Building your own PC. Intimidating? Yes. Complicated? Well, not really. It’s way easier than you think, and you will reap the benefits from this machine much longer than you would with a stock PC or a Mac. So today, I’m going to tell you what parts you need and how they benefit each program you might be using — and then we’re going to build this PC together, step by step. Soon enough, you won’t want to rip your hair out every time you want to export a video.
Let’s get started!
Why Build Your Own Computer?
Well for one (and most importantly), it’s much cheaper than buying a stock PC — and especially a mac. A mac with the same build specs as my computer is literally twice the cost. Yes, I know — iOS is very user-friendly, and longtime mac users are comfortable with it. But Windows is really not too scary or complicated — especially the newest operating system.
It’s also a great future-proof investment. If a part becomes outdated, just replace it. No need to throw out the baby with the bathwater. It’s completely modular, so you can replace outdated parts as you go on until you have a full-blown Ship of Theseus on your hands. Also, in the future, when you might have a little more room in the budget for better parts, you can just replace them one at a time instead of making sweeping investments every three to five years.
And (at least to me) it’s just flat-out fun. Learning the ins and outs of how your computer works while you build it will be extremely helpful in the future when you run into problems and want to fix it yourself. It’s kind of like learning to repair your own car — it’s going to save you money in the long run. You shouldn’t be intimidated by the aspect of building your own PC — it’s just about the same as assembling an expensive lego set. There’s absolutely no soldering or coding you have to do to get it running.
Getting Familiar with PC Parts
The CPU (Central Processing Unit)
Let’s start off with an editing PC’s most important piece of hardware — the CPU, or “central processing unit.” This is going to be the brain of the operation; it performs the calculations and tasks necessary to run the OS and software. Many people new to the PC parts world don’t know that the CPU is the hardware that will speed up your renders and your video previews while editing. Most mainstream NLEs like Adobe Premiere and Final Cut use the CPU way more than they do the GPU, so your biggest investment should be the CPU — unless you edit in DaVinci resolve, but we will get to that later. If you’re budgeting how much you want to spend on your build, definitely prioritize a high-quality processor before you go for a high-tier GPU.
When you’re choosing a CPU, take a look at how many cores and threads it has. The higher the number of cores and the higher the thread count, the faster your renders will be. That’s because many NLEs distribute the workload among all of the available cores, thus avoiding too much throttling during CPU-intensive tasks.
Our processor of choice is the Intel i9 9900k. This monster processor has everything you need — 8 cores and 16 threads, at a speed of up to 5.0 gHz. It will comfortably blaze through 4K footage, and it won’t leave you high and dry during an intensive edit. I was actually debating between the i9 and the AMD Ryzen Threadripper series because the Threadripper has double the cores and threads for just about the same price, but the Threadripper is a different size than most conventional processors, so it requires a different size motherboard, which increased the price more than I was willing to spend. Also, historically, Adobe software usually plays better with Intel processors (compared to AMD).
Our budget-friendly option is the AMD Ryzen 7 2700X. It’s got 8 cores and 16 threads, and it handles really well for a $300 CPU. Back in the day, you would have been laughed out of the room for using AMD processors in your build, but after they released the Ryzen series a few years ago, they have become a formidable competitor for Intel, and they now offer a cheaper option for budget builds without sacrificing speed.
To cool this CPU, you need… a CPU cooler. While some CPUs may come with their own cooling fans, I highly recommend investing in a liquid CPU cooler. Editing and rendering is going to put a lot of strain on your processor, especially when you’re overclocking it. With just a typical CPU fan, you may run the risk of overheating your PC and melting your chipset.
Liquid CPU coolers work by connecting a head mount to the processor, which funnels into a radiator that cools the liquid in a continuous loop, which in part cools the CPU without too much noise. We chose a NZXT Kraken X52 liquid cooler, not only for its proven reliability but also because it just looks so crisp inside the NZXT case. Ours cost us about $150, so if you’re looking for a more affordable liquid cooler, Cooler Master makes some for $70-80 like the MasterLiquid Series.
GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
Now on to the GPU — the Graphics Processing Unit. If you’re going to be doing graphics-intensive work, or color correction and grading, the GPU will power these effects. For a while, an expensive GPU wasn’t necessary for video editing, but recently, many NLEs (like Premiere) have begun offloading some of the workload onto the GPU instead of mainlining it through the CPU. You will actually see a little box next to the effect in Premiere if the effect uses the GPU for processing.
When shopping for a GPU for video editing keep an eye out for the amount of memory in GB — and the number of CUDA cores inside. The more memory available inside the GPU, the more graphics-intensive workload you can handle.
CUDA cores are just Nvidia’s proprietary name for their programming model. I won’t — and honestly can’t — go into the specifics of what exactly the cores do, but if you are an Adobe user, there is an option to use the CUDA cores during editing to offset the workload onto both processing units.
We decided to go with a EVGA GeForce 2080 GPU, mostly because of its relative affordability, the high 8GB memory, and 2944 CUDA cores. These cores will optimize your rendering times, and if you’re building this PC for a little gaming on the side, it will handle just about any game you throw at it. Our GPU also comes with USB-C integration, so I can hook up our monitors in the office that use USB-C as displays. For a more affordable option, I recommend you stay within the GTX or RTX family because of their CUDA cores, so a 1050, 1060, or 1070 will work just fine in the $200-400 range.
Before we move on from GPUs, I think it’s fitting to mention one of the outlier NLEs when it comes to utilizing the GPU — Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve. Resolve actually uses the GPU for processing and rendering far more than the CPU, so if you are a faithful Resolve user, reverse my recommendation and invest more in your GPU than your CPU. If you use multiple NLEs, it wouldn’t hurt to have both a great GPU and a great CPU. (That would also future-proof your machine when Premiere inevitably starts also using the GPU.)
RAM (Random Access Memory)
We’re going to need some memory to power this machine — otherwise known as RAM. RAM processes information in active programs, and it helps run all of the programs you may have open at one time. One thing that bothers me when talking to people about upgrading their PCs is that more RAM equals faster speeds. Technically, this is only half true. Computer programs, when open, require a certain amount of RAM to run at full optimization. Say, for example, Premiere only requires 9GB of RAM to run at 100 percent. If you have 16GB of RAM, then you will be fine — as long as no other programs are open. But, if you wanted to hop into After Effects or Photoshop to build a graphic for your video, that may increase your total RAM requirements to over 16GB, which will throttle performance. So, having a lot of RAM won’t “speed up” your computer, per se, but having a lot of it will prevent processing throttling if you have many programs open — and most editors usually do.
We recommend getting at least 32 GB of RAM for your build. It will be plenty to run two or three intensive programs at 100 percent. We decided to get two sticks of 16 GB so we could leave some room in our other two slots on our motherboard — in case we wanted to increase memory in the future. If you want to save a bit of money though, and if you’re fine topping out at 32GB, purchasing four 8GB sticks could save you about 50-100 bucks.
Onto our next topic: storage options. Video editors usually need a lot of space, since videos tend to be very large files. There are three types of drives currently on the market: HDDs, SSDs, and M.2 drives.
HDDs are the oldest and cheapest type of storage. They use a spinning disc to write information. This, however, makes them very slow drives because of the moving parts. That’s why most PC builders have been switching over to SSDs — or “solid state drives.”
SSDs are basically very large flash drives — they have no moving parts, and they can access information at about 10x the speed of a HDD. The boot speed can take only about three seconds on a SSD compared to a HDD’s 30-second average boot time. Editing footage off of a SSD is also going to speed up your access times — such as import speeds and the time it takes for your NLE to compile footage.
Now some new technology that has come out in the past few years is the M.2 drive, which we decided to use in our build. This tiny little chip can hold two TB of information, and it plugs directly into the motherboard, so there’s no need for wires. This only cost us about $230, which is astounding for someone like me who spent $200 on a 256GB SSD just a few years ago. With two TB of storage on the M.2, I didn’t see a need for any more storage, and I opted to only use that as my primary drive with the supplemental use of external drives.
If you don’t want to spend too much on storage, you might use a SSD/HDD combo setup. All the programs and the operating system are stored on the SSD, and all of your footage and assets can be stored on the HDD.
So we have all our parts, and we’re going to put them all together on the motherboard. The motherboard is not technically associated with performance, but it does either expand or limit your options for connections. Video editors will want a motherboard with multiple USB 3 connections — and maybe Thunderbolt connections. When you’re looking for a motherboard, make sure that it is compatible with your processor. The easiest way to confirm this is plugging your build into PCpartpicker.com, which will reveal any compatibility issues. I use this for all of my builds just so I don’t make a compatibility mistake. We’re using the ASUS STRIX Z390-E, since it has a plethora of available connections and a slot for my M.2 hard drive.
Don’t worry about dropping too much cash on your motherboard. Something in the range of $100-$150 will suit you just fine. If you stick with one that’s labeled a “gaming” motherboard, it’s sure to be something that will hold all your components.
All that’s left is the case and the power supply. The case is something that can be more cosmetic than functional — just make sure that it has good airflow ratings and good reviews. There are also different sizes, like full tower, mid tower, and micro tower — your choice will depend on the size of the build. Want to throw 10 HDDs in your PC? You might go with a full-size tower then. We chose the NZXT midsize, since it has great ratings, it looks great, and it can fit on top of my desk without towering over me.
Power Supply Unit (PSU)
For the power supply, or the PSU, you just need to make sure that it has enough watts to power your build. For this, you can plug your build into PCpartpicker, and it will tell you the exact wattage that your build requires. Make sure to give it a bit of a buffer, though — sometimes when you’re straining or overclocking your PC, you may need more power. We went with a 1,000-watt SuperNOVA Platinum power supply. If you’re familiar with PC parts, you might think that is way too much power for this build. Well, I had the budget to get a few more watts in my PSU, and I’m planning on expanding this PC in the future, so better safe than sorry. I have a 750-watt PSU in my PC back home, and that one works just fine.