7 Best Laptops For Film Students in 2020

My guess is that you’ve probably went through forums, social media and a bunch of other useless sites and couldn’t understand half the jargon before landing on this page.

And all you are asking is…

Just a laptop to get you through film school.

Not just any laptop will do and as you and I both know you’ll get even more geeky with film editing over time.

What do you mean?

Well you are going to haul this beast everywhere you go to either upload some footage or do some editing right on the spot.

Actually…

Before you even start to get geeky, it wouldn’t hurt to start doing that.

Having a capable laptop to do everything on the go will make sure you finish your projects way before deadlines and have a lot of sparetime to play around with your own projects.

To do that however….

You’re gonna have to spend at least ~700$.

Unless you don’t mind spending most of your time waiting for timelines to buffer or a simple composition to render than editing stuff.

What’s in this post? 

I’ve tried to include all the info you need for you to land the best laptop for film editing for those on a budget and for those that don’t mind spending a lot but still want to get the best bang for their buck.

Don’t worry about the jargon…

Even if you are a total greenhorn to film-making and don’t even know whether what you’ll be working with Adobe Creative Cloud (Premiere) or Final Cut Pro and just understood the “core i7 and 8bit screen are a must” part, you’ll be okay.

How?

I’ll cover all the hardware requirements you need to run either software and explain how each hardawre component is useful to each step of the film editing process: editing, rendering, previews, etc.

Of course if you don’t have the time and would rather just have someone who’s had dealt with all these shenanigans tell you what laptops are worth your time and precious money, just head over to the section “Top 5 best laptops for film students”.

But…

You plan to stay in the film editing field after graduation right? It’d be helpful to learn a thing or two about your main tool of work, don’t you think? So bookmark this page or give every section a read when you have time. 

Recommended Specs for Film Students

For now let’s quickly summarize what you should look at for, you’ll find more details in the last section of this post.

Warning: If you don’t follow these specs, you won’t be able to do any intense video editing, your laptop will only be useful for news-cuttings and as soon as you start comping after effects into the mix or doing intensive color correction it will literally blow up.

Try to get as close as possible to what’s recommended next:

CPU
Intel
A Quad or Six Core i7  8th,9th or 10th generation processor. Ex: Core i7-8750H, 9750H, 10750H.
Core i5 from the 8th generation onwards especially with the H label. Ex:Core i5 8300H . The Core i5-8250U and some Core i7 U processors are okayish too but try to avoid them.

AMD
If you find a nice deal on a laptop with an AMD processor, make sure it says Ryzen and has an H somewhere: Ryzen 5 3550H, Ryzen 7 3750H Ryzen 9 4800HS.


RAM
Min 8GB but ideally you want 16GB. If you get an 8GB RAM laptop, you can always upgrade it to 16GB later.

GPU
You must get a dedicated GPU if you want to do throw in just about any effect.
960M/1050Ti or better.
What’s better? Check the last section, there’s a table with all the GPUs you’ll find on laptops.  

For anything relatively simple like a cross dissolve,  something with the power of the 1050 might be okay.

Don’t worry about workstation GPUs (Quadro or FirePro), they’re useless. 

Avoid entry level GPUs: Radeon 555X, 940M, MX150, MX250 GPUs unless you rely on simple effects.

Display

–  A bright LED display with a least 1920×1080 screen resolution obviously
–  FHD only ! (absolutely enough even for 4k editing, more resolution will just suck more battery life and cash)
–  At least 15”.


Storage
128/256 GB SSD + 1TB HDD or just one 512GB SSD. Yes, SSD or go back to highschool!

If not, your laptop’s storage must be upgradeable (not glued).You’re going to need the SSD to store the OS + Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, this will make them all launch fast.

The extra space or the 1TB HDD can act as a repository for all the raw data/completed projects(you can buy an external storage device for this though).

Weight
As a film major the main issue I found during my college years was finding a relatively powerful laptop while keeping it portable at the same time. What’s portable ? 3-4lb. Unfortunately portability + power = expensive.

Extras
Fast external connectors: Thunderbolt 2/3 or USB 3.1 Type-C. As long as you buy any modern laptop, you’ll get all of these automatically.  

Top 7 best Laptops for Film Students

In this list I’ve tried my best to include a laptop for every budget ranging from 600$ to 2200$. All these laptops are suitable for film making, the first three are the most powerful (with decreasing power) while the last 4 are both powerful and portable.

When picking up a laptop from this list remember that this is your main tool of work, the more you invest on it the better it’ll be. On the other hand, settling for a lower end machine doesn’t mean bad editing, just slower editing!


1. HP Omen 17

Best Laptop for Film Editing

  Core  i7 9750H 

  16GB RAM DDR4 2666 MHz

  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 2080 8GB vRAM

  1TB SSD + 1TB HDD

  17” 144Hz FHD IPS

  5 lbs

  >1 hours under load, 5 hours otherwise

 1 x Headphone-out & Audio-in Combo Jack 1 x RJ45 LAN Jack for LAN insert 1 x HDMI 1 x mini Display Port 3 x USB Type-A 3.1 1 x USB Type-A 2.0 1 x USB Type-C 3.1

If you’re going to be using Adobe Premiere , you want a puppy like this with specs all maxed out. This configuration should last you through the entire 4 years of school and well into your career (assuming you take great care of it).

Now some of you may know a thing or two about GPUs and wonder why did I say this was maxed out if there are more powerful GPUs and CPUs. Well, if you check out the Benchmark studies on Adobe Premiere by pudget systems, you’ll realize that higher GPU&CPU set ups do not really decrease the time for rendering and other tasks inside video editing that much. Going higher starts giving you diminishing returns be it for encoding, rendering,transcoding,etc.

One reason to go beyond this configuration (actually get a faster CPU) would be for faster editing/effects but then again that gets crazy expensive and that may not be. a smart move if you’re getting out film editing school anytime soon or if whatever you do doesn’t require that much heavy lifting. 

Why is this model on the first list when there are hundreds of laptops with the same specs to choose from?

Simple, the specs are not only maxed out but they give you the best bang for your buck. I dare you to find a 2080RTX laptop with the same or even 200 more expensive. You won’t. A 17” is a must when you have this CPU+GPU combo too  so that temperatures are kept under control and your GPU/CPU can hit highest clock speeds.

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2. MSI GF65 Thin 9SEXR 

Budget Laptop For Film Students

  Core i5-9300H

  16GB DDR4

   NVIDIA 2060RTX

  256GB SSD

  15” full HD 120Hz IPS

  4.10lb

  4 hours

 

I would call this a high end video editing machine too despite the weaker GPU and Core i5 CPU, this is because both the 9th gen Core i5-9300H can hit past 4GHz and the RTX 2060 is the second best GPU for film editing right now.

Due to the GPU having less “CUDA cores” and the CPU having less “physical cores”, you’ll only see a noticeable increase in the time it takes to render. All the other departments should suffer no big losses in speed.

One thing that I would with this puppy though is to upgrade the RAM to 16GB. 8GB might be fine for cuts <60 min but you’re going to need 16GB for bigger timelines.

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3. Acer Nitro 5

Best Budget Laptop For Film Students

  Intel Core i5 9300H

  8GB RAM

   GeForce GTX 1650 

  256 PCIe SSD

  15” FHD 1080p IPS

  5.07lb

  5 hours

This is the cheapest model and perhaps the best deal out of the entire list.

For 600 bucks you’re getting the same CPU as the MSI but with a less powerful GPU: GTX 1650.

The 1650GTX is definitely quite weaker than the 2060RTX but if you are not really looking for the best performance out of laptop this laptop might serve you well until  maybe the last year.

Now there is also the option of going for a cheaper laptop with a much weaker GPU like the MX150/MX250/1050/1050Ti/AMD Radeon RX 550. But you’ll be surprised to find out that as the time of this writing, those laptops can cost just as much as this one does. 

Anyways, it’s a great deal regardless and you should take full advantage of it if that’s all you can afford right now.

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4. DELL XPS 15

Best PC Laptop for Film Students

  Core  i7-9750H 

  16GB RAM DDR4

  NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 4GB vRAM

  1TB SSD PCIe NVMe

  15.6” UHD 4k Touch IPS

  5.5lb

  8 hours


We’re going to go over Premium powerful and expensive laptops now.

Anyways, this laptop will perform substiantlly faster than the Acer Nitro 5 despite having the same GPU and the reason it’s the CPU, it actually has a bigger impact for film editing (as long as you get a dGPU). But other than the CPU, things stay pretty much the same hardware wise.

So why does it cost 3x times as much?

The display, the battery and the weight. It’s aestetically well built, it’s actually made of full aluminium, not out of plastic like Acer Nitro. Plus, it has a 4k display and it’s  got about the same weight as the Acer Nitro.

It’s still pretty expensive though so it may be a good choice if you’ve got an unlimited budget and you’re looking for a portable non convertible traditional laptop.

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5. MacBook Pro

Best Mac Laptop For Film Editing

  Intel Core i9 9th generation  8 Cores

  16-32GB RAM DDR4

  Radeon Pro 5500M GDRR6

  512GB-1TB Flash SSD

  16” Retina Resolution

  4.3lb

  10 hours

Speaking about the King of Rome, or, of Film Editing, here’s the MacBook Pro and there’s a lot to talk about!

I know some of you are dissapointed to see the Pro on the list but it’s very likely that a lot of people reading this post are total greenhorns to film editing:

Yes, the MacBook Pro is definitely the best laptop for film editing and it is in fact the de facto standard across all film makers. You are likely to end up Final Cut Pro somewhere along your career.

There’s a whole slew of films that’ve used the Final Cut Pro like the 300 film.

Getting a MacBook Pro also means you’ll feel more compatible when working with other filmmakers, you won’t ever feel alienated.

I’m not exactly talking about socializing and making friends with your MacBook Pro. I’m talking about how better off you’ll be when dealing with glitches and errors or when you are trying to understand/use  a specific instance of the software because you can just take your laptop to your colleagues and you’ll be amazed how they’ll get you up and going much faster than any tutorial on youtube.

Even without colleagues, Final Cut Pro along with the OSX just make it a lot easier to narrow down bugs.

One thing you should not do is to “hackintosh your way into Final Cut Pro X”. Even after you manage to pull it off after several months, you’ll realize that a MacBook Pro will get better results than a windows laptop with similar (and sometimes better) specs for iMovie and Final Cut Pro X.

The only problem?

The price. MacBook Pros with a dedicated graphics card can cost 2x as much as any Windows Laptop with the same specs.

There are several ways to find your way into the MacBook Pro World of film editing though.

One is to buy a 13” MacBook Pro without a dedicated Graphics card which is good enough for the usual effects at 1080 and lower resolutions, certainly no more than that!  Otherwise, the integrated GPU will start overheating and GPU usage go to 100% (GPU bottleneck) and you don’t want that. If you are willing to use the iMacs provided at the lab in your school for any heavy rendering/most of your work, then this can still be helpful.

However for ANY color correction or something  more intensive than basic assembly, you can’t go that route, you’ll need any MAcBook Pro with a discrete GPU.  If you click that link, it will take you to a bunch of macbook pros with a dGPU.

Refurbished:

You can also get refurbished MacBook Pros if you can’t afford them new and shiny.

The Apple store also offers a lot of refurbished models but they are almost just as expensive as the new ones. Amazon on the other hand has a lot of MacBook Pros which are much more accessible to the average consumer(that’s another way of saying they are still expensive). They’ve got a 90-day warranty too which is plenty of time for you to find out if there are any faults.

Lack of Ports/TouchBar:

One small downside of the New MacBook Pro is the TouchBar. It might give you a few bugs with other software (though this issue should be much less apparent with the 16” version and Catalina).

Another thing is the lack of ports, if you get any modern MacBook Pro, you’ll definitely need to lug around some adapters because they only got thunderbolt ports.

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6. Razer Blade 15

Best Portable Laptop For Film Students

  Core i7 10750H

  16GB RAM DDR4

  NVIDIA GTX 2060 RTX

  512GB PCIe NVMe

  15.6” full HD IPS 144Hz 

  4.7 lbs

  5 hours

If you sure you’ll be working with Adobe Premiere, The Razer Blade Stealth is a great subtituation if you still want the portability and power of the MacBook Pro on Windows Machine.

Both have sleek designs and the Razer “obviously” offers a better performance/money ratio. Note that the older models have less CPU cores and GPU power, the New Razer Blade however has 8 cores and carries one of the RTX GPUs which will depend on how portable you want your machine to be. Ex: a 2070RTX Razer Blade will be 1lb heavier and 500 more expensive. 

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7. Surface Book 3

Best Portable Windows Laptop For Film Students

  Quad Core i7 10th gen 

  16-32GB RAM

  NVIDIA GTX 1650GTX /1660Ti 4-6vRAM

  512-2TB NVMe PCIe SSD

  15” Pixel Sense (3000×2000) 

  3.45lb

  7 hours

The Surface Book is the most portable machine for any GPU related task including video editing.

Because it has a late generation Core i7 and the mid range 1650GTX/1660Ti. Note that the latter option will give you a substantial performance incrase than the 1650GTX.

You have to make sure to pick the 15” Model, because it’s the only configuration that has a 1060GTX in it.

I know it’s 2020, and Microsoft has not updated it’s surface Book Model to carry the newer 10th generation CPUs nor the RTX  GPUs but again why would they, if 9th generation and 1660Ti are just as good as the 2060RTX and most Core i7 i5 10th CPUs for film editing anyways.

The only reason I would consider the Book if I was in school again was just the portability though, it’ll be much much easier  to bring it over to your colleagues/instructor/classmates and show them the video you are working right on the spot.

Last words:

If you’re staying in laptopville – The best alternative would be to get by with what you have, save some money (if possible of course) and spring for either one of the new MacBooks or you wait for the price drop on the soon-to-be prior model, when the new ones are released in 2021.


How to Buy the Best Laptop for Film Students

Laptops for film editing are really a touchy subject*. We need to figure out a few things first:

Will you have complete access to power at all times? or Are you field editing? 

Most importantly, what software you using?

Adobe Premiere vs Final Cut Pro X

The first thing you should right off the bat is to check with your college to see what they are recommeinding in the way of computers.

Usually you’ll find that either a Windows or an Apple laptop is reocmmended but there are still specific models that may be recommended.

More importantly check whether the school is either using Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere. If it’s the former, your options are limited and much simpler (but a bit too expensive). I’ll talk about cheaper options and what exact Mac Models you’ll need to run Final Cut Pro at the end of this post so you can jump right to it if you know you are going to working with it.

Adobe Premiere

Most of this section will assume you are going to run Adobe Premiere. Before we dwelve into the hardware details, let’s clear up what we mean by the following: encoding, rendering, transcoding and exporting:

rendering = apply changes/efffects  after editing for previews

encode= apply a format/codec AVI, MP4, etc…

exporting = encoding + rendering, the final product

transcode= change from one format to the other

CPU

The most important component in making a project take a day compared to a few hours. To pick the best processor for film editing you need to know at least two concepts about them:

Frequency(Hz): tells you how many operations a single core can complete per second.

Cores(dual core, quad core, hexa core):  these physical cores act as “separate CPUs” within a CPU, they help you perform task faster by sharing the load among them. Not all operations can make use all of the “CPUs” within your CPU efficiently, most software can only take advantage of a single core for its operations.

Clock Speed (Frequency)

Encoding and applying effects are mostly frequency bound, that is, they depend the clock speed of your processor. There’s really no limit, the higher the better. Current laptop CPUs can go past 4GHz!

Rendering also benefits from the highest clock frequencies as well as multiple cores.

MultiCore Support

There are several third party benchmark studies that have concluded that exporting benefits from multi core CPUS far more than frequency (the limit is 8 cores with 1080p videos and 10 cores for 4k videos).

On the other hand, rendering can be a mixed bag. Sometimes it benefits from many many cores and other instances it does not. It depends on the sourface footage. Either they do benefit from than 2 cores so you’re always better off with a quad core processor or a six core processor.. You can check the studies carried out by pudget systems if you are interested.

Aim for recent 8th generation CPUs: both Core i5 and Core i7 have either 4 cores or more and insane clock speeds. If not, Core i7 – 7700 HQ found on last years’ model are okayish but don’t go below that we are in the 10th generation now!

RAM

How much RAM do I need?

It depends on how big your footage is, how long your average cuts are, etc..

How does RAM help film editing?

The more data you can fit into RAM, the faster your CPU will be able to operate on it for editing/rendering/encoding,etc.

So you’ll benefit from RAM until you can fit in all your source footage on it:

60min< : 8GB
+60min>: 16GB

When will I need more than 16GB?

Going beyond 16GB is usually unnnecessary unless you use Adobe After Effects and external plug-ins like Magic Bullet. Adobe After Effects works best when it has a ton of RAM to work with.

Storage

When footage doesn’t fit into RAM, your computer will go onto using your storage drive as a back up for processing. This can slow things down(though not significantly). Nevertheless all film editors will benefit from a fast storage drive.

HDD ( Hard Disk Drive)

Unfortunately the most common type of storages out there are the old and slow bricks called Hard Disk Drives. They’re way too slow today for pretty much anything including the film editing industry. In fact, having an HDD doesn’t just mean increased times between operations but also jumpy playback/dropped frames.

The good part is that these are crazy cheap for the amount of capacity they offer (usually no less than 1TB = 1000GB).

SSD ( Solid State Drive)

Solid State Drives are now the defact standard for anyone serious about film making. The fastest SSD out there (PCIe NVMe SSD) which most professionals go for are actually x17 faster at reading/writing than HDDs.

Where exactly will benefit from Solid State Drives?

Whenever you have to render, preview, load your raw data, outputting and exporting. Pretty much everywhere.

Transfering files from your camera to your computer will also be done several times faster.

As well as booting up your machine in less than 10 seconds and loading all your film editing software (including Adobe Premiere) within seconds. Not even exagerating here, I was suprised to see this myself.

Recommended Set Up

Anything that includes an SSD. Either an standalone low capacity SSD (+an external HDD as a back up/repository) or a regular sized – SSD paired with an 1TB HDD to act as a repository.

Ex: 256GB SSD/512GB SSD + 1TB HDD

Use the SSD to contain the operating system, Adobe Premiere & Media cache. Leave all the rest to the HDD.

As long as you have an SSD on your laptop/desktop you’ll be golden.

PCIe NVMe SSD vs M.2 SATA III SSDs

You’ll only find SSDs of the these two types on modern laptops. The former will give you a 20% increased performance compared with the latter.

GPU

You don’t need to worry about graphics card if you are working with a basic 1080p assembly.

Applying Effects

That’s because not all effects take advantage of GPU acceleration. But if you are doing anything more intensive than basic assembly, like color correction/grading or even simple transitions like Cross Dissolve, you need to pay close attention to the graphics card, it must be dedicated either with NVIDIA or AMD name on it , not Intel HD.

Rendering

Your software will also go onto using the GPU to act as an extra “Core” for rendering, cutting down rendering times even more. That is , if you rely on any of these accelerated effects. If you are just rely on simple cuts and effects then a dedicated GPU will have no effect on the time it takes to render.

Video PlayBack

When playing back videos at much higher reoslutions (1080p) , perhaps with a 4k display or an external monitor, you’ll also benefit from a powerful GPU. 

More specific benefits (and what kind of graphics card are best for each instance) have been thoroughly tested by Pudget Systems as well.

But to make it short and sweet …

  • 4k Editing & serious film editing need at least a high end 9th or 10th generation GFX card: 960M, 970M,980M or 1060GTX,1070GTX,2060, 2070,2080RTX
  • The 1070GTX /2070RTX should be the limit, there’s little benefit in going for the more powerful (and more expensive) XX80 cards.
  • The bigger the timeline and the higher the resolution, the more powerful your graphics card needs to be.
  • You’ll usually benefit the most with the graphics card that has more vRAM if you have to choose between two.

NVIDIA vs AMD

It’s not like there’s a bias. it’s just the fact that NVIDIA’s technology seems to outperform AMD’s. It’s more like CUDA vs Open CL.

CUDA vs Open CL *

NVIDIA has developed CUDA cores, which are like mini processors inside a GPU which can act as “additional cores” when rendering/exporting,etc.

AMD has OpenCL which is also supported by film editing software but apparently it doesn’t have the same performance as NVIDIA’s CUDA technology.

Workstation Cards

These offer little to no benefit than gaming cards and they’re extremely expensive. At this point, I would just avoid them unless you deal a lot with 10bit displays.

Display

Displays in laptops are just bad, you’ll probably have to resort an external monitor for the final touch ups.

Because laptops try to cut on prices by reducing display quality, there are still a few features you need to watch out for (that is a must haves).

IPS
In Plane Switching Technology (IPS) panels are expensive but they’re commmon among laptops that have a beefy CPU and GPU. There are just a few sneaky manufacturers which try to take them out. They’re not a must have but they’re a huge bonus: you’ll have better viewing angles and greater color accuracy.

Matte vs Glossy
The policy of this site is to recommend Matte Displays when possible. If you think you don’t have a problem with glares wherever you work at, you can settle for a Glossy finish.

1080p Resolution (full HD)
If you get a beefy CPU and a dedicated GPU (any), your laptop will come by default with a full HD resolution. This is a must have. If you rely on simple cuts/transitions for film editing and are not opting for a dGPU, then you will have to carefully watch out if your laptop doesn’t have it.

4k Editing

The moment you’ve probably been waiting for that’s because 4k videos seem to be the current trend.

You do not need a 4k display on a laptop to work with 4k Video editing. All you’re going to get is more worksapce for editing it, that’s it.

Your software will always scale down the resolution (since your editing window is much smaller).

If you want to do real 4k editing you either need a desktop or an external high resolution monitor.

Heat

When you look for a laptop, keep in mind that it will never match the performance you will get from a desktop system and that you should always have a proper notebook cooler to go with that laptop when you’re doing serious work.


Final Cut Pro

MacBook Air & 13” MacBook Pro

Both of these won’t be able to handle video distortions and even simple transitions (well they can but there it will be painfully slow )

If your school uses final cut Pro X, which is in fact the the latter your options become way more if its the former then you really have no choice although you could build a hackintosh machine, the hassle and the expertise along with the time investing to make it work and fixing bugs it’s not worth it.

Mac

I would wait and see how your current MBP handles. I think when you start you’re not going to be doing very intensive stuff for class. At most schools your lucky if touch a camera the first year. I would wait and see. Maybe a Mac Pro down the road will be better served. Just make sure to make a copy and save all of your work through out your 4 years to show future employers. Don’t be afraid to try a new role in your productions.

Created Thursday 29 March 2018
the bottom line is, A Macbook Pro. It’s not that Macintosh’s are more powerful. But as your workflow improves, you will find more and more professionals use Macs and that means more support for your film-making. It’s just a popularity contest, the bigger software programmers simply program for Mac, it’s been like this for a while.
(I’m talking laptops specifically in this next bit) Obviously, it all depends on the camera you’re aiming for. If you’re looking into getting a DSLR camera, well. It doesn’t matter too much. H264 is a pretty crappy but universal file type. FCP doesn’t love it, but you will edit with ease on a new Mac.

Hackintosh

I’ve been pretty exclusively cutting on macs. But for a more affordable mac, maybe a hackintosh?
I’ve seen some posts asking about gaming PCs. Probably some PC people here that could weigh in.

I would advice against a hackintosh, they’re hard to mantain take painfully long to set up and are extremely difficult to make them work. By the time you finished hackintoshing a laptop you’ll be more than a hacker than a film editor.

Comments

I am aware not everyone is quite adept with hardware so If you have any trouble understanding computer terms or have any questions about a laptop you have an eye on or any other type of question, you can drop a comment below.