I've always been a Windows desktop user, but until this point I've never built my own desktop from scratch. I finally decided to teach myself how to build the ultimate PC for video and photo editing and I'm bringing you along for the ride.
At the start of this article I will explain the basic process of choosing components for your desktop. The second half of this article will be about our specific build. We have created a video of the entire process and a list of each component we used.
How to Build Your Own Computer for Photo and Video Editing
The absolute best resource I have found for building a PC from scratch is PCPartPicker. This website allows you easily compare and purchase every possible component for your build while also warning you of any incompatibilities and finding you the best price for each part. You can use the tips I give you below to easily build a completely unique computer from scratch using PCPartPicker. Now let's get started.
Choose a Processor First
Every PC build should begin with choosing a processor. The processor socket size will determine your motherboard, and your motherboard will then determine which case and other components you buy as well. First, you'll need to decide what your computer will be used for. Some Adobe programs, like Premiere, can take advantage of multiple cores while other programs, like Lightroom, utilize more clock speed. If you're only going to be using your computer for photo editing, you may want to buy a chip like the Intel Core i7-7700K 4.2 GHz simply because it has a native 4.2 clock speed. If you're working in Premiere like we are, you may want to buy a chip with more cores and a slightly lower clock speed.
AMD vs Intel
AMD has recently released the "Ryzen" series of processors which are (at least on paper) more powerful and cheaper than the Intel competitors. Sadly, at the time that this article was written, Adobe software doesn't seem to be totally optimized with these processors. Puget systems has done a bench test with these new chips and Adobe Premiere and found that Intel may still have the edge. If you want to go the AMD route stay tuned for Adobe updates, these chips may be a far better choice than Intel in the future but they aren't necessarily today.
Choose a CPU Cooler
Your computer's case will have its own fans but each processor will need it's own heat sync and fan or a water cooling system. A fan is the cheapest option but water cooling will allow you to overclock your CPU if you want to get that deep into this (we won't be overclocking our machine). PCPartPicker will be able to show you which coolers are compatible with your processor.
Choose a Motherboard
After you've chosen a processor, you'll need to choose a motherboard with a compatible socket size. Make sure you consider how many DIMM slots for ram you will need, if the board has onboard Wi-Fi, how many SATA jacks are available for hard drives, SSDs, and optical drives, and other perks like USB C, Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.1, and Ethernet. If you want your computer to have more than one graphics card, you'll need a motherboard that is SLI capable.
Choose Your Memory or "RAM"
At this time, in 2017, you're probably going to either want 32 GB or 64 GB of RAM. We built ours with only 32 GB because we know it's an easy upgrade to 64 GB if we find that our computer is using 100 percent. RAM also has its own clock speed and different boards and processors allow for different speeds. Again, PCPartPicker will be able to help you with this.
Choose Your Storage
If you're building your own computer in 2017 you are going to want at least one solid state drive to house your operating system. SSDs are more expensive than standard hard drives but they are about three times faster, quieter, and more reliable. For our build we will be using two different SSD drives. One for the operating system and one for storage and to edit from.
M.2 is a new type of solid state storage that some motherboards accept. These cards can perform much faster than standard SATA SSDs and they may not necessarily cost more. In our build we didn't use our M.2 slot but we probably should have. I may end up replacing my 500gb main SSD for an M.2 SSD.
Choose a Video Card
Depending on what you are doing with your PC, a video card might be the most important piece of hardware or the least important. Playing current video games and editing in Adobe Premiere require high end video cards while Photoshop and Lightroom may not utilize the video card at all. If you're only interested in editing photos I would suggest a much cheaper video card like the GTX 1050 that can still push dual 4k monitors and is a quarter of the price of the one we put in our machine.
Choose a Case
Cases come in all shapes and sizes and after choosing the components above, PCPartPicker will help you to find the case that will hold them all. For me, I wanted to have a case that had USB 3 on the front and had a glass windowed side panel.
Choose an Optical Drive
I almost never use an optical drive but once every couple of years I might need one. It's also easier to install Windows with an optical drive if you have a disc. If you don't have an optical drive you'll have to create a bootable USB drive and it's very time consuming. I would suggest buying the cheapest optical DVD drive on the market if you don't plan on using one very often; they're only $20.
Choose a Power Supply
Once again PCPartPicker is going to be your best resource for choosing a power supply because it will keep track of the power draw of each of the components in your machine. A seasoned builder recently told me that he prefers to overpower his machines because he feels that the power supplies will last longer and give him the option of upgrading components in the future without buying a new power supply.
Choose Your Operating System
If you've never built a PC before you may not realize that you do actually have to buy Windows. B&H sells an OEM version of Windows 10 Pro for $139. Make sure that you buy the "Pro" version because other versions will not take advantage of our RAM.
Other Items to Buy
If your motherboard doesn't have Wi-Fi or Ethernet built in and you need those features, you'll need to either buy a USB adapter or a PCI card with those features. You'll also need to purchase monitors. We prefer 1080 or 1440 monitors for photo editing machines, and 4K for video editing and all around machines. You'll also need a mouse and keyboard. Our favorites are the Logitech K800 keyboard and Performance MX Mouse.
Now that you know the basics of building a PC, lets me show you what we chose to build and how we did it.
Our PC Build
We created a video that takes you through our entire build
Below I've created a list of every component that we used plus recommendations for cheaper and more expensive options. If you want to build our exact machine you can simply buy the parts and follow along with our video. If you want to customize your machine, each of your parts should be run through PCPartPicker to check for compatibility issues before purchasing.
We purchased this chip because it has the perfect balance of extra cores and clock speed. We purchased it with Adobe Premiere in mind and if you aren't going to be working in Premiere very often, you won't need to spend this much.
For Photoshop and Lightroom: Intel Core i7-7700K 4.2 GHz Quad-Core
Budget Option: Intel Core i5-7600K 3.8 GHz Quad-Core
No Budget Option: Intel Core i7-6900K 3.2 GHz Eight-Core
The CPU cooler we purchased may actually be a little underpowered for our build. Multiple people have commented that we might be wise to purchase a better cooler for both better performance and chip lifespan. You may want to splurge for the option below.
No Budget Option: Deepcool Captain 240 EX White Liquid CPU Cooler
This motherboard is relatively cheap but still comes with USB 3.1, USB C, 8 DIMM slots for RAM, and 6 SATA. My only wish is that this card had Wi-Fi.
No Budget Option: ASUS X99-DELUXE II LGA 2011-v3
This motherboard comes with Wi-Fi, and will accept a Thunderbolt 3 add-on card.
This is extremely fast RAM that comes with two 8 GB chips. We purchased two packages for a total of 32 GB but you could buy four for a total of 64 GB of RAM.
No Budget Option: Patriot 32GB Viper 4 DDR4 3200 MHz (buy four for 128 GB)
I failed to realize that the motherboard that I chose does in fact have an M.2 slot that can be used for a new type of SSD drive. This port allows for much faster speeds compared to the SATA SSDs that I used. I may end up switching my 500GB SSD for a 500GB M.2 SSD. Keep in mind this upgrade costs $70.
No Budget Option: Samsung 4 TB 850 Evo 2.5" SATA III SSD
You may also consider buying multiple drives and running them in RAID to get better performance and redundancy internally. You may also want to look into M.2 SSDs which can be far faster than SATA SSDs.
This graphics card is currently considered the "best bang for your buck." It's not the top of the line but it's extremely powerful and allows 4K gaming and extremely fast video rendering in Premiere.
Budget Option: EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti
No Budget Option: ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1080 Ti
This is a nice metal case with a windowed side panel. It gave us plenty of room to work and the fans are extremely quite. If you're building a cheaper computer you may not need a case this big and you could save a little money.
No Budget Option: Corsair Crystal Series 570X RGB Mid-Tower Case
I'm not sure how much I will use this but since it was only $55 I decided to throw it in.
Budget Option: ASUS DRW-24B1ST Internal SATA 16X DVD Disc Rewriter
We put a 650 watt power supply in our computer but an expert builder recommended that we suggest the 750 watt version instead for a longer lifecycle. It's only $20 more.
Make sure that you buy Windows Pro and not Windows Home as it will not take advantage of all of our RAM. If you don't put an optical drive in your machine you will still need to buy this DVD and use the product key. To install windows 10 you will need to create a bootable USB thumb drive using another Windows computer.
These are our favorite 4K monitors. At $369 they are relatively affordable and the color and clarity is fantastic for the price. Keep in mind that if you are looking for the fastest Lightroom performance, you may not want to buy a 4K monitor. If budget is important, I personally would much rather have two, cheaper monitors, rather than one nicer monitor. After working with dual monitors, you'll never want to go back to just one.
Budget Option: Dell U2415 24" Widescreen LED Backlit IPS
No Budget Option: Dell UP3216Q 31.5" 16:9 UltraSharp 4K
Keyboard and Mouse
This is our favorite keyboard and mouse by far. The mouse specifically is the best I have ever used. I think we own around 10 of them.
This speaker system is the best sound for the money that we have ever heard. We did an entire post about this system here.
We have been running six computers off of this NAS for the last few years and it has never let us down. Now that we are moving to 4K video we are starting to see some lagging in Premiere and so we are about to upgrade to the 10 Gbps option.
Desktop Cost: $2,500
Dual 4k Monitors: $740
Mouse and Keyboard: $115
Speaker System: $380
Total cost for our build: $3,735
Up until this point I have purchased almost exclusively Alienware desktop computers. These computers have worked well for us in the past but recently our building was hit by lighting and many of the components on these PCs were destroyed. Repairing these computers was very difficult in some cases and impossible for two of them because many of the proprietary parts were either unavailable or wildly expensive.
As I was choosing the parts for our build it didn't feel like I was going to build an ultra expensive machine but when you add everything together, the whole setup was over $3,300 which is higher than I expected. I tried to build out a similar Alienware machine and although I wasn't able to choose identical components, our build was hundreds of dollars cheaper. If you buy a cheaper processor, SSD, graphics card, and monitors, your build should easily be $1,500-$2,000 cheaper than ours.
Although it can take an hour or two to build one of these computers by hand, I really appreciated the ability to actually choose every single component myself and I have gained a new understanding of how computers work. Inevitably in the future we will have hardware failures again and I feel far more confident about finding the parts and repairing this machine myself. From now on, all of our computers will be built in house.
This is the first time we have covered this sort of thing on Fstoppers. If you appreciate this content please let us know in the comments below and we will continue to update you guys on the hardware that we build in use in our office.