This article describes some considerations for laptops and how they impact performance for editing.

Just like all the other articles on these pages, let's repeat some familiar images that relate to the codec in use and the editing style, since they impact laptop performance significantly.

The most important thing to realize is that a laptop is a compromise. It is more compact than a desktop and in some cases that is a distinct advantage. But the compact build also means that cooling can be difficult and there is no way to alter or add components internally, apart from memory and some disks. The video card can not be changed, the CPU can not be changed, you can't add a fire-wire card or a raid controller, so you better consider your workflow in terms of codecs used and editing style carefully, before deciding on a certain model.

Often there are questions about laptops for 'light use', but what is 'light use'? The most severe limitation of laptops is their limited space for disks. In a desktop it is easy to use 3 or more disks, but in a laptop that is often not possible. So 'light use' would mean a limited number of tracks, no serious multi-cam work, and a relatively low number of scene changes.

Laptops are always at least 2 to 3 times slower than a desktop, they are significantly more expensive than a desktop with the same or better performance and they need a wall outlet to use. Batteries don't last long enough for editing and you need a wall outlet for external components (disks, monitor, BD-R etc.) that are required. All that makes a laptop more like an expensive, underpowered luggable machine.

For video editing machines it is always best to use a machine for video editing only and use a second system for other applications and this is especially true for much weaker laptops than desktops.

So the question is: What are the considerations to use a laptop over a desktop? You have to be very clear about it to sell the idea to the one responsible for the budget. You also have to be clear about the performance penalty, if you decide to go forward with a laptop.

Keep in mind that laptops are designed for low energy consumption, which does not help editors. Usually it means in comparison to desktops:

  • Fewer cores or lacking hyper-threading, even with CPU's that have the same designation like i5 or i7.
  • Lower clock speed than their desktop counterparts at stock speed.
  • Lower memory bandwidth for the video card, which impacts hardware MPE performance.
  • Fewer and sometimes slower disk(s) than a desktop.
  • No overclockability.
  • Limited DIMM slots for memory expansion.
  • Frequent throttling down of certain parts of the laptop (CPU, GPU, QPI, etc.) to conserve energy.
  • Limited monitor 'real-estate'.
  • Limited ports for eSATA or USB3 devices.
  • Lacking fire-wire port, precluding capture of tape-based material.

All these factors make a laptop much less powerful than a similarly equipped desktop, but you still depend on a wall-outlet to use it.

Basically there are three approaches possible:

  1. Get a laptop from a brand company like Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Toshiba and the like.
  2. Get a customizable laptop from specialist companies like Sager or Clevo.
  3. Get a custom builder like ADK Video Editing build you a system tuned to your needs.

All these solutions have a number of common components, under the assumption you want to edit HD material:

  • CPU: at least a quad core i7 processor, preferably with hyper-threading. The faster the better.
  • GPU: at least a nVidia GTX 660M or better with 1+ GB DDR5 memory.
  • Disks: at least 2 internal 7200 RPM disks or a SSD plus a 7200 RPM disk.
  • Connections: minimum is eSATA plus USB3 ports and Thunderbolt 2.0 is desirable.
  • Monitor: at least 1920 x 1080 resolution and 15.4" screen size or bigger.
  • Memory: bare minimum is 8 GB but workable is only 16 or 32 GB.

If you select a laptop with these qualifications, you can do some 'light editing' for most formats without too much jerkiness or choppy behaviour, but it will still be much slower than a desktop.

The biggest drawback of a laptop is the limited number of disks, the need to use a wall-outlet and the premium price. It is a compromise.