When you start doing some actual video editing, you also inevitably cross the line into the world of workstation laptops. Of course, if you’re the type of person just to crop off the parts of a video where your dog misbehaves, then your average day-to-day laptop will probably do just fine. It’s not rocket science either. However, if you’re the least bit of a professional, you will understand the struggle of video rendering taking hours and then encountering a glitch that makes everything start all over. Such is life.
What’s more, if yesterday FHD was the thing, today it’s 4K, and tomorrow 8K will probably be the standard. If you deal with such high-resolution videos, as well as 3D and all that kind of stuff, then you certainly know that you simply can’t do anything without a complete beast of a computer. Until recently, such crazy tasks couldn’t be undertaken except on a desktop rig. However, as portability is trending now and for the next couple of years, workstation laptops appeared and improved by leaps and bounds, to the extent that you can do 4K rendering no problem on a laptop slimmer and lighter than whatever you may have at home right now.
That’s about all we have to say about video editing laptops in general. From now on, we’ll give you a couple of very particular recommendations, i.e. a list of the actual laptop models we think are great for video editing. Here’s what we picked:
1. MSI WT72 6QN-218US
We’re gonna start right off the bat with a complete monster of an editing rig, with an equally monstrous price tag. Yes, you read that right. MSI is a relatively new competitor on the laptop market, but they produce some of the best quality things we’ve ever set our eyes upon. This one, in particular, is unquestionably the most powerful around here and also the most expensive, comparable to the (also MSI, and maybe Asus) most overpowered gaming laptops and even desktops.
The heart of the beast is an ungodly i7-6920HQ, quad-core, eight threads, 2.9GHz, 3.8GHz Max Turbo Boost, 8MB cache. It’s accompanied by a video-oriented discrete graphics card, a Nvidia Quadro M5500 with 8GB GDDR5 VRAM, which will make a short game of whatever you want. This laptop also has the perfect combo of 16GB DDR4, 128GB SSD, and 1TB storage. Though we’d wish a 512GB SSD and maybe a 2TB HDD, what this laptop has is more than enough to satisfy the necessities of even the most memory-thirsty software. Of course, the display is also no less than 4K and the laptop can accommodate another four extra displays if you want to multitask.
2. Asus ZenBook Pro UX501VW
While our nr.1 model looks indeed like the monster it is, this Asus laptop is surprisingly classy and elegant. It has a slim brushed aluminum chassis, and it looks like a laptop you could proudly take with you at a corporate meeting, even if you’re the CEO. With a rather small price tag, it’s a great deal if you’re not the mother of all video editors. The screen on this one is amazing: a 15.6” UHD IPS 10-finger multi-touch display, color-calibrated by Asus, which is precisely what we recommend for a workstation.
This ZenBook Pro is powered by an Intel i7-6700HQ, quad-core, 2.6GHz and up to 3.5GHz overclocked. It features a Nvidia GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5, which is both gaming-ready and great for demanding digital studio. Finally, it also has 16GB DDR4 and a more than satisfying 512GB SSD. While you may need to purchase external storage, that’s completely fine. Overall, we believe that this is without a doubt the best bang for the buck for graphics designers and video editors.
3. MSI GS60 Ghost Pro-002
One of the lightest gaming laptops we’ve seen, our second model from MSI is also a top choice for video editing. It doesn’t look nearly as classy as the ZenBook – in fact, it’s totally a gaming rig to the bone, but that’s not a problem if you’re into colorfully lit keyboards and so on. At only 20mm thickness and 1.9kg, it’s thinner and lighter than your average 15.6”. It only has an FHD EDP wide view angle display, but that can’t be helped at this price.
The processor on this one is the same i7-6700HQ, while the discrete graphics card is an even more powerful nVidia GTX 970M with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM. Just like our top choice, it features 16GB DDR4, 128GB SSD, and 1TB HDD, which means you’ll be able to do without external storage if necessary.
4. Lenovo ThinkPad P15
Unlike all of our models until now, this #4 looks nothing like an artist’s device; in fact, it’s one of the plainest models we’ve seen, ever. The old ThinkPad design seems to still run strong with Lenovo. The screen, however, is quite similar to our third choice, which means it’s pretty high-quality, and this makes us forgive the big and bulky design. There’s also the question of performance, and this ThinkPad will show you that beauty is indeed on the inside.
The P15 is powered by an art-oriented Intel Xeon E3-1505MV5, quad-core, eight threads, 2.8GHz and up to 3.7GHz Turbo, 8MB cache. It has an equally art-oriented nVidia Quadro 2000, with 4GB GDDR5, as well as the very necessary 16GB DDR4 and a nice 256GB SSD.
5. Dell XPS 15 Touch
Another beautiful model, almost on par with the ZenBook, this XPS 15 is also similar in performance to our #2. It is, however, more expensive and doesn’t have that much storage, which makes it drop quite a bit in our rating. The screen is a satisfying 15.6” UHD 4K Infinity Edge touchscreen, which is great.
The XPS 15 has, exactly like the ZenBook Pro above, an Intel i7-6700HQ, paired with a discrete nVidia GTX 960M with 2GB GDDR5, as well as 16GB RAM. The storage is only a 256GB SSD, and we honestly expected more for that price tag; it is, however, enough for all practical purposes and a 2TB external HDD is pretty cheap.
6. MacBook Pro 15 (2016 model)
We just had to include a MacBook, because it appears that many artists decide to purchase one. It’s not only about how it looks, although it is unquestionably one of the prettiest laptops on the market. It has an astonishing Retina display, one of the best on the market, and the newly-implemented Touch Bar that allows you to multitask and do basic video editing without leaving full screen.
The processor on this one is the very same Intel i7-6700HQ, clocked at 2.6GHz, overclocked at 3.5GHz, 16GB DDR4 and a nice 256GB SSD. The reason why it’s so low on the list is the absence of a discrete graphics card; however, as it’s on the list nonetheless, it means it will still do its job. It’s also renowned for the lack of viruses and bugs, which is also really important.
7. Acer Aspire F15: F5-573G-78R2
Because we had to also include a budget option, this is what we picked. This F15 model is not on par with the best options around here, especially when it comes to the screen, which is a simple FHD 15.6”. It has an overall beautiful design, and its performance is not to be underestimated, particularly as it comes at less than half the price of the second cheapest item here.
This model is powered by an i7-6500U, dual-core, four threads, 2.5GHz and up to 3.1GHz, accompanied by a nVidia GTX 940MX, 4GB GDDR5. It also has the minimum requirement for video editing, which is 8GB DDR4 and 1TB HDD. All in all, among the budget options, this is pretty much the best you can get.
What to know when buying a laptop for video editing? Well, there are a couple of things. The most important thing, the purpose, is already dealt with: working with video. You only need to decide, from the very get-go, whether it’ll be some casual modification or some real, hardcore rendering and encoding. Then, there’s the question of budget. While there are indeed cheaper laptops that can perform satisfyingly enough for video rendering, you may find yourself in a situation where you pay upwards of $2500 to get something proper. And finally, after your personal issues have been thoroughly understood and you’ve reached a decision of what you want and how much you can spend on it, you have to take a look at what laptops have to offer.
This is the hands-down most important component in any laptop, and it is of particular importance in a workstation. Even more so if you don’t have a dedicated graphics card, in which case the CPU does both its job and the job of a graphics chip. As such, this is one component you can’t afford to skimp on, lest you must be prepared to spend hours upon hours rendering 10 minutes of 4K video (if it’s at all possible).
The keyword here is multi-threading. The more cores, the more threads, and the more threads, the faster the rendering and encoding. Well, at least that’s a rule of thumb. The problem is the actual performance of the CPU – although AMD processors are renowned for their hyper-threading capacity, there are very few workstations using them. Intel Xeon multi-core models are much more common for high-end ones and mid-range ones, use high-clocking i7 ones, which are also pretty good in their respect.
Even if you can’t afford a discrete graphics card, don’t despair. Modern CPUs come with integrated graphics chips which are designed to work well, if necessary, with things like 4K and 3D rendering. Not as well as a dedicated card, but still alright.
2. Graphics card
While not strictly necessary for video editing, a discrete graphics card can increase the rendering speed by as much as six times. Discrete graphics cards are designed for the very purpose of doing multiple operations at the same time and choosing to do GPU video rendering as opposed to CPU rendering yields great results. To this extent, gaming laptops are also excellent workstations, as they have great discrete graphics cards.
Modern nVidia graphics cards are all great for workstations, but it’s best if you can afford a Quadro model. These are specifically made for video editing, as opposed to gaming-oriented models and work up to 5 times better than normal graphics cards.
You can do pretty much nothing on your computer of the memory is insufficient, and this applies to video editing as well. The more memory, the better, that’s the rule. In fact, you should get a minimum of 8GB DDR4 and, if at all possible, 16GB DDR4 is the recommended amount. Don’t skimp on this if you want good results.
Videos take up a lot of space. A 5-min 1080p video can be as big as 3GB… just think how big a one-hour 4K video is! You will need terabyte-level storage, that’s for sure.
Of course, the other problem is speed. HDDs are big and slow, SSDs are incomparably faster but currently have a totally uncomfortable size limit. Preferably, you should find an SSD as big as possible, for reading/writing speed. Then, you can purchase an external HDD, which can be as big as you want, for actually storing the files.
If you want to edit 4K videos, you better have a 4K screen as well. The average laptop and quite a lot of gaming laptops as well only have an FHD screen, while you should aim for a UHD one. Of course, if budget is an issue, FHD should work sufficiently well, just not for 4K videos. We’d recommend also investing in a larger external screen for when you’re working on your desktop.
It’s not only about the resolution either. It’s also about image quality, i.e. response time, the level of blacks, wide color gamut, wide viewing angle, and so on. While it would be impossible to discuss all these here, it all reduces to one thing: get a high-quality IPS LCD screen. It’s not necessarily the best thing for gaming and all-around activities, but it’s an absolute must-have for image and video artists.