There are quite a lot of considerations regarding a laptop system.
- Which program are you using to edit?
- What other programs you would like to use – mainly this would be ones which need specific hardware such as maybe Photoshop or a 3D program like Blender which like to have a nice graphics card or a program that needs a lot of RAM?
- Are your projects all going to be SD and HD? Do you need 4K output and capture?
- Are you capturing video from analogue and if so what resolution – SD, HD or 4K?
- Do you need to capture from FireWire?
- How much space do you need inside the laptop – you can always run drives externally as well.
- How portable do you need it to be? Editing laptops are powerful and so use batteries a lot quicker than a regular laptop. You likely to only get 1-2 hours use on batteries and on batteries it will not be as powerful as it is on main power. Because of the power the cooling can sometimes be quite noisy – especially on models with the most powerful graphics cards and when running a program like Blackmagic Resolve.
Obviously the best thing to do is get in touch by phone or email so we can discuss various options. However, below I will set out some of the considerations in more depth.
There are a variety of powerful laptops available and they are changing all the time. As I write this, in April 2022, the latest 12th generation processor models have just started arriving. The 12th generation systems can use DDR4 RAM, as we have been using for ages, or new DDR5, which, as you would imagine is faster and better (just a bit more expensive).
I would always get the best processor you can afford as laptops are not very upgradable. If you can get the 12th generation with DDR5 RAM, but it will cost more than a DDR4 or 11th generation system. There used to be laptops which had desktop processor in them, however, as processors have got more powerful these are not being made any more and so the laptops all have laptop processors. This means all the laptops have Quick Sync, which modern editing programs like EDIUS, Premiere and Resolve can use to help playback H.264 & H.265 footage.
I have edited happily on 16GB RAM for HD projects. However, 32GB is nicer. If doing 4K project I would say you need 32GB, and preferably have 64GB. Most “off the shelf” laptops only have 8GB and are not very upgradable.
Whether you need a powerful graphics card will depend on your chosen editing program. EDIUS, for example, does not use the graphics card (GPU) very much and so is happy with a lower spec card. Premiere can cope with a low spec card but will perform better with a powerful card. Resolve needs a good graphics card otherwise you might get the dreaded “run out of GPU power” type of message and will not be able to edit.
With graphics cards I would stick to nVidia as most video programs are programmed to take better advantage of nVidia cards. These are numbered from 3050 to 3080, with the higher the number, the better the GPU. a 3050 is fine for EDIUS. Even a previous model such as a 1650 would be OK, even for editing 4K. EDIUS can even work properly using an Intel GPU. You may get a better GPU for EDIUS if using a plug-in that would use it, like Neat Video, for example.
Premiere would function fine on a 3050 but better on a 3060 or above. For Resolve I would get at least a 3060, and if editing 4K a 3070 or even the 3080 which have more GPU RAM.
Laptops are tending to want smaller hard drives so at most will have space for one “regular” hard drive. You will probably have your operating system on an M.2 drive. M.2 drives are fancy solid state drives which are built into a compact circuit board. 512GB is fine for Windows, but you can have a bigger one if you prefer. These drives are also great for video if you get a large one as they are very fast and most custom laptops will take 2 M.2 drives. They just cost more than normal drives, especially when you go above 2TB.
You can use UBS3 drives externally and all the laptops will have USB3 and the faster USB 3.1.
Capture through FireWire
Modern laptops do not have FireWire ports. If the laptop has a Thunderbolt connection it is possible to use a Thunderbolt to FireWire adaptor. This will let you capture DV and HDV but not let you record back to tape (there is no way to record to a FireWire device on a laptop any more)
Since Thunderbolt enabled laptops are more expensive some people choose to instead but an analogue device and capture through S-Video or composite (even though the signal will not be quite as good as FireWire) or capture on a desktop – where you can easily buy a FireWire card – and then copy the files on to the laptop for editing.
Blackmagic or AJA device for capture and playback
You may want a device to let you monitor the picture on a proper TV when editing or capture from analogue. You do not have to have one – if all your footage comes from card based devices you will not need a capture device and you can always play the picture full screen on a second monitor connected to your laptop.
Blackmagic and AJA do a range of devices. Blackmagic pretty much works with everything. AJA work with Premiere, EDIUS and Vegas, but not Blackmagic Resolve. These are all Thunderbolt devices so obviously you need a laptop with Thunderbolt. Blackmagic used to do a range of USB3 devices but these have been discontinued. Some examples would be:
Blackmagic UltraStudio HD MINI – £399
Composite, component, SDI and HDMI in and out, connected by Thunderbolt.
Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K MINI -£799
Similar to the HD but with output at up to 60P 4K
Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K extreme – £2,355
Similar I/o to the 4K mini but with H,265 encoding built in.
You can see more details on these devices here: https://www.blackmagicdesign.com/uk/products/ultrastudio/techspecs/W-DLUS-09
AJA have a range of devices as well which do similar I/o but are more expensive: https://www.aja.com/products/io-4k-plus
Apart from the price one advantage of Blackmagic devices is that they will work with DaVinci Resolve.
A much cheaper alternative just for capture is Pinnacle’s Dazzle DVD recorder HD– £56.99 – which is designed to work with Pinnacle Studio, although you can capture in Studio and then load the files into another program. The name is a bit of a misnomer as it does not do HD capture. It will also not let you monitor your picture on a TV when editing – even from Pinnacle Studio. As you would expect the Blackmagic and AJA devices offer more and are better quality devices but if all you need is to capture some VHS and old tapes the Dazzle may be enough.
If using a desktop machine I would definitely recommend the Blackmagic Intensity pro 4K instead, but you cannot use this with a laptop.
Capturing from old tapes or tape decks
One other thing worth mentioning is that capture devices have a problem capturing “ropey” signals. This has always been the case but as you cannot get VHS and Hi8 machines new any more people are tending to capture of old tapes on old equipment which means this is becoming more of an issue. The solution is generally get a timebase corrector as well which is £200ish. You can probably tell if your tapes are old and worn out just by playing them, but would not know for sure until you tried capturing.
Blu-ray and DVD writing
DVD & Blu-ray writer do not come built into laptops any more so if you need to make DVD or Blu-ray you would need an external device, which is about £50. You will also need a program that can make DVD and Blu-ray – EDIUS can for example but Resolve cannot, and Adobe no longer supply their authoring program Encore, so unless you already have it you cannot make DVD or Blu-ray with Adobe either!
Which editing program should you use on a laptop? This really does depend on which editing program you prefer. They will all work on laptops although some (such as Resolve) will want better hardware – such as a superior graphics card as mentioned above.
My personal preference is for EDIUS or Resolve.
How to order
Since my company, DVC, closed in 2015 I have been working from home offering advice and support. This has included offering advice on system specifications and also supplying and testing systems for customers. The way I supply systems has changed slightly from my old company. I charge a fixed price to advise on the system and the parts are bought either by yourself or me, sent to me for set up and configuration and then sent to you as a complete system.
My training company is not VAT registered which means I can offer lower prices for training. However, it means you can reclaim VAT you cannot do so on the price of the system components. If you are VAT registered you would buy the parts needed, under my guidance, and get them shipped to me for set up. If you are not VAT registered it does not matter.
If you are interested in getting my assistance on buying a new computer or getting me to make one for you please contact me : firstname.lastname@example.org