DaVinci Resolve is the NLE and color grading software of choice for many creators. Not all of us have the best hardware, so what works and what doesn’t?
As with all things tech, change comes quickly. As of NAB 2019 DaVinci Resolve 16 is in public beta, and I originally started compiling this guide in 2015 with Resolve 11. However, most of the emails I receive are from would-be Resolve users that don’t have the budget to build a monster workstation. The questions I get are from people that want to know more about the minimum requirements rather than the ideal system we would all have if money was no object.
I’m a CSI (Colorist Society International) colorist and have been involved with Resolve both as a user, and consultant to post production companies for many years. I deal with high-end systems all the time, but I feel there’s not a lot of information available about the minimum requirements to run Resolve, yet that’s what many new users and content creators want to know. So while I started this article in 2015, the general points are just as valid as they were years ago.
First things first, the best and most up to date information you will get is in the DaVinci Resolve configuration guide. You can download the latest DaVinci Resolve 15 configuration guide here.
DaVinci Resolve System Requirements
DaVinci Resolve is an amazing and powerful piece of software, however just installing the software doesn’t constitute a workable system. Resolve is one of the most resource intensive applications you can use and will bring any unprepared system to its knees. This being said, some things are more important than others, and you may be able to coax your PC into running Resolve fairly happily just by upgrading your GPU and using some of Resolve’s built in media optimization tools.
The point is not to call you out about your hardware, but to help you understand there are some minimum requirements if you want to get the most out of Resolve.
Here’s is a summary of some minimum DaVinci Resolve system requirements you need to be aiming for.
Getting the Most from Resolve on Limited Hardware
It’s important to talk about your expectations and real world needs. For most of us there is little real need for real-time 4K playback unless you’re monitoring in 4K. Even if your media is 4K or higher and you intend to render at 4K, you can easily edit in an HD resolution timeline and make far more efficient use of your system resources where real-time playback is essential.
Proxies and Timeline Resolution
One of the most useful features of Resolve is how quickly you can change timeline resolution non destructively. For example, as long as your source media is UHD, you can drop your timeline resolution to HD for editing and your clips will be resampled down to HD for better playback. You can switch your timeline resolution back to UHD at any time and the clips will read at the full native UHD resolution. In addition, for RAW media formats you can change decode or playback debayer resolution. This means you can drop your resolution and debayer quality temporarily to ensure playback performance while you’re editing, and then ramp it back up for grading where real-time playback is perhaps not so critical.
Resolve Optimized Media and Render Cache
In situations where dropping debayer quality and/or timeline resolution still doesn’t result in real-time playback on a particular system (most likely a laptop), there are a couple of ways to handle it. One way is to have Resolve create Optimized Media. Optimized Media files are lower resolution, compressed proxies (copies) of your high resolution camera source files. These temporary files are entirely handled by Resolve and can work very well for your edit, you can then relink to your original full res camera files for grading and delivery.
Resolve’s Render Cache is also a very useful tool enabling a background render of a particular shot, sequence, or even an entire timeline to a intermediary codec to ensure real-time playback.
It’s ALL About The GPU
Your GPU is everything! It is more important than your CPU or system RAM (both of which should be up to the task too).
DaVinci Resolve offloads intensive image processing to the GPU. It also employs YRGB 32-bit floating point processing for exceptional color precision.
Ideally, in a desktop PC, this should be a dedicated GPU just for image processing in addition to the graphics card running your desktop GUI (user interface). In the case that you are using a laptop or any system with a single, or integrated GPU you can still run Resolve, but performance will be compromised compared to a dual or multi-GPU system.
If you’re investing in a laptop, I highly recommend making sure you choose one with Thunderbolt 3 ports, and take a look at my post, The Best DaVinci Resolve eGPU Options.
Of course GPU cores matter, but GPU memory matters more when looking at minimum requirements.
Bottom line, if you’re looking at a new system on a budget and you’re working mostly in HD, I’d recommend an absolute minimum of 2GB GPU memory, really 4GB is a more realistic minimum. Performance also depends on the resolution of your media, the resolution of your timeline and the codecs of the media you are using.
The next biggest issue is how fast Resolve can read media from your storage. Expecting real-time playback performance with heavy high res RAW media stored on a single internal spinning hard disk is madness. It’s completely impossible. If you’re considering a laptop, make sure it has SSD or PCIe flash storage, or connect fast external media storage via Thunderbolt or at least USB 3.
SSD, PCIe drives and RAID arrays are the only solution unless you’re connected to a SAN or fast NAS. Using an internal SSD or two in a RAID 0 configuration is a good start on a small scale, but you’ll have limited total capacity. External SSD’s provided they are Thunderbolt or at least USB 3 can also work.
New RAW codecs such as Apple ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW are promising raw quality at lower bit rates. This is exciting, but regardless, fast storage is your best friend, and just because an external hard drive says it is Thunderbolt or USB 3, does not mean the actual drive inside supports the data rate claimed.
External desktop Thunderbolt RAID arrays are perfect solutions for a single system, or you can configure a RAID internally as long as your system chassis has at least four drive bays free and you have a motherboard supporting hardware RAID, or a PCIe slot free for a dedicated RAID controller card.
Generally speaking, your GPU and storage are the primary key factors you have to address with any system you expect to run DaVinci Resolve. Secondary to that, your CPU and system RAM are also important, you should be on 16GB of system RAM at least, 32GB is recommended.
These are the basic facts if you expect to get any real work done with DaVinci Resolve.
Resolve Minimum System Requirements FAQ
The first thing you should consider is your GPU. Other components might be limiting your playback performance, or how quickly you can export videos but your GPU will determine if Resolve will run at all on your system, and how complex your color correction can be.
The most important specification to look at is how much memory the GPU has. Regardless of how many processing cores, it’s video memory that limits the resolution you can work in, the number of correction nodes you can use, and the performance of memory intensive plugins and effects such as noise reduction.
The number of GPU cores will determine how quickly a GPU can process image data. When considering a GPU under 4GB, memory is a more important factor than GPU cores. For GPU’s with more than 4GB memory you can consider memory and number of GPU cores equally when making a decision which GPU to buy.
This is a tough choice because in this case, really you should do both. If you can only afford to buy more RAM or a new GPU then the best decision depends on your existing GPU. If your existing GPU has at least 2GB video memory then it’s better to buy more system RAM. However if your GPU has only 1GB or 1.5GB video memory, or is a integrated GPU that shares your system memory than a new GPU is the best decision. Either way, whichever one you don’t upgrade right away should be your next upgrade.
The most likely reason your video files aren’t playing smoothly is because they are H.264 / AVC or H.265 / HEVC encoded files. DaVinci Resolve relies on your system CPU to decode these complex video files before handing over uncompressed image data to your GPU. It’s likely that your CPU is the bottleneck if these video files are not playing back smoothly. The solution is to decrease the timeline resolution to HD if you are working with 4K video files, and to create optimized media or use render cache on your timeline.
If you’re on a Mac, I recommend choosing HD resolution Apple ProRes 422 for both optimized media and render cache. If you’re using a Windows PC, I recommend choosing HD resolution Avid DNxHR HQ for your optimized media and render cache. Both of these codecs are high quality and far less complex to decode. Choose a fast internal or external hard drive as the destination for your optimized media and cache files.
DaVinci Resolve 15 On A 2015 Macbook Pro
I have Resolve 15 running on a 2015 Macbook Pro with 16GB system RAM and integrated Intel Iris Pro graphics that has access to 1.5GB of shared system memory.
However, I wouldn’t recommend it.
So far, it’s still working well enough on HD resolution timelines, even using both the FilmConvert OFX plugin and Neat Video OFX plugin. I have yet to see a GPU out of memory error, however I keep my grades fairly simple and straightforward. I could definitely provoke an out of memory message without much effort.
On this system I’m making use of either optimized media or render cache for everything, every clip on the timeline. This is time consuming but the only way I have real-time playback of H.264/AVC media on this aging laptop.
Many creators are just starting out with Resolve, learning to color grade, and working with what they have, so I want to put it out there that this older Macbook Pro is running Resolve 15, even with some OFX plugins and still chugging along.