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How Important Is CPU for Video Editing?

Putting together the right components for your video editing workstation is an intricate game of balance. In order to ensure that you get the desired performance out of your rig, you have to make sure that all the components work in synergy. 

While the CPU is unquestionably the brains of the operation, exactly how important is CPU for video editing will depend on your individual use case. 

Think of your workstation as a kitchen and your components as different utensils. Each of these utensils can be used for certain tasks, and your overall culinary efficiency will vary based on which tools are used for which. Here are the factors that define the importance of a CPU for video editing.

cpu

The Rest of the Components

The CPU is the main foundation for your system and is in charge of fetching, decoding, and executing processes. Is video editing CPU intensive? The short answer to that question is, of course, it is. 

Your processor is critical for every part of the editing process. However, when running CPU-intensive tasks, most modern editing software offloads certain parts to the GPU. If your processor isn’t powerful enough, it’ll eventually start throttling and hinder the overall performance. 

Depending on the number of cores, clock speed, and multi-threading capability, your processor directly determines your rendering performance and the speed at which commands are fed to the GPU. 

That’s why you want to avoid a CPU bottleneck at all costs. A good CPU along with a lower performance GPU will have better performance than a lower performance CPU and a good GPU.

Many people make the mistake of buying a high-end graphics card only to have it be bottlenecked by the processor. Likewise, you also want enough RAM and a fast storage drive to support the CPU.

The CPU is the main keystone for the rest of the components in your PC. As such, you want the rest of the components in your build to revolve around the processor of your choice for optimum performance.

Your Workload

You want to ideally build a PC that caters to your specific needs. Does video editing use GPU or CPU, is it perhaps the most common question when building a workstation? 

Your CPU and GPU utilization is going to vary based on your workload. While most software relies on the processor, the GPU is only used for certain tasks. These purposes include:

  • Video Effects (Color Balance, Brightness/Contrast, etc.)
  • GPU Features (Scaling, Blending modes, etc.)
  • Video Transitions (Dip to Black, Cross Dissolve, etc.)
  • GPU-accelerated Presets (Mosaic in/out, Fast Blur in/out, etc.)
  • Lumetri Looks (Temperature, Cinematic, etc.)

You’ll need to prioritize a good GPU for VFX, color correction, 3D graphics, and other GPU-intensive editing processes. The graphics card is also essential for smooth timeline performance with no delays or dropped frames. Additionally, hardware-accelerated encoders use the GPU instead of the CPU. 

However, without a fast processor, the GPU can’t perform up to its standards. A better CPU will also increase the overall processing power of the system and lower render times.

In short, while the CPU is absolutely key to the video editing process, you should determine the priority of components based on the particular nature of your workload.

Editing Software

What software you use to edit your videos is another factor that influences the importance of the processor in your system. Editing software such as Adobe Premiere, Final Cut Pro, and Sony Vegas are programmed to take advantage of a higher core count and multi-threading. 

On the other hand, Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects use the GPU for onscreen rendering, priority areas, video production, and exporting. 

DaVinci Resolve is also another GPU-intensive application. Software with GPU Accelerated renderers such as the Mercury Playback Engine can distribute your processing load between the processor and the graphics card as well.

Conclusion

While there’s no binary answer to how important is CPU for video editing, the overall performance of your machine and the rest of the components rely greatly on finding the right balance. 

The CPU might be less important for certain editing processes, but it’s key for allocating tasks to the other components. If your processor isn’t powerful enough, you’ll have to deal with a systemwide bottleneck which arguably makes it the most crucial element in a video editing PC. 

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