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Building a Photo and Video Editing PC on a Budget 2017

Updated on January 03, 2017
toptengamer profile image

I left my Finance job 6 years ago to work for my dream boss, myself. I've never looked back. I focus on tech, gaming, and hardware reviews.

If you're willing to try it, building your own PC can net you a better quality computer for less money. Here are the parts I'd choose for budgets from under $500 to $2000.
If you're willing to try it, building your own PC can net you a better quality computer for less money. Here are the parts I'd choose for budgets from under $500 to $2000.

Why Not Build Your Own Dream Editing Machine?

Building a PC for photo or video editing can really expensive. This is especially true if you buy a pre-built machine or have someone do it for you.

If you've got a budget of under $500 or even $2,000, it's easy enough to find the right parts and build a PC how you want it. As I handle rendering, photo editing, and video editing every day, I upgrade the hardware on my PC regularly. The extra performance saves me a lot of time, money, and headaches in the long-run.

If you're looking to do this with your own PC, here are the parts I recommend based on how much you're willing to spend.

Photo Editing and Graphics Cards: What to get?

My Choice

I prefer gaming-style graphics cards for photo editing. Most of the photo editing and rendering software I use as a YouTube content creator runs well with this EVGA GeForce GTX 1070.

This $400 card is faster than the much more expensive Titan X and is the perfect mix of value and performance.

If you need even more performance you could always go with the GTX 1080. At around $650 it's a bit more expensive, but it will give you about 20% more performance.

EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC GAMING ACX 3.0, 8GB GDDR5, LED, DX12 OSD Support (PXOC) Graphics Card 08G-P4-6173-KR
EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 SC GAMING ACX 3.0, 8GB GDDR5, LED, DX12 OSD Support (PXOC) Graphics Card 08G-P4-6173-KR

If you're looking for a good performer in the $400 price range, I'd go with the GTX 1070.

 

For Budgets Under $200:

If you're looking for a card under $200, I highly recommend AMD's RX 470. I've been able to find it for as low as $160. The performance at that price level is superior to the GTX 1050 Ti and saves you money vs a similar performing GTX 1060 3GB or a RX 480 4GB at $200.

MSI GAMING Radeon RX 470 GDDR5 4GB CrossFire FinFET DirectX 12 Graphics Card (RX 470 GAMING X 4G)
MSI GAMING Radeon RX 470 GDDR5 4GB CrossFire FinFET DirectX 12 Graphics Card (RX 470 GAMING X 4G)

I like the RX 470. If you find one on rebate, you can get it for around $160 to $170. If you can't, consider going with a GTX 1050 Ti for around $140.

 

Recommended GPU by Budget

Budget
GPU
$2,000
GTX 1080
$1,500
GTX 1070
$1,000
GTX 1060 6GB
Under $1,000
RX 470 or GTX 1050 Ti
Under $500
i3-6100 integrated graphics

Processor

For Photo and Video Editing, the Processor Is King

The last place you want to short yourself on your photo editing build is the processor. That being said, you don’t have to buy the most expensive processor in order to take advantage of most of the benefits.

The Intel i7-6800k is a great CPU for high processing power for a moderate price. At around $400 it offers six-core processing power. Hyper-threading allows it to operate as if it had 12 cores. It's not quite as effective as having 12 cores individually, but still very good. This is a huge benefit when it comes to rendering.

Even a processor like the sixth generation Skylake i7-6700k offers four cores along with hyper-threading and a high operating frequency, thus yielding the results that most are looking for.

Overclocking

A lot of the processors I'm recommending are unlocked for overclocking. This can give you a lot of extra performance and decrease the time it takes you to do tasks. However, if you're not an overclocker you can look for processors that don't have a "k" at the end of their model numbers. Something like the i7-6700 or i5-6500 would be a moderately priced option if you don't want to overclock.

Intel Core i7 6700K 4.00 GHz Unlocked Quad Core Skylake Desktop Processor, Socket LGA 1151 [BX80662I76700K]
Intel Core i7 6700K 4.00 GHz Unlocked Quad Core Skylake Desktop Processor, Socket LGA 1151 [BX80662I76700K]

You'll have to choose between the i7-6700k and the six-core enthusiast processor i7-6800k. If you chose the latter, you'll spend a little more on your processor/motherboard combination.

 
Budget
Processor
$2,000
i7-6850k
$1,500
i7-6800k
$1,000
i5-6500 or i5-6500k
Under $1,000
i5-6400
Under $500
i3-6100

Recommended Photo or Video Editing Builds from Under $500 to $2,000

Budget
$500
$1,000
$1,500
$2,000
Processor
i3-6100
i5-6600k
i7-6800k
i7-6850k
Graphics Card
RX 470
GTX 1060 6GB
GTX 1070
GTX 1080
Motherboard
MSI H110M Pro-VD
Asus Z170-A
Asus X99-E
Asus X99-E
Storage
240GB A-Data SSD
240GB A-Data SSD and 1 x Hitachi Deskstar 2TB
240GB A-Data SSD and 2 x Hitachi Deskstar 2TB
240GB A-Data SSD and 3 x Hitachi Deskstar 2TB
Memory
8GB Kingston HyperX Black 2x4 kit
2x4 8GB kit Corsair Vengeance LPX DDR4 3000MHz
Corsair Vengeance LPX 8x2GB 3000MHz
Corsair Vengeance LPX 8x2GB 3000MHz
Power Supply
EVGA 430W W1 PSU
EVGA SuperNova G2 650W
EVGA SuperNova G2 650W
EVGA SuperNova G2 650W
Case
Rosewill 1000 Micro ATX
Fractal Design R5
Fractal Design R5
Fractal Design R5
Optical Drive
None
LG WH16NS40 Blu-Ray
LG WH16NS40 Blu-Ray
LG WH16NS40 Blu-Ray
CPU Cooler
None
Hyper 212 Evo
Hyper 212 Evo
Corsair H100i

Motherboard

If you've never built a computer before, it's important to realize that your motherboard options depend on the processor you choose. For example, if you go with the i7-5820k, which is an LGA 2011 socket processor, then you'll need a compatible socket 2011 motherboard.

It's easy enough to look in the product description for the CPU to find out what socket motherboard you need. This basic breakdown may help too:

Motherboard and Processor Compatibility

Motherboard Types
Compatible Processors
Notes
Socket 1151
Skylake, Kaby Lake
Most motherboards require DDR4.
Socket 2011
Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge
Older processors need a DDR3-compatible motherboard
Socket 2011-v3 X99
Broadwell and Haswell Enthusiast Only
Requires DDR4
Socket 1150
Haswell (fourth generation)
 
Socket 1155
Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge (second, third generations)
 
Socket AM3+
AMD FX series processors
Compatible with older AMD CPUs being sold
Socket FM1 or Socket FM2
AMD Llano, Trinity, Richland APUs
Whether FM1 or FM2 depends on the generation

Choosing a Motherboard for Various Budgets

If you're just looking for my recommendation for your budget, I've made a list of all the parts (based on budget) below.

For motherboard, I typically look for something that's reliable and that has all the features I need.

Under $500 Build

For this build, we're just trying to find something inexpensive so that we can put more of our money towards other things. Since we're not overclocking and we plan on keeping everything at stock speeds, the H110 chipset will do a fine job. Chipset does not affect stock performance and therefore going with something cheap here is a good idea. The MSI H110M Pro-VD is a motherboard I used on a recent build and the one I'd recommend here.

At $40 it'll allow us to put more of our budget towards other items.

$1,000 Build

Here we're going with a Skylake processor that can be overclocked and therefore we're looking for a Z170 chipset motherboard. Asus is a brand I typically rely on for mid-range builds and I feel like the Asus Z170-A is a real winner in terms of value and quality.

$1,500 and $2,000 Budget Build

In the $1,500 range, we're entering enthusiast territory and going with the Broadwell-e i7-6800k. For the motherboard, again, we're going with something with the features we need and the quality we want while avoiding paying too much. The Asus X99-e is a great overclocker and has tons of features.

RAM

How Much Ram is Enough for Photo or Video Editing?

For Photo Editing

Most professionals don't use more than 32GB of RAM. If you're making this computer as a photo editing PC and edit one photo at a time, then most likely you'd be fine with just 8GB. For multiple photos at one time consider at least 16GB of ram.

For Video Editing

For amateur video editors, I'd recommend 16GB; this tends to be enough to get the job done when editing HD video. For professionals, I'd recommend going with 32GB to start with, and upgrading from there if you find that you're using the full amount.

If you plan on upgrading or overclocking your RAM in the future, you'll want a motherboard now that can support more RAM and/or higher speeds.

If you buy your RAM in sets of 16GB, DDR4 isn't that much more expensive than DDR3, and it lets you future-proof your PC.

In my recent post on the best DDR4 memory or RAM, I talk about how cheaper memory seems to make more sense right now due to the lack of performance from more expensive kits. I recommend you go with something fast but not overly expensive. The Corsair Vengeance LPX 3000MHz series is my recommendation.

Interactive Editor Poll

How Much Ram do You Use?

See results

Hard Drive and Storage Options

Solid State Drive or Disk Drive?

Solid state drives (SSD) work well for storing your OS and applications, or as “scratch disks” designated for temporary use by Photoshop or other programs. That being said, you'll have to decide whether solid state is worth it for you, and whether it's better than using a RAID configuration (a series of disk drives). If you're still not sure what you should do, then see this Adobe document on optimizing Photoshop performance, which suggests that RAID 0 arrays make great scratch disks.

Personally, I've gotten used to the speed advantages that come with having a solid state drive for my OS and applications, and I don’t plan on going back. For this build, I'll recommend a modestly priced SSD along with a disk drive. I use an SSD to store my OS and applications, and a disk drive to store videos and photos.

My Picks for SSD and HDD:

ADATA Premier SP550

The ADATA Premier SP550 is the perfect mix of speed and value. I'd recommend at least the 240GB version so you have enough for your operating system and most important programs. The increase in speed of a solid state drive makes it well worth having for any machine you own.

HGST Deskstar

A disk drive should be fast and ultra-reliable: that is, with 7200RPM and a 64 MB cache. I really like the newer HGST NAS hard drives. HGST is a Western Digital company and its NAS hard drive is perfect for what we're looking for.

Depending on your budget you may want to purchase several of these. For the $2,000 build I'm recommending three.

A Quiet Case and Cooler

You'll need a case and cooler to contain your high-powered creation and get rid of its waste heat.

Fractal Design R5 - The Perfect Quiet Case

This case looks great, supports as many fans as you'd want, includes easy-to-install solid state drive mounts, and has USB 3.0 in the front. It looks professional and has noise-dampening material built into the case.

Corsair 100R Silent ATX Mid Tower

For a less expensive option with a smaller profile, you should also consider Corsair's 100R. It's a reasonably cheap option that won't distract from your workspace.

This makes it ideal for an office environment where a powerful, but noisy, computer can sometimes distract.

Do You Need a CPU Cooler?

Skylake and modern enthusiast processors don't come with cooling fans so you'll need something aftermarket. Here are a couple inexpensive but effective solutions.

Hyper 212 EVO

The Hyper 212 Evo is inexpensive and perfect if you plan on doing some light overclocking. For higher-end overclocking, consider the Corsair H100i series or NZXT Kraken series of liquid CPU coolers.

If you go with the Hyper 212 EVO it does have a fairly large profile and won't fit the Corsair 100R Silent tower above. However, the Fractal Design R5 is plenty big.

Corsair Hydro H60

For a smaller profile liquid cooler, consider the Hydro H60. This would be the perfect cooler to work with the Corsair 100R.

A Good Monitor for Photo Editing

If you want to read up on this subject, I highly recommend my post on the best photo editing monitors under $500.

If you'd like to skip all that, then my recommendation to keep this build under $2000 would be the Dell UltraSharp U2715H. It's a 1440p 27" monitor so it has plenty of screen real estate.

Most importantly, it comes factory calibrated out of the box at 99% sRGB with a deltaE <3. For the price, it gives the best color accuracy and consistency out of the box while giving you spectacular viewing angles and color with its QHD panel.

Do You Really Need a Graphics Card?

To start with, let's look at graphics cards. Keep in mind that we're building a budget PC here, rather than a workstation. So, you certainly aren’t limited to workstation-type graphics cards.

If you're focusing more on CAD-based applications, then you may be better off going with a workstation-type graphics card, a Quadro or Firepro, than a gaming graphics card. This may also be your choice if you use any program which can take advantage of CUDA or OpenCL as it will reduce your rendering times. But, in general, the less expensive gaming-oriented Radeon and GeForce graphics cards perform admirably and beat out the Quadro and Firepro for most benchmarks.

Overall, you'll want to look at benchmarks for the programs that you use and make a choice based on how a graphics card performs for that specific software.

A Quality T1 Power Supply

If you're building a good graphics or photo editing machine, I highly recommend a good power supply. A good power supply is not only more power efficient, it's also safer in the long-run.

Considering the costs of your components, this is really a no-brainer. Also, in a place where energy costs are high, you'll quickly make back the difference.

Recommendation: Right now I'd recommend you go with the EVGA SuperNova 550W or 650W models. These give you a great quality option without charging a fortune.

Final Thoughts

All of these builds are what I'd recommend based on your budget. That being said your needs might differ from the typical photo or video editors. If you have any questions, I'm more than happy to help you in the comment section below as soon as I can.

© 2013 Brandon Hart

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    • Kevin Browning 12 days ago

      This is very helpful. All I want to do is make blu rays of my home-made movies.

      If I went with the $1000.00 machine, is there a video editor you'd recommend (does it come with blu ray burning ability, or is that something else I would need to buy).

      I'm wondering what other expenses I will run into. I don't need a fancy monitor (can I use my HDTV as a monitor?).

      And I have no intention of using this computer for internet browsing. I just want to make blu rays with it. Can I avoid ever connecting to the internet, or is that required to activate software?

      What am I likely to spend, in total, in order to start making blu rays of my adventures? And do you think that modern software will recognize my Sony FX1 (mini DV)?

      Thanks,

      Kevin

    • genius 6 weeks ago

      RAID is possible with using two SSD drives - so there you get more speed for both - system and applications on one side and scratch on other side.

    • PSoup 7 weeks ago

      What if you want to use it for 3d rendering? And a 3k budget.

    • toptengamer profile image
      Author

      Brandon Hart 8 weeks ago from The Game

      If you're not comfortable building your own, there are places that will charge you around $50 for assembly. I believe NCIX does that. How much are they asking for that system?

    • romes561 2 months ago

      Your article is very informative and while I might consider building a video editing computer with components, I believe that I would be better served buying a pre-assembled system. In researching, I came across the following system (which seemed to share many of the components you spec-ed) and wanted to get your thoughts.

      ADAMANT® 6X-CORE Desktop PC Gaming Station INtel Core i7 6800K 3.4Ghz 32Gb DDR4 3TB HDD 500Gb SSD Blu-Ray Wi-Fi Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 8Gb

      Thank you.

    • toptengamer profile image
      Author

      Brandon Hart 4 months ago from The Game

      I'd probably do something like this: http://www.toptengamer.com/skylake-gaming-pc/ with a GTX 1070

    • SalV 4 months ago

      Hi Brandon, really enjoyed your article. I used to love assembling computers, but just don't have the time lately. I need a video editing rig for Sony Vegas that allows for high def real time preview and fast 1080p encoding. (No monitor) Is there anything off the shelf you'd recommend under $1000 that fits the bill, preferably in a small, possibly mini pc form factor? Thanks!

    • Air 19 months ago

      FYI, Haswell Refresh is of the LGA 1150 socket. Haswell-E is the set of Intel CPUs for 2011-3.

    • durgesh 21 months ago

      Like intel latest configration

    • Roberto 22 months ago

      Nice article but you didn't mention than CS5+ can use CUDA for rendering even on gaming graphic cards. At the moment I'm using a GTX760 and it works very well with the Mercury Playback Engine built into CS5 (Premiere and After effects).

      I think I would include a good video cart compatible with this system in any decent editing setup. What do you think?

    • Ryan 23 months ago

      Consider going back in time to the x56.. Processors with the lga1366/socket Asus server mother board. 1. You can practically blow any I7 out of the water with two x5680s for $300 and you'll have more pcie slots to play with. Having DDR4 would be nice, but it's not a practical option, and probably won't be, for a while for budget workstations.

    • mzura 2 years ago

      Check the chipset for socket 2011 motherboards...

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