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The best laptops for video editing: Which portable powerhouse should you buy?

Digital video editing has long been associated with giant towers packed with the most expensive computer parts available, and with good reason. Dark, musty rooms packed with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment are par for the course in the realm of editing. However, that’s been changing, as laptops have become more capable over the years. No longer are editors tied to their desks. Instead, they can actually join the rest of the world, and edit on the go.

Okay, massive towers aren’t the only game in town anymore, but what exactly should an editor look for in a work laptop? The processor, RAM, storage, and display all play an important part of the equation. But more than anything, you need to pick a laptop that fits your specific on-the-job needs. Your budget, your existing workflow, and the needs of co-workers or clients all come into play here. It’s impossible to recommend just one laptop to fit every editor, so here is a selection of four laptops that offer a variety of features at different price points.

Apple MacBook Pro with Retina Display

  • Price: $1999 and up (15-inch)

The 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro can make any video editor drool. With a 2880×1800 native resolution, this laptop display allows you to edit in 1080p while the full user interface of your editing suite stays on screen. The display isn’t the only impressive aspect of this laptop, though — the system is a powerhouse. The high-end configuration ships with a 2.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 1TB of flash storage, 16GB of DDR3L RAM, integrated Intel Iris Pro Graphics, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 all in a thin aluminum case that weighs just 4.46 pounds. Unfortunately, all of that power comes at a cost — a whopping $3199 when you max it out.

If you’re willing to drop down to a 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and 512GB of flash storage, you can still get many of the benefits from the top-end model. Considering how spectacular the Retina display is, this $2499 configuration is still very much worth the price of admission for serious video editors.

Adobe’s Premiere Pro will work on both Windows and OS X, but Apple’s video editing products are only available for OS X. If you want to use Final Cut Pro, Motion, and Compressor, you’ll need a Mac. Depending on your work environment, a MacBook Pro might be your only suitable option for portable editing.

Dell XPS 15

Not content to let Apple hog all of the high-res spotlight, Dell has really stepped up its game. If you’re looking for an extremely high-res laptop with a slightly lower price point, this 15-inch Dell XPS model is no slouch. For $2050, you get a 3200×1800 display, a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, a 1TB hybrid drive, 16GB of DDR3L RAM, and a discrete Nvidia GeForce GT 750M GPU with 2GB of

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GDDR5. This machine is made out of machined aluminum, carbon fiber composite, and glass just like the MacBook Pro, and the estimated weight (4.44lbs) is roughly the same.

This model sports three USB 3.0 ports for speedy media transfer, but doesn’t have FireWire or Thunderbolt support. On the upside, it does have a built-in three-way card reader, so importing footage from cameras will be relatively streamlined. Both HDMI and mini DisplayPort are also available, so hooking up to external displays will be a snap.

HP ZBook 17 mobile workstation

Want a full-fledged desktop replacement? Try out this ZBook 17 Mobile from HP. With a huge 17-inch 1080p display, a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, a 750GB 7200rpm hard drive, a 32GB flash cache, 16GB of DDR3L RAM, and an Nvidia Quadro K3100M with 4GB of GDDR5, this is quite a machine. Keep in mind, this is a huge laptop not suited for heavy traveling. It weighs in at 7.62 pounds, and has an enormous footprint, so don’t expect to be able to edit on a crowded flight.

However, this is an outstanding laptop for video editors, and HP doesn’t skip on the ports. It has three USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, a Thunderbolt port, a DisplayPort, and a VGA port. It also sports a built-in SD card reader and ExpressCard/54 slot, so your import and export options are numerous.

Lenovo Y50 UHD

With the top-end configuration, the Lenovo Y50 UHD can go head-to-head with just about any other laptop. Coming in at over $1,899.99, you end up with a 15-inch ultra-high-definition (3840×2160) display, a 2.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB solid state drive, and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 860M with 4GB of GDDR5. It does weigh 5.3 pounds, so that does hamper portability slightly. Even so, the performance and outstanding display are worth the additional weight when deadlines are right around the corner.

Unfortunately, the Y50 UHD doesn’t offer a lot of potential for expansion. This configuration only has two USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, a four-in-one card reader, and an HDMI port. Both Thunderbolt and FireWire are left out completely, and it’s always slightly disappointing to see only two SuperSpeed ports on offer. Despite the limitations, this machine is still a fine choice for any serious video editor. You might need to invest in a hub, though.

The best of the best

Video editing is definitely resource intensive, but laptops have finally become flexible and powerful enough to handle the task with aplomb. Even though many of these machines are expensive when compared with the average laptop, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck these days. There will never be a single machine that fits everyone’s needs perfectly, but with variety like this, that’s not so bad. And truth be told, I’d be more than happy to use any of these machines to edit.

Now read: The top laptops for everyone

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