The right computer for 4K editing and post-production

Although you might not be rendering your final videos in 4K yet, the chances are that you are already mostly working with 4K footage. This has become the norm for video producers. Now, working in 4K can be frustrating if you have not upgraded your video editing system together with the camera. Fortunately, it does not have to be very expensive to get a machine that will make doing the post in 4K as easy as it was in HD. I recently got a new editing system and here is some advice for anyone looking to do the same.

I do have a desktop in my home office, but I actually do most of my work on laptops – since I am on the road so much. Previously, I used an MSI laptop (i7-3610QM, GTX675M, 12 GB RAM, SSD), but after a couple of years of heavy use, the GPU broke on me (I probably should have been more careful with it when transporting it). My new laptop is also from MSI. Here are all the specs.

    MSI GE72 2QF-247US Apache Pro

  • Intel Core i7-5700HQ @ 2.70GHz
  • Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M, 3GB GDDR5
  • 12 GB of RAM (DDR3)
  • 1TB hard drive (7200 RPM)
  • 17.3” HD screen
  • Windows 10

This is a really great machine, although I will probably add a large SSD drive (512GB; the computer has space for two 2.5″ drives) and more memory (so I have 16 GB). Please note, though, that if you upgrade yourself, you will void the manufacturer’s warranty (so you might want to wait a couple of months to make sure that the computer runs well – especially that it runs cool and quiet).

That is all I need in a 4K editing machine. Of course, you can build a much more powerful system. Adobe Premiere can take advantage of multiple CPUs and GPUs, so you could have one monster of an editing machine. But for most professionals, the specs above are sufficient.

I normally work with 4K footage from cameras such as the Panasonic GH4, Sony a7S (with the Shogun recorder), Sony a7S II, the Red Dragon and the Sony FS5 and FS7. Now, when I tried 6K footage from the KineMax camera, both of my MSI laptops were slow. In such cases, I have to use a proxy for the footage or use a very powerful desktop. But as you can see from my list, there are some amazing 4K cameras that you can use with these gaming laptops (by the way, I also edited 6K footage from the Red Dragon without a problem).

    Here are a few other bits of advice:

  • get a machine with a good graphics card – the GPU makes a big difference in editing (the CPU is more used for decoding and encoding of the video); when it comes to laptop graphics card, I would get the GTX 965M, if not the 970M (the 980M is still too expensive)
  • 16GB of RAM is the sweet spot; you might want to go as high as 32GB (in a laptop)
  • don’t overpay for the latest CPU; even the third-generation i7-3610QM CPU in my previous laptop was very good
  • stick to Nvidia graphics cards, so you can get the performance boost of the CUDA; Adobe Premiere also supports OpenCL, which is what you can get from AMD graphics cards; however, I’ve never used AMD cards for editing and I have not seen convincing evidence online that the OpenCL offers similar performance to CUDA (but if someone has the experience, or, even better, has compared the performance of CUDA / Nvidia vs OpenCL / AMD graphic cards, please share)
  • although not a must, I do recommend an SSD on your editing system; RAID 0 is another option, especially in desktops
  • if you are a fan of Mac computers, then as you probably already now, you will have to pay a big premium over Windows computers; here is the best Mac option I found online (it comes with the GeForce GT 750M)
  • although laptops give you mobility, do treat your laptop more like a desktop; the most important thing is to keep your laptop cool; so, do not use it on your lap; always place it on a desk and have a cooling pad running underneath it; also, pad the laptop well when transporting it
  • keep your editing timeline as simple as possible – if possible, use only one, two video layers (as opposed to stacking video clips on top of each other)
  • lock your edit before you do any color grading, because regardless of how powerful your machine is, things will get slow if you try editing once colors and other effects are applied to the footage; so, once you start color grading, do not try editing

Here is where you can purchase the same laptop as me and other similar (i.e. recommended) models.

I bought my laptop in Canada at Amazon.ca

Here are a few options on Amazon USA and Amazon UK that are a bit better – they all have 16GB RAM (as opposed to 12GB); they have the same GPU, Nvidia GeForce GTX 970M; the CPU is the same (i7-5700HQ) or one generation newer (i7-6700HQ; this one is actually a bit less powerful than the 5th gen. CPU – but it is more energy-efficient; uses less battery); and some of the models have a SSD, in addition to a HDD.

NOTE: as of June 2016, I’ve updated my recommendations, as some of the models originally listed are no longer available. Please see the update at the end of this post.

On Amazon USA

on Amazon UK

And here is the recommended MacBook I mentioned earlier

I highly recommend getting a cooling pad.

If you want to upgrade the hardrive to a SSD, here are great options.

June 2016 updated recommendations – laptops for 4K video editing

Amazon USA

Amazon U.K.

Amazon Canada

    Key features of the above laptops

  • top-of-the-line mobile GPU – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980M
  • super fast SSD – NVMe M.2 SSD by PCIe Gen3 X4 (up to 2200MB/s; about 5 times faster than SATA3 SSD)
  • USB Type-C connection (MSI’s “SuperPort”) for fast file transfers and 4K monitors
  • at least 16 GB of DDR4 RAM
  • latest 6th Gen. Intel Core i7

The following laptops downgrade to GTX 970M, but otherwise they are largely the same. They are probably a better value because you are not paying top dollars for the latest GPU.

Amazon USA

Amazon U.K.

Amazon Canada

Here are probably the laptops that offer the best value. They come with the GTX 970M and you are trading the SuperPort for a USB Type-C reversible plug with the USB 3.1 SuperSpeed+ interface. Since SuperSpeed+ maxes out at 10 Gbps (i.e. double of USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 SuperSpeed), you will still get very fast file transfers (although, just like for the Thunderbolt 3 and the SuperPort, external drives that support SuperSpeed+ are only now slowly coming out).

Amazon USA

Amazon U.K.

Amazon Canada

14 thoughts on “The right computer for 4K editing and post-production”

  1. I have a lower spec version of the MSI, might be one of the cheaper ones showing in the Amazon widget. It handles GH4 4K easily on Premiere Pro. But the screen is nowhere near good enough for me for editing on its own. After calibration it looks nowhere near my other monitor, which isnt even that expensive. On the other hand it is at least good to have two visual perspectives, with over saturated colour on the cheap monitor and under saturated on the MSI. Plus it can be used for travel and costs way less than a Mac.

      1. Looks right for me. The affiliate links seems sold out, for the US. Do you want to update them? I’ll check back here before I buy. Appreciate the thorough review!

  2. 1.You’re adding a SSD, will your editing programs be on the SSD or on the 1 Terabyte Drive? 2. Also would you still edit, off your external HD or straight off the laptop. 3. I heard, you can download the Adobe Cc Suite Apps onto your External HD. Would you recommend that ?

    1. Right now Im putting one SSD that I will partition into two separate drives. One will have the operating system and all my applications and the other will have all my video files. Although since now with 4 and 6K footage my projects take up so much space that often I can’t fit them all on my SSD so I still have to work with footage off a portable USB 3.0 drive… and most of the time that is okay.

    1. He bought the best option on Amazon.ca. Amazon.com had better offers, but Tom was outside of the U.S. at the time, he needed the computer fast and the only option was shipping to Canada.

  3. Tom Antos what about desktops? Do you have any must recommendations? I feel that laptops are just a bit umcomftrable for my workflow.

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