Upgrading & Building a Computer for Video Editing

Page content


Most of today’s videos and movies that come from digital cameras, dSLRs, and camcorders are shot in high definition at either 1920 x 1080 or 1280 x 720 pixels (full-HD 1080p and 720p respectively). These high resolution files can be demanding on computers when it comes time to edit your footage. If your computer is not fairly recent, you may experience extreme slowdowns and “lag” when your video editing software is open. Many of the high-end, professional programs like Adobe’s Premiere Pro, After Effects, Sony’s Vegas, and Apple’s Final Cut render the movie for preview as you edit. This means that on-the-fly changes can be made while the video is being played. When it works, it works extremely well as you can see your changes instantly. This feature, however, comes at a cost on system resources.

Upgrading Your Current Computer

If your computer is only slowing down slightly or a new computer is out of the question, it may be that you just need to add more memory (RAM) or a graphics card (for those running integrated graphics). If your computer has open slots for RAM, you can probably add another gigabyte or two. Note that if you have a 32-bit operating system, it can only address up to 3GB of RAM. If you are unsure what operating system you are running. Open the Control Panel and click System. To add or upgrade your graphics card, make sure you have an open PCI-Express (not to be confused with PCI) slot and consider buying a graphics card that is at least in the fifty to one-hundred dollar range. Like anything else, the more you spend, the more performance you will get. Suggested ATi cards are the 4500 and higher or 5500 and higher series. For nVidia, look for something in the 9600 or higher series.

If you have a notebook, the most you can do is add RAM. Processors are not readily changeable and adding or upgrading graphics cards simply are not possible. Regarding RAM, Once your laptop is “maxed out” (consult your manual for your computer’s specifications), adding more will have no effect.

Building It from Scratch!

There are so many pre-built computers and parts out there, where do you begin? Here is a list of specs to consider when shopping for your new computer or parts if you plan on putting it together yourself.


Intel: Core 2 Duo (2.8 Ghz or higher) or Core i3, i5, or i7

AMD: Quad Core Athalon or Phenom X4

Motherboard: If shopping for parts, look for reputable brands like Asus, Gigabyte, MSI, EVGA, Foxconn, or DFI. As a general rule, make sure the socket matches your CPU, it has enough ports and features (usb 3.0, firewire, eSATA, etc) that you need.

Memory: Get a computer with 4-8GB of DDR2 or DDR3 RAM.

Graphics Card: Do not get a computer with “integrated graphics.” You want a “discrete graphics card.” ATI: 4600 or higher

Nvidia: 9600 GT or higher

Hard Drive: Get something with 500GB or more depending on your needs.

Power Supply: 380W or more will be plenty. Check the +12V rail specification and make sure it has at least 25A.

Operating System: Go for Windows 7 Home Premium (or Ultimate) 64-bit Edition. The 64-bit edition will allow you to use more than 3GB of RAM.

Monitor: Obviously choose something that will fit in your workspace. I would recommend something in the 22” range with a minimum resolution of 1680 x 1050 so that you can fit more windows, frames, documents, and pictures on your display.

What about Apple and Macs?

The majority of this guide is dedicated to PC’s running Windows, but what about a suggested Mac for video editing? It may be you have always wanted to get a Mac, but first consider that they are priced significantly higher than their PC equivalent counterparts. If you need to use Apple’s Final Cut software, then you definitely have no choice. Whichever Mac fits you decide, choose one with a dedicated graphics card (ATi 4670 or higher). Avoid the computers that only have the nVidia 9400m GT integrated graphics cards. It just cannot handle HD video editing.

Suggested Macs:

Mac Pro

iMac 21.5” and 27” with the ATi 4670 or 4850

MacBook Pro 15” and 17” with the 9600M GT

Avoid these:

Mac Mini


MacBook Air

13” and 15” MacBook Pros with only the 9400M GT