Monday, 26 August 2013

What to Consider when Buying a Computer for Post-Production

So you decided to get into editing, motion graphics, or animation, and only after downloading all the required software do you realize your machine can’t handle the task. After purchasing $1000 worth of software, the last thing you want to think about is spending more money on a new machine.  Trust me, I know. I’ve been there.

When this issue first presented itself to me, I went out and purchased a new machine. Unfortunately, I still ran into the same issues with rendering times, software lag, hang-ups, and worst of all- the spinning beach ball of death.  It didn’t make sense to me that I purchased a new machine yet was facing the same issues. After some research, I quickly realized my machine wasn’t optimized for video editing, motion graphics or animation.  Translation: I needed to purchase another machine. I did my research and finally after saving some extra cash, I went out and purchased a new video editing-motion graphics- animation-optimized machine. I’ve been editing and animating away since then.  After a friend experienced a similar dilemma this week, I realized she’s probably not the only one who runs into this issue as a new editor/animator. So I decided to share what I’ve learned with my fellow friends on the interwebs. Below are a few things you should know before purchasing your next editing machine.

There are four main things to consider when purchasing a computer, especially one that’s a fast, furious, editing machine:

  • Processor
  • Hard Drive
  • RAM
  • Graphics Card


The processor is the brain of the computer. It tells all the other parts of the computer how to function and when to function. Editing requires a lot of processing. When you combine the need to import footage, edit footage, color-correct footage, adjust the audio, add text and graphic layers, then render, a multi-core processor becomes a necessity. With a multi-core processor you can tell the other computer to run multiple tasks simultaneously.   So instead of having to edit and then render, you can edit and render in the background, saving you tons of time in getting your project complete. 
*A Multi-Core Processor is an absolute necessity for any computer handling a lot of editing, motion graphics, or animation. The faster the processor, the better (and of course, the higher the cost).

Hard Drive

The hard drive is the storage unit of the computer- it is where all your files live (i.e. videos, documents, photos, etc.). The bigger the hard drive, the more you can store.  When it comes to your editing machine, the size isn’t as important as the speed. The faster the hard drive, the better. With the latest advances in our non-linear editing systems (i.e. final cut pro, adobe premiere, you can edit your footage while still importing it. This causes your hard drive to work double time.  We want to make sure we have a hard drive that can allow us to benefit from all of the features our non-linear editing system has to offer.  So, I would recommend at least a 7200-RPM hard drive; if you have the money to splurge buy a solid-state. Solid-State will increase your performance across the board. For more information regarding solid-state HD, go here.


RAM (Random Access Memory) is like your short-term memory - quick to access, but when you go to sleep it all goes away for good measure. 
Not enough RAM can throttle your processor, while it waits longer (a lot longer) to get data from the hard drive. When it comes to video editing, RAM is most useful during the render process. It stores the information so we don’t need to render over and over again, unless of course we keep changing or altering the video.  I would recommend at least 8GB of RAM, and if your pockets allow, 16GB.

Graphics Card

Integrated Graphics Cards (GPU’s) are fine for everyday graphics processing, 2D design and video playback, but with 3D games, and video production and editing you need a separate “monster” in the machine - if you don’t want suboptimal performance. A discrete GPU has its own dedicated RAM, completely separate from the computer’s RAM, making the GPU process graphics at a much faster rate and leading to increased overall performance. I believe, discrete graphics is a must for any computer used for editing/animation. The higher GPU RAM, the better the performance.  I would recommend at least 512MB GPU, and if your pockets allow, 2GB or 3GB GPU.

If you made the same mistake I did and purchased the “wrong” computer, sell it on eBay or Craigslist, and use the money from the sell towards a new, super, awesome, editing powerhouse.  If you know someone in this situation, please pass it along. 

What is your most valued hardware for your computer? Do you have any suggestions on what to consider before buying a computer for post-production?

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