Outside Hollywood System Guide

Our company has recently seen fit to expand our post-production into a second HD edit suite. Rather than purchase a standard workstation from a reseller, we built our own to our own specifications, and we saved quite a bit of money doing so. To get a similarly equipped machine would have been about $2500 from Dell and over $3000 from Apple.* All of our components were purchased from either NewEgg or ZipZoomFly.

*These are only roughly equivalent specs – to get a precise match on either side would mean some very expensive custom modifications. A Dell Precision 490 with 2.3ghz Quad CPU, 2GB RAM, RAID controller, DVD burner and a professional Quadro FX video card is roughly $2,600 with nothing on sale and no discounts. A MacPro with 2.6ghz Quad CPU, 2GB Ram and two 7300 GT video cards is $3,200 with a comparable warranty and no RAID. Neither system’s configuration even offers so many hard drive bays or the two free RAM slots, so as you can see, comparisons are very rough.

In the style of ArsTechnica’s famous system guides, here’s the breakdown of what we built for our latest edit suite, and what we recommend for a basic yet powerful HD edit station. We build this system around a production pipeline that would involve Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects and the Cineform codec. It is designed to hold a lot of data and process that data quickly, and in our extensive tests, we have found that it works extremely well and extremely fast.

Motherboard: Asus P5B-PLUS Intel P965 – $135
This ATX Intel motherboard supports dual-core or quad-core processors in 32-bit or 64-bit and has a bus speed of 1066mhz. There are four DDR II SDRAM slots that allow a maximum dual channel capacity of 8GB. Plenty of connectivity is available with two FireWire ports, eight USB ports, and built-in Gigabit ethernet. However, the greatest strength of this motherboard for video users are its 2 IDE channels, 8 SATA channels and two onboard RAID controllers (supporting modes 0, 1, 5, and 10) which make it an ideal fast storage machine. There is also a built-in ESATA port and three PCI slots that could support ESATA cards.

A PCIe slot is reserved for the video card, and there is a built-in 7.1 surround sound audio card as well. There’s a little bit of static that comes through a few of the six audio connectors on the back panel, but when we switched to the case’s front panel it went away. Another sales point for this particular motherboard is its overclockability, but we haven’t tried that yet. This is a passively cooled motherboard, which means that it doesn’t need fans to keep the chipset at a low temperature.