Video Editors Buying Guide
I thought I would update the buying guide as its now out of date. Please add recommendations and changes as you see fit.
Probably the most important single component in the video editors arsenal, the processor will determine how responsive your software feels and how quickly rendering and effects take. There are three main ingredients to a good processor.
1: Gigahertz (GHz) is the 'speed' of the processor, but this simple number can no longer be counted on to give anywhere near an accurate idea of performance in today's modern processors. Intel and AMD have hit a number of walls in taking processors past the 3.4Ghz mark. A decent GHz rating in today's processors is around the 2.8GHz mark and up.
2: Cores are what Intel and AMD used to get past the GHz hump. Instead of doing one thing faster why not do two things at the same speed, that theoretically doubles ones speed. Most modern software can take advantage of dual core processors but most video editing software is multi threaded and likes as many cores as you can throw at it. There is no excuse for not buying a quad core, no matter what the Gigahertz you can get for cheaper.
3: Cache, while not as important as the other two ingredients, still plays a role in a processors speed. It acts like RAM but is much faster and comes in much smaller sizes. I high cache in a modern processor is 12MB.
Currently the Intel Core I7's are the fastest processors on the market, but their cost, along with the extra cost of specific motherboards and DDR3 RAM mean that they are still a bit too expensive for some of us (me). The new Core series of chips (I7, I5 and I3) are the replacement to the well loved Core 2 Duo line of processors, but as with very new tech the bang for buck will take a little longer to mature. The Core I5 may be a new performance king with regards to value, but when you add the cost of a new socket motherboard its still not worth it. That said, we are on the cusp of the Core age and people looking for a longer term machine would do well to invest in the tech now.
There is also an 'elite tax' that comes with much tech and needs to be avoided like the plague. The bottom line is that you should never but top of the range, the price to performance is usually dismal. My recommendation at this time is an Intel chip called the Q9550
Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 2.83GHz 12M Cache S775 1333MHZ
The second most important ingredient for a video rig is RAM, specifically lots of it. While RAM speed is important the biggest factor is how much. Now is a good time to talk about operating systems. Or more precisely bits. Windows XP, Vista and now Windows 7 come in two essential flavours, 32bit and 64bit. This is irrelevant to most people but to the RAM starved video editors of this world it is essential. Your garden variety operating system is 32bit, I won't get into the gory details but that means that it can only 'see' 4GB or RAM. Some of the RAM is allocated to hardware, and depending on the motherboard can be as much as 1GB. Hence when you install 4Gb you often only see something like 3.2GB showing up. A 64bit operating system can have vast amounts of RAM, so that's what you need to get. The next bottleneck to RAM is the number of RAM slots on your motherboard, usually 4 on a higher end board. As the largest economically feasible RAM size is 2GB you are going to want to throw 4 of those in for a decent 8GB of RAM. Many Core I7 boards have 6 RAM slots so for the boys using tons of effects on 1080P that may be for you. High speed RAM is not absolutely essential, I'm going to go with a DDR2 motherboard for this guide so that will come in flavours of 533, 667, 800 and 1066. 800MHz RAM is cheap and you may find a decent deal on 1066 these days so go for those.
2x Kingston 4GB kit (2x2GB Module) 800Mhz
2x £38.34 inc vat
The motherboard is where it all happens, it determines what hardware you can use, how much you can upgrade and will give you a headache no doubt. I've chosen a Intel Quad Core processor with DDR2 Ram so I need a motherboard that is compatible with those parts. But wait! there's more. I'm going to want a graphics card, I might need to add a capture card, or maybe a sound card, I want Firewire for capture as well and an ESATA port so I can connect an external hard drive at full speed. Spending a lot of money on a motherboard feels painful because you don't get a speed increase from a better part but in the long run its worth it. I've also chosen a motherboard with built in RAID which will let me build an array of disks with faster read and write performance for my footage.
Asus S775 INTEL P45 ATX DDR2 AUDIO LAN P5Q-E
£104.37 inc vat
A lot of people mistakenly think that a graphics card is an important part for video editors. It's not. While graphics cards have the potential to make a processor look pedestrian they can't as the operating system and editing software can't use them to their full potential with video... yet. There is work being done to get them more involved but most of the software that is out is more proof of concept than legitimate option. Unless you want to spend huge money on pro gear you still need to rely on the processor. When graphics cards do get proper integration into your software of choice look out for rendering times cut in quarter or better. I have chosen a relatively entry level NVidia Quadra card, only because they have better compatibility, especially with Avid. For part time gamers or people that dont want a Quadra or Fire GL then the ATI 4850 HD is decent. I would like to do some benchmarking in the future to really se what difference a graphics card makes to render times. Anyone wanting to buy me a range of cards?
NVidia PNY Quadro FX 370 PCIE 2xDVI
£95.30 inc vat