Laptop buying guide for video editing in 2021

Video editing, visual effects, and animation require a high-performance Laptop to run things smoothly and save time on rendering and encoding. Editing on a notebook can prove to be a challenging task especially if you are planning to do editing at 4k. However, laptops have been increasing in power significantly and now you can buy a capable editing machine that is also portable.

The guide is primarily intended to help you pick a laptop that can handle video editing softwares such as Adobe Premiere, Sony Vegas, and DaVinci Resolve. First, we will provide you with some recommendations and what to expect from them followed by a comprehensive guide on what to look for in a laptop. 

What to look for in a Laptop for Video Editing

Today most popular video editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Adobe After Effects CCAdobe Premiere Elements, Corel VideoStudio, Filmora, Pinnacle Studio, and Other Video Editing, Visual Effects, and Animation Software Require a High Performing yet balanced stats across the board for making the best value proposition that will efficiently handle these tasks and the hardware requirements are remarkably similar for most of these applications except for if you’re planning to use DaVinci Resolve, the Graphics Card is more important than the CPU.

That’s why it’s imperative to choose a laptop that can handle such workloads, which are one of the most hardware-intensive workloads for an average Laptop. In Past Video Editing Was A Processor Dependent Task But Today Video Editing Software Are Starting To Utilize Graphics Processors.

CPU

The processor is the most important component of a Laptop for video editing. The CPU’s core count and clock speed will determine how quickly you are able to accomplish task editing tasks and regardless of anything else if your CPU is not powerful enough you will experience slower performance. However, there are a lot of other factors that will affect real-world performance. Therefore, it will be inaccurate to just look at the core count and clock speeds.

Factors like Source file types, The codec, and Video Resolution will affect how fast you can edit, playback, render and export your finished work. Footage taken from a professional camera is most likely in a compressed format and requires decompressing back to full-color depth raw format before the Image processing can begin. 

CPU performance vs Editing Experience

So, just a spec comparison is not a reliable method for comparison so at the end of the day performance benchmarks are the only reliable way to draw a comparison. However, most of these benchmarks don’t really talk about what these processors are capable of in real life as there are and rightfully so as there are a lot of factors besides the resolution of your video that affects your editing experience.  

That being said to make things easier I have classified these processors into 2 categories.  

HD or Full HD Video Editing 

For an Entry Level Laptop, we recommend at least a Quad-Core processor with 8 threads that will enable you to edit at 1080p and you should be able to edit at 4k with some difficulty.

Professional Workload 4k Video Editing

If you are looking for a laptop for Professional Use, go for 6 cores and 12 thread CPU, it will easily handle editing 1080p resolution and is capable of editing 4K, although not as smoothly. 

GPU

The GPU is the second most important component that is responsible for driving performance after CPU when it comes to video editing with the exception being DaVinci Resolve. More and more video editing software such as Adobe Premiere Pro CC, Adobe After Effects CC, Adobe Premiere Elements, Corel VideoStudio, Filmora, Pinnacle Studio is starting to utilize graphics cards for performance gains. Therefore, you shouldn’t neglect the importance of a graphics card when it comes to video editing as this will also future proof your device.

The primary job of a GPU is to preview the image/video/frame on your display. GPU can aid your CPU by moving CPU intensive tasks from the CPU to the GPU. This is known as GPU Acceleration and this can dramatically improve your rendering time.

Graphics Memory(VRAM) vs Editing Experience

If your Graphics card has insufficient VRAM then even with GPU acceleration your system will put its load on the CPU. Therefore, depending on your workload there should be a sufficient amount of onboard graphics memory.

  • HD or Full HD video editing: 2GB of VRAM is the bare minimum to get you started with HD or Full HD video editing. 

  • 4K video editing: For editing at 4k you will need at least a decent mid-range graphics card with a minimum of 4GB of VRAM.

GPU for Video Editing Nvidia vs AMD

Most modern video editing applications such as Adobe Premiere Pro support 2 types of frameworks for GPU acceleration. 

  1. CUDA by Nvidia 
  2. OpenCL used by AMD
CUDA by Nvidia  

CUDA by Nvidia is a  proprietary parallel computing platform and programming framework for Nvidia’s GPUs. Nvidia also supports OpenCL but it’s not as efficient as AMD GPUs.

OpenCL used by AMD

On the other hand, AMD uses OpenCL (Open Computing Language) which is an open standard meaning anyone can use it. 

The performance difference between NVIDIA and AMD is not much and will vary based on what codec you use and the type of timeline you have. However, on average NVIDIA holds an edge over AMD in most cases.

RAM

RAM is a critical component as Video Editing applications use large amounts of RAM. Though it should be lower on your priority after CPU and GPU. The primary function of the ram is to load the operating system and applications in use.

Video Editing applications use ram to preview everything that is in your timeline, to a rendered preview, and won’t affect the Rendering speed of your footage much unless you don’t have enough in that case you will experience lag or crashes.

RAM Vs Video Editing Experience

It’s not easy to answer how much ram you need as it depends on the resolution and bit depth of the footage that you will be working with however for the sake of simplicity this is what you can expect. 

8GB RAM

If you are only planning to edit at 1080p or less and you are ok with closing Programs running in the background that utilizes a lot of your RAM to run.

16GB of RAM 

More than enough for editing at 1080p  and is capable of editing at 4K footage however it is still recommended to close applications running in the background.

32GB of RAM 

Great for editing at higher resolutions(4k+) with multitasking even with RAM heavy applications. 

Storage (SSDs vs. HDDs)

SSD’s for sure will perform better however an HDD will also perform fine as long as you are editing videos at 1080p and even if you are working on 4K footage you will still experience some dropped frames. Both HDDs and SSDs work for Video Editing, However, SSDs will provide you with a far smoother experience. We recommend relying on SSDs over HDDs as much as you can especially if you are planning to edit at 4K.

Display

The display is one of the most important components of a laptop when it comes to user experience. A casual user who is not into performance demanding tasks may not notice the difference between a low-performance laptop and a high-performance one but will be sure to appreciate a great display and cringe at an ugly one.

When it comes to choosing the right display configuration as it can get complicated very quickly as a lot of these terms may sound absolutely gibberish to a person who is not tech-savvy. Here we will explain what to look for in a laptop display for a better experience as you will be staring at it all day.

Resolution

Most of the low-end laptops come with a low-res 1366 x 768 display that we recommend getting at least a full HD 1920 x 1080 Panel to have a comfortable experience. Videos will look a lot sharper at 1080p and will allow you to see the footage without any graininess. If you’re editing at 4K and having a laptop with 4K display is a good option however having that configuration can be expensive and you can edit a 4K footage via proxies while viewing it on a 1080p Display. 

Unless you don’t have any other option always go for at least a 1920 x 1080 Display. There are a plethora of Display options above 1920 x 1080. However, the trade-off to these higher display resolutions being battery life.

Display Size

This mostly comes down to personal preference and you have to find what are you going to prioritize portability or usability.

12 inches and below 

Typically found in thin and light machines at the cost of performance and are typically not great for a power-hungry user such as a video editor.

13 to 14 inches 

For a casual user, this would have been the perfect balance between portability and usability. However, if you are a video editor you may find the experience a little less than satisfying.

15 to 16 inches

For a productivity user, this offers a better balance between portability and usability.

17 Inches or more

These workstations usually come packed with power and will provide you with a very comfortable experience at the cost of portability.

Brightness

The brightness of a display is measured in nits most laptops will have a maximum screen brightness of about 250 nits whereas some of the high-end laptops can go up to 500 nits. A brighter display will greatly enhance your experience by not only enhancing the colors and viewing angles but also will also allow you to use a laptop even under direct sunlight.

Color accuracy

A display’s ability to reproduce colors is usually in the sRGB gamut, which can be rather limiting for some professionals as it measures a limited set of colors. High-end laptop displays can reproduce up to 90 percent sRGB gamut. Therefore some of the manufacturers go for a wider gamut on their spec sheets such as NTSC or Adobe RGB. However unfortunately most of the time they are unable to land on a spec sheet.

Color accuracy is measured in terms of percentage of colors a Display covers of a given gamut the greater the coverage finer the detail. Modern standards such as Rec.2020, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 are far better standards for measuring color accuracy as they measure a greater range of colors when compared with older standards such as sRGB / Rec.709. 

Panel Type

There are four main Display Panels that you will find in laptops today.

  1. The TN Panel (Twisted nematic)
  2. The VA Panel (Vertical Alignment)
  3. The IPS Panel (In-plane Switching)
  4. OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode)

The TN Panel (Twisted nematic)

These display Panels are meant for gaming as they have a great response time and high refresh rate. These panels are not for creators as they don’t have good viewing angles and color accuracy. 

The VA Panel (Vertical Alignment)

VA panels have a  really long response time however higher refresh rates are possible with viewing angles typically better than TN but worse than an IPS panel. These panels have good Color Accuracy and Excellent contrast.

The IPS Panel (In-plane Switching)

IPS Panels in general have slower response times than a TN panel but faster than VA. Now, these panels have Excellent Colour Accuracy and Contrast.

OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode)

OLED tends to have the best color accuracy and contrast of any display type. 

So when it comes to video editing since OLED panels are super rare your first choice should be an IPS Display if you are not able to find the color gamut and other specs.

Display Refresh Rate

The Refresh rate of a Display refers to how many images per second can be displayed. This means when playing a video or game that is over 60fps and you have a display of 60hz the frame rates will cap out at 60 fps.

For most video editing you don’t really need a Display that is over 60hz 

Calibration

Last, but not the least, calibrating your monitor will establish a standard that is essential for maintaining a consistent look for your project. A calibration program will allow consistency across multiple screens/Laptop models. So we highly recommend getting yourself familiarized with the calibration process.

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