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Building a PC NLE: Choosing the Components

Building a PC NLE: Choosing the Components



A CreativeCOW.net 'Basics of Video' Tutorial



Building a PC NLE System

Jim Lafferty
Jim Lafferty
jim lafferty
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA



Article Focus:
Assuming you have a limited budget to work with, and are looking to jump into digital video non-linear editing, building your own PC editing platform is the surest way to save a great deal of money. It is not, despite what others may have told you, a monumentally challenging task or cause for lost sleep – provided you know what you’re doing. In this article, Jim Laffety sorts it all out.



So You Want To Build a PC NLE? – Part 1

For the sake of brevity, I’ve 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 FAQ’s 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 I’ve never encountered in your DIY adventure in PC building. I’ve 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 it’s 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 – we’re here to help.

I’ve 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!

It’s 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:


Motherboard

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 I’ve come to know as reliable producers of rock solid, feature-packed ‘boards.

I’ve 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.


Processor/CPU

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 – AMD’s 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 XP’s have stolen some of its…lead…by consuming less power, outputting less heat, and even incorporating Intel’s Pentium 4 specific multimedia instructions (SSE.)

For single processor based NLE’s, 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.


Hard Drive(s)

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.

IBM’s 75GXP series of drives are notoriously solid performers. A 75gig 75GXP drive will run you about $235.


RAM

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, I’ve 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.


CDROM Drive/Burner

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 SVCD’s 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.


Video Card

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 can’t 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.


Audio Card

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, it’s a nice entry-level solution for audio editing.

In order to hear audio streaming from CD’s, 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 Audigy’s FireWire port is something to croon about, it doesn’t ship with a cable. A 6’ FireWire cable (Firewire to miniDV) should run you no more than $20.


Floppy Drive

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. There’s 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 can’t 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 you’re 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.


Monitor

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). I’d 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.

I’ve stayed with Hitachi from the beginning. Still working on an old SuperScan 753 19” monitor, and at five years the picture hasn’t 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 rep’s – 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 Microsoft’s Optical Intellimouse, which are going for about $35 anymore. I’d 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, it’s 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.




Please visit the forums and view other articles at CreativeCOW.net if you found this page from a direct link.


Comments

Hah!
by Bruce N. Goren
Okay, you got me there.

The reason I originally clicked through is that like lots of folks out there, I'm thinking about the news from Adobe that CS5 will be 64 bit only.

2010 will be the year I bite the bullet and build a new machine. Time for an updated article addressing Windows 7, dual Xeon Nahalem class motherboards, Fermi, CUDA, Red workflow, disk migration, etc.

Bill Machrome used to say "The computer you really want, always costs $5,000".

It seems to me Bill's rule has held since the dawn of PC time, except for video you have to double that number.

My experience is that you can build it yourself for half that, a third if you are really frugal - so my budget is 3 to 5 kilo-dollars this time around, yet again.
It is not out of date. It is a "classic" article, Bruce. ;o)
by Ron Lindeboom
To be honest, we hate to turn off the old articles from the COW's beginnings. It almost seems about as sacrilegious as, well, finding Cowdog eating hamburgers.

The point of today's newsletter was the history of Creative COW and so we picked out one of our old articles that was indeed clearly out of date, to reflect just how far our industry and the technology has come.

I almost picked out Charles McConathy's article but I did that one a year or two back and it was clearly a Mac "classic."
Building a PC NLE - 2002
by Bruce N. Goren
Why is today's newsletter (1-05-2010) linking to this eight year out of date tutorial?


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