I was editing two-camera footage of a two-hour play and the work was grinding slowly forward. The problem was not the editing itself but the wait for Premiere Pro to update the view as I scrubbed back and forth in the timeline. I had already abandoned any idea of just playing the footage and marking specific points to cut. That was impossibly slow and the audio and video were never in sync. But even the process of scrubbing between two points along the timeline was excruciatingly slow.
I had already done all the standard things to optimize performance including:
- Using hardware rendering
- Using an SSD for my Windows disk
- Using a separate SSD for my footage
- Using yet another SSD for Premiere Pro’s scratch drive
I had a decent video card (nVidia Quadro K2200) and processor (i7-4790 4 GHz) and lots of memory (32 GB) but my four-year-old system just wasn’t up to the task of multicam editing of 4K footage. (It worked pretty well with single-cam 4K footage.)
Researching Video Cards
So, I decided to build a new PC but I needed to do some research first. I started by trying to determine which graphics card I should buy. I started with Tom’s Hardware as I always do when I want to get updated on the latest PC technology & products. Then, I checked out the Adobe Premiere Pro CC system requirements page but the only information was a long list of approved cards. The prices for the cards ranges from hundreds of dollars to thousands of dollars. How could I know which card(s) would be at the sweet spot for my needs & budget?
Next, I browsed the Adobe forums and that led me to Puget Systems, a custom PC builder specializing in graphics & video editing hardware. I considered buying a fully configured & assembled PC from them but I was afraid I’d end up busting my budget. Their Hardware Recommendations page did have some valuable information about choosing a graphics card. In particular, this statement caught my attention:
“Premiere Pro works great with a Quadro card, but for most users a GeForce card is the better option. Not only are GeForce cards much more affordable, they are able to match or beat the performance of the Quadro cards.”
I continued searching for info and found an excellent article, How to Build the Best PC for Video Editing, on the Logical Increments website. This article provides a list of sample PC builds ranging from a budget PC ($700) on up to a “God-Tier Video Editing PC ($5,000+).”
Building a PC Parts List
I decided to dig into the parts list for the Logical Increments “Video Editing Supercomputer ($2,600).” However, I found that some of the specified parts were not available so I started to research alternatives. Another thing I learned is that cryptocurrency mining is affecting the price and availability of certain PC components. Four years ago I paid only $340 for my Intel Core i7 processor but now I was looking at $900 for the Logical Increments-recommended i7-7820X! (Note: Logical Increments has updated their system configurations since I initially consulted their site. The parts list now specifies an i9-9900K; $550 as of 12/3/18. Sadly, I visited their site about a week too soon and ended up paying hundreds of dollars more for my processor. I might have returned the CPU to Amazon but newegg’s policy prevented returning the motherboard. On the flip side I hear PCs & components will be increasing soon if the China tariffs go into effect.)
Getting back to the graphics card question I noted this statement on Logical Increments’ site:
“Unlike other video editing software options which rely primarily on the CPU, DaVinci Resolve is driven almost entirely by the GPU.”
However, the other software options, mentioned in the preceding paragraphs, include my choice of NLE: Adobe Premiere Pro. Elsewhere on the page it says about Premiere: “in real-world situations, the performance difference between a moderate GPU and a powerful GPU isn't very significant.” So, since I was paying through the nose for the CPU I decided to take their advice about getting a good “moderate GPU.” Based on pricing and availability of similar models I chose the EVGA GeForce GTX 1070 FTW GAMING ACX 3.0. It had excellent reviews, 5 eggs (on newegg), based on 351 reviews.
Motherboard & Memory
The motherboard recommended by Logical Increments at the time has also changed since I placed my order but based on various other recommendations I chose the ASUS ROG STRIX X299-E GAMING LGA2066 DDR4 M.2 USB 3.1. This particular mobo had only a 4-egg rating but Asus has a good reputation in general and I had previously used an Asus mobo that I was happy with. This one has two M.2 slots and eight DRAM slots.
I’ve never been an overclocker. For most of my work and because I’m not a gamer I don’t feel it would be worth the trouble. So, I opted for two pairs of CORSAIR Vengeance LPX 32GB (4 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 2666 (which are on the Asus QVL). With memory slots to spare I chose four 8GB sticks instead of a larger memory kit thinking that this way I would get the benefits of quad-channel memory access this way. (Hopefully, I’m right about that but I don’t think it will cost me anything if I’m not.)
SSDs & Hard Disks
For a while now I’ve been watching the development of the M.2 interface and I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a good time for me to adopt the technology. Slots are now common on motherboards and M.2 SSDs are reasonably priced. The 500 GB version of the SAMSUNG 970 EVO M.2 2280 250GB was specified in the Logical Increments system. At $78 that’s not much more than SATA SSDs. The 250 GB SSD will be my Windows boot drive and I also have a 500 GB version as my video footage drive.
be quiet! Dark Base 900 Case and Straight Power 11 Power Supply
The be quiet! Dark Base 900 case comes with header cables already routed nicely and plugged into the front panel. Making these connections with their tiny connectors in the corner of the case can often be a study in frustration. This way, some of that frustration is avoided.
On the other hand, the 900 is not designed for the power supply unit to be able to mount so that the 110 VAC connector can be exposed through a hole in the case (the usual way). Instead, the mounting bracket holds the PSU a couple of inches inside the case and the case has a 110 VAC pigtail to connect from the power cord socket to the PSU. This also means that the PSU’s on-off rocker switch cannot be switched from outside the case. But be quiet! has an answer for this, too. There’s a separate rocker switch already mounted to the case which is accessible from its exterior. Then, the two poles of the switch are connected to the supplied internal power cord.This assembly is wired in such a way that the switch controls power to the cable.
This unconventional mounting approach also means that the back of the PSU doesn’t draw in cool air from directly from outside the case. The PSU’s metal grille is entirely inside the case so it’s drawing in air that’s already (just) inside the case.
Wrong Item Shipped? Or Attempt to Pass Off EVGA PSU as Straight Power?
I ordered a be quiet! Straight Power 11 850W power supply unit but I was confused when I opened the box. The outside of the box said Straight Power. But the PSU itself said EVGA Supernova 850G2. There was no mention of be quiet! or Straight Power on the unit. I contacted be quiet! and quickly concluded that the unit I had received was not the correct PSU. I contacted Amazon and returned the unit and then ordered another Straight Power 11 from newegg. When the correct unit came I noticed how much smaller and lighter the genuine Straight Power was than the EVGA PSU.
Figuring out how to mount the Straight Power 11 into the case was a puzzle that took me about an hour to solve. My first solution ended up with the PSU’s fan blowing air into the central part of the case. I didn’t notice that until I had finished tightening everything down. Realizing my mistake I unscrewed the six affected screws, reversed the PSU orientation and screwed it all back together. Now, the fan immediately exhausts the PSU’s heat directly out the bottom of the enclosure.
M.2 Installation (& Confusion)
This motherboard provides two NVMe M.2 SSDs although at one point I was confused about the number of sockets. The mobo manual points out a heat sink arrangement for one SSD. To mount the drive you unscrew two screws and remove a relatively large piece of metal. You lay the SSD onto the mount with the gold connection points in the socket. Then, you replace the top piece of metal and tighten the screws.
Initially, I had assumed there would be two M.2 sockets under that largeish piece of metal. But after installing the first I didn’t see a second one. Upon reading the manual more carefully I discovered a second mount of an entirely different type elsewhere on the board. With the second one you plug the M.2 card vertically into the socket. And there is no heat sink. The motherboard kit does include a piece of metal that functions as a brace to offer a little protection for the card and also keep the M.2 card firmly inserted into the socket.
Installation in the first socket was easy but the second one was tricky. It’s one of those tasks where getting everything to fit properly all at once requires a good bit of dexterity. Eventually, I got it to all fit together but then was worried by the complete lack of a heatsink for the second card. If the first drive gets such a hefty heatsink doesn’t the second one need at least some kind of heatsink? After all, this 500 GB drive was going to be my main footage drive while editing and rendering. Tons of data would be regularly flowing on and off the drive.
With some trepidation I started formatting the drive while periodically touching it to see how hot it was getting. Halfway through I balked and canceled the format. After searching online for info on M.2 drive mounting I decided that the drive was properly mounted and that it should be OK. Happily, the socket is right next to the large CPU cooler so it should get good airflow. Once again, I started a format going on the drive and this time I allowed it to complete. It went fine; no smoke issued from the drive. Since then I’ve continued to use the drive and haven’t experienced any problems.
The Noctua CPU cooler is massive which should mean that it provides great cooling. It also means that it takes up a lot of space on your motherboard. The photo below shows the included mounting brackets in position (incorrectly—the one on the right needs to be flipped over so that the center of the curve is away from the processor socket). Other brackets are included for those using LGA 1066 or AMD sockets. With the brackets attached properly it was not too hard to screw on the cooler. The hardest part was getting the screws started. Noctua provides a rudimentary handle-less screwdriver which, I assumed, I should use. So, I started by trying to use it but found that I just couldn’t get the spring-loaded screws started. Trying to use the included screwdriver was an exercise in frustration. When I switched to a regular screwdriver it worked pretty easily because I could press down with the palm of my hand while turning to get the screw started. (Maybe that right-angle screwdriver thing was intended for use with one of the other socket types.)
Two orientations, one at a right angle to the other, are possible in mounting the heatsink assembly. This allows flexibility depending on adjacent components. In the case of the Asus ROG STRIX X299-Egaming mobo only one orientation would work. The other was blocked by the “ROG” bling thing (pretty colors!) on the mobo. Fortunately, the cooler cleared my DIMMs.
Next, it was time to attach the fan and then connect it to the power header on the motherboard. The fan’s wire was too short so I was forced to use the Noctua low-noise cable extension. I worried a little that “low-noise” might mean poor cooling performance but I didn’t have any other alternative at hand. So, I used the low-noise extension connector and so far the system has been stable.
The Noctua cooler actually comes with two fans: one which is to be installed between the two pairs of fins and the other, optionally, on the side. I don’t think I have enough room for the second fan. Since I’m not overclocking I decided to go with just the one fan. Again, so far, so good.
I have to say I much prefer the type of mounting bracket provided by Noctua over the plastic press-and-turn attachments that some CPU fans use. I always found it difficult to get these seated completely. And then, if you ever need to remove the fan for any reason—good luck removing and reinstalling the fan without destroying the plastic pieces.
Installing the EVGA GEFORCE GTX 1070 Graphics Card
This is by far the largest graphics card I’ve ever used. The next photo shows it in place along with the remaining four PCI-E slots. With the large cooler and large graphics card the top slot is nearly unusable. A card of any size would block the airflow coming out of the cooler. The next slots are 4- and 8- lane slots. Those would be usable if you have a card that could fit those slots. The bottom (5th) slot is barely visible in this photo.
You might be able to get a card in that bottom slot except for the fact that it would completely block the airflow from the twin GTX 1070 fans. So, with this graphics card and this cooler you really only have a single usable slot. (The graphics card wouldn’t fit in the other 24-lane slot at all.) Fortunately, everything else I need is on the mobo.
Getting the Case Fans Running
The be quiet! Dark Base 900 enclosure includes several fans built into the case but initially they don’t operate. Obviously, they need power but I had been thinking that maybe the case was designed to provide its own fan power. I had noticed that that unusual power supply mounting arrangement includes a tap into the 110 VAC wiring as it enters the case. It turns out the case doesn’t get any power there. But the solution is simple. The case includes a SATA power connector that must be plugged into the power supply. I had seen the connector leading out from one of the wiring harnesses but, at first, I didn’t understand its purpose. A quick email to be quiet! got me the answer and then my fans were spinning.
On the Case
Overall, the Dark Base 900 is a very nice case. Together, the three built-in case fans plus the CPU cooler plus the two fans on the graphics card were all very quiet even with the case open. With the case closed it’s almost silent. The external hard drives on my desktop make more noise than this new tower system.
I like the air filters which are part of the case. They slide out pretty easily and look like they should go a long way toward keeping the inside of the enclosure clean. My last PC, built in a Cooler Master case, took the opposite approach‐no filters but tons of ventilation. As a result, the airflow was pretty decent even when the case and the inside of the box were covered with dust. But cleaning those CPU and graphic card fans is always difficult and I think I prefer air filters that keep most of the dust out in the first place.
Getting all the panels (bottom, left & right) back on was a bit of a challenge. Screwing in the two screws that secure the bottom platform to the bottom of the case was difficult. With the case full of electronics getting those screws back in was a lot harder than taking them out.
And then I couldn’t get the right side panel on while the unit was sitting upright. But after laying the case on its left side the right side panel slipped right into place.
The 900 uses thumbscrews for various purposes: securing cards in their slots, securing the side panels and providing access to the various drive bays. I like the idea of thumbscrews but these screws do not turn easily. It’s impossible to tighten them by hand. I had to use a screwdriver in every case. Also, the drive bays did not pop right out when the screws were loosened. I had to fiddle with them a bit. It seems like the manufacturing tolerance was a little off.
Still, I like the case a lot at this point. It’s attractive—the best-looking case I’ve ever built—and did I mention that it’s quiet? I do miss the casters that my Cooler Master case had. The fully built out PC is heavy. Trying to maneuver it into place under the desk requires some muscle. I’m at an age when I’m wondering if I’ll have the strength and flexibility to continue building PCs this size in years to come. For those who haven’t built a PC it’s surprisingly physical—getting down on hands & knees, getting up and down repeatedly, spending hours bent over the case. And then, finally maneuvering it into its place under the desk.
The Acid Test
If you remember how I started this review you may remember my frustration at trying to edit two-camera 4K footage on my old PC. Playback of a multi-cam sequence was frustratingly slow. Once I had the new PC up & running I could tell it was going to be fast. But I wasn’t yet sure exactly how fast. When I eventually got Premiere Pro installed and copied my footage onto the Samsung M.2 SSD I was ready to find out just how fast. It’s great! It plays both cameras in full resolution very smoothly. To get a better sense of how the system was performing I opened up Windows’ Resource Monitor and got a look at all 16 CPUs. They were pretty busy but happily it looks like there might even be some processing power to spare. Of course, that also depends on the disk throughput. As before, I have three separate SSDs set up for footage, scratch and rendering output. I’ll have to dig into the Resource Monitor further as time permits. For now, life is good.
An unexpected bonus is that sleep mode was enabled by default and is actually working. I’ve been trying ever since Windows NT was first released to find a way to make sleep/hibernate work reliably. But it has rarely worked for very long. Right now I’ve only had this new system running for about a week so things could change with the addition of new software or hardware or a Windows update or gremlins or …. But for now it’s sleeping tight—and waking up refreshed!