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 Skylake 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.

Intel Core CPUs
Core i3 These dual-core processors are much faster than the cheaper Celeron and Pentium models thanks to having more cache memory and support for Hyper-Threading which enables them to process up to four threads at a time. That said, a Core i3 is still not up to the job of processing video so we do not recommend them for a dedicate NLE workstation.
Core i5 The most affordable quad-core Intel processors, Core i5 CPUs provide excellent bang-per-buck and so are a great choice for entry-level 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. For video work a Core i5 is our minimum recommendation for an HD pipeline, but will start to struggle with multiple streams of highly compressed media, or with complex editing styles and multi-cam timelines.
Core i7 These quad-core processors have more cache memory than the Core i5s and also support Hyper-Threading, allowing them to work on up to eight 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 i7 Enthusiast Sitting above the normal Core i7 processors is a special range of Core i7 Enthusiast CPUs which require a LGA2011-3 motherboard. Available with either six, eight or ten cores plus Hyper-Threading and lots of cache memory. When professionally overclocked these CPUs are incredibly fast, delivering the ultimate combination of clock speed and multi-core performance in a single-socket workstation. With up to 20 available threads, Core i7 Enthusiast are the ‘sweet spot’ processors we recommend for working with 4K or complex editing styles and multi-cam HD timelines. As digital camera resolutions and colour bit depth continue to increase, some workflows require even more processor cores to provide real-time responsiveness. To meet the demands of modern post-production professionals, a dual-CPU workstation is required.
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