Videoguys' DIY 1: Build your own Computer for Digital Video
The Videoguys' DIY 1 - (Feb 2006 update)
We are in the process of putting together our DIY4 Dual Core machines. If we were going to build an under $1,000 machine, these are the components we would choose.
*ASUS’ P5LD2 Deluxe mainboard sports LGA775 chips with up to 800MHz processor system bus, up to 4GB of dual-channel DDR2 memory at 667MHz, two PCI Express x16 slots, one PCI Express x1 slot and three PCI slots. The mainboard provides Serial ATA II and Parallel ATA connectors, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire, may be equipped with a WLAN module as well as sports other modern interfaces. anandtech gave it a very good review
Videoguys' DIY 1 - (August 2004 update)
Back in January of 2004 we first had the idea for this article. Since then it has become one of the most popular articles on our website. Videographers all over the world have come to use it as a starting point for putting together their own DIY computer for NLE. As promised, we are updating the article. Jon & I decided it was time for him to update the machine he was using at home to edit video. What better time then to see just how powerful a system we could put together for the same $1,000 budget.
Jon decided to go with the same ASUS P4C800-E DELUXE motherboard. The more he uses it, the more he loves it. It remains our #1 recommendation for building your own $1,000 DIY machine. Not only is the price/performance great, Jon has found supporting, updating and tweaking it to be a breeze.
We're still over budget. We decided to go with a P4 3.0 GHz processor. That was on our wish list the first time around, but we couldn't come close to being on budget with it. Memory prices also went up, and hopefully they will come back down again. Our 2 sticks of RAM went up by $15 each, for a total of $30 more. We switched over to Hitachi SATA drives. We've been reading really good things about them online and our vendors also gave them high marks.
The big question we keep getting is "when will we build a dual processor or a 64 bit machine?" Jon is doing the research now for a dual Xeon system for our demo room. This system is being designed to support the new Avid Xpress Studio product line. Avid has very rigorous standards for whitebox or DIY machines. We hope to have it up and running and approved by Avid before the summer ends.
Videoguys' DIY 1: Build your own Computer for Digital Video
We get asked all the time what is the best computer for Digital Video editing & DVD production. This is not an easy question to answer. We've had good success recommending Dell & HP workstations to our customers, but more and more we're getting asked a more specific question. Folks don't want to buy a computer, they want to build one themselves. In the past we stayed away from specific component recommendations, especially motherboards. We found that all too often a particular motherboard would work great for capture card "A", but have compatibility issues with card "B", and work with card "C" but only after installing specific patches and updates. It was just too difficult to stay on top of it all.
Over the past year we've seen a major industry shift from proprietary hardware based NLE solutions to software based ones. The NLE solutions that still require hardware are dramatically more compatible and easier to install. More and more of our customers were building their own computer and having very good success. The time was right for The Videoguys to get more involved in supporting this trend. So I created the Videoguys' Challenge for our top tech support guy, Jon.
What is the Videoguys' Challenge? Simple. I asked Jon to build me the best and fastest WinXP machine he could for $1,000. Then I had him install all of the latest Digital Video hardware and software on it. Once he was done I tested it for two weeks to see how it stacks up. How did Jon do? Were we able to hit our budget? What components did we use? What did we learn along the way? The answers are all here in this article!
Here are the Videoguys' DIY ground rules:
- All of the parts had to be off the shelf and available for purchase from various on-line computer part resellers.
- $1,000 budget does not include the monitors
- CPU had to be a P4 hyperthreaded processor. (We'll try a dual CPU challenge later this year).
- I wanted a ton of RAM. Minimum 512, hopefully a full GB.
- A dedicated 7200RPM drive for the video & audio files.
- Dual head graphics card. Once you try editing with dual monitors you'll never be able to go back to just one.
- We would add a DVD burner later. It did not have to come out of the $1,000 budget.
- System must be expandable and upgradeable in the future.
I not only wanted Jon to build me the best possible NLE computer for $1,000 – I asked him document the process and allow me to interview him after he had finished. I wanted him to explain what components he chose and why.
Jon met the challenge and actually exceeded both of our expectations. I hope you will find this interview informative and helpful.
Videoguy: Well Jon, when you first came to me with the idea of building a computer from scratch for us to use in our demo/ evaluation room, I thought it was a great idea. But I didn't expect you to be able to meet my challenge. Tell us about the system you put together:
Jon: Basically I had a few things I know I wanted in the system. I definitely wanted a gig of RAM, SATA drives, and a case with a window to see the insides.
So I got the ASUS P4C800-E Deluxe motherboard with 1 gig of Kingston RAM (2 512mb sticks), the NVIDIA Quadro 4 280NVS dual head video card, an 80gb SATA system drive, a 160gb SATA video drive, Windows XP Pro, a 400 Watt power supply and the funky case from ANTEC.
Videoguy: Looks like your system went a bit over the $1,000 budget. What happened?
Jon: Well basically, it's your fault ;-) We could have saved almost $200 by going with a basic case, smaller EIDE drives and a single head graphics card. We decided that we'd rather pay a little more for the best possible performance. So we went with the 2.8Ghz P4 processor and 2 SATA drives. Each one bigger than I had initially configured). I also wanted to get IDE for the system drive and SATA for the video but you convinced me to get 2 SATA drives instead.
Videoguy: I guess what it really comes down to is choices. We could have stayed under the $1,000 budget, but for about the price of nice dinner-for-two we ended up with a faster processor, better memory and new SATA drives. I think we made the right call on this one. The system performs fantastic. Premiere Pro, Liquid Edition, Avid Xpress Pro w/ Mojo, and Vegas all work great. (For a great comparison of all 4 of these NLEs, check out this article).
Jon: Thanks. It was really fun putting this computer together. Before I even started looking for specific hardware, I got on the phone with the top tech guys at Avid, Pinnacle, Matrox and Canopus. I wanted to make sure I only chose hardware that they all liked.
Videoguy: Great thinking! I know the toughest and most important decision was the first one you had to make – the motherboard. Which motherboards did you consider and why did you pick the one you did?
Jon: When it comes to motherboards the crucial factor in picking the one you want is the chipset. For this exercise I only considered chipsets that were recommended by all our vendors and that I could not find any known issues with. I came up with 3 chipsets that I liked best, the Intel E7505 & 875 and the SiS 655.
- My dream motherboard was the Intel SE7505VB2 ($399) based on the Intel E7505 chipset. It's a Dual Xeon motherboard. Although we were only going to go with a single processor, I figured it would give us great room to grow. But it was pretty expensive and I would have to sacrifice too much in other areas to meet my budget.
- So I focused on finding the best Intel 875 based motherboard I could. The 875 chipset looked to offer the best single processor performance and all our vendors recommend it. After a bit of research I found the Asus P4C800-E Deluxe ($178) motherboard. It's loaded with goodies like on board FireWire, SATA RAID and some very cool diagnostic software. The diagnostic software actually tells you the temperature inside the computer and if your machine is running too hot. It also tells you the CPU's temperature; it's a really nice utility.
- Next I checked out the Gigabyte 8SQ800 ($82) which uses the SiS 655. We had heard very good reports about this motherboard from our customers, which counts a lot. It's a very nice motherboard with a good set of onboard features as well.
Videoguy: So it came down to the Gigabyte or Asus motherboard, what was the deciding factor.
Jon: I went back to my tech support contacts at our vendors. When I talked to the guys about tech support issues they all said that the 875 chipset was the easiest to troubleshoot and support. The ASUS motherboard came with pretty good documentation and both the ASUS and Intel websites were loaded with more. I was confident I had found a winner.
Videoguy: With the motherboard selected I guess the next choice was the processor, memory & storage
Jon: Actually it was the case and power supply. I went with the Antec PLUSVIEW1000AMG since it was affordable and had that cool window on the side. It has 2 fans on it. It also has USB/Firewire on the front of the case. I made the connections to the motherboard and got them both up and running. The connections to the motherboard didn't match the case connections, there were extra power connections but I found out from Antec that all I had to do was connect the cables supplied with the case and it would work just fine. I also got a 400W power supply to go in there.
I really wanted the Thermaltake Xaser III V1420A case, but I guess that's a bit over the top. I think we'll save that one for when I get to put together a dual processor system. ;-)
Videoguy: Take it easy Jon. We don't really need a case with 7 adjustable speed fans, glowing blue LEDs and a front panel LCD temperature monitor. You'll get your chance to put together an over the top system in the future. For now we need to keep concentrating on our $1,000 challenge.
Jon: I know, I know, but you did ask for one of those 'gamer' cases we see all the time in Maximum PC magazine. I recommend reading MaxPC to anyone interested in hot-rod computers. They go a little crazy with the custom modifications, but each issue is loaded with tech tips and news about the hottest computer components. We definitely splurged a little on the case, but we both like the clear side panel that lets you see into the guts of the machine.
Videoguy: Hey, we can still be cool on a budget. And that is a pretty cool case. Back to the guts of our machine - tell us about the CPU, memory and storage.
Jon: The CPU was actually the last part of the equation. I figured I'd just get the fastest P4 we could afford with whatever budget was left. One important thing to keep in mind when shopping for a CPU: Make sure you get the full retail package that includes the heatsink & fan. Many times the cheapest price you find on-line is for the OEM version, which is the bare CPU only.
I wanted to get a full gig of top-notch memory. The motherboard supports dual channel memory. So that meant two 512Mb sticks of RAM. I did some research on www.tomshardware.com and www.anandtech.com and I discovered that ideally the memory speed should be equal to ½ the front side bus speed. Since the motherboard has a front side bus speed of 800 Mhz I went with 400 Mhz memory. Anything faster requires over-clocking to take advantage of.
Videoguy: Wow, I didn't know that. That's a great tip for do it yourselfers. No point in investing in extra performance that you can't utilize. What about the storage?
Jon: This was a really tough one. I could save over $100 by going with EIDE drives, but I had to check out SATA. The motherboard we selected supports both, and it has SATA RAID on board as well. Although IDE drives would've done the job, I went with SATA since in the end they are faster (ata/150 instead of ata/100) and it wasn't that much more expensive.
Videoguy: Ok so lets talk graphics card. You know I have to have my dual monitor support. What did you come up with?
Jon: I know I wanted a card that supported OpenGL to take advantage of faster rendering with a lot of applications. I was looking at the ATI Radeon cards and the nvidia Quadro 4 based cards. The PNY Quadro4 280nvs seemed to be the best card for our budget that was recommended by our vendors.
Videoguy: Ok, looks like we've got our key components, now for the fun part. How do you build a computer?
Jon: Ok, I actually read the manuals from cover to cover, as if it was my first time ever building a computer.
- I read through the case manual AND the motherboard manual and got the motherboard in the case.
- Then I put the power supply in there and connected it to the motherboard and I connected the fans from the case to the motherboard.
- Next I put the processor in there, for some reason this was really intimidating at first but it went in really easy.
- I put the RAM in following the manual again. The RAM slots are actually colored. I made sure I put the RAM in the BLUE SLOTS to allow for the dual channel support.
- I connected the hard drives, popped the video card in there. Put in a Plextor PX708ASW and turned the machine on.
It didn't work! After fumbling around the manuals and stuff I finally realized that there was a power connection I missed, so I made that connection and got the machine to work. I installed Windows XP and went from there.
Videoguy: Well the proof is in the pudding – this machine runs GREAT! Do you have any interesting tips or tricks you learned along the way that other DIYers will find helpful?
Jon: Sure, here are a few tricks I learned along the way:
- Make sure all the holes line up BEFORE you start putting in the screws. I know this sounds obvious, but I wasted a lot of time messing around with the mechanical aspects of the job. And have some band-aids handy. I scraped up a couple of knuckles and a finger on sharp edges inside the case.
- Install the latest drviers and patches. I made sure I installed the latest service pack from Microsoft for windows XP. I also installed the driver for the network card from the ASUS CD that came w/ the motherboard. Then I installed a chipset utility from the ASUS CD as well. Both of these were crucial since device manager was showing yellow exclamation marks for both devices.
- Tweak XP for NLE. You'll get better performance and a more stable machine. Just follow our World Famous Windows XP Tips!
- Connecting the USB/Firewire on the front of the machine is an adventure. Both of the cables coming from the ports were individually marked cables. Some were power, some were + or – and some were the grounds. The motherboard connectors of course didn't match up as far as the amount of cables and pins were on each. But the manual did show what each pin was, so I just made the proper connections – to - + to + and so on and it works flawlessly now!
Videoguy: Excellent tips. Sorry to make you have to go through all the trouble of the front mounted jacks, but that's one of the cool reasons to build your own. So you can put the jacks where you need them. I'm really glad we came up with this project and I'm very impressed with how well the system performs.
Jon: Me too. I'd like to take this opportunity to announce the forming of our new message board. The DIY forum. Where folks can get together and post their own DIY systems, tips & tricks. It'll also be a great place to ask for help. I plan on posting there often. I'm also looking forward to speaking with any digital video DIYers who need some expert advice on configuring and building their ideal NLE solution. I can be reached Monday-Friday between 9AM & 5 PM at 516 759-1943 ext 120
Videoguy (August 2004 update): AWESOME! The DIY message board has become one of our most active and best. We've got lots of folks on there posting their configs and giving each other advice. I'm really happy with how well this article was received.
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