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
Mateusz Antonowicz's picture

Hi, you can call the dealer and tell them to perform the BIOS update for you, 90% chance that they will have zero problems with that. Other than that, might I ask why do you need 1050 AND 1070 GPUs? Seems weird. Also, this motherboard supports only one M.2 device, so if you ever wanted to expand this fast storage, your only option would be to go U.2 or PCI-E [but with 2 GPUs, it can be crowded in there]. I didn't mean to intrude, so feel free to discard this comment if you are confident with your decisions etc.

Oh and remember the order in which you put in RAM sticks, most people are just sticking them at random, basically halving the performance. Cheers!

Mateusz Antonowicz thanks for the advice. I am trying to decide between those two graphics cards. I won't be getting both.

Lee Morris's picture

I think I do remember that warning but I haven't had any issue. You may want the better CPU cooling and larger power supply.

Mateusz Antonowicz's picture

I am using regular fans for OC [i6700k from 4 to 5GHZ], have no idea if this is sold overseas, but so far so good here, and really, really quiet. Only downside is this:

It covers about 1/3 of the motherboard, but RAM and everything fits. I'll just leave a name if anyone in future would be curious.

SilentiumPC-Grandis-XE1236v2

Oh and they should be like 30-40 bucks, last time I used some ASUS coolers, and I think Cooler Master, but after some temp just started to raise, cleaning, new thermal paste, bells and whistles, nothing worked. This piece of junk works flawlessly though, they didn't have my brand, so I grabbed one on random, not knowing it's so huge. @5GHZ stress test shows 50C per each core, and about 40C for motherboard. I have no idea why am sharing so many facts of my life here... Oh well.

100% make sure you get a m.2 x4 NVME SDD something like a Samsung 960 pro or Samsung SM951, use it for your OS, your important apps and as your photo scratch for lightroom/photoshop. Be amazed with sub 10 second boot times and 1000+ MB/s transfer speeds.

Currently lightroom / photoshop can only use 2 cores, so you could get away with an i5 and spend the money on ram and fast storage with i think is important. Videoediting is really where hyperthreading comes into play and that point might as well build a dedicated xenon or zen multicore rig for rendering. You could even go with an i5 7600k and OC it if you get a z270 mobo.

also 16gb ram minimum and save some money for a decent IPS display (BenQ SW2700PT) and a i1 display pro (or borrow one)

I also like to use a tablet for the brush tool in LR/PS: i recommend the wacom intuos pro small (a bunch of used ones out there, I got mine for $100)

GREAT article Lee! Will you be updating your article with any new info? I'm new to this and will be building my new PC using this article as a guide, very soon... would love to hear about any new "better" options... Thanks! Keep up the great work at Fstoppers!

Lee Morris's picture

I don't plan to update this post but we may do another build soon. AMD released their threadripper chip and intel just released some super expensive chips. We may do a build with one of those.

AWESOME... Do you know an approx. time frame you might have something up?

Lee Morris's picture

I wouldn't wait for it. It may be a while.

John Tucker's picture

From a first-time builder, thanks for this. I'm now confident that I can handle the task coming up in a month or so.

WOW this case is massive!

For home I dropped $8000 AUD a few years back, 5960x, 64gb Ram, m.2, SSDs in RAID, SLI 980 GTX, probably wouldn't do this again... This was a render machine for 3ds Max, where I have now moved onto photo editing, unfortunately, I now require a Quadro for colour accurate work.

For work, I build $1400 AUD PCs they are great. 3.6Ghz Xeons, Quadro K120 4 gb, 16gb 2133GHz, stock coolers and a 500w case with PSU with 1 SSD, does the job, epecially the Quadro for a 10-bit colour calibrated moniter.

Bernhard Gores's picture

Very interesting and inspiring video, thanks! For i am looking mainly for a Lightroom PC i am unsure if using a faster 4core I7-7700K 4.2Ghz with LGA1151 will be better than a LGA2011-3 with the 6core I7-6850K 3.6Ghz. Because i found out that the LGA2011-3 has advantages over LGA1151, first you have 4 channel RAM, so which probably makes RAM usage faster with 4x8gb instatt of 2x16gb (LGA1151 supports only two channels). Then, the DMI connection between CPU and Chipset is not max. 3.6gbyte/s during parallel transfers like it is with LGA1151. Maybe there are still some more advantages over the LGA1151. But does this make a lot of difference when using LIGHTROOM? When yes, would it then not be better to buy a 6core I7/-6850K for Lightroom too? If not, if a faster 4 core CPU beats these advantages of LGA2011-3, which Mainboard would you suggest for a I7700 LGA1151? (Would prefer two M.2). On the other hand, does anybody has experience with a M.2 System SSD and additionally the new OPTANE MEMORY when working with Lightroom?
Still another question, concerning RAM: both CPU, the I7-6850K and the I7-7700K, do not support RAM faster than 2400MHz, this says my PC configurator, so why did you buy the 3200MHz RAM?

Alex PDL's picture

Great info. Any suggested updates to this list in 2018?

Lee Morris's picture

I'm working on a new list right now actually. Until our next video, read this: https://www.pugetsystems.com/recommended/Recommended-Systems-for-Adobe-P...

Amp Sawkmie's picture

This is very helpful Lee. I think its time for an updated article.