DIY: Building An Editing Station

Dec 12, 2008 by Derrick Faw · Leave a Comment ·
Filed under: Computing, Editing, Equipment 

The two basic tools needed to film these days are a camera and a computer. Digital editing has brought filmmaking to a whole new level and availability. Now anyone with a half decent computer can do basic video editing in the comfort of their own home. Though it doesn’t take long to realize, a powerful machine can process video quickly and efficiently. The worst thing about computing has always been waiting on processes. Last year at Christmas, Samantha’s sister gave her a nice collection of flashy gadgets for a computer. We decided we should build a whole new computer to house these treasures. In the process it became apparent we would be building a whole new editing station to run on both Linux and Windows XP. We have never really liked off the shelf desktop systems. The low end models are too basic with junk for components The upper end models are way too expensive. Both are usually stacked with proprietary software and not to mention Windows Vista. I became interested in building my own machines about 10 years ago, and haven’t thought of doing it any other way since. To the novice it might seem frightening or too complex, but it is very easy and affordable. For film editing you basically have two platforms to choose from, Mac or Windows. If your choice is Windows or Linux or both then why not build your “dream machine”. If you prefer running a Mac operating system, you are probably better off to purchase a system from them. Though it is possible to build a machine to run Mac, there are legal issues in doing so.

One great advantage of living in Paris is Rue Montgallet. Located in in the 12th Arrondissement, this street and it’s surrounding neighbors are home of more computer stores than can be found anywhere I know of. Paris is funny in that way, if you want computer stuff you can go to the computer street, if you want a guitar you can go to the music street, the same works for photography and other areas of interest. Many of the stores there collaborate together in a website, but be forewarned, use it as a guide only. The stores are sporadic and prices and availability may vary slightly. The best thing to do is establish a relationship with an individual store, which we have, or you are doomed to walk the streets in crowed little shops looking for the right component at the right price. At any means by the end of the day you come home with better deals than you can find anywhere else. Back in North Carolina I found that the Internet is the best place to shop for computer components. For a good place to start, try places like B&H. There you can also find a full range of top quality computers for all your video, audio, and photo needs.

Maintaining a machine that has the best of modern technologies is tough. It takes no time at all for technologies to be replaced and advanced. We built our machine early this year, by now better components would be much cheaper. Though this might seem disheartening, if you build a machine that works good for you, stick with it. The number one advice I know to give in keeping your editing station working good is to keep it clean. It should not be your primary computer, limited exposure to the Internet and useless software will keep any Windows based system running a lot better.

There are many issues to consider when building your machine. What editing software do you want to use? What operating system is needed? How does your camera output? There are many guides online that deal with computer components and building systems. A few simple Google searches will yield a world of information. I will reserve any lengthy descriptions of components in this article. To build a machine the following hardware will be necessary:

  • Processor
  • Motherboard
  • Memory
  • Hard Drive
  • Video Card
  • DVD Burner
  • Case
  • Power Supply

Processor: We chose the Intel Core 2 Duo E6750 (2.67 ghz) for our machine. A good trick is to wait until a new processor is released and buy the previous version. The price will have been reduced and you still get something probably better than you had before. For editing video I recommend the best processor for the money you have available to spend, it will be the heart of your system. Research forums and reviews very carefully before you make this choice. For example at the moment Intel makes the best series, next week it could be AMD.

Motherboard: AKA mainboard. First it has to be a model which supports your processor. There are many companies making many models of boards, we chose the Asus P5K. The selection of a board is also critical to the performance of your machine. I would advise a large board with a lot of room for oversized video cards and to allow good air circulation. This was especially a concern for use because we have a Canapus DV Storm video acquisition card that we picked up on eBay a few years ago. Another important consideration is to have an adequate number of USB2 and firewire connections for your needs. Choose a motherboard capable of holding the maximum amount of memory (RAM), you will not be disappointed and it will help you get the most out of your processor.

Memory: We bought 4 GB G-Skill (6400 ddr2-800) of RAM for our machine, don’t go too cheep and get the fastest possible and also made by a reputable brand.

Hard Drive: Any new board you buy now will have SATA connections for hard drives. Which is really beneficial for video editors because of the increased speed. For any kind of serious editing I would advise having new hard drives, and even duplicates for backup. Don’t put yourself through the heartbreak of loosing all your data. There is only one hard drive I recommend, it is the Seagate Barracuda. Get one of sufficient size, recently we purchased two 1 terabyte drives for backups at a very reasonable price. You can do your own research but from our experience you will find nothing more dependable. For more information on how our backup system works, check out a post in Samantha’s personal blog about Building Our Backup system.

Video Card: Even if your computer has an onboard video controller, I highly suggest investing in a dual output video card. When editing it is very beneficial to have two screens running at the same time. We went with a fairly cheap card, the Nvidia Geforce 8400gs. For our purposes it works wonderfully. If you are handling 3D on the other hand, you should get something a lot better.

DVD burner: We went with a Pioneer DVR-212. It has a SATA interface and capability of burning dual layer DVDs. According to your specific needs, you may wish to have the capability of burning Blu-Ray, which we do not at this time since we do not film in HD.

Case: Now you have all you need to process and you need a house to put it all in. I do not suggest getting a case with a built in power supply. These can be noisey or not carry enough watts to keep your system healthy. Since we had all the bells and whistles from Samantha’s sister, we needed a case with a window. Cases can be bought for half the price we paid for ours, but for both of us it was love at first site. We got the Antec Nine Hundred hardcore gaming case. It is simply loaded with features and looks good too.

Power Supply: Don’t go cheap! Get yourself at least 500 watts and preferably by a superior brand. Cheap supplies tend to be unreliable in their power delivery and very noisey. Again, as with all components, Do The Research.

We also added a simple 16 in 1 card reader on the front panel. So with a lot of screwing, plugging, and arranging, we built a great editing machine for a bit less than €500. Note though that price does not include screens or the Canapus card, which we already had. Note: a video acquisition card probably isn’t necessary for your machine, it is an added luxury you can probably do without. Also, you will of course need an operating system, e.g. windows and or linux and your favorite editing software. The night we put it together we took a few pics, the end product looks like this.

OK it looks like a night club, a bit unnecessary for video editing. But it gets the job done and life should be enjoyed.

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