Hey everyone, welcome to FilterGrade. In this article and video we’re covering what to look for in a graphics card for video editing. We’ll be talking about Premiere Pro, DaVinci Resolve, Final Cut Pro, Vegas Pro, and other less-common editing platforms. Some have unique hardware preferences and we’ll be going into more detail about those.
Let’s start by saying that in general, the higher-tier or more expensive graphics card you buy, the better performance you have. While it’s easy to go overkill, there is a reasonable video editing application for every graphics card on the market, including the most expensive models. Which model you need is going to depend on what kind of editing you plan on doing. Not everyone needs the best of the best, and you can run into diminishing returns in some software. We’ll try to narrow down what sort of card you should buy for different kinds of editing.
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So first of all, what place do graphics cards have in video editing, and why do you need one? For more basic editing, you actually don’t need one at all. The integrated graphics from your processor will be able to handle most editing that doesn’t involve a lot of effects. A good CPU and a good amount of RAM will get you pretty far, and are arguably more important.
What the graphics card, or GPU, does is help display and render animations, special effects, and 3D effects. In the last few years, GPU-accelerated rendering has vastly improved, allowing for fast video renders using the GPU instead of the CPU. Whether you need a graphics card is up to you. At the time of recording, the market for graphics cards is a mess, with even low-end cards in high demand and selling for far more than they’re normally worth. But even during normal market conditions, a middle-of-the-road graphics card will still cost hundreds of dollars. If you’re not editing anything very intense and you’re not doing editing as a critical part of your career, it’s possible you don’t need a dedicated GPU, or at least not a high-end model. If you have at least a modern 6 or 8 core processor and at least 16 gigabytes of RAM, and still feel like your editing software is suffering at 1080p, you might need a GPU. But if you’re already running on a low-end system, it’s likely your CPU or RAM that are holding you back more than your graphics processor.
The aspects of a GPU to look for when making a purchase are three-fold. One is age. An older graphics card is going to struggle more with advanced tasks, become outdated sooner, and potentially lose compatibility with certain features, even if it was the best option back when it was new. The second is VRAM. VRAM, or video memory, is similar to regular RAM. Depending on the card you get the amount of RAM can be anywhere from 1 gigabyte all the way to well over 20, and we’ll be going over the ideal amounts later. The third aspect is price. This is likely the most expensive component in your computer, and you shouldn’t overspend if you won’t be utilizing the card to its potential.
Now that you’ve determined if you need a GPU or not, let’s talk about the best GPU for each major editing software. Since new graphics cards are always coming out, some of the references to existing products will definitely become outdated, but the overall concepts should still stand for quite a while.
MAC OS AND FINAL CUT PRO
If you’re editing on Mac OS at all, your options are limited. Only certain models have a dedicated GPU that can be swapped, and even then only AMD graphics cards will function. The range of cards you’re able to use will also be limited by the exact operating system that you’re on. Long story short, you’ll need to do your research depending on your exact configuration or operating system to find what cards are ideal. Final Cut Pro will benefit from and utilize a high-end card if you use one, so we would recommend getting the best card you can afford. One option that many Mac users opt for is to use an eGPU, or external GPU, which involves an enclosure for a graphics card that is plugged into the computer and utilized. That said, Apple has changed the game with their recent M1 processors, which are incredibly competitive for video editing and rendering when compared to a system with an eGPU. So, consider that if you’re shopping for a new Mac.
PREMIERE PRO AND AFTER EFFECTS
Adobe Premiere Pro is mostly dependent on your CPU, but using the Mercury Playback Engine, it leans on the GPU to offer better timeline playback. While Adobe recommends plenty of Nvidia and AMD graphics cards, you will have a better experience with Nvidia products. Puget Systems, which benchmarks hardware and software, shows AMD’s current highest end offering, the 6900 XT, beaten by Nvidia’s 2080 Ti, 3080, and 3090 models. This certainly doesn’t mean you’ll get terrible performance on AMD, it just won’t be as much of a price-to-performance value. In terms of which Nvidia card to buy, the consumer-focused GeForce lineup is the way to go. Nvidia’s professional line of graphics cards, called Quadro, often have the VRAM amounts useful for something like an 8K workflow, but are often not as good as GeForce cards in most editing tasks, especially considering the extra price that these professional cards ask. Premiere Pro recommends a graphics card with at least 4GB of VRAM.\
Currently, all new graphics cards have 8GB of VRAM minimum, with many higher-end cards sporting more than 10. This is plenty of dedicated memory to handle just about any tasks you can throw at it. But you might not need that much of a powerhouse for your editing. As mentioned before, pretty much every new graphics card coming out has enough VRAM. That means that even the lower end models will be enough. A lot of editors will be able to buy a card that MSRPs for around $200 to $400 rather than one that goes for $1000. If you’re looking for something like this, Nvidia’s 60-series graphics cards will be the sweet spot. These have the best price-to-performance ratio and are generally much more affordable while still offering plenty of power for most editing tasks. The higher-end cards are of course better, but since Premiere doesn’t draw super heavily on the GPU, you won’t see massive improvements by spending more money. Even previous-generation cards from Nvidia will do a very good job. In terms of running multiple graphics cards, Premiere Pro sees very little benefit from doing this, and running a single high-end graphics card will always be better than running two lesser cards together.
When it comes to DaVinci Resolve, the story is pretty much the same as with Premiere Pro. Resolve is a GPU heavy application, and prefers Nvidia. Just look at this chart from Puget Systems that shows AMD’s 6900 XT only getting around half the score of the RTX 3090. Since Resolve is so hungry for GPU power, you will be best served by going with a high-end graphics card. Puget Systems show a substantial performance boost with the 3080 and 3090 over other cards. Once again, GeForce cards are going to be a better purchase than a Quadro for most editing uses.
Unlike with Premiere Pro, Resolve actually makes very good use of multiple GPUs. Puget Systems found that adding a second card resulted in an impressive 50% performance gain, while adding a third GPU resulted in an additional 40%. Using a fourth card did not significantly increase performance, however. So if you manage to get your hands on three graphics cards, this is how you can get the most out of Resolve. That’s not to say it works for everything. Using a high-end card will still be better than combining multiple low-end cards, and there are still many tasks that can only leverage one GPU at a time. Confusingly, Resolve does not play nicely with Nvidia’s SLI technology, which is a technology that allows you to use multiple graphics cards at once. On the bright side, this lets you use a wider variety of graphics cards, since in the current generation of Nvidia cards, only the absolutely highest-end card, the RTX 3090, supports SLI. Resolve recommends a minimum of 4GB of VRAM for 1080p editing, and more for higher resolutions, which should be easy enough with today’s newer graphics cards shipping with at least 8GB of VRAM.
Vegas Pro is a bit less brand-dependent than Adobe and DaVinci Resolve. The two brands seem to trade blows depending on the exact application, and anything from recent generations is likely to perform well. In general, GPUs from AMD appear to perform better, but you’re going to usually see better results with higher amounts of VRAM. Once again, you’ll want at least 4GB of VRAM, which should be easy to come by, but more is always better. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about the best GPU for Vegas Pro out there, so it’s hard to make an exact recommendation. Midrange graphics cards seem to perform well enough compared to high-end cards that most editors not doing too much intensive work won’t need to purchase the top-of-the-line GPU just to use Vegas Pro.
There are many other editing softwares on the market, and there isn’t nearly as much data or benchmarks surrounding them. If you use Wondershare Filmora, CyberLink PowerDirector, Corel Videostudio, or another editor we haven’t mentioned, you’ll likely be fine with a midrange graphics card from either Nvidia or AMD. Look for at least 4GB of VRAM, but these software options don’t seem to leverage the GPU as heavily as Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve. They are CPU-dependent instead, but will of course benefit from some sort of graphics processing to render effects and to render the timeline more smoothly. If you’re wondering how to spend your money on a computer for these editors, focus on the CPU and RAM before the GPU.
We hope very much that this answers your questions about how to shop for a graphics card for your video editing computer. Answering the question of which card is best for you is a lot more difficult than recommending a CPU or RAM. Generally a mid-range consumer-grade card is going to be ideal for most editors. More serious editors who deal with effects and massive timelines can make use of more expensive and high-end options. Despite the existence of professional-grade GPUs from both Nvidia and AMD, these cards are ideal for other applications, and not video editing, so avoid those when shopping around. Don’t worry about VRAM too much when looking at cards released in the last couple years. You need 4GB of VRAM for 1080p editing, and most graphics cards now have at least 8GB, which is enough for most 4K and above editing. And unless you’re using Resolve, the GPU is one of the least important aspects of video editing. Focus on getting a 6, 8, or higher core-count processor, 32GB of RAM, and fast SSD storage drives, before splurging on the best graphics card. And like we said at the beginning, the market for graphics cards at the time of recording is not good, with prices through the roof.
If you have any more questions about finding a graphics card for your editing rig, let us know in the comments down below and we will do our best to answer them.