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Saturday, October 3, 2009

What should I look for in a laptop?

My sister's XP laptop died.  It was kinda old, and she got it used.

About a year and a half ago, she'd bought me a brand-new Dell Inspiron 1525 laptop for Christmas and by birthday, and I've been quite satisfied with it till recently.  Now, for my Media Studies class, I've been doing and will be doing a lot of video editing, which is hard work for any computer and (they tell me) requires serious hardware to do reasonably quickly.  My current laptop is adequate for this, sort of, mostly.  The machine's been upgraded to 3 gig memory and a 360 gig hd both which seem adequate.  I haven't discovered any way to upgrade -only- the Video hardware, and I suppose it's built into the motherboard and can't be upgraded.

My sister, who is an email-and-web person mostly, has suggested buying me another brand-new laptop, and taking over my "old" laptop for her own use.  This would be wonderful, of course.  She has more money than I do.  But she's asked me to just tell her what sort of computer to buy, and she'll see about buying it.  Thing is, I have no idea what specifically to look for, other than "larger" and "faster" and "better video" and other vague generalities.  Twenty years ago I coulda told her, now, not so much.

Any suggestions or hints?  I have heard for years that Macs are generally "better" for video editing.  True, somewhat true, not true anymore?  There is a premium to pay for Mac hardware.  How does the price for a Macbook Pro compare with the price for a PC laptop "adequate" for video editing in particular?  I've been using Windows since 3.1, DOS before that.  I know Macs only by reputation.

What would be considered big or fast these days?  I know what the numbers mean, to the extent they're larger versions of the old numbers.  I don't want her spending the cost of a new car, though, for example.  What would you say is a "reasonable" price for a laptop for "reasonable" video editing functionality and speed?

I pre-ordered a copy of Windows 7 a few months back, which I gather will help this old laptop somewhat. I doubt it would help enough.  Am I wrong?

Thanks for your input.



  1. This is really what you need to know for video editing/production: The process of doing it isn't that resource intensive. The process of rendering a finished video IS. I'd say it's likely that your current machine would probably be OK for your school video projects. Especially with 3 GB of RAM. Now, if you wanted to produce a two-hour epic film complete with Dolby surround sound and special effects, you'd probably need something better. That being posted, here's my advice.

    (It's not often you'll see this statement from me, for what it's worth.) Don't buy a Mac. You're already well versed in Windows and you've got a copy of Windows 7 on the way. Those time/financial investments need to be considered, and buying a Mac means that you'll pretty much be throwing them away. I love Macs. But I think that in 2009, when it comes to things like media editing, they're pretty much equal with Windows-based computers. (I wouldn't have said that five to ten years ago. The advantage then was definitely on the Mac side.) Not to mention the fact that this will not just be a production machine for you but also an every-day computer. Why go through the hassle of relearning how to do all that on a Mac when it isn't necessary? Unless of course you've been considering switching anyway, and this'd just give you a conveniente excuse to do so. In that case, go for it.

    I can't really recommend to you a specific laptop manufacturer or model. I would say to keep your focus on processor power, RAM and hard drive size, in that order. Get the numbers relating to those items to be as high as possible. Video performance is also important but I would only worry about that if you're going to be doing things like connecting to external displays as a way to create "one giant monitor" across all of them. If you're just going to hook up one display and use it as a mirror to your laptop display, you won't need above-average video processing power, and you certainly won't need high-end video processing if you're just going to use the laptop's built-in display.

    That's the best advice I can offer you. If you have any specific thoughts or questions, let me know.

  2. I appreciate your input.

    My current laptop has turned out to be quite slow for even my small projects so far. Possibly due to a year and a half of heavy use -- I'm on my second hard drive and my second internal keyboard -- even sliding around still pictures in Premiere Elements' GUI is extremely slow. Rendering of the finished video has been draggy, but the UI issues are "rendering," too, I guess.

    Keep in mind I'm editing and rendering all HD video; the instructor doesn't see the point of training on SD this late in the game. Might as well learn in battlefield conditions.

    I agree the memory should be plenty, and so should the HD, for the short term. I have a school-provided external 1 Terabyte for medium term. And my final class project will be a DVD portfolio. The CPU is not fast by this week's standards, but it's fair. It's done just fine on most everything I've thrown at it, till I started this video editing & rendering stuff.

    My sister may not be able to afford any great increase in CPU speeds, not from what I've seen of current prices. But she hasn't specified a price range yet. She has money, but she also needs plenty. She's job-hunting now, too. She needs a replacement for her old, dead laptop. She just figures I'd get better use out of brand-new-and-powerful than she would, and my current one would serve her purposes. Probably right.

    I have found a candidate machine. Reasonable price, comparable to my current machine, but much better graphics capabilities, it appears.

    And it's currently listed as in-stock at my local BestBuy store. Naturally, if she'll spend more, I may try to get more. Or I could go ahead and apply for the several thousand in Student Loans for which I'm eligible. Tempting, but I hate debt.

    We'll see as I investigate further. Thanks again.


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