Choosing the Right CPU for Video Editing

Each component part of an NLE workstation plays a crucial role in its overall performance, but the CPU is the beating heart of the system. Your goal should be to create a well-balanced workstation tailored to your workflow needs, and the CPU should be the starting point of your configuration. You can make informed choices regarding motherboard, the speed and amount of RAM required, power and cooling requirements, the connectivity options and a GPU with matched performance. Before we take a look at which CPU are suited to video editing tasks, let’s look at the range and features available.

The latest Intel processors are based on the Coffee Lake architecture which delivers excellent performance whilst consuming less power than earlier CPUs. This is important as it means modern PCs cost less to run and are quieter than their predecessors.

One feature of special interest to digital creatives is Intel’s Hyper-Threading technology. HTT is only available on some chips and allows the CPU core to split into two virtual or ‘logical’ cores, increasing parallel processing efficiency via supported software titles such as Adobe Premiere Pro CC and BlackMagic Design Resolve, each built for multi-threaded performance.

Today's CPU market is dominated by Intel, which produces a huge range of different processors at price points varying from as little as £30 to as much as £2,200. The reason for such a huge span is that each of these models is optimised for different tasks, be it basic internet browsing, word processing, watching films, playing games or the more demanding tasks of digital content creation, such as creating motion graphics and visual FX, editing high resolution video and producing digital audio.

With so many CPUs to choose from, based on our internal bench testing, here is our simple guide to the most popular models and their suitability for post-production tasks.

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Intel Core CPUs
Core i3 These quad-core processors are much faster than the cheaper Celeron and Pentium models, making them a good starting point for a budget workstation for processing FullHD video or video streaming. However, a Core i3 will struggle with more intensive codecs and higher resolutions.
Core i5 The most affordable six-core Intel processors, Core i5 CPUs provide excellent bang-per-buck and so are a great choice for mid-range workstation used for simple editing tasks in a non mission-critical environment. Look out for models with a K on the end of the name as they can be overclocked for even greater performance.
Core i7 These six-core processors have more cache memory than the Core i5s and also support Hyper-Threading, allowing them to work on up to twelve threads simultaneously. A Core i7 is the great choice for a mid-range workstation and is much faster than a Core i5 when it comes to final rendering. Models with a K on the end of the name are overclockable for an added performance boost. For video producers and digital creatives a Core i7 is ideal for working at FullHD, but like a Core i5 will also struggle with complex codecs and higher resolutions.
Core X-Series i5 & i7 Sitting above the normal Core i5 and i7 processors is a special range of Core i5 and i7 X-series CPUs which require a Socket 2066 motherboard. Available with either quad, six, eight or ten cores plus Hyper- Threading these CPUs are incredibly fast, delivering excellent performance, especially in heavily multithreaded applications. Please be aware that the two quad-core Core X CPUs feature dual-channel memory controllers, while the six-core models and above have quad-channel memory controllers for added bandwidth and support more PCI-E lanes so you can connect more PCI-E devices such as graphics cards, RAID controllers and SSDs.
Core X-Series i9 Intel’s flagship desktop CPU series is Core i9, with up to 18-cores plus Hyper- Threading, these are the ultimate CPU for multitasking and heavily multithreaded applications. They have quad-channel memory controllers for added bandwidth and support more PCI-E lanes so you can connect lots of PCI-E devices such as graphics cards, RAID controllers and SSDs.
Intel Core i3 i5 i7 CPUs

Intel Xeon E5 2600

In high-end workstations performing heavily multithreaded workloads such as editing, compositing and grading 4K+ footage, Intel’s Xeon E5 2600 family of processors provide the ultimate in CPU performance. These CPUs are available as basic quad-core models but go all the way up to 22 cores, giving a massive 88 logical cores in a dual CPU configuration. With the highest cache level, ECC Registered memory support and the option of greater RAM capacities over Core i7s, the Xeon E5 2600 family is the pinnacle of workstation processor technology, trusted by creative facilities worldwide to provide maximum reliability, security and efficiency.

Intel Xeon CPUs