows has recently been updated. The new Windows is nicer than Windows 10 in many ways but not a revolution. If you have a working system currently I would not bother with the hassle of updating it until something comes along that makes Windows 11 essential. However, if upgrading or buying a completely new system I would recommending using Windows 11. This may depend of you have any programs that you know will work not work properly on Windows 11. I have tried the latest version of all the major editing programs and they have all been working fine for me. I have even used a variety of quite old programs with no problems but obviously I do not know every program that is available and whether it works 100%. I would recommend you check with the makers of any programs to see if they have any reasons for not using Windows 11 with their programs.

I have always used the Pro version of Windows as this is the version all the programs are designed on and specifically with Windows 11 there are somethings you can only do on the Pro version – such as delay Windows updates if needed.

How to order

Since my company, DVC, closed in 2015 I have been working from home offering advice and support.  This has included offering advice on system specifications and also supplying and testing systems for customers.  The way I supply systems has changed slightly from my old company.  I charge a fixed price to advise on the system and the parts are bought either by yourself or me, sent to me for set up and configuration and then sent to you as a complete system.

My training company is not VAT registered which means I can offer lower prices for training.  However, it means you can reclaim VAT you cannot do so on the price of the system components.  If you are VAT registered you would buy the parts needed, under my guidance, and get them shipped to me for set up.  If you are not VAT registered it does not matter.

If you are interested in getting my assistance on buying a new computer or getting me to make one for you please contact me : david@dvctraining.co.uk