Building a Photo and Video Editing PC on a Budget 2016
Why Not Build Your Own Dream Editing Machine?
Building a PC for photo or video editing can get super-expensive and especially if you have someone do it for you. If you've got the money, then it's easy enough to find the best-performing graphics cards and processors on the market and make your dream machine. But where do you start if you find yourself
If you've got a budget of around $2,000, then it's easy enough to find the right parts and build your own PC. As I handle rendering, photo editing, and video editing, 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 thinking about taking the plunge into the PC building world, here's what I think about the various components you might be choosing from.
Graphics Card - What to get?
To start with, let's look at graphics cards. Keep in mind that we're building a budget PC here, rather than a workstation; you 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 certain benchmarks.
Overall your best bet is 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. Look, for example, at this recent review and benchmarks from Tom's Hardware.
Some Editors No Longer Need a Graphics Card
Some are saying this year that entry-to mid-level editors don't even need a video card. With processing power being so important to photo and video editing, and given the recent improvements in processor-integrated graphics, many programs work well with a decent processor from Intel or AMD.
Entry-level editors should consider spending as much as 50% of their overall budget on the CPU and forgetting the GPU altogether.
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 on NVIDIA's new 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.
If you're looking for a good performer in the $400 price range, I'd go with the GTX 1070.
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 i7-5820k would be a good example of high processing power for a moderate price. At around $400 it offers six-core processing power, with hyper-threading that allows it to operate as up to 12 cores. 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, thus yielding great results for the things most users are looking for. Here's a benchmark for Photoshop CS6 which compares popular processors used in photo editing PCs, like the i7-3930k, the AMD FX 8350, and the previous generation i7-3770k. You can also take a look at this PassMark benchmark for another comparison of processors across the price spectrum.
You'll have to choose between the i7-6700k and the six-core enthusiast processor i7-5820k. If you chose the latter, you will spend a little more on your processor/motherboard combination. Ultimately, I decided upon the 5820k as the additional cores are quite helpful for encoding and especially if you overclock.
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
Most motherboards require DDR4.
Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge
Older processors need a DDR3-compatible motherboard
Socket 2011 X99
Haswell Enthusiast Only
Haswell (fourth generation)
Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge (second, third generations)
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
Socket 1151 Motherboards
More likely than not you'll be using a socket 1151 motherboard with your photo editing build. Z170 boards allow for overclocking and are ideal for this type of build.
Socket 2011 Motherboards:
Sandy and Ivy Bridge Vs. Haswell Refresh Enthusiast Processors:
These are for use with Sandy, Ivy, and Haswell refresh enthusiast processors. That being said it gets a little bit confusing from there. Newer X99 motherboards are used only with Haswell refresh enthusiast processors and require DDR4.
On the other hand other chipsets from Socket 2011 are compatible with Sandy, Ivy Bridge enthusiast processors. Look for DDR3 compatibility if you're using a somewhat older enthusiast processor.
Socket 1150 and 1155 Motherboards
This is a little tricky, but if you go with a new Haswell fourth generation processor, then you'll need one of the newer 1150 motherboards. If you go with the second or third generation Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge, then you'll need an 1155 motherboard.
If you go with one of AMD's newer FX series processors, then you'll need a socket AM3+ motherboard. These are backward compatible with most series of AMD CPU you'll come across in today's market. The only exception would be AMD's new Llano, Trinity, and Richland APUs which require a socket FM1 or FM2 motherboard depending on the generation.
When choosing a motherboard, you will have to consider what you plan on doing with your computer. If you don't plan on overclocking or don't need lots of features, then going with an inexpensive motherboard in the $100 price range is probably the right thing to do. But if you plan to add RAM, overclock your RAM, or upgrade to high-speed RAM, you will need to make sure your motherboard is compatible with those options.
If you plan on upgrading in the future, then you'll want to start with a motherboard which can support beyond this amount.
If you plan on overclocking your ram or purchasing high speed ram, then be sure to check to make sure your motherboard is compatible with higher speeds than what you've purchased.
A Good Motherboard for the i7-6700k
The Asus Z170-A is the ideal choice for use with your i7-6700k. It has a ton of connectivity options and features. Asus' mid-range boards have been my choice now for the last several years and have never let me down.
A Good Motherboard for the i7-5820k
If you go with the i7-5820k, this is a good board to consider. It's compatible and feature-loaded. If you go with a Skylake processor and motherboard, consider a different route.
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 without voting
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.
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.
For this build, I'm recommending you purchase two of their 2TB models.
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.
The i7-6700k and i7-5820k don't come with cooling fans so you'll need something aftermarket. Here's 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.
OK, that's what I have to say on this particular build. I try to update my parts choices monthly and explain my rationale. As always, let me know what you think in the "Comments" section below.
More About the Latest Hardware Choices
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- Best PC and Console Gaming TV 2016
Not all TVs are equal, especially when you're gaming competitively. Here's a look at a few that won't let you down.
- Best 1150 Motherboard 2015 Intel Haswell CPU Motherboards
A look at some great new motherboard CPU combos to use with Intel's new Haswell release. If you're looking to build a gaming PC, then it's worth a glance.
© 2013 Brandon Hart
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