Adobe has on its website the Adobe Premiere Pro CS5: System Requirements
Unfortunately, this overview is severely lacking in realism and a lot of people were disappointed when their system met these minimum requirements, but still would not do what they expected, or at least not without jerkiness, hiccups and similar issues.
The problem with these requirements as stated is that they are really bare minimum requirements to install the software, but unfortunately it does not tell how well a certain system will perform with the myriad of codecs used and the different needs and expectations people may have about their editing rig. Since this issue is nearly a year old now and nothing tangible has changed, I decided to write this article to help people understand what is realistic to expect, what influences the hardware choices in order to use CS5 to full satisfaction.
CAVEAT: This is my personal opinion, in no way authorized or endorsed by Adobe, who have not seen anything I write here till the moment it has been published here.
The nature of one's editing projects can have a major impact on the hardware required to run projects effectively. Long form documentaries, delivered on BRD demand different hardware and priorities in hardware setup then music clips with lots of multicam work and color effects delivered to the web, or wedding video's delivered on DVD. And unfortunately, there is no simple rule saying that if you edit X, you need Y hardware.
The second thing that has a major impact is the source material, the codec used. Back in the old days things were very simple, you had DV material from a tape based camera and that was it. Nowadays, things have grown much more complex. The number of codecs used in source material has grown enormously, the number of formats and frame rates has grown in a similar fashion. We used to have 480, now we have added 720, 1080, 2K, 3K, 4K plus various DSLR and other formats, we had interlaced, now we have progressive as well, we used to have 25 or 29.97 FPS, now we have 24, 25, 29.97, 60 and even more frame rates. We had DV, now we have MPEG2, HDV, XDCAM, P2, AVCHD, RED, Cineform, Matrox, and numerous other codecs.
This makes it all the more confusing for people to know what they need when they start out with video editing to run CS5 successfully.
The codec issue:
Some codecs are easy to handle for a computer, others are difficult to handle. It is generally known that DV material is very easy to handle and AVCHD is pretty tough to handle. The general rule is that the more compressed the material is, the harder it is for the computer to edit this. GOP (Group of Pictures) structure is an extra burden. The higher the resolution, the harder it is on the computer.
To simplify matters one could differentiate codecs and source material in three categories, based on their properties:
Of course boundaries when using three categories are not always very clear, but the tendency is rather clear. Easy codecs are in the upper left corner, difficult codecs are in the lower right corner. For that reason we have identified three categories, Easy, Intermediate and Difficult.
This is somewhat similar to the color coding PR uses with none, yellow and red in the time line. It is not complete in the overview of common codecs, but is intended to show what the impact can be of different codecs and the hardware requirements.
I realize this is a limited overview and generic in nature. It will not answer all questions, but may be helpful to avoid disappointments. It also has a number of limitations. For instance, uncompressed MS AVI SD material. No GOP structure, no compression, low resolution, that should be at the top left corner, right? Wrong. Uncompressed does not burden the CPU, but is a definite burden on the memory and disk I/O system.
What does that mean in terms of requirements?
If the codecs you generally use are slightly more than just plain "easy", look at the improvemnts in the next column and repeat for the next column if applicable.
I hope this can benefit people to understand there is more to choosing a system than just following the Adobe site.
Additions or suggestions for improvements are welcome.