|So You Want To Build a PC NLE? Part 1
For the sake of brevity, Ive assumed that you have a basic understanding of computer jargon and are at least in passing familiar with the different parts of a computer and their functions (There are a host of online glossaries and FAQs which will soak your feet in terms like RAM, CPU, ROM, BIOS, etc.)
Further, there is no practical way for me to know the ins and outs of every possible hardware configuration available, and consequently you may run into problems Ive never encountered in your DIY adventure in PC building. Ive tried to give you a general overview of the steps involved without being too gluttonous in info, or worse, condescending, and armed with this info, building a PC should not be the pogo-stick-through-a-minefield chore its been painted as. Where this tutorial fails to be sufficiently comprehensive in its detail, I'd suggest posting to the forum and shouting out to us were here to help.
Ive also recommended hardware choices below that are not the cheapest available for a reason cutting corners financially will usually be the source of later problems. That being said, an OHCI compliant video editing work station should run you in the neighborhood of $2,300, even taking into account top hardware choices whereas not even 5 years ago, you'd have to spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000!
Its a good time to be video editing!
Now, on with the show
First Choosing Components
Note: When building a PC it is always important always to note what kind of manufacturer or dealer warranty you can get with each component. Weighing this in with your considerations about price and feature sets when comparing parts is advisable, to say the least. Likewise, fill those registration cards out :)
The following is a list of the components which are necessary in order to build a fully functioning PC:
Motherboards, like any of the critical components of a PC, should be purchased from reputable manufacturers. Asus, Abit, Tyan, and Gigabyte are all motherboard manufacturers that Ive come to know as reliable producers of rock solid, feature-packed boards.
Ive personally run into only one major issue with a motherboard in the past, a consequence of the board using a VIA chipset something which DSE and others are quick to note. Every motherboard manufacturer has a web page and usually will have a list of their current offerings and a spec sheet for each board which details what chipset is implemented in the motherboard in question.
Otherwise, you want to take into account certain things before making your purchase what type of processor does it support and does the motherboard support one or two processors; what type and how much RAM does it support; how many PCI slots does it have; does it have onboard RAID?
A single-processor based motherboard will run you about $120 from any of the above mentioned manufacturers. A dual-processor based board will generally run around $200. I use a Tyan TigerMP which supports two processors, 6 PCI slots, up to 3.5gigs of RAM, and couldn't be happier.
For non-linear editing, the overwhelming majority of PC builders opt for AMD processors. Gone are the days of worries over incompatibilities and frequent crashes AMDs Athlon line of processors (Thunderbird, XP, and MP) do everything a Pentium 4 will do, often faster, and always cheaper.
The Thunderbird line of processors is rapidly fading into obsolescence with the introduction of the XP line. The chief advantage of the Thunderbird for a time was its support for a higher bus-speed (which dictates the rate at which data is allowed to pass to and from the processor to other components on the motherboard.) Now, the XPs have stolen some of its
by consuming less power, outputting less heat, and even incorporating Intels Pentium 4 specific multimedia instructions (SSE.)
For single processor based NLEs, go with the Athlon XP, as opposed to the Thunderbird (little price difference) or a Duron (which is not nearly as robust and honestly a poor choice for video editing.)
While the general rule of faster is better is nowhere more true than in the world of non-linear editing, there is usually a sweet-spot for processor prices. Right now, the biggest bang-for-the-buck processor would be the AthlonXP 1700 (1.47Ghz) at about $135. From there the price/performance ratio shrinks considerably.
With your processor(s), you will need to purchase a Heatsink/Fan (HSF) unit. I recommend the Swiftech MCX-370 which consistently gets high rating marks. $40 each.
When you build an NLE, you always want to have at least two drives one for your operating system and applications, and one for storing your digital video. Personally, I have a 30gig system drive, and two 75gig drives striped on a Promise FastTrak ATA100 RAID controller.
IBM manufactures hard drives with the highest reliability rating and they carry a minimum of a 3 year warranty. 7,200 RPM ATA100 drives are the standard for non-linear editing and you should shy away from settling with 5,400rpm drives to shave a few bucks an ounce of caution...
As a rule of thumb, plan on having at least three times your projects total running time in storage. FYI -- 1 Gigabyte is equal to four minutes of digital video.
IBMs 75GXP series of drives are notoriously solid performers. A 75gig 75GXP drive will run you about $235.
Crucial, Micron, Kingston and Mushkin are all fairly well known and respected memory manufacturers. Your motherboard will likely support PC2100 DDR SDRAM and it is advisable to pay the extra $20-30 in order to have registered, ECC RAM (some motherboards, Ive just learned, require registered RAM). Crucial sells a 512mb PC2100 registered stick for about $200. 512mb should be considered the minimum for serious video editing and as always, the more the merrier.
With the prices of high-speed CD Burners hovering at around $150 for a 24 speed burn write 100mb to a CD in under a minute (!) there's no reason to pick up just a CD reader. A CD burner will allow you to move some hefty files around easily, backup your data and software, and even burn SVCDs of your video work to give out to others (beats a business card.)
TDK makes a great series of drives under the name VeloCD, which come with a wonderful set of CD authoring tools. Otherwise, Plextor is the manufacturer which has an equally good reputation and ships a nice suite of software with their drives.
At the moment, there are two names in video card chipsets ATI and nVidia. They are both wonderful chipsets which scale to several different budgets, meeting and often exceeding current resolution and frequency needs. Reputable nVidia based video card manufacturers are Creative, Hercules, Asus, and Matrox.
Here again, you cant go wrong with a higher amount of onboard RAM cards today are either 32mb or 64mb however, 32mb is sufficient for most any application. You may want to consider looking into cards that support two monitors the extra real estate is nice if you have the money for that second screen.
Soundblaster Audigy, end of story. At $65, this 24-bit, 96khz card comes with an OHCI compliant Firewire port, with which you can import video and in the near future, plug in any number of high-speed devices to your computer (such as an ADS external hard drive case for hot-swapping large video files.)
The Audigy also comes in a few different flavors, with the Platinum EX ($215) providing the user with a series of audio in/out connections. For the price, its a nice entry-level solution for audio editing.
In order to hear audio streaming from CDs, you will need to purchase an audio pass-through cable which runs from your CDROM drive to your soundcard. These can be found at RadioShack, and run about $12.
Also, while the Audigys FireWire port is something to croon about, it doesnt ship with a cable. A 6 FireWire cable (Firewire to miniDV) should run you no more than $20.
Sony. $15. nuff said.
Case with Power Supply
For my money, no one manufactures a better designed case than Antec. The SX830 mid-tower case has enough room for 3 internal Hard Drives, 3 Internal 5.25 Drives (DVD/CD-ROM), and comes with a 300w power supply, two fans, all set in an elegant enclosure.
The 5.25 drives mount onto rails that slide in and snap with quick-release tabs for easy access, and the sides (one of which can be left to lock/unlock for easy access) swing out and pull off with no fuss. Theres even a spot to mount a fan in front of your hard drives, and all of the metal edges have been rounded off to abet unwanted snags and cuts. At $90, you cant beat it.
For $30 more, Antec ships the SX1040 (or SX1040B if you want it in black) which comes standard with a 400w power supply and 4 more internal drive bays.
Note: If youre planning on building a dual-processor based PC, you will need to upgrade the power supply that this, or for that matter, any case ships with. Enermax manufactures a 550w power supply (EG651P-VE) that far exceeds the minimum necessary amps (28A on the 3.3v rail) for going dual. For those of you going with the Tyan Thunder K7 board, you will need to purchase a special, 460w power supply with a proprietary connector.
Real estate total viewable area is what counts here, along with considerations like maximum resolution (should at least be 1600x1200) and dot pitch (should be no less than .22). Id recommend settling for nothing less than a 19 monitor with an 18 viewable screen. Figure on spending around $260 for a decent monitor of this size.
Ive stayed with Hitachi from the beginning. Still working on an old SuperScan 753 19 monitor, and at five years the picture hasnt changed. I also just picked out a Hitachi CM721F for a friend, and the screen is completely flat, lending to an evenly bright, distortion-free picture from edge to edge.
Otherwise, Sony and Samsung have solid reps you might want to look around for a local PC store that has their monitors on display and make some notes.
Keyboard & Mouse
I personally purchase the cheapest, vanilla keyboard I can find -- $15 at a local CompUSA, because keyboards in my work environment get dropped, spilled on and in general kicked about. If one goes, pick up another for $15.
As for mice, I use Microsofts Optical Intellimouse, which are going for about $35 anymore. Id suggest going to a Staples or CompUSA to see which mouse is most comfortable for your hand. Some people even prefer trackballs weirdoes.
Second Ordering Your Parts Online
Pricewatch and ResellerRatings should satisfy all of your online ordering needs. You can generally save yourself a great deal of money by ordering online, even considering shipping costs, but expect to wait about a week to have everything in front of you.
Pricewatch is an open forum in which companies place daily price quotes, which are in turn listed in ascending order and categorized.
ResellerRatings, as you might imagine, is a feedback forum that averages out a number of contributing customer reports, rated from 1 to 7, of many of the companies listed on Pricewatch.
When I purchase parts for myself, or for someone who wants me to assemble their machine for them, I keep a Pricewatch window open, and a ResellerRatings window open and match prices with ratings. I've never ordered from a company that has received below a 5 (a 71%).
If you want to get fair prices and great service, I've yet to have a bad experience with both NewEgg (6.5 = 93%) or AxionTech (5.8 = 83%). (I work for neither, if you're wondering.)
With all your parts on hand, its now time to roll up your sleeves and move onto Part Two Assembling Your NLE
©2002 Jim Lafferty. All rights reserved.
--Want to know more about the "Basics of Video"? Click here to find all of the tutorials in the series.