Sunday, 26 August 2012

my PC config for Sony Vegas

Here is the config of my PC which I use with Sony Vegas Pro V11 (overall you might spend about £500-700). I don't like spending loads of money on new computers. All components are bought second hand on ebay. The processing power of this setup is comparable to a gaming PC but at a fraction of the cost (and minus the water pipes running through your tropic aquarium).

  • Dell Precision Workstation T5400: It's a bit dated but still a very powerful computer and therefore really cheap on ebay. It has sockets for two (!) X5450 Xeon processors running at 3GHz (very much the same as a Mac Pro but at 1/4 of the price). Each processor has 4 cores. I've got only one processor fitted which is more than enough for editing full HD. Don't be fooled by the newer i7 processors with hyperthreading faking 8 cores which are actually only 4. If you want to halve your rendering time you can buy a T5400 fitted with two processors giving you 8 independent cores which all can be used by Vegas for rendering and timeline playback. Don't try to fit a second processor by yourself. I've tried but didn't know that the X5450 come in different serial numbers (called stepping numbers) and they need to have matching stepping numbers for Windows 7 to run (Linux won't mind). You will never be able to find a matching processor second hand. Better to buy a T5400 with two processors fitted and avoid the hassle.
  • The operating system is Windows 7 professional 64 bit. For editing it needs to be 64 bits because future versions of most editing programs will only be available in 64 bits.
  • RAM is 4GB and is more than enough for Vegas. The T5400 uses professional RAM modules with parity which gives you peace of mind that your data on your hard drives won't disintegrate over time. I'm also using Adobe Aftereffects which really would love to have 8GB. I might buy that soon. Again, easy to buy from e-bay and easy to fit.
  • Graphics card: ATI Radeon HD5700 (for the PCI-e x16 slot). This card has a GPU which is well supported by Vegas and speeds up rendering and timeline playback drastically. It's great value for money. You can also add a second graphics card to the second card slot in the T5400 which adds a second GPU to the computer and further speeds up editing. NVidia cards are also supported but are generally more expensive. Sony has published some GPU benchmarks and a compatibility list on this web page. The standard nvidia graphics card in the T5400 is also excellent but won't have GPU acceleration.
  • Monitors: you need two monitors for proper editing. One monitor for the timeline and one for the preview which can be also calibrated or use colour profiles. I've downloaded a colour profile for my Samsung monitor which works great. Vegas allows full screen preview on a second monitor which should be ideally something like 1920x1080 in resolution but any widescreen monitor will do with a reasonable resolution. Vegas will scale it down. I've got a Samsung 1440x900 and an ancient Dell 4:3 monitor for the timeline.
  • Hard drives: I've got numerous hard drives in my computer but mainly because I'm also running Linux. It's essential to have two HDs: one for windows (100GB will do) and one for editing (1.5TB). I have also an HD tray which I bought off ebay which allows plugging in bare SATA drives into the computer. This is invaluable for backups or for editing whole projects on a swappable drive.
  • Blu ray writer:  LG's GGW-H20L universal CD/DVD/Blu Ray writer. It's a cracking device and never let me down. Look out for the newer models. I've been burning Blu Rays from all different manufactureres and never had any problems. Important: Windows has trouble with the blu ray writer using the new SATA controller architecture. If you get stuck at boot time and there needs to be a DVD in your drive to boot the computer go into the BIOS and switch the SATA to legacy. It won't slow down but you won't get a 5th SATA port.
  • IEEE1394/firewire: I'm using a standard Texas Instruments based firewire card. It's important to know that the T5400 has 3 PCI slots and that there are two types of PCI slots (3.3V and 5V) which look different. Before you order a card have a look inside of the T5400 and check which kind of slot is free. The same applies to the sound card. Best you just buy PCI cards which are universal PCI cards and you won't have trouble swapping.
  • Sound card: the internal sound card is fine for stereo mixes and is surprisingly good. Use a good PC sound system with a subwoofer. However Vegas allows also 5.1 mix! Because of this I've now added an ASUS Xonar DG card. The driver installation is a pain (install-de-install-install) but once it's working you can connect the 6 analogue outputs to your favourite surround system (I use a Kenwood KRF-V5050) and start mixing in 5.1 under Vegas (always hoping that film festivals actually know how to set up more than one speaker correctly...). Don't use the optical or coax outputs of the card because they are only stereo and not 5.1. They only support 5.1 if the source is AAC compressed which is obviously not the case when playing back from Vegas.
  • More hard drives: The Dell has space for up to three hard drives. They are very easy to fit. You can connect up to four drives to the motherboard (3 hard drives and the Blu Ray writer). If you want to connect more you need a second SATA controller. I can only recommend the Silicon Images Si 3114 SoftRaid5 Controller. I tried cheaper ones from ebay and none of them worked (especially don't touch VIA, ever!). The Silicon Images controller is immensely versatile and works for all different kinds of applications. It provides the connection to my hard drive bay and also to an external eSATA connector to be able to connect drives containing digital cinema packages (DCPs). Linux allows hot swap with this controller so that it's possible to emulate what a DCP server does in a cinema.