Video editing is one of the most taxing tasks you can perform on any computer, but the current crop of hardware components, especially in the mobile space, makes it easier to edit on the move.
And while the appeal of standalone camcorders and video cameras have waned, the meteoric rise of YouTube, smartphones and digital cameras with video recording capabilities, action cameras, dashcams, drones and quality free video editors have produced a glut of videos in desperate need of editing. Fortunately, importing video no longer requires proprietary ports as was the case back in the day.
Other than a card slot or a standard cable connecting to a USB or a Thunderbolt port, transferring raw footage from your camcorder to your laptop no longer requires much wizardry.
Things have certainly moved on since the days of VHS and 8mm tapes that produced standard definition footage (SD). Now HD (high definition) barely cuts it with Full HD becoming mainstream and 4K surging in popularity.
That translates to a massive jump in the amount of data to be processed in real-time. Each 4K frame has four times the amount of data as a Full HD one, nine times the amount of data as an HD one, and a whopping 36x more pixels than SD footage.
Your video editing needs will depend on the application that you are using (Final Cut Pro, Premier Pro, Lightworks, Hitfilm, Resolve) and your budget (obviously), as well as the resolution you are outputting to.
The good news is that unlike a few years ago, you can now tackle even the most challenging raw footage away from your desktop. The bad news? It will be expensive.
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
Best for Mac aficionados
Once you go Apple, you are pretty much locked down when it comes to your hardware options. Fortunately, the newest MacBook Pro is hands-down the best Mac laptop ever designed for video editors. The innovative Touch Bar makes it easier for videographers to intuitively access commands, while the Retina display on the 15-inch model offers more than enough pixels should you want to edit at native resolution in Full HD on the move.
We’d advise that you opt for a quad-core model rather than a dual-core one and choose as big a hard disk drive as your budget will allow. The laptop’s video subsystem is powerful enough to drive up to four 4K monitors if needs be, and with a 76Whr battery, it has enough oomph to last longer than most rivals.
The cheapest model starts from £1,899 ($1,499) without the Touch Bar, but with two Thunderbolt 2 ports and Iris Pro graphics. A fully kitted model with 2TB SSD, a 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 CPU and an AMD Radeon Pro 460 GPU with 4GB memory will cost more than £4,000 (around $4,870).
Eurocom Sky X9W
Best for tinkerers
At the other end of the spectrum is a small company called Eurocom which is based in Canada. It has carved out a niche in the competitive world of portable workstation computers, focusing on performance and upgradability without compromise.
One of its products, the Sky X9W, embodies those values. At 4.8kg, it has a larger footprint than an A3 ream of paper and weighs just as much. But it is destined to be used by those who are happy to cart about a laptop that weighs four times more than the average Ultrabook.
Another feature that’s likely to whet the appetite of hardcore videographers is the ability to customise your laptop as you want it. From the keyboard to the operating system and the warranty, there’s plenty to tinker with.
Compared to the relative lack of ports on the competition, this one has a massive 15 (yes, 15) ports including two GB Ethernet connectors. Ditto for expansion capabilities: this is one of the very first laptops on the market with four SODIMM memory sockets.
Dell Precision 5510
An XPS 15 with a workstation makeover
Dell’s XPS 15 was one of the true highlights in the 15-inch laptop space in 2016. It features the company’s space-saving InfinityEdge tech, which slims down the chassis size by shrinking the display’s bezels to mere millimetres.
It looks great and is practical to boot, allowing the machine to be slipped into a bag for easy transportation, so it was only a matter of time before Dell launched a version that’s geared towards businesses.
Step up the Precision 5510, which puts the ‘work’ into workstation. Essentially an XPS 15 that’s had a workstation-style makeover, it swaps Windows 10 Pro for the more business-friendly Windows 7 Pro – Free DOS and Ubuntu Linux 14.04 are also available as options.
And when it comes to specs, Dell has stripped away unnecessary features from the XPS 15 to bring the cost down: you won’t find gaming-grade graphics for example. Still, the basic system comes with a quad-core Intel Core i5 CPU, 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU.
A tip: swap Windows 7 (the default OS) for Windows 10, choose Dell’s own Wi-Fi solution and remove the OS recovery DVD to save some money.
HP ZBook Studio G3
Ideal for video editors looking for a bargain
The HP ZBook Studio G3 laptop was announced back in November 2015 and competes with Dell’s Precision 15 5000 and Lenovo’s ThinkPad P50 series in terms of performance, features and also mobility.
The Studio G3 easily fits in the Ultrabook category with a weight of a tad under 2kg and a thickness of only 18mm, slightly heavier and a smidge thicker than the Precision 15 5000 but more portable and svelte than Lenovo’s laptop.
Where HP manages to score highly is when it comes to sheer value for money. The ZBook Studio G3 has a three-year warranty and the model we chose (T7W05ET) comes with an Intel Xeon E3 CPU with a massive 512GB SSD, a 4GB Nvidia Quadro M1000M GPU and a 4K display.
Remember that unlike most of the laptops here, this one is designed to pass MIL-STD 810G testing. We just wished it had a bigger battery and more online configuration options like the rest of the competition. This is a fantastic piece of engineering, though, and one of the finest workstations on the market.
Apple demonstrated that a laptop can be both powerful and elegant with its MacBook Pro, and also that a notebook doesn’t have to be a block of soulless anthracite plastic.
Lenovo ThinkPad P70
Plenty of options to build your dream video editing rig
Lenovo’s ThinkPad P70 was one of the first notebooks featuring Intel’s Skylake processor, which should give it a boost in performance compared to Broadwell or Haswell chips.
Equipped with ample storage and plenty of RAM, an excellent keyboard and a wide selection of ports for connectivity, Lenovo is positioning the ThinkPad P70 as the ultimate workstation that you can take on the go without missing your desktop.
As expected, it’s a superbly designed piece of engineering, having inherited the legendary ThinkPad keyboard with the equally iconic red pointing stick, the TrackPoint.
Like the ZBook Studio G3, it is designed to pass MIL-STD 810G testing and comes with a three-year onsite warranty, but it does have a much bigger 17-inch screen.
It is one of the more upgradable models here with four memory modules free plus the ability to have up to four storage drives. It is also the only laptop in this list to come with an LTE modem option, and has the largest battery at 96Whr.
Also worth mentioning is the X-Rite Pantone calibration tool, available as an option, which is great to keep your screen accurate for production work, as well as the Quadro GPU that comes with all the P70 SKUs.
A tip: Shop around, popular online retailers like Ebuyer sell the P70 for far less than Lenovo does directly.