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Videomaker Laptop Buyer’s Guide

Shot of a laptop

You’ve made up your mind, and you want a laptop. You need the mobility that only a laptop can provide and since you will be editing video you need more power than a tablet has to offer. And at this point in time you don’t quite need the power and expandability a workstation can provide. 

One of the most important features of a laptop is the portability factor. You can take your editing tools with you wherever you go. Whether you’re an amateur videographer or a professional shooter you need a way to view and edit video while on the go.

You may already have a nice workstation at home loaded with software. But the only way to keep working while you’re out on the road is a laptop. Or you may not even own a computer of any kind and this is your first laptop.

In this buyer’s guide we’re going to look at different price ranges and features that can be found on laptop computers. We’ll start with the low-priced laptop, take a look at mid-priced laptops, then finish up with some higher-priced examples. We’ll also look into some features you may want to look for when searching for your new laptop. 

Collection of various laptops: Hewlett Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Asus, Toshiba, Apple, etc
Low-Priced

This is a good place to start for the amateur. You may be shooting video with your smartphone or you may even have a nice pocket video camera. Either way your laptop is going to be your tool for viewing and editing your videos. At this point you don’t have a heavy dependence on your laptop, it’s more or less just for fun. And if you don’t have the budget, the low-priced laptop is a good place to start.

You may be tempted to take a peek in the bargain isle when looking for a low-priced laptop, but please don’t. Many of you have seen the ads for the $300 laptop computer. Most of the laptops found in the bargain bin will not satisfy your needs when it comes to editing. The bargain laptop has just enough features to get you on the Internet to browse and check your email.

The low-priced laptop with software should come in at less than $1,000. For video editing your laptop needs to have a little more horsepower with at least an Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of memory. (See our feature, The Fastest Processor for Editing for a deeper explanation on these requirements.) The internal drive should be around 500GB at this price point. Of course you will need an external drive to edit with because you don’t want to edit to your system drive.

If you take a look at the ASUS K Series with a 15.6-inch display it has an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB memory, and comes with a 500GB hard drive. At $690 this meets our minimum recommended system configuration and leaves you with money leftover to buy an external drive and software.

The Lenovo IdeaPad has an Intel i5 processor, a 15.6" display, 8GB Memory, and a 1TB hard drive. More expensive at $900, it gives you more memory and a larger internal drive. But you still have some cash leftover to buy an external drive.

So where does the software fit into this low-priced scenario? If in fact you are a beginner then you may find the software that comes with your new computer has everything you need. The next step up the software ladder might be Adobe Premiere Elements. But you may want to hold off for now. No sense in upgrading until you figure out just what you are going to be doing with your new tools. 

Mid-Priced

The mid-priced laptop user wants a little more performance. He or she has a larger budget and probably a better camera. Now you’re probably talking HD footage here so more horsepower will come in handy. And with that additional horsepower comes rendering speed. When it’s time to output that project things can happen a little faster than before.

The mid-priced laptop and equipment should come at less than $2,000. For that kind of money you could stay with an i5 powered laptop and add more memory, a larger hard drive, or go for a larger screen. So to eliminate confusion let’s say that at this price point you will be looking for an Intel Core i7 processor with 8GB of memory, and at least a 1TB hard drive.

With this next level of performance you will notice a big difference in speed. Things like rendering, digitizing, and outputting files will all run faster. The larger screen will also be nice to work with. You will not regret spending more money here.

The Toshiba Satellite has an i7 processor with a 17.3-inch screen, 8GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive for $850.

Dell can send us a 17.3-inch Inspiron 17R Special Edition laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB memory, including software, a Blu-ray optical drive and a 1TB hard drive for $1,300.

The money left for software here will depend on which laptop you choose. The software for the mid-priced user will probably be a little more expensive. At this level, it’s more than likely, the user will be making a video for someone else. He or she will need more advanced software like the full version of advanced editing software for around $500 or more. With just a little bit left over for that external drive. 

High-Priced

High-priced users have more expectations for a laptop. They have a greater budget and need something that will perform well under pressure. They are willing to pay more because the increased power and speed will pay off in the end. At this level there may be clients waiting for a DVD or video to be delivered. They might be pros that need to take work on the road.

A high-priced laptop at this level can be found for less than $3,000. Now you can look for an Intel i7 processor with 16GB of memory. But in addition to these core features you might want to add something from the extra features category like a high resolution display.

In the high-priced category you can buy a Dell XPS 15.6-inch laptop with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB Memory, 512GB SSD, and NVIDIA GeForce GT 640M with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM for $2,300. With this laptop you can use the dedicated graphics card to edit with, and take full advantage of the Truelife WLED display. And there’s still money leftover for the software.

Let’s say you already have the software you need, you can then invest more in the hardware. For example the HP EliteBook 8770w with a 17.3-inch screen, 8GB RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and a 128GB SSD can be had for $2,150.This laptop has a larger screen but the internal drive is a little smaller.

And for the Mac user the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB memory, and 512GB flash storage can be had for $2,800. The trade-off here is that there is no disc drive, but you’ll get Apple’s high resolution Retina display and a Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt is Intel’s high-speed interface.

The high-priced user is going to also want professional editing software and possibly visual effects software like Adobe After Effects. Software can get expensive but when you are working for business, your investments should eventually pay for themselves. 

Features

Let’s look at some of the features that you’ll want to have specified in a laptop.

  1. SSD – a solid state drive will withstand the shock of everyday life much better than a traditional mechanical hard drive. They’re still a little more expensive, but will last longer.
  2. Fingerprint reader – is a great idea when you need more security.
  3. Media card reader – is wonderful when you have a camera that uses the same type of media card. You can take your media right from the camera to the laptop.
  4. Touchpad – is found on most new laptops and can offer more features than a standard mouse can. With finger gestures you can accomplish more than what a traditional mouse can offer.
  5. High resolution display – for critical review of HD footage Apple’s high resolution Retina display is a good idea.
  6. Second display – to expand the usable desktop space a second display can make editing easier. You’ll need an external display port on the laptop to connect.
  7. Battery – an extended life battery will keep you working longer, and take note during your own tests while video editing or intensive use.
  8. Wi-Fi – most if not all new laptops come equipped for Wi-Fi but you should make sure before your purchase.
  9. Bluetooth – consider this handy technology for part of your new laptop. There are many peripherals that are Bluetooth capable.
  10. DVD/Blu-ray burner – to make a disc of your project and a good way to make backups from your digital media cards. You never know what your client will ask for so it’s good to be ready.
  11. Ethernet port – usually found on most if not all laptops.
  12. eSATA port – comes in handy for connecting external drives.
  13. USB ports – the more the merrier, especially the 3.0 type.
  14. Thunderbolt port – a high-speed interface created by Intel, most widely found on Apple computers as of the writing of this article.
  15. Headphones – are great for checking audio tracks. The speakers that come inside laptops have yet to measure up to a good pair of headphones. 

In Conclusion

Have you made up your mind yet? Just look in your wallet before you make your final decision. No matter what you buy there will always be something new coming out that you may want. So for now, get what you can afford. The hardware you buy today will be outdated by next year.

Once you start using your new laptop you will be able to figure out just how good an editor you are. When that time comes you can upgrade to the next level of video editing software. If you become a pro you will probably be looking into a new workstation. And you’ll have a laptop to take on the road.

Remember to get an external hard drive. This is important when you start to edit. If you use your system drive to edit you may find yourself in hot water very quickly. Video files can grow very large and consume lots of hard drive space. Make sure you purchase another drive to digitize your footage to before you get started. 

SIDEBAR

Portable Mini?

There is another computer out there that is somewhat portable. Well, not as portable as a laptop but very small and easy to move about. We’re talking about Apple’s Mac mini computer that is less than 1.5-inches tall, about 8-inches square, and weighs less than three pounds. You can get an Intel Core i5 processor, with 4GB of memory, and a 500GB hard drive for $600.

You won’t be able to use it in the airport while you’re waiting, but it is really small. And you will have to bring a monitor to the table because it doesn’t come with one. And it doesn’t come with a mouse or a keyboard either. Technically, it’s a desktop computer, but it is so small we had to mention it.

If you’re still undecided about buying a laptop, this might be for you. Maybe you really just wanted something smaller than your old tower that takes up so much space. You thought a laptop was the answer. This may be the alternative. We’ll let you decide.

Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's computer Buyer's Guide.

George F. Young is an Audio/Video Producer who works for a government agency in the Washington D.C. area.

Tags:  September 2013
George
Young
Wed, 08/07/2013 - 5:05pm

Comments

DCDouglas's picture

One of the most useful things is a "firewire" or IEEE 1394 connection so that you can capture video right into the machine. Whether you are tranferring scenes from a camera right into your software (PREMIERE, SONY VEGAS MOVIE STUDIO) or using the computer as the recording device, you can save a lot of time with right input connectors.Not all cameras have that kind of output, but when they do, live is good.

jscott1000's picture

Good luck finding a firewire on a modern PC laptop.  They have pretty much disappeared.  Not to mention that cameras don't have them either.  Just forget about firewire, and look for USB3. 

Bruce McIntosh's picture

If you are planning to use Adobe Premiere Pro it is very important to include a compatible graphics processor in your features.  Adobe has a fairly limited list of cards but search on the web and you will find many more that will work with just a little bit of configuration fiddling.  When I enabled my non listed but compatible graphics card in my workstation it made a huge difference as did going to 16GB ram.

chrisColorado's picture

I was recently doing research to upgrade my laptop for a Government video project. The Dell computers I looked at (my go-to brand) were pretty expensive, up to $3,000 (I'm in the high-priced area). 

I discovered an Acer computer that was way better than the Dell's and Macs I scoped out, and it was only $1,250! You don't hear about Acer that much, but this laptop had a blu-ray drive, 1TB of space and all kinds of nice things...it was almost beyond perfect, for muc cheaper!

If the brands are expensive, consider doing extra research to find what you can from a lesser-known brand.