Powerful laptops weighing just a few pounds can now handle many of the tasks that editors used to perform on intricate and expensive equipment in a studio. So whether your boss expects you to make first edits in the field, you're a film student, or you just want to review your vacation footage on your flight home, you should consider a laptop with robust enough specs for video editing. Here's what to look for.
Companies don't often make laptops specifically for video editing like they do gaming machines, or chromebooks targeted at students. That means you'll have to pick and choose features from among standard categories like ultraportable, gaming laptops, and mobile workstations. Your feature list could end up belonging to a dream machine that doesn't exactly match any laptop currently for sale, but at least you'll have a starting point from which to make compromises.
Devoting most of your budget to a powerful CPU, graphics card and many gigabytes of memory is a safe bet, but ancillary features like storage, input/output options, and the operating system are far more important factors for you than they are for the average laptop shopper. So is weight, since even a few extra pounds could push your already heavy bag over an airline's weight limit or make your carry-on too fat to fit into an overhead bin.
Display specs are important, especially if you plan on using your laptop for more advanced editing tasks like shading and color correction. A comfortable keyboard is a must, too, since keyboard shortcuts help streamline many editing tasks, from starting and stopping playback to adding keyframes.
Finally, there are a few features common on laptops that you don't need to worry about when buying a mobile video-editing station. Chief among them is battery life, since video editing consumes so much power that your laptop will probably spend most of its time plugged in (buy a power strip for hotel rooms and make sure your plane has in-seat power outlets before you buy a ticket). Neither will you get much use out of a touch screen or a convertible laptop that doubles as a tablet, unless you're looking for a machine that you'll also use for web browsing and watching videos after the end of a long day of shooting and editing.
Processors and Memory
The two most important laptop components for video editors are the CPU and memory. Most applications are optimized to take advantage of modern multi-core CPUs, which usually means that the more cores you have, the better. Fortunately, even some of Intel's mobile Core U-series processors, designed to use less power than their desktop counterparts, now have four cores. For a bird's eye view of how a higher processor core count increases performance, you'll want to check out how well the laptop you're considering fares on our Cinebench benchmark, which is listed in the performance section of each review. This test uses software from video effects titan Maxon to spit out a proprietary score based on how quickly the PC can render a 3D image. Although multiple factors can influence the score, in general, the more cores the CPU has, the quicker the image renders.
The principle is the same for video-editing software like Apple Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere Pro, which are engineered to distribute compute tasks over multiple cores just like Cinebench. Any Cinebench result above 700 is excellent for a laptop, and suggests that it will be an adequate video-editing machine. Typical machines with these results range from some Core i7-powered ultraportables to most mobile workstations equipped with Xeon processors. Note, however, that desktops with full-powered CPUs can push far above 1,000 on this test.
The problem with selecting a many-core processor is that manufacturers don't always list core counts on the box or website product page. Luckily, finding out how much memory the system has is much easier. A good rule of thumb is that you should select a laptop with 16GB of RAM. For many consumer ultraportables and all current Mac laptops, this is the maximum limit, although you can now order some mobile workstations with 32GB. The cost is often prohibitive, however, and we think the money is better spent on a faster CPU, so we're calling 16GB the sweet spot.
To complete the trifecta of principal specs, you'll want a fast hard drive. In nearly all cases, this means configuring a laptop with an SSD, which can access data much faster than older spinning drives. For everyday computing use, the speed difference between an SSD and a spinning drive is vast, since an SSD's main skill is decreasing boot times and making apps load faster. These things don't matter as much for video editing, but an SSD will still offer noticeable speed gains on specialized tasks like playing back multiple clips at once or working with 4K footage.
Ideally, you want a capacious hard drive in addition to a speedy one, but since the cost of built-in SSDs skyrocket at capacities above 512GB, it's more cost effective to make sure your laptop has a Thunderbolt connection to enable a link to a fast external drive where you'll store most of your footage.
Most laptops come with a graphics card that's part of the CPU. This arrangement offers woeful performance if you're playing richly detailed video games, but it's actually fine for many video-editing scenarios. As mentioned earlier, nearly all video-editing suites are designed to take advantage of more powerful processors, but graphics acceleration isn't as common.
There are a few exceptions. For example, a discrete GPU can speed up the video-encoding process in Final Cut Pro X, and the latest version of Blackmagic's Davinci Resolve editing suite has a new video playback engine that's optimized for powerful GPUs. In fact, Davinci's Linux version offers support for as many as eight individual GPUs. Since the highest number of graphics cards we've ever seen in a laptop is two (and that's on gaming rigs that cost close to BDT 40,000), it's best to save GPU-accelerated editing tasks for when you get back to the studio.
That said, if the laptop you're considering offers an entry-level discrete GPU for a reasonable premium (say,BDT 16000 or so), there's little reason not to spring for it and enjoy the added speed boost when you're exporting video. You can get an idea of a laptop's graphics performance by glancing at its scores on our Handbrake video-encoding test and our Heaven and Valley gaming simulations.
Lose the Weight, Not the Ports
If you're already carrying around dozens of pounds of camera and lighting equipment, the last thing you want is to add weight to your bag. Luckily, many very powerful laptops weigh less than 3 pounds these days. The thinnest and lightest won't have discrete GPUs or displays larger than 14 inches, but you may be able to do without these features, especially if you've got a studio with a more powerful editing station where you do most of your cutting.
If you're slimming down, however, try not to lose too many ports. We recommend at least one Thunderbolt 3 port, which lets you connect to external displays via the DisplayPort standard, lightning-fast external drives, and pretty much any USB peripheral like external mice or keyboards via an adapter. Some laptops, including all MacBook Pro models, only include Thunderbolt 3, which is a bit extreme since the standard is still relatively new. The sweet spot is one or two Thunderbolt ports, and one or two regular USB 3.0 or USB 3.1 ports.
An SD card slot can also be useful for transferring footage directly from your camera to your laptop, and luckily all laptops have an audio port for connecting headphones to use while editing on the plane or in a cafe.
With many laptops these days offering at least full HD (1,920-by-1,080) resolution, your main screen consideration should be size, not pixel count. A 15-inch or 17-inch display will let you see more of your project timeline, but it comes at the expensive of weight and heft. Meanwhile, a 12-inch display like the one on the Apple MacBook about BDT 104000 could have you squinting. The sweet spot is therefore 13 or 14 inches. Many laptops, including Dell's XPS lineup, manage to squeeze a 13-inch or 14-inch screen into a chassis that otherwise would hold a smaller display by slimming down the bezel, or border around the screen.
While full HD resolution is fine for many editing tasks, if you shoot primarily in 4K, you might want a screen resolution to match. Combine a 4K screen, a quad-core processor, and a discrete GPU, though, and you'll end up with truly awful battery life. So if you settle on a 4K screen, make sure to stick near a power outlet and consider buying an external battery charger to use in a pinch. At the other end of the spectrum, don't choose a resolution below full HD, to avoid visible pixels.
If your video-editing tasks mostly involve arranging clips, mixing audio, and the like, you probably don't need to worry about the display's color capabilities. For more artistic jobs, like shading and color correction, you'll want to pay attention to how many colors the screen can display and how it calibrates the color profile. Look for specs like a P3 color gamut and automatic calibration, features that are often rolled into a single marketing moniker such as HP's DreamColor.
As mentioned earlier, you probably needn't worry about whether or not the laptop has a touch screen. Video editing involves precision and repetition, which are best suited to keyboard shortcuts and a mouse, not touch inputs. The one exception is the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar, a narrow secondary touch-enabled screen perched above the keyboard. It's designed with apps like Final Cut Pro and the Adobe Creative Suite in mind.
If you're a novice editor or a veteran willing to change up your workflow, the Touch Bar could be a useful way to scrub through clips, adjust audio levels, and perform other similar tasks. If you're buying a high end MacBook Pro, the TouchBar is mandatory anyway, so you might as well experiment with it, but we don't recommend choosing an Apple laptop solely for this still-novel interface.
Mac vs. PC
Video editors are among the class of creative professionals that stereotypically prefer to use Macs instead of PCs. Whether or not your fit that stereotype, if you're a veteran of the industry, you probably already have a preference, so we're not going to try to change your mind. If you're OS-agnostic, however, you have a vast array of hardware choices if you decide to choose a PC over a Mac laptop. The biggest advantage of going with Windows or Linux is the possibility of buying a workstation-class laptop with a many-core Intel Xeon processor, something not available on any Mac portable.
Another OS consideration is video-editing software. Final Cut Pro only works on Macs, although most other editing suites, from Premiere Pro to Avid Media Composer, run on multiple platforms.
Time to Open Your Wallet
OK, enough geeking out over specs. It's time to tally up how much mobile video editing is going to cost you. Let's start with Macs, since they have the narrowest range of models available. On the low end, you can buy a dual-core Core i7 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM for about BDT 1,76 000. A maxed-out 15-inch model, on the other hand, with a quad-core processor and a 2TB SSD, will cost closer to BDT 3,36,000. The price range for Windows laptops is a bit wider. You can find a 13-inch, quad-core PC with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD for just less than BDT 1,60,000, while a 17-inch gaming rig with a high-end GPU or a workstation with a Xeon processor can easily ring up at BDT 400000.