Radified Recording & Editing Behemoth
A System Designed to Record Digital Audio & Edit Digital Video

See [
here] for an introduction to this page
Posted: 16apr2001

The best way to build a audio/video-editing system is to *first* choose your editing card(s),
and then use the manufacturer's hardware-compatibility list as a guide 
for selecting the remaining components. 

  • CPU: (update 22oct2001) See my write-up on the Intel Northwood Pentium 4 CPU. This should be the way to go if you can wait until February or March, 2002.

    If you saw the first incarnation of the Behemoth, you know how badly I wanted a dual-CPU system .. mainly cuz dual-CPUs sounds so cool. But the Behemoth is built around the RT2000 (now the RT2500), which only recently (20apr2001) received Win2K sppt .. so it was difficult to justify a dual-CPU system with editing limited to a single CPU (in WinME). 

    This system contains only one CPU. But .. now that the RT2000 (+RT2500) has Win2K sppt .. a dual-based system could easily be justified. 

    It took us two days of editing with Win2K to know that we'd never go back to editing in WinME again. Editing in Win2K is so much sweeter. Matrox did a great job with the drivers (it took them over a year to finally release Win2K drivers). 

    Both Adobe Premiere & After Effects are coded to take advantage of SMP (dual-CPUs) .. altho not all the plug-ins for these programs are SMP-coded. 

    Most people who edit seriously use dual-CPU-based systems .. dedicated solely for editing video. But most people need to use their systems for normal PC functions. A dual-boot config gives you the stability of a dedicated system, while also allowing you to use your PC for everyday stuff. 

    I've researched SMP systems, but arrived at no clear solution jumps out at me. For now, I'm still a single-CPU guy. 

    I'm currently using an Intel P3-700/100MHz, over-clocked to 938MHz (by raising FSB to 134MHz & voltage to 1.80v .. default = 1.65v). But I don't recommend this, not with
    Northwood right around the corner.


  • RAM: Mushkin or Crucial - 512MB minimum. Video-editing eats lots of RAM.

    The Intel 815e chipset that we currently have (
    Asus CUSL2) limits RAM to 512MB. We started with 128, then upgraded to 256 and saw a dramatic performance improvement. Then we upgraded to 384, which is a decent amount for editing. We now have 512, and this is a good amount. RAM is so cheap right now. 

    Mushkin has
    great service & support. If you can purchase their RAM at competitive prices, use them. If not, Crucial's prices are usually hard to beat (things change too fast to make a blanket statement which is better). I don't mind paying a little extra for good service. I think Crucial *always* usually offers free shipping, whereas Mushkin only does so on occasion. 

    Poor quality RAM is a primary source of system instability. And there's no way to test for it - other than taking it to some place that has a tester (they are expensive), or trade with a friend who has a system similar to yours. So if your system has stability problems, it's not easily to determine if your RAM is the cause. 

    Video-editing will provide you with plenty of opportunities for stability problems. You don't have to buy the very best RAM on the market (e.g. Mushkin rev2 & 3), but beware against buying bargain-basement RAM. This is not what you want to put in a system you're building to edit video. 

    You want to do everything within your power to minimize the potential for quirky stability problems. The few extra bucks you spend on quality RAM is a wise investment.


  • REAL-TIME VIDEO-EDITING CARD: Matrox RT2500. About $900. This is the centerpiece of the Behemoth. Everything is built around it. I strove to select components that are compatible with it, and that are included on Matrox's approved list.

    Obviously, no one is going to spent $1,000 without doing plenty of research. You will find that, for $1,000, this card is a bargain, when you consider what it's capabilities.

    The RT2000 comes with a special version of the (32MB) G400 - a super graphics card. Once you edit in real-time, there's no going back .. to software rendering. Great card, great support. Win2K just arrived for this card 19apr01 (with Matrox Video Tools 3.0). Not sure how stable editing with 1st-W2K-release drivers will be. 

    I'm currently setting up another boot for Win2k dedicated solely for video editing. I'll report back when I have a chance to report on W2K stability. 

    I originally thought RT2000 drivers would be a snap for Matrox, cuz they (also) make the DigiSuite, a high-perf NT-based editing suite .. but it seems that the RT2000 is whole 'nuher ball game. They can't simply modify DigiSuite drivers for the RT2000. Doesn't work that way. It's a totally different card. 

    [Video-editors speak lustfully about the DigiSuite from Matrox.] 

    We've had the card from the day it was released. We had it on back-order for over six months, enduring delay after delay. The RT2000 comes with Adobe
    Premier 6.0.

    You may also want to check into the
    DV500 by Pinnacle. It's also a real-time editing card, that doesn't come with a dedicated graphics card. We had a Pinnacle card (the DV300) before the RT2000, but became frustrated with Pinnacle support .. which is why we migrated to Matrox. I figured they couldn't be any worse

    Pinnacle support told me that I was "abusing the tech support system", asking too many questions .. cutting into their coffee break time, I guess. That's when I decided to try Matrox. Maybe they've cleaned up their act since then. I don't know. 

    Matrox sppt has been good .. a godsend compared to my experiences with Pinnacle. To be fair, I should note that Pinnacle has more experience in the video-editing world than Matrox .. or most other NLE players. 

    The RT2000m has its own, dedicated bulletin board - two actually: one
    official (password req'd), and one unofficial (password not req'd). 


  • NETWORK CARD: 3Com 3C905C. About $35. Again, you can save a few bucks by purchasing a cheaper network card, but you want to shoot for maximum compatibility & reliability when designing your system. 3Com has a reputation for manufacturing quality network cards. 

    If you have multiple PCs, and you want to network them together, make sure you get network cards that can transfer data at the 100Mbps. The older 10Mbit protocol is simply too slow to transfer large video files between different PC. A file that takes 3 mins to x-fer with 100Mbit equipment would take 30 mins with 10MBit hardware. 

    If you need a modem instead, you'll have to do your own research. I know that broadband connections are not yet available in many areas. But if you have the opportunity to get a broadband connection, do not hesitate to order. It's the single best upgrade you can make to your system. I know people who will not move to an area that doesn't have broadband access.


  • MONITOR: Iiyama Vision Master Pro 451. This monitor is based on the 19-inch Mitsubishi Diamondtron TrueFlat tube. Gorgeous aperture grille tube, which are especially good for reproducing colors .. as opposed to shadow mask tubes, which are better for reproducing text). Max resolution 1920x1440 at 76Hz. 300MHz bandwidth, 50-160Hz vertical frequency. 

    This monitor is F-L-A-T flat .. flatter than my first girlfriend. =) If you're looking to save a few bucks, I heard good things about the Samsung SyncMaster
    900NF (pdf here .. similar to the Iiyama, the 900NF is also a flat-screen aperture grill, spec'ed at 1920x1440 at 73Hz. I don't know who makes the Samsung tube, but I know it's not Mitsubishi .. who makes the tube used in the Iiyama above. 


  • NTSC MONITOR: 13-inch Sony Trinitron. About $200 at your local TV retailer. This is where your video will be displayed while editing. It hooks up to the dual-head channel of the (32MB) Matrox G400 that comes with the RT2000. 

    If you didn't have this NTSC monitor (fancy name for a TV), you'd be checking your editing changes in a (relatively) small window on you 19-inch Iiyama monitor. You simply cannot see any detail is Premiere's small window. It never fails that, when you output your video, you'll say, "Dang, I never saw that before." .. and end up having to re-edit sections. 


  • SOUND CARD #1: Creative Sound Blaster Live MP3+. About $80. Matrox compatibility list for sound cards is here. This is the card the RT2000 plugs into. An audio cable runs from your CD-ROM (or DVD-ROM) to the RT2000. Another cable runs from the RT2000 to the sound card. Have to pay attention when plugging in these cables. 


  • SOUND CARD #2: CardDeluxe by Digital Audio Labs. Supports 24-bit depth and 96KHz sample rates (DVD audio quality) - both analog & digital .. up to 4-channel operation using both. Cards are slave-able, so you can sample lock multiple card together for more channels. Both WinME and Win2K support. About $449 (street prices of these excellent recording & editing cards have gone up with demand). Limited time promo here

    This card is used for audio recording & editing. It plugs into your mixer, using balanced TRS cables. "What mixer?" you say. This mixer: 


  • CD BURNER: Plextor 24/10/40A with BurnProof technology. About $189 for the Retail kit. It's no secret that Plextor makes the best burners. Their drives also excel at DAE (digital audio extraction).

  • DVD-ROM: Pioneer DVD-305S (SCSI model) Review here. About $99.

  • SCANNER: HP 4400cse - 1200dpi USB/parallel, about $150. 

  • MIXER: Mackie - choose the size that suits you best. The baby, the 1202VLZ costs about $379. The 1402 comes with sliders instead of knobs, which I wish I would've got instead.

  • MICROPHONE: Audiotechnica AT4033a/SM (shock mount) - about $300

  • MIC STAND: Quicklock A-206 - about $50.

  • ADAT (optional): LX20 - about $1,000.

  • UPS: APC Back-UPS 650. A necessity if you you live in sunny Southern California, where rolling black-outs are a daily threat. Review here. About $250 (for pro model, which comes with auto shutdown software). 

  • STUDIO MONITORS: Event - choose the size that's right for you.

  • KEYBOARD: Pick your favorite .. either clickety or quiet.

  • CASE: LianLi PC-70 Aluminum full tower server case, with 6 exposed 5.25-inch drive bays, 3 exposed 3.5-inch bays, & 6x3.5-inch hidden bays (~$235). Review here. If you want to record audio & edit video, you'll need plenty of room .. for lots of hard drives. Most people start with a few, adding more as the need arises (and prices drop). A big, roomy case is easier to work in than a small one. 

    It wasn't long after building my first editing system that I regretted not buying a larger case. A larger case isn't much more expensive than a average-sized one. It's no fun, taking everything out of one case and transferring it to another .. cuz you ran out of room. Better to do it right the first time. My advice for selecting a case is to leave yourself plenty of room to grow.


  • POWER SUPPLY UNIT: Enermax EG465P-VE (FC Series, 430 watts, Pentium4-compatible) - About $82. Review posted here

    If you're going to run lots of hard drives, you'll want plenty of power. I used to like
    PC Power & Cooling until they pissed me off by not sending me a new unit when I needed one. Also, their cables *barely* reach the mobo connector. Enermax PSU's give you plenty of length. Not to mention that they offer more power for less money. Hey, I tried to buy American. 

    I read an article that claimed 30% of all system instability to 'dirty' power .. from over-worked, or cheaply manufactured PSU's. Clean power regulation aids system stability. A review
    here recommends Zippy/Emacs. I have a problem with the name Zippy. It does not evoke an image of quality for me. 

    Since PSUs are not very expensive, I'd rather pay a little extra, and get a professional-quality PSU that I can sure will handle the job. It makes no sense to me to spend thousands on a system, only to risk system instability by saving a few measly dollars on a bargain-priced PSU. Editing video will give you plenty of other opportunities for stability problems. There's no need to compound the problem with a marginal PSU. 


  • MOTHERBOARD: I currently have the Asus CUSL2 (about $135) & love it. The TUSL2 is the newest version of the CUSL2. The two boards should be identical except for the differences spawned by the upgraded chipset. There's also a web site (here) devoted entirely to this mobo .. with forums where you can ask, and get answers to any question you might have. I like the RT2500 real-time video-editing card, and the CUSL2 is on their approved list. You'll appreciate the 6 PCI slots (no ISA slots).

    But right now I would get the
    Asus P4T-E. You can read more about it in my Northwood P4 article. 


  • DISK STORAGE: Much of audio recording, & especially video-editing, is about storage. Video files are huge. Tailor your disk storage system to your particular needs. Since everyone's needs are different, there's no single 'correct' storage configuration. My storage needs began small and grew gradually. 

    The RT2500 is a dual-stream real-time editing card. It requires more horsepower from you storage system than a software-rendering system. Matrox says
    here that your disc needs to be able to thru-put at least 12MB/s. Most any drive manufactured within the last year should suffice. 

    When discussing storage req'ments for DV, many people say, "DV only requires 3.6MB/s". Note the word, requires. What some don't seem to understand is that the 3.6MB/s number applies only to capturing (video from camcorder to hard drive) and outputting-to-tape (edited footage from hard drive to camcorder). The camcorder cannot play or record video faster than real-time (3.6MB/s). 

    But this number does not apply to *editing*. Your system will shuttle files as fast as your drive is able to find & transfer them. [As per manufacturer specs, the IBM 60GXP takes (on average) about 12.5ms to find the files, and will sustain a data transfer them between 20 and 40MB/s, depending where on the disk the files lie.] 

    Some people interpret the statement "DV only requires 3.6MB/s" to mean "Anything above 3.6MB/s is wasted". It's not .. not when editing. And editing video is how you will spend the vast majority of your time .. not capturing or outputting. If one thing has become clear to me, it's that you can never have too much disk horsepower or storage space when editing video. 

    A tip for editing video is to break up larger projects into smaller ones. For example, if you're editing a 15-min project, try to find appropriate seams where you can break it up into three 5-minute sections. 

    The best places are where you can fade to black, and fade up from black. You editing will go smoother. That trick alone can make a big difference. I delve deeper into things here ->
    Lessons from building a system designed to edit digital video. Let's continue designing the system. 


  • IDE/ATA HARD DRIVES: 2x 100GB Western Digital Western Digital 1000BB. IDE/ATA drives offer tons of storage inexpensively. About $200 each. These are ATA100 drives. The CUSL2 supports the ATA100 protocol, but you'll need to purchase a 2nd (80-wire) ATA100 cable .. as the CUSL2 comes with only one ATA100 cable. Manufacturer specs of (up to) 40MB/s and 8.5ms (average) seek. 

    I would partition these drives into 3 partitions each. If you plan to use one of these drives as your dedicated capture drive, make it one large primary partition. 

    You could get away with nothing more than these two drives for video editing, depending on your specific needs and requirements. But we are serious about editing - have been doing it for a few years. We use our IDE/ATA drives purely for cheap storage. We use SCSI drives for working with the actual audio & video files. 

    The reason get technical, and I've even written a
    SCSI User's guide for booting from an enterprise-class SCSI beast .. but where you really notice a difference is *using* the SCSI drives .. especially a SCSI boot drive. Your system becomes much more *responsive*. 

    I could write a book on the subject, but will merely document what I've found (from experience) to be the optimum configuration for (serious) video editing: 


  • SCSI Drives: 2 SCSI drives. One 18GB 10Krpm Maxtor / Quantum Atlas III (about $200) for multi-boot Operating Systems, programs & graphics. A 36GB 10Krpm Atlas III dedicated for video capture (about $389). 

    Those who crave the absolute fastest drive on the planet (FDOP) will want the
    Cheetah X15-36LP (PDF) by Seagate (review here), which sells for ~US$359 in the 18GB flavor and ~US$579 for the 36GB variety. It's been difficult to find these in stock. If I was going to get one of these, I'd use it for my boot/system drive, and use a cheaper 10Krpm drive for the dedicated capture. 

    Partition the 18GB drives in equal thirds (6GB each) - one primary & two extended/logical partitions. Partition the dedicated capture drive as a single large 36GB primary partition. 

    Configure SCSI IDs on the SCSI drives as SCSI ID 0 and 1 for the two 18GB drives. Set the 36GB drive as SCSI ID 2. Set delayed start jumpers on all SCSI drives. Check out my
    SCSI User's Guide for more configuration info. 

    Install your OS of choice to the primary partition of the drive at SCSI ID 0. Install another partition to the first extended/logical partition. Make one of these a dedicated solely for video-editing. Which ever you use more should go on the primary partition. 

    The dedicated capture drive will be assigned to SCSI ID 1. Partition & format all drives before installing the first OS. Use Microsoft's FDISK to partition. Doc's
    Guide to Partitioning a hard drive with FDISK may help.


  • SCSI Drives cont'd - These drives come with manufacturers specs of 4.5ms (average) seek. Some say you don't *need* SCSI to edit video, and they're right. You don't *need* a Mercedes, Porsche or a Ferrari .. but editing life is sweeter with a team of blazing SCSI beasts working for you (speaking from experience). 

    If you can't afford 2 SCSI drives. I'd start with one as a SCSI boot drive .. to run the OS and apps that you use to edit video with. That will give you the biggest performance increase. Next go for the SCSI capture drive. The 3rd SCSI drive allows you to install another OS (Win2K) on its own drive, and use it to handle the audio and graphics files used in your video-editing projects. It's a sweet set-up. 

    The 4 drives mentioned here add up to 254GB. That might sound like a lot, but you'll be surprised how fast you use it up. IBM discusses video-editing
    here. Again, this system is designed for *serious* editing .. someone who will be editing every waking moment for a week or two. 

    If you're only going to edit for a few hours here & there, you can start with two IDE drives - one for your system/boot drive .. to run your OS & apps .. and another as a dedicated capture drive. I don't know anyone who uses the same drive for both. That's asking a bit much of *any* drive. 


  • HARD DRIVE COOLERS: Today's drives - both SCSI & ATA - don't *need* active cooling .. as long as you have a well-ventilated case. But I cool all my SCSI drive regardless, cuz they do work hard while editing, and will warm up. I like the BayCooler by PC Power & Cooling. It offers metal construction. Other units are made of cheap plastic. About $24 ea. 


  • SCSI ADAPTER: Tekram DC-390U2W (not U2B) - about $130. This card comes with all the cables & terminators you'll need. I have personally used it with the following operating systems: W98/SE, WinME, Win2K, Whistler Pro beta2, Caldera 2.4 (Linux), Mandrake 7 (Linux), and BeOS (FreeBe). 

    You can also consider the Tekram
    DC-390U3W. About $185 (scroll to bottom of page) but this is not necessary since even the fastest drive on the planet (Seagate Cheetah X15-36LP) cannot exceed a transfer rate of 60MB/s, and the 32-bit PCI bus is limited to about ~100MB/s (realistic data x-fer). But this card is not a bad choice, and represents better future-proofing than the U2W card (that I have).


  • MOUSE: We have found that a trackball is much easier on the tendons .. especially when editing for hours, days, weeks. Sometimes we have to soak our arms in an ice bath & eat Advil. Find a trackball that uses your thumb to click with. We use the Marble FX by Logitech, but they no longer make this model. See here for others. Also learn to use keyboard shortcuts to minimize wear & tear on your mouse-arm.

  • ROUTER: 4-port SMC Barricade. About $80. If you have multiple PCs that you want to network together .. or, if you have a broadband connection that you want to share among multiple PCs .. this router is the ticket. I also heard good things about the SR41 by LinkSys .. especially with the newer firmware revisions. Alternative recommendations here (see Hardware NAT Routers).

  • HEADPHONES: Sennheiser HD-580-1. About $200.(this is the HD580 model, not the HD 580-1). Everybody raves about these headphones. Great sound *and* comfortable. Like slippers for your ears. Grado also makes some great headphones, but they're not the most comfortable things you've ever worn. Consider their SR-80 if you're budget is tight.

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