Intel CPUs, a Video Editors Guide

Instead of debating the merits of either AMD or Intel, I’m going to put that aside for another blog. Right now I can only tell you what I know. They’re both excellent if they suit your needs. I’ve only looked at Intel because they suit my needs better than the AMD offerings in terms of editing and effects work. I don’t do THAT much encoding, so AMD hasn’t had much time to be on my radar for what I’m looking for. They’re doing great stuff for a very cheap price so I wouldn’t discount them for your build as long as it suits your needs.

With that out of the way, this is what I look for in an editing CPU.

  1. Cores- cores are like a one-way street. You can move many motorcycles (light, single core applications) side by side, or one giant semi that takes up the whole street. More cores, even virtual, are essential to spreading out the work load. The more cores the better. Pushing more data decreases render times as long as you don’t bottle neck somewhere else like a slow hard drive, or old GPU. Some CPUs can use hyper-threading, which basically doubles the efficiency of the processor. Intel’s i5’s max out at 4 cores with no hyper-threading which is great for games, but not for editing. Most i7s have four cores with hyper-threading but there are versions with six physical cores netting a total of four more cores. The very cheapest six core i7 is around $350 to $400.
  2. Speed- an unlocked chip is sent out by the manufacturer that allows you to increase the operating frequency of the CPU, making it faster at the cost of a little to a lot more heating. This isn’t necessary as you probably shouldn’t be overclocking a workstation CPU. Reliability is more important than speed, though, as always, faster is generally better. Anything over 3GHz at 6 cores is very good for a pro-sumer level workstation.
  3. Upgrade-ability- does that chip socket support an upgrade or is that the end of the line? As an example the new four core Intel i7 6700 can only be replaced by the compatible socket Xeon E3 four core processor. However the Intel i7 5820k for around the same price is a six core processor that can be traded up to a 18 core Xeon E5 worth over $2,000! That’s some head room!

After all that I consider if RAM is an issue. DDR4 RAM is new and has higher density, with faster speeds than DDR3, but DDR3 RAM is cheap, plentiful and can be taken out of your old computer and slapped into a new, compatible rig. The i7 6700 can use either DDR3 or DDR4. The i7 5820 can only use DDR4 which is a bit more expensive right now, but the prices have dropped drastically from when they were first released.

Another issue is PCI-e lanes. These lanes allow your CPU to send out data to expansion cards, such as graphics cards, sound cards etc. It is feasible to have 3 graphics cards and a sound card. The i7 5820k with it’s 28 PCI-e lanes will struggle to get data to all those cards, but the i7 5930k’s 40 PCI-e lanes will handle that with no problem, but it is over $200 more for just 12 more lanes.

So first make sure you have at least 6 cores. Next know what your upgrade path might be (is it future resistant?) Finally, how many expansion slots do you think you’ll be using in the future? Will you need a Quadro or FirePro? Find out here. Do you think you’ll need a sound card for audio mixing, a TV tuner, or a PCI-e SSD? How much money are you going to spend on your rig? There is a great video that talks about the break down of costs for components here. Good luck!