Build your own high-performance video/photo editing PC ... for under $1,500

Build your own high-performance video/photo editing PC ... for under $1,500

Summary: Continuing my "Build your own" series, I'm going to follow on from building a Home Theater PC and today look at building a how to build a high-performance video/photo editing PC ... for under $1,500.


Continuing my "Build your own" series, I'm going to follow on from building a Home Theater PC and today look at building a how to build a high-performance video/photo editing PC ... for under $1,500.

There are several requirements for a high-performance video/photo editing PC that differ from your average PC. In fact, even a high-performance gaming PC might not be ideally suited to photo and video editing.

Note: This is a bare-bones system so I'm not including peripherals (keyboard, mouse and monitor), OS or a case in the listing.

Here are my requirements:

  • Fast (but not super-fast) CPU
  • Lots of RAM
  • Plenty of storage
  • Fast storage
  • Ability to burn CDs/DVDs/Blu-ray

OK, let's pull the parts we need together!


OK, I'm looking for power, but I don't want to pay crazy money for that power. For this design I've chosen an Intel Core i7 processor, but rather than blow nearly $1,000 on the 975 Extreme Edition, I've gone for the more modest 920.

The Core i7 920 is a 2.66GHz, quad core part that's built using 45nm architecture. Not only is it a quad core part, but each core is capable of handling two threads each.

This part is also supports Intel's Streaming SIMD Extension 4.1 (SSE 4.1)making it ideally suited to dealing with multimedia (such as video encoding and decoding).

Some downsides are that this CPU needs a specific motherboard (Socket LGA 1366) and DDR3 RAM, both of which add to the price of the system.

Price: $290

Next -->


OK, so we need a Socket LGA 1366 motherboard to pair with the Core i7 CPU. Given the availability of these boards now, this isn't a problem.

I've gone for the Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R for this build because it's a robust, high-performance and versatile board that's ideal for the kind of build we have in mind here.

It's a good board because it's already well set up out of the box, but has plenty of tweakability for those who like to tinker.

Price: $210


For this build we're going to need DDR3 RAM, and because this machine is going to be handling multimedia, let's make sure we have plenty of it.

You don't need super-fancy RAM, so I suggest that you go for Corsair XMS3 DDR3 1600. 6GB (3 x 2GB) will set you back under $200. If you want to up the RAM to 12GB, grab two packs. (I've had reports in that this motherboard,this RAM and Windows 7 don't play well together when you have 12GB installed ... I'll look into that)

Price: $190

Hard drive

If you're going to be handling photos and video, you're going to need plenty of storage.

There are plenty of scope for choice here. You could choose solid-state hard drive if you have plenty of cash to spend, but that's only an option for those looking for a super-spendy system.

Another option is to use RAID to pull together two drives into a RAID 0 array. I like this but two drives doubles the chances of failure, and hand-holding RAID isn't for everyone.

Instead, I'm going to suggest two drives. One fast drive, and another high-capacity drive.

For the fast drive I'm recommending the Western Digital VelociRaptor 300GB. This makes an excellent OS drive of a scratch disk for applications such as Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro. I'd suggest fitting two of these drives to the system.

For capacity, I'm recommending a Western Digital Caviar Green 2TB. Bags of storage, good reliability and a decent price.

Price: 2 x VelociRaptor 300GB @ $240 each | Caviar Green 2TB @ $190 (Total: $670)

Next -->

Graphics card

You don't want anything insane here. Leave the high-priced stuff to the gamers!

I recommend a Radeon HD 5750 with 1GB of GDDR5. This card offers all the power you need at a decent price.

Price: $160

Optical drives

A system like this needs at least two optical drives.

First, a regular DVD burner to act as a workhorse drive. My current favorite is the LG GH24NS50, which is cheap and cheerful.

Then you need a drive that can handle all formats including Blu-ray. A good drive for this is the LG WH10LS30K.

Price: LG GH24NS50 (DVD) @ $25 | LG WH10LS30K (Blu-ray) @ $170 (Total: $195)

Power Supply Unit

For this build you need a nice mid-range PSU that's efficient, reliable and provides ample power. The Antec EarthWatts 650W PSU is ideal.

Price: $70

Total price: $1,495

Add to this:

  • 64-bit OS (Windows 7, Linux ...)
  • Chassis
  • Peripherals

Let me know what you think! Suggestions? Upgrades? Different configurations? 

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Topics: Storage, CXO, Hardware, Processors

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  • Blu-Ray

    I'm wondering... How is Blu-Ray on the PC? Decent? Any noticeable differences than DVD?
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • DRM: Avoid like the plague
      • Yawn

        A real platform with a program like Any DVD can take care of the DRM. Back up your movies and play any kind of DVD with any hardware no sweat. One of the best programs I have.
    • Very nice.

      Blu-ray looks more like you're standing in front of the scene looking at it with your eyes than looking at some pixelated computed garbage (dvd). If you go to, in the forums, they have a screenshot thread so you can look at how different blu-rays look and so on, and you can see screen shots in many blu-ray reviews on different sites. But in motion it is really a sight to behold over the regular dvd. Well worth it, if you have some favorite movies you watch again and again (and those movies are out on blu-ray). You'll need a HDCP vid card and monitor, nvidia drivers tell you if you are OK here, don't know about ATI.
      • Thanks

        Already have an HDCP card (GeForce 260). Just no Blu-Ray player (Yet). Haha.

        I just didn't know if it would be worth it on smaller monitors. Mines a 20 inch.
        The one and only, Cylon Centurion
      • Slysoft is cheaper than a a new monitor.

        Any DVD rules.
  • You missed something

    If you're looking to edit video (and I don't mean Youtube clips strung together in Windows Movie Maker or Pinnacle Studio), there are graphics cards specifically built for this purpose. Additionally, most third party plugins for Premiere and Avid are GPU accelerated, so putting money into a video card designed to handle it is a worthwhile investment.

    nVidia has their ecosystem using QuadroFX cards with third party certified software (; the site is oddly flaky). Another popular one is Matrox (, which vertically integrates an analog capture interface, real-time effects processor, and first-party software plugins.

    Both are designed to accelerate MPEG-4 compression. Depending on one's needs, the nVidia solution boasts more flexible compatibility (virtually every software plugin available supports DirectX/OpenGL acceleration) and is less expensive (well, depending on which card and how many third party plugins you get), but the Matrox offering provides a vertical solution and an analog capture card.

    Yes, I am fully aware that I am splitting hairs a bit and that either solution will blow the $1,500 price tag out of the water, but it's an important consideration. Additionally, a RAID-5 array of drives could serve the purposes of a single mega-storage drive; it provides the added bonuses of fault tolerance and being able to keep up on sustained analog captures.

  • Video encoding is moving to the GPU.

    While the current offering from ATI (AMD) has some issues its AVIVO technology for encoding is VERY fast. Faster than just about anything I've seen. (Assuming you have a mid to higher end video card.) I fully expect thier product to see significant improvements in the short term and in the longer term I expect to see other applications push video encoding to the GPU.
    • Video encoding is moving to the GPU

      I use TMPGEnc and Baddaboomit with my GTX 285 video card. I'll take on any new $1000+ CPU and crush it!
  • Slap that puppy together Adi and we'll take it for a spin!

    Yes? Yes!........ ;)
  • $1600 AMD v2.0 setup (includes case & os)

    [edit] Fixed to fit in the $1600 range

    $566.96 -- HIS Radeon HD 5850 1GB
    ^combo -- 8GB OCZ Gold DDR3 RAM
    ^combo -- GIGABYTE GA-790XTA-UD4 AM3 790X w/ USB 3.0
    $179.99 -- AMD Phenom II x4 965 BE 3.4 GHz
    $149.98 -- Thermaltake Xaser VI Full Tower Case
    ^combo -- Thermaltake W0319RU 850W 80 Plus Modular PSU
    $159.99 -- 2TB Samsung Spinpoint F3EG w/ $20 instant rebate
    $129.99 -- 40GB Intel X25-V SSD Drive
    $99.99 -- SilverStone HDD Boost (turns SSD into 40GB HDD cache)
    $190.00 -- Blu-Ray and DVD drive (mentioned in article)
    $1631.15 after tax, shipping, & $75 in MIRs.

    If you shopped around, you could probably get some this on Amazon or similar retailer to save $100 or so by avoiding tax.
  • Windows tax

    You mentioned Windows OS but didn't list the actual "tax" for it.
    Windows 7 Home Premium is $180 on
    And of course, one needs video/photo editing software to make it truly a
    "video/photo editing PC".
    What would you suggest?
    • I agree, the PC is useless without OS and software

      The risk is that this "el cheapo" PC will not be so cheap once it's brought to a state in which it can be truly useful for the tasks he mentioned.

      An iMac starts at $1199.
      A Mac Pro starts at $2499.
    • What Tax?

      I build the new system, take my OS from the old system I won't be using any longer (because I have the new system) and so what tax are you talking about?

      The OS is bought and paid for, so I'm not charged for it again, so it's "free".
      John Zern
      • Better reread your ULA

        Unfortunately what you just stated generally is not true. If you had an OEM copy, you cannot move it to another motherboard, period.

        If you had a box retail version, you can move it once. But not again after that. This applies to Vista and 7.
        • No... not exactly.

          [i]If you had a box retail version, you can move it once. But not again after that. [/i]

          From that EULA you spoke of:

          a. [b]Software Other than Windows Anytime Upgrade.[/b] You may uninstall the software and
          install it on another device for your use. You may not do so to share this license between

          b. [b]Windows Anytime Upgrade Software. The first user of the software may reassign the
          license to another device one time[/b], but only if the license terms of the software you upgraded from allows reassignment.

          So yes, if you have a [b]retail box[/b], you can move the install as many times as you want... but not with the Anytime Upgrade.
          Hallowed are the Ori
  • Don't be silly - everyone knows you can only do video editing on a Mac :)

    Sorry - could't resist. :)

    Good and very useful article.
  • Disagree, as long ago I realized that

    the sum of bleeding edge components doesn't imply a
    bleeding edge system; in such systems usually I've spend
    more time making it to work, instead of only using it.

    Much more reliable would be go for a branded workstation.
    • The problem with mainstream brands

      is that hardware vendors don't put near as much effort into making the system "work" as they do into cutting costs. We've bought and discarded high-end models from both HP and Dell because while they looked good on the order menu, internally they had design issues where the vendor scrimped on some key item like memory or motherboard. So you end up with exactly the situation you described, a bleeding-edge set of components that are not well-balanced. And things like RAID arrays on a desktop workstation? Forget it, both Dell and HP support were clueless.

      So we work with a local supplier who integrate and test high-end workstations for us. These guys know our environment and software, and they do a great job at making sure we get what we pay for.

      We still use HP and Lenovo for laptops, because there isn't really an alternative, but anybody who buys performance desktops from a mainstream vendor (in less than 1K quantities) is doing their users a disservice.
      terry flores
      • Ya. Why get only one year warranties...

        ...on hardware from system builders when the component manufacturers will give you three years when you buy your parts from them. Cost me $70(Canadian Pesos) for the shop down the street to slap it all together.
        Feldwebel Wolfenstool