If you looked at our equipment list, you’ll see that there is a line item labeled “Media Rig”. At first, I was considering just buying an off-the-shelf PC for creating songs and video. But after some quick research I found that I could get better performance for less cost by building it from scratch. quick research turned into hours of research finding the optimal configuration/price point. During that time, I read several blogs and saw videos on YouTube where people in the music, photo, and video business mentioned that computer building was beyond their skill. So, I thought I would document my results for any that was looking into creating a PC specific to design Music, Video or Photos.
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I had a few ground rules that guided my selection. They were:
- I will not be over-clocking this PC. While you can get some performance increase by overclocking, the extra cost and risk if you are novice PC builder is not worth the extra 2%-3% speed.
- It must support 4K monitors. First, I already had a 4K monitor for this PC, but more importantly, all the edit common editing tools (FL Studio, Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop) use a lot of screen space. 4K monitors will provide lots of room to work.
- This PC is not General Use. I have another PC for Gaming, Website Development and other typical tasks.
Given this ground rules, here’s a discussion of the Media rig’s components and why I chose them.
The first question you have to answer is Intel or AMD. I chose Intel for several reason, the biggest reason is that the (slightly old) benchmarks I was able to find showed that Intel beats AMD in real-world tests of Video rendering and Photo editing. Anecdotal evidence backed this up with forum reports of AMD dropping frames while rendering video. After selecting Intel , the next question is i5 or i7. Here the answer is purely a matter of budget, Any of the media design tools will fully utilize your CPU. At the time of this writing the Intel i5-6600 is $229 and the Intel i7-6700 is $299. Selecting the i7 will get you about a 30% increase in performance for about a 30% increase in price.
I chose the i7-6700 because the 30% increase is significant in the Video tools, but if you were only focusing on Photoshop, the cost would be harder to justify, I would save the money and go with the i5-6600. While shopping online, you may see the “K” series Processor also being offered. The only advantage of the “K” series is that it can be over-clocked, but it will cost you not only an increased processor cost, but also a more expensive motherboard.
Now that we have selected our CPU, we can look at motherboard. The 6th generation Intel CPUs use an LGA1151 socket, which uses the Intel-100 series chipset. There are a lot of options here, but we can narrow down our options using these conditions:
- I’ve had good experiences in the past with Gigabye, ASUS, and MSI, so I will focus on those.
- It is important that our motherboard has a PCIe Gen3 M.2 Slot. More on this later.
- A Micro ATX form factor will give use the largest selection of case options.
Given the above. The Intel B150 chipset is the best option, and the Gigabyte GA-B150M-DS3H is the best price point.
Probably the easiest selection in the build process. The motherboard controls the type and maximum speed, and you want as much and as fast as possible. The GA-B150M-DS3H uses DDR4 memory at 2133MHz, also known as PC4-17000. Here again, I have had good experiences with G.Skill, Kingston, and Corsair, so pick which ever is the least expense. At the time of this post, the Kingston HyperX FURY Black is the least expensive. I went with a 32GB package which is more than enough for any use, and will allow me to run Premiere and After Effects at the same time. If you were focusing on Photos only, the Kingston 16GB package will do just fine.
Solid State Drive (SSD)
Our systems will have two Solid State Drives, the first is for your OS, applications, and general storage. The second will be your scratch drive for Photoshop, Premiere and other applications that need it. Video and Sound editing takes a lot of space, so I looked at SSDs that were 300GB or larger. Hands-down the winner is the ADATA SP550. It is one of the fastest SSDs around and have a respectable 480GB of storage.
The second SSD is a bit of a splurge. When SSDs came out they were significantly faster than traditional spinning hard disk drives. Today, the next level of storage is connecting your SSD directly to your PC’s data bus using a PCIe Gen3 M.2 connector. PCIe M.2 SSDs (also called NVMe SSDs) are up to 4.5 times faster than traditional SSDs. You may be tempted to place your OS and applications on these drives for faster startup times, but you would only be shaving 1-2 seconds off. The most useful application of these high-speed SSDs is as scratch drives for your application. Being the newest technology, they are quite expensive, but they are worth it. Samsung is the leader in this space, and the Samsung 950 PRO Series 256GB PCIe NVMe is the best choice. At $187, it is a pricey upgrade, but this purchase will serve you well in your work.
The 6th Generation Intel CPUs will support 4K with their on-board video. If you are only doing sound editing there is no reason to purchase a video card. Photoshop will naturally take advantage of GPUs when it finds them, but there’s only a few plugins that are written to take advantage of it, it’s not worth the cost. But Video editing tools will see performance benefits from the GPUs on modern Video Cards. Premiere will see a significant advantage, but some extra effort is needed with Premiere. This article has the steps that need to be taken to activate GPU acceleration in Premiere.
On of the forum talk centers around NVIDIA’s CUDA platform. So we will focus on the GeForce series. We are not gaming, so the top-of-the-line Titan series is not necessary. A quick trip over the Passmarks’s Benchmarks will tell us that the GeForce 950 is the best price/performance ratio. Again, I have had great experiences with EVGA, and they have a specific model that is designed for quiet operation. The EVGA GeForce GTX 950 2GB FTW is a great by at $146.
Since we selected the non-K-series CPU it will come with a fan that is perfectly acceptable for cooling our processor. However, if you are going to use the Media Rig for sound editing, and more specifically recording vocals, You want the Media Rig to be as quiet as possible. For $60, the Corsair Hydro Series H55 Liquid CPU Cooler is well worth the expense. Your PC will be near silent, just do not install any other fans during the build process.
Power Supply (PSU)
The big question with PSUs is how many Watts do I need for my build. Fortunately, most of the power supply companies have calculators on their websites to help you. My favorite is the Cooler Master Power Calculator. Assuming you are purchasing everything mentioned about, the calculator recommends 294 Watts. There are many 300W power supplies on Amazon, but that’s pretty close to the suggested Wattage, I’d like a little more buffer so that my PSU isn’t running at peak power all the time. So I found an excellent EVGA 430W PSU for $30. I’ve had great experiences with EVGA in the past, so this was a no-brainer.
Case is purely a matter of style, there’s are hundreds of cases available, and any of them will do the job. Your only requirement is that it fits the motherboard, and video card (if purchased). I would also suggest a case that has both USB ports and headphone/mic ports on the front. In designing my Media Rig, I have a specific need to make this system portable, so I selected a case with a handle on it for transport. the best option for portability is the Cooler Master Storm Scout 2. However if you do not need the portability, the Zalman T2 Plus ATX Mini Tower is a great tower at a great price.
Wrap It Up
That’s it! Your Media Rig is ready to go. Get yourself a keyboard and mouse that you like, or use the one your already have. You may want a CD/DVD-ROM if you feel you need one, but I always pull the CD/DVD from the PC I’m replacing. If you need to buy a new one, allocate $20. Nowadays they are pretty much all the same. Based on the decisions above, I’ve prepared a shopping list for Media Rigs that can be used Sound, Video , or Photo editing only, and a final all-in-one Media Rig that can handle all media on a budget.