The Affordable Computer Build For Photographers and Videographers

Last month B&H helped us build an extremely expensive workstation. Today, we built a computer that rendered footage faster in Adobe Premiere for 1/3 of the price. 

Our last build cost around $3000 for the computer alone, but I warned everyone that many of the expensive components in our build might not currently show any performance increase over much cheaper alternatives. Maybe in the future Adobe software will take better advantage of extra cores, or more advanced graphics cards, but that the moment, they don't. For this reason, you might be able to get incredible performance out of a relatively affordable PC. 

Most of the readers of are photographers or videographers so I will be building this PC based on the performance in Premiere, Photoshop, and Lightroom. The most trusted website I have found when it comes benchmarks for hardware in Adobe programs is Puget Systems. Before you build a machine, check out their blog posts and tests comparing every major piece of hardware. 

AMD has recently released some enticing CPUs and GPUs but Puget's tests have shown that Adobe still seems to work better with Intel hardware. This may change in the future, but this is why we decided to stick with Intel and nVidia components. 

My goal for this build to was to stay Under $1300. I think I spent right around $1200 but if you purchased some of these components on sale, or you swapped out some items like the M.2 drive for a cheaper brand, you should be able to build this for around $1000. Let's get to the components. 

Processor: Intel Core i5-9600k

This processor is a great balance of price and performance. It has six cores running at 3.7Ghz. At less than $300, it's very affordable and may perform identically or even faster in Photoshop or Premiere with chips three or more times the price. This CPU is a whopping $730 cheaper than the one we used in our last build. 

CPU cooler: Hyper 212 Evo

In our expensive build, we used a $200 water cooler that looked great, but was a pain to install. This cooler is only $30 and some say does a better job of cooling than a water system. In our build I installed the cooler horizontally with the air blowing out the top. I've been informed that it is better to install the cooler vertically so that the air is pulled from the front and pushed out the back. I also plugged the fan into the system fan port on the motherboard but if you don't want it to run at 100% all the time, you should plug it into the "CPU fan" port. 

Motherboard: MSI A390-A

At around $130, this motherboard is a bargain. It has 4 ram slots that will allow you to add more down the road, and it still has USB 3.1 Gen 2 and USB C. The only complaint I have about this board is that it doesn't have wifi built in. If you need wifi, you'll have to use a USB adapter. 

Ram: Vengeance LPX 32GB

Most photographers today do not need more than 32GB of ram but I made sure to get 32GB in two 16GB chips, so that I would still have two additional slots to add ram in the future. 

Storage: Samsung 970 Evo 1TB M.2

M.2 drives are solid-state cards that plug directly into the motherboard. These are faster than standard SSD drives and they don't require any additional cables or power. We keep most of our data on a separate NAS device so this 1TB is plenty of storage. 

Graphics Card: Geforce GTX 1070 8GB

If you're only working on photos, you probably don't need to spend $300 on a graphics card. If you're ever going to render videos with effects or play video games, the GTX 1070 is still a great all-around option. For a cheaper option check out the 1050ti.

Case: NZXT H500

I love this case. It's relatively small, it's made of metal, and it has a glass window on the side. For the last build I used the white version, but for this build, I bought the black one. 

Power supply: EVGA SuperNOVA G3 650W

You will need to choose your power supply based on your computer's components. Our build only required a 650 Watt power supply. 

So far the computer is running well and in our quick Adobe Premiere render test, it actually beat our $3000 PC, rendering the footage around 12% faster. 

If you've never built a computer before, I highly suggest it. You'll be able to build a computer catered to your exact needs while at the same time, saving money. If you want to copy my build, feel free with the components above, but if you want to customize your machine at all, I highly suggest using the website to help you find compatible components at the lowest price. 

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Motti Bembaron's picture

The gaming industry pretty much streamlined graphic components and made photography and videography PC's very affordable. Apple was never into the gaming market (too juvenile :-)) and that is where they lost the race.

Great video!

Daris Fox's picture

You'd be better off with the new nVidia 1660, it's just better all round over the 10xx series. It's a cut down RTX GPU without the RTX engine (with some tweaks).

I'd also disagree with your analysis on AMD, mainly because you're not building a performance rig, you're building a 'Good Enough' rig, You can get 8 cores @ 3.2Ghz for ~250 with a Ryzen 7 which arguably having more cores to throw at a problem is sometimes better than speed. The added bonus when the new Zen 2 cores arrive later this year (probably around July), it'll be a straight drop in replacement so you get a nice upgrade (barring a few exceptions) for the price of a CPU.

I'd appreciate you're going for Adobe rig, but I'd rather see one of these builds being more rounded especially for those in the audience who use alternatives such as Da Vinci,CaptureOne Affinity. Also if you're going to be rendering out your videos on this rig PSU will be paramount, so Seasonic always gets my vote for reliability and quality though you do pay for it. A person building one of these rigs will likely be using it for 3-4 years before replacing it.

Final point, especially if you're looking to build now. I'd suggest wait a few months, as there will likely be dramatic price drops across a lot of PC components. The silicon for SSDs and RAM is facing a glut and more importantly both AMD and nVidia may be forced to drop prices on their GPUs as they're facing a massive over-stock after the Crypto crazy last year and they can't shift those chips.

Umit Pala's picture

I totally agree with you. even the 2600 series are real bargain for performance.

sacha's picture

Thanks a lot for this answer, full of knowledge.
I have built PCs for 20+ years but for the last 4 years I just relied on an Alienware X51 (i7 4 cores, 16gb ram, rx480) and stopped worrying. But now this config has aged, I have issues in Photoshop and Resolve, and feel I'm in need of an update in the next 6 months, what would be your suggestions?
I hesitate between an iMac for the Retina screen, a razer blade 15 (i7 6 cores, need to expand ram to 32gb) a custom desktop PC.
I mainly do Lightroom, Resolve, Photoshop, and some gaming.
I think my priorities would be to increase ram to 32 or 64gb and get more than 4 cores. I also dislike loud fan noise.
My budget is not really an issue, but as long as I buy smart. I'm ok to buy an e more expensive iMac because of resale value and quality screen. For a custom built PC I would rather get a very cost effective low to medium entry build, because here I know resale will be less, and I can always upgrade.
Hope my message is not too long and you have time to answer :)

chrisrdi's picture

ooh good advice. Question: Where do you generally like to buy your parts? I used to use newegg until they sold out to china. now it's filled with nothing but shady vendors and their customer service took a massive nose dive. I bought a $1300 msi laptop that died a week after I received it and they absolutely refused to refund me. I also agree about the PSU. NEVER skimp on your PSU if you are building a serious rig. I almost fried two of my older rigs because I cheaped out. lesson learned lol.

Robert Escue's picture

Totally agree with the Ryzen love Daris!!! What is the point of buying a CPU simply because Adobe only supports six cores now. What happens when they support eight cores six months from now. I would rather slower, but more cores than faster but less cores.

Jeff Diffner's picture

Lee, what would you recommend as a budget (or affordable) editing monitor to go with your affordable PC?

Lee Morris's picture

I’ve not tested a ton of monitors but I’ve always loved dell

Umit Pala's picture

BenQ BL2711U 27 inch 4K Designer Monitor 3840x2160 UHD, 100% sRGB, 100% Rec.709 colour space,10bits IPS panel, not expensive, good specs

Cole Messina's picture

Great video Lee! Could anyone make a list of cheaper components geared more towards pure photographers (very little editing in Premiere)?

Lee Morris's picture

Same thing I made with a cheaper graphics card.

Matt Rennells's picture

I added a 1050Ti to my system after using the onboard Intel graphics. Just FYI, but it made almost no noticeable performance difference in Lightroom. I don't use Photoshop that often and my tasks there are so varied that it is hard to say (primarily content-aware stuff), but there was no real perceived increase in performance. 95% of the time, my video card just sits there at idle when I'm editing photos. And yes, I have both Lightroom and Photoshop set to use the graphics card in their preferences.

Nate B's picture

And maybe swap the 1TB m.2 for an 500GB, putting that savings towards an i7 chip, which would benefit the photographer using CPU intensive Lightroom and Photoshop. (The real savings is in personal/labor time.)

Deleted Account's picture

I would have gone for a smaller M.2 drive say 500mb and just used that for OS and applications and paired it will a cheaper but slower ssd drive, which for photographic work would be fine. For video, which I don't really do I would expect your solution to be better.
I first built a machine about 15 years ago and really enjoyed doing it, learnt a lot about PCs too by doing it. Highly recommend it to a reasonably competent person. That being said, for my current desktop machine, I went with a dell refurb because it was cheaper than an almost identical machine I intended to build.

Deleted Account's picture

Probably the bricked one that Lee sent back? ;)

David Penner's picture

You got that backwards. SSD for the OS and software and the m.2 for working files. Sure you might save yourself a second or two with the load time of the os and another second when loading the software but once that is all in your ram you no longer see any savings. If you are only working with smaller video files and one maybe two images at a time the m.2 might be a waste too since everything would still most likely be on your ram when you are working on them. With fstoppers making multiple hour video files they would want the fastest drive to be storing those files though.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Best is to have a 1GIG M.2 and have the OS, apps and the LR catalog +working files on it. I just move the older catalogs to a slower SSD and create the new ones on the M.2. This way, I get the best performance.

g coll's picture

Yeah agree with you on that. 1GB is the way to go for the M2.

T Van's picture

Using the m.2 for your Cache drive will yield really significant increases in system speed and responsiveness.
Really a must have for edit systems now.

Robert Feliciano's picture

m.2 is the form factor, the interface could be either SATA or NVME.
NVME is 4-5x faster than SATA. My recommendation would be to get a 2TB NVME and put everything on there (if it fits). 3 SATA drives at 500 MB/s will be slower than 1 2,800 MB/s NVME.

Robert Escue's picture

Just because the motherboard is limited to one M.2 slot, doesn't mean you can't add more M.2 drives. I bought a PCIe x4 card that I have my Samsung 1 TB NVME SSD in that I use for my work area as well as a Samsung M.2 SSD as my boot and applications drive. I use SATA SSD's for cache/scratch and paging files. Why waste a NVME SSD for caching, use it for real data.

T Van's picture

Want to see how your system stacks up?
Go to Puget Systems and download their Benchmark test for After Effects.
Of course you'll need to install After Effects to run the test, but it will tell you where you are compared to other video systems out there.

Patrick Hall's picture

I just did this test on both our computers (the affordable one vs Lee's expensive one). I'm not sure why this happened but Lee's computer froze running this test 2 times and on the 3rd try (with a full reboot), it completed the test after like 90 mins. My computer on the other hand, this affordable build, completed the test first try in about 15-30 mins (I left so I don't know how long it actually took). The results...don't look good.

Robert Escue's picture

Without some logs Patrick, there isn't much anyone can do in diagnosing what happened.

Patrick Hall's picture

Do you think it creates logs?

Robert Escue's picture

Patrick, you can configure Windows to generate logs that you can use to analyze the performance of the system and capture key information when the system freezes or crashes.

I know that for most people this is hard (I do this for UNIX and Linux from time to time) but in order to really figure out what is going on this is how you do it.

Leigh Smith's picture

Ok, I just gotta crit your cooler/fan placement. Why are you cutting off the back fan and blowing up, when you should go with the flow and push all the air from front to back. I can't imagine the turbulence going on in that thing.

Lee Morris's picture

You're right. I added a line about it in the post. I've seen a few people point the fan upward but the majority have it firing out the back. We will probably spin it.

Andrew Tri's picture

A samsung 970 evo m.2 SSD and a 1070 card are overkill. You can easily save a couple hundred by downgrading here with minimal (if any) loss of performance in photo or video editing.

At the same time, going with an AMD chip (such as a Ryzen 7 1700) will provide more cores and far more threads. You might (might!) take a smidge longer to render a video, but again this is a value PC, and a couple seconds is nothing if it saves you $100+

T Van's picture

If you use the EVO as your Cache drive you'll get excellent performance increases.

Simon Patterson's picture

This article, combined with the comments, is very handy. Thank you to all.

Robert Escue's picture

Lee, nice video!!! I would be concerned if a machine I built for just over a thousand dollars beat a machine I built that cost three times that much!!! I know your test is simple, but the fact that a lesser machine completed it faster indicates there are some issues either with the machines or the way Premiere Pro is configured.

I would make sure everything matches as far as software configurations goes before testing again.

Paulo Macedo's picture

Built mine like a year ago. Mainly for Photoshop and games.
I went on a AMD NVidia path kinda deal.

Ryzen 7 1700X CPU
MSI Armor GTX 1070 Ti GPU
Corsair Vengeance 32GB DDR4 3000 CL15 @ 2600MHz (ryzen memory clock things).
Asus Prime X370-a (Mainboard)
Vertex 4 - 120GB SSD (OS)
Vertex 4 - 240GB (Photoshop and games)
Samsung 1.5TB 7200RPM (Scratchdisk)
WD RED NAS 4TB 5400RPM (Storage)
NZXT S340 Elite (white)
Cooler Master TX3 - CPU Cooler.
Several coolermaster and NZXT fans to create a good front to back airflow.
White led strip for the looks.

Spent some 1500€ on this rig, paired with a BenQ 2.5K 100% sRGB IPS.

Works good 'till now.

Shane Norton's picture

I've worked for years as a staffer in television. I'm looking to seriously try to find a way to make it on my own as a photographer and videographer and have been investing in some gear to get going. Recently, I've been playing with the 4K MJPEG files from my Canon 5D MK IV, and man does my machine struggle to play that back in Premiere. I'm using a late 2014 iMac. The specs are: 4GHz Intel Core i7, 32 GB 1600 MHz DDR3, and an AMD Radeon R9 M295X 4096 MB graphics card. I'm pretty educated on cameras, lighting, codecs, etcetera, but I'm not the best when it comes to understanding exactly what separates different computers to run Premiere better. I know the basics, but I guess what my point of this comment is simply to ask, how does this custom build stack up to what I'm running? Would that be an improvement over what I have? I want to be able to confidently run 4K footage in both Premiere and After Effects. I don't think I'll be doing any heavy 3d rendering, but color grading, stabilizing, animation, possibly 3D text, and things like that. Anybody feel like taking the time to steer me in the right direction? Also, is it possible I'm doing something wrong with the MJPEG files in terms of workflow?

Stephen Koziol's picture

Seeing how the motherboard doesn't have wifi, what would you recommend for this kind of quality build.

Kristian Karaneshev's picture

I want to make a similar build but maybe with i7 9700, according to pudget analysis, 9700 is 13% better than 9600 for lightroom classic cc. Not sure if 240 vs 397 euros is justifiable though. Almost 2x the price.