The Ultimate Video Guide to Building a Photo and Video Editing Desktop Computer

The Ultimate Video Guide to Building a Photo and Video Editing Desktop Computer

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. 

Processor

Intel Core i7-6850K 3.6 GHz Six-Core

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 LightroomIntel Core i7-7700K 4.2 GHz Quad-Core

Budget OptionIntel Core i5-7600K 3.8 GHz Quad-Core

No Budget OptionIntel Core i7-6900K 3.2 GHz Eight-Core

CPU Cooler

Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO CPU Cooler

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 OptionDeepcool Captain 240 EX White Liquid CPU Cooler

Motherboard

ASUS X99-A II LGA 2011-v3 ATX Motherboard

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 OptionASUS X99-DELUXE II LGA 2011-v3

This motherboard comes with Wi-Fi, and will accept a Thunderbolt 3 add-on card. 

RAM

Corsair 16 GB Vengeance LPX DDR4 3200 MHz

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 OptionPatriot 32GB Viper 4 DDR4 3200 MHz (buy four for 128 GB)

Storage

Samsung 500 GB 850 Evo 2.5" SATA III SSD

Samsung 1TB 850 Evo 2.5" SATA III SSD

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 OptionSamsung 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. 

Graphics Card

ASUS Republic of Gamers Strix OC GeForce GTX 1070

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 OptionEVGA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti

No Budget OptionZOTAC GeForce GTX 1080 Ti

Case

Cooler Master MasterCase Pro 5 Mid-Tower Case

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 OptionCorsair Crystal Series 570X RGB Mid-Tower Case

Optical Drive

LG Internal SATA 14x Super Multi Blu-ray Disc Rewriter

I'm not sure how much I will use this but since it was only $55 I decided to throw it in. 

Budget OptionASUS DRW-24B1ST Internal SATA 16X DVD Disc Rewriter

Power Supply

EVGA SuperNOVA 650 G1

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. 

Operating System

Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit, OEM DVD)

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. 

Monitor

Dell P2415Q 24" Ultra HD 4K Monitor

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 OptionDell U2415 24" Widescreen LED Backlit IPS

No Budget OptionDell UP3216Q 31.5" 16:9 UltraSharp 4K

Keyboard and Mouse

Logitech Performance Combo MX800 Wireless

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. 

Speakers

Polk Audio TSi100 Bookshelf Speakers 

Sony STRDH130 2-Channel Stereo Receiver 

Polk Audio PSW10 10-Inch Powered Subwoofer 

Speaker Wire 

Headphone to RCA Cable 

This speaker system is the best sound for the money that we have ever heard. We did an entire post about this system here

External Storage

Synology DiskStation DS1515+ 30 TB

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

Total Cost

Desktop Cost: $2,500

Dual 4k Monitors: $740

Mouse and Keyboard: $115

Speaker System: $380

Total cost for our build: $3,735

Conclusion

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. 

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105 Comments

Previous comments

Hmm, it seems I can't find this motherboard on the list. Any other good suggestions? I won't overclock it.

KISHORE KUMAR MAYYA's picture

Great article & video. It reminds me of my last years work. As my laptop could not work properly for my photoediting work, I had to build a PC myself. Last year I have built a PC with cooler master master case pro 5, asus z 170 deluxe mother board (wifi), intel i 6700k, WD black 2 TB two drives in RAID 1 configuration for storage, samsung 950 pro M.2 memory (256gb) for the system, 32 gb corsair vengeance LPX 3000mhz RAM, NVIDIA K620 QUADRO GPU, cooler master nepton 240M liquid cooler, dell up2516d monitor & windows home. It works super fast for my photo editing purposes.

Ben Pearse's picture

Cool article Lee, cheers

Tomash Masojc's picture

who want to save some money, don't buy those super duper kinda cool 3000/3200mhz rams, just 2400 and you won't feela ny differnece. Differnece will be 2-4%, and look at differnece of the price.

Patrick Hall's picture

Can you elaborate on this? I am trying to tweak this computer now and notice that the RAM was actually running at 2100mhz. I turned on the XMP file in the bios and now have it running at 2400mhz. I've read that this particular RAM Lee bought can only hit 3200mhz speeds when overclocked or might require the processor to be overclocked to open up the full speed.

If 2400mhz is the fastest you can run this RAM on this motherboard without overclocking everything, you might want to buy this RAM instead since it is $100 cheaper. https://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820233854&cm_re=C...

Tomash Masojc's picture

if i have any questions about computers, i always watch this guy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_Yt4vSZKVk&t=476s

about RAM's i will check

Tomash Masojc's picture

Try to run Memtest first. Enable XMP first then proceed on adjusting the DRAM freq, voltage and timings as spec on the label. BCLK to 100 as well.

Patrick Hall's picture

I almost downloaded Memtest but it looked like the results it spits out would be something way over my head. I might just settle with the 2400mhz we are getting. I'm scared :)

Tomash Masojc's picture

I have seen some posts on internet, that people have same problems with another Asus motherboards too. I think yoou have to read some forums or topics and just give a try :) just don't rice voltage too high, ~1.35 for beginning.

Brendan Kahm's picture

Great info, thinking of switching to PC myself from Apple.... also you look like Tom Brady in this video man... not sure if that was intentional or not haha

Harry Martin's picture

Really great piece Lee - I've been wanting to do this for a while. You've given me the inspiration. How tough was it to reinstall the Adobe suite and plugins and all the other extra programs you accumulated over the years from your old computer's OS drive?

Lee Morris's picture

Well this is something Patrick and I were just arguing about. I find that I don't have much to reinstall at all. Adobe CC makes installing all the software super easy and automated. Other than that I download Googled Chrome and maybe just a couple of plugins. Other than that I don't use that many other programs.

David Bengtsson's picture

Nice article, however you forgot about NVMe drives that offer even faster write and read speeds. I'd also consider the AMD RX480 as a budget oriented graphics card. Now, I don't remember the support on adobes side of AMD cards which may be why it was left out.

I'd also invest in high quality fans to keep the noise down, and overpowering your PSU by too much is just a waste and it is not as efficient. Its most effecient quite close to its max load, like 70-80% if I remember, so if your system needs like 550W I wouldn't go higher than a 650W. And new tech only draws less power so you shouldn't be too worried about maxing out your PSU.

Marco Introini's picture

great article! Thanks Lee

Photo Kaz's picture

Similar build to what I put together for photo editing about six months ago. I don't use Premiere so went with higher clock speed Core i7 6700K (4.0GHz native but OC to 4.9GHz), water cooling, 32GB DDR4 RAM, Fractal Design R5 case (nice and quiet), Asus R9 390 GPU.

I went with an M.2 Samsung 960 EVO SSD for Windows/Apps. It crushes the 850 EVO in performance, you should really check it out.

For the rest of the storage, I used Windows Storage Spaces. I have 5 HDD drives and 2 SSD drives (Samsung 850 EVO) in a tiered storage pool. Windows manages the files on the tiers and shuffles things into SSD storage that you use frequently. I still have my Lightroom catalog, page file, and Adobe scratch space on the super fast 960 EVO, but photos and other files come of the storage pool. It is very fast and fault tolerant (can stand either SSD or any HDD failing) without losing any data. In Win10 takes some manual setup with the Powershell, but there are tons of tutorials online. With this setup, I have a 10TB fault tolerant "drive" with 80% of the performance of an SSD for most tasks.

What mother board did you go with?

Photo Kaz's picture

ASUS Z170-A ATX LGA1151

Mateusz Antonowicz's picture

Similar build here, but I don't waste money on archive SSDs. New HDDs can read/write at 200MB/s - good enough, and you can buy bajillion HDDs for the cash of those 850.

LR, catalog, and current pics are on M.2 drive, once I am done, I export images as well as whole catalog to slower HDD. Blazing fast.

Photo Kaz's picture

I use a Windows Storage Pool with SSD and HDD tiers. Best of both, speed from SSD and size from HDD one one huge volume I don't have to mess with.

Paulo Macedo's picture

Intel 7700K is good for gamming, as for productivity and almost for the same price Ryzen is a better choice. Optimizations are already here and every benchmark, when it comes to Video encoding show's that Ryzen 7 1700X is on par with the i7 6900K.

But other than that, it's nice to see an article like this :)

Mateusz Antonowicz's picture

http://cpu.userbenchmark.com/

You are vastly overselling Ryzen 1800X.It's on par with i6700k. And even though it has more cores, it has way worse performance per core, and that's most apps strive for.

I couldn't care what label is on CPU, this is not a brand war or anything, but base your comments on actual tests.

http://cpu.userbenchmark.com/Compare/Intel-Core-i7-6700K-vs-AMD-Ryzen-7-...

Don't me wrong, I am happy that AMD pulled their head out of... some dark place, and started to compete, it's just early start, a lot overjoyed reviews out there, perfect, new and fresh, but hard data always puts that enthusiasm down. I'm a terrible person...

Mateusz Antonowicz's picture

M.2, or PCI-E memory makes SUCH a difference. Those puppies can be 3-5x faster than fastest SSD on SATA, and M.2 ones are tiny, taking almost zero space. Nice and clean. For a very long time HDD/SSD was a huge bottleneck for any PC. Now it's closing the gap very fast. Couldn't live with PC that isn't based on those.

Lee Morris's picture

Can you speak a little more about this? I've been reading that in the real world, nobody can actually see an difference in using M.2 drives. is this not true?

Mateusz Antonowicz's picture

Everything depends on M.2 slot in question. If you skimp on your motherboard, it will not be 'full' PCI-E x4 gen 3 slot. Those 'full' slots have capacity up to 32Gb/s [which is enough for M.2 memory, it uses a fraction of this theoretical limit ATM]. I have bought MSI Gaming5 Z170A, which has 2 M.2 slots, and 2 slots have full bandwidth, enabling me to actually pair 2 dies in RAID. When enabled it has 64Gb/s bandwidth. So all in all you can use full speed of M.2 device if you have fully working [not capped, or older] slot. 960 series from Samsung on my device, paired in RAID gives me about 6000MB/s read and 3000MB/s write [fluctuating, because it is my OS drive, so things happen even if PC is idle]. But even one 960 die reaches 3200/1800 MB/s as promoted.

Oh and I may have worded my initial comment wrongly. Well, clarification incoming: I was stating that using PCI-E SSD OR M.2 SSD makes a huge difference, as opposed to standard SATA based SSD [850 pro - about 500MB/s max due to SATA limitations]. So all in all I agree, there is no performance difference between PCI-E and M.2 because it is really the same technology, M.2 is using PCI-E lines. The only argument I had on PCI-E vs M.2 is that M.2 memory is so tiny and doesn't clutter your PC, and PCI-E devices are always going to be 'sticking out' from the motherboard, this can be problem when using multiple GPUs and such, but other than that, there's no arguing that for now those are basically the same.

So TL;DR: I meant that PCI-E or M.2 are far superior to SATA based SSD, not that M.2 is superior to PCI-E. I hope that cleared things up, English isn't my native language, I may construct my sentences in a confusing manner sometimes, sorry for the trouble. If you feel like I didn't explain everything, or something isn't clear - feel free to ask away, I build PCs on daily basis, got a lot hardware going thru my hands, and the necessary experience to actually know what am I doing, ha.

Dass Ala's picture

Hey, Lee, I really like the post, I have a question it's not cheaper to buy another Alienware machine from DELL or have a DELL Precision? also, have the Complete Care service from DELL save you money in the long run?
I say this because in 2014 I lost all my Computer equipment from the flood of the Hurrican Odile, but I have my Complete Care Service for 1 more year, I call DELL and send me New systems without paying a penny. They cover any accidental damage or burn or even coffee spill on laptops, for me, Dell just cover my needs, and Precision systems always you can upgrade with any other brand components.

Lee Morris's picture

I remember when I was back in college the 4 year protection plan was a fantastic deal by dell. Recently the cost has gone up so high for our alienware machines that we couldn't justify buying it. It's also pretty rare that a desktop will break within 4 years anyway. So no, I don't think it's cheaper to buy a pre built machine but it may be cheaper to buy a refurbished machine. We got all our alienware stuff refurbished and they have worked well for us.

Matt Barr's picture

Great article Lee. I did a similar build last year for the same reason, editing photo and video. I wish this was available then, it would have been an excellent guide.

Shawk Parson's picture

very useful article ...
i thought my 24GB X58 Asus mobo system + a 22" 1920x1200 Lenovo ThinkVision monitor was really soemthing when i built it in 2010 ... was a thing back in the day of course, but now ... :)

Lee, I'm going to do this exact same build. Thanks for giving me the confidence to do it. Two questions. 1- you must have gotten the same pcpartspicker warning I'm getting, right? It says "Some Intel X99 chipset motherboards may need a BIOS update prior to using Broadwell-E CPUs. Upgrading the BIOS may require a different CPU that is supported by older BIOS revisions." I'm going with the intel processer too. Per your comment, I'm getting the m.2 960 Samsung EVO SSD. Q2-anything else I should change before I order? My partspicker is here https://pcpartpicker.com/list/JGwN7h.

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