After quitting my job at an investment bank I became a full-time online blogger and YouTuber. Sounds crazy, but that's my life.
I do a lot of photo and video editing each and every single day. I also build my own editing computer not only to save money, but to maximize my performance and in the end, save time.
For the most part, your processor is the most important part of a computer designed for editing. Unfortunately, a lot of the pre-built options out there simply don't come close to the potential performance you can get otherwise.
While Ram is a close second and crucial in combination with your CPU, most people buy enough Ram and then skimp on the processor simply because it's more expensive. In this post I'll take a look at the fastest processors for your photo editing computer and give you benchmarks to look at so you can decide what the best bang for your buck processor will be for your computer.
Budgets of $300 to Under $400
A lot less money with MOST of the performance.
Ryzen 7 1700 and 1800 vs i7-8700k
At this price range you're likely looking at the Ryzen 7 1700, 1700X, or 1800 and the i7-8700k. If you were looking for more cores last year, I'd have told you to go with the Intel Broadwell-e i7-6800k which has 6 cores and 12 threads. In 2018, this no longer makes sense.
AMD's new Ryzen 7 1700 is not only cheaper at $399, it's fast and comes with 8 cores and 16 threads. I've done extensive testing with it compared to Intel's Coffee Lake i7-8700k. The Coffee Lake i7-8700k is a 6 core 12 thread processor for just around $400. This is similar to the Ryzen 7 1800.
Even though the Intel Coffee Lake i7-8700k has fewer cores, it wins in IPC or instructions per clock. This means that in applications where faster cores matter more than more cores, it still beats out the Ryzen 7. However, if you're a photo editor that uses applications where more cores can be taken into consideration, the Ryzen 7 may still win a battle here and there.
Overall, you'll have to take a look your personal workload and decide which matters most in your photo editing PC. If you do mostly gaming and some editing and rendering, the i7-8700k is definitely your choice.
A Good Budget Processor for Video and Photo Editing Under $200
For Mid-Range PC Building
Intel i5 8400 Coffee Lake vs AMD Ryzen 5 1600
Both of these options provide a lot of value for the money you spend. If you're looking for the best "budget" CPU for photo editing, my choice would be one of these.
The Coffee Lake i5 8400 is Intel's latest 6 core processor. Ryzen 5 1600 is AMD's latest. Both are $200. So, which should you go with?
Even though the Ryzen 5 1600 is slower on instructions per clock, you get 6 cores and 12 threads to work with. As the i5 doesn't have hyperthreading, you just get your 6 cores.
Still, with the faster IPC the 6 core i5 8400 wins hands down in any gaming benchmark and even in many work-related ones.
In Encoding benchmarks, I'd give the overall win to the Ryzen 5 1600. However, these two CPUs do trade blows depending on the benchmark and stay very close to one another.
If you go with Intel:
If you don't plan on tweaking or overclocking your PC, go with the non "k" version of an i5 like I listed above. For processors "k" simply mean that it's unlocked for overclocking. So, if you're not going to use it, why pay for it? The i5-8400 is a lot cheaper and performs very well when compared to the $100 more expensive i5-8600k.
If you go with AMD:
A lot of performance can be gained by using faster ram and overclocking the Ryzen 5 1600 here. In order to overclock, you'll need a B350 or good AM4 X370 motherboard. The B350 options are significantly cheaper. So, unless you need to go with a dual GPU setup, I'd point you in that direction.
For Entry-Level Editors
Ryzen 3 1200 and 1300 vs i3-8100
It's amazing how much better the choices are for the average consumer this year. The 4 core and 8 thread at $100 gives fantastic performance to the budget-minded consumer.
The i3-8100 with 4 cores also gives amazing gaming and rendering performance. If I Had my choice here it would be the i3-8100. However, keep in mind that the Ryzen 3 1200 or 1300 can be used with a cheap B350 motherboard while the i3-8100 has to use the more expensive Z370 chipset boards for now.
Dollar for Dollar the Ryzen 3 1200 is probably the better option right now while the i3 is the better performer. Once Cheap B and H chipset motherboard options for Coffee Lake become available, it will undoubtedly be the better choice.
High-End CPUs for Photo and Video Editors Around $1,000
Not worried about how much it costs? Here's what you should be looking at in 2018.
i-7900X 10-Core / 20-Thread Processor vs Threadripper 16 Core 32 1950X
Depending on what you care about the most, either one of these processors make a fine addition to a high-end workstation.
The Threadripper does win in most multi-threaded encoding benchmarks. In single-threaded benchmarks the i7-7900X is the clear winner.
Ultimately, it should come down to whether you need the extra cores of the Ryzen Threadripper or whether the single core performance is more important.
Intel vs. AMD for Photo Editing
As you can see above, Intel and AMD trade blows rather well this year when it comes to photo editing. Depending on your budget and work, I might recommend one or the other.
For gaming, Intel wins hands down. I also like Intel's i3 better than the Ryzen 3 options.
The i5 8400 is another one that's hard to pass up; however, if you're purely interested in photo and video editing tasks, the Ryzen 5 1600 is the better overall value.
What Motherboard do you need for Intel CPUs?
Coffee Lake CPUs only work with 300 series motherboards. So, you'll likely need to go with a Z370 motherboard or cheaper B or H 300 series board.
Skylake and Kaby Lake: These are Intel's sixth and seventh generation of processors. They require a socket 1151 motherboard. These motherboards are separated by various chipsets. Skylake motherboards may support DDR3 or DDR4 but are most often found with DDR4 RAM. All Kaby Lake boards support DDR4.
Broadwell Enthusiast: Broadwell-E processors will work with existing X99 motherboards with a firmware update or any of the newer LGA 2011-v3 boards.
Haswell Enthusiast: Haswell Enthusiast processors require a LGA 2011 X99 motherboard that's compatible with DDR4 memory.
Ivy Bridge: Ivy Bridge processors are compatible with a LGA 1155 GEN3 Z68, H77, Z75, or Z77 chipset motherboards. You can take a look at my post on the best Ivy Bridge motherboards for more information.
Sandy Bridge: For Intel's Second Generation Sandy Bridge: You can use any of the following chipsets; H67, P67, Z68, H77, Z75, or Z77. Keep in mind that a Sandy Bridge CPU will not allow you to take advantage of PCIe 3.0, but purchasing a GEN3 Z68, H77, Z75, or Z77 chipset motherboard will allow you to upgrade to an Ivy Bridge processor in the future.
For Intel's Sandy Bridge Enthusiast Processors: These 2011 pin CPU require an X79 motherboard and are compatible with PCIe 3.0. Ivy Bridge-e CPU will be compatible with the X79 chipset when they are released.
AMD FX Series: These require an am3+ socket motherboard. Here's a look at some of the top rated am3+ motherboards.
Criteria for Ranking
Before I begin it's important to realize that I'm not including Xeon CPUs in this analysis as they simply don't make practical sense for most that will read this post.
With that being said I'm using a number of factors in determining which processors I think give you the best overall value for what you spend. First and foremost, is value. For that reason, I'll be sorting this out by price points and give you my thoughts at each.
This was my top ten list based on a number of benchmarks that I've been through. This list is based on overall bang for your buck and value rather than what's simply the fastest.
Kaby Lake i7-7700k CPU
Pre-owned you might be able to get the i7-7700k used. It's still a great option for LGA 1151 platform. For gaming it's truly unbelievable and for those of you who don't need the extra cores, it still holds a lot of performance and value. The base of 4.2GHz and max turbo frequency of 4.5GHz mean that you're closer to an ideal overclock out of the gate. If you do plan on tweaking the CPU, reaching speeds of 5GHz should be fairly simple using a good Z270 motherboard.
Compared to the Broadwell-E platform you'll also save some money on your motherboard when you go with this consumer-focused option rather than the enthusiast platform of the i7-6800k. So, despite the $60 price differential between it and the i7-6800k, it'll most likely be more like $100 to $150 after the motherboard.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 PCReviews
Reader Feedback and Comments
craig john on November 20, 2017:
I'm about to build my first PC to replace my aging 2009 Mac Pro, and I've been mulling this CPU thing over for the past few months. I'm rather surprised you didn't bring up the x299 chipset (7800x and 7820x).
If you're a heavy PS user, the 8700 might be the best bang for the buck if you don't plan on overclocking.
If you're OK with overclocking, then the 8700K would make PS fly.
One dark horse to think about is the 7820x, which doesn't lose much in terms of performance because of it's 4.5GHz single core frequency - and it's overclockable.
For Lightroom, it's a toss up between the 8700K and the 7820x - depending how much you value exporting performance. If you need a fast export, the 7820x really it's the sweet spot, being 45% less expensive than the 7900x.
If you're a Capture One Pro user, the Intel 7900x is a beast, especially when paired with a fast GPU like a 1080ti. But...the 7820X is also a spectacular option, and again, it's the price to performance sweet spot.
Right now, if I had to pick any CPU I'd take the 7820x. If I was on a tighter budget, I'd take the 8700 (non-K).
Ryzen 7 seemingly lags behind every Intel offering from the 7700k, 7740k, 8600, 8700, 8700k, 7800x, 7820x, and the 7900x in overall PS and LR performance. It also lags behind Intel in Capture One Pro performance. ...though I'm not sure how well the Ryzen 7 CPUs fair with the newly released Lightroom Classic.
If I was doing video and photo equally, the 7820x would still be my choice. If I was only doing video, I'd probably go with the Threadripper 1950x.
If I was only doing graphic design, the 8700.
I wouldn't waste my money on Xeon CPUs nor ECC memory. It's not a necessity for this kind of work. Dump that money into more memory and SSDs.
Brian on August 18, 2017:
If your building a PC for design you should also be looking at a SSD. I'll take 8gb of ram and a SSD over 16gb of ram and a regular harddrive any day.
It's not a bad idea to look at getting a budget graphics card too.
You could easily build a high power PC for graphic and video design for under $500.
The great thing about building your own computer is you can always add in or upgrade. Granted your limited to the motherboard series but if you buy a i3 with 8gb of ram you can always swap it for an i5 or i7 and add another stick of ram.
I'll never buy another stock pc (HP, Dell, etc), they're junk compared to a personalized computer.
The Bears head on August 02, 2017:
How come you have not said anything about Xeon processors? I have seen graphic set ups that use Xeon processors.
jignesh on June 05, 2017:
i want system for graphic design, video editing and audio editing.
so please give me a suggestion about which system is good for me.
so i can do my work with excitement.
abith on November 15, 2016:
I need i7 multimedia system configration please advice..........
Tigerbob209 on October 11, 2016:
Skylake socket is indeed LGA 1151, but it has nothing to do with Z97. Z97 is the chipset of the overclockable boards sporting the LGA1150 socket. An overclockable board for Skylake would be the Z170.
Also, I wouldn't tell people that Skylake is either DDR3, or DDR4. Few manufactures offer anything other than DDR4. DDR3L is the other type that Skylake is able to support, and is different from DDR3. Hope that clears some things up.