Best Laptop for Film Students – There aren’t many gadgets in the market that cater specifically to filmmaking students. Although we can always select powerful workstation notebooks film editing professionals, students require a more holistic approach towards gadget selection. Each one of these 9 gadgets is therefore chosen based on budget, professional and academic preferences, and even leisure indulgences.
If you are looking for an insanely powerful notebook that scales beyond every competition and allows you to learn about every aspect of this creative domain with ease, the MSI P65 Creator is the way to go. However, if portability is on your mind and that too without performance trade-offs, the Surface Book 3 is the one to invest in.
You want a more budget-friendly notebook that features a top-of-the-line CPU, you must readily opt for the Acer Aspire 7. While there are quite a few options to choose from, it is always advisable to check the institute curriculum before moving ahead with the purchase.
There are two types of laptops I’ve come to expect from Acer: Standout premium models like the crazy Swift 7 ultraportable and Predator Triton 900, and mainstream laptops that are impossibly good deals — like last year’s Predator Helios 300 and this year’s Acer Aspire 5.
For more than a year, Acer’s Aspire E 15 was my go-to pick for anyone who just needed a quick, reliable laptop for general use around the home. Sadly, that model is getting harder to find, but the Aspire 5 is an excellent alternative that’s thinner, lighter and still an impossibly good deal.
The HP Omen 16 has been newly introduced this year. The older Omen 15 still has not seen a direct successor. Instead, HP has fitted a 15.6-inch chassis with a 16.1-inch display. As a result, the bezels are now smaller and there are small differences in the construction of the case. Compared to last year’s model, there are of course also CPU (Tiger Lake) and GPU (RTX 3000) upgrades.
Naturally, we will compare our test device with its predecessor, the HP Omen 15 (Ryzen 4000 and RTX 2060), and its new sibling, the HP Victus 16 (Ryzen 5000 and RTX 3060). Additionally, we selected the similarly equipped Lenovo Legion 5 Pro 16, the more expensive Alienware x15 R1 and the MSI Katana GF66 11UG as devices for our comparison.
This configuration is powerful, and it has no issue playing all of today’s most demanding games at high frame rates with its display’s native 1080p resolution (yet ray tracing without hand-holding via Nvidia’s AI-assisted DLSS feature still presents a big challenge, as I’ll get into later). Pricing for the Blade 15 Advanced starts at $2,599, and that price will get you the same processor and 300Hz refresh rate display but with the Nvidia RTX 2070 Super Max-Q, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB NVMe SSD.
Perhaps just as important for some, this is the first high-end Blade that is easy to recommend for a variety of other use cases. It’s easier to stick in a bag than most other hulking gaming laptops. It has passable battery life and solid port selection with Thunderbolt 3 and a fast SD card reader that could be a boon for photographers and video editors. Its keyboard layout also makes it better for typing than previous models.
From what I can tell, Microsoft intends the Surface Go 3 to be sold to two kinds of customers: kids and IT professionals who need a tiny computer when they’re out in the field. I’m in the third category of potential customers: people who love tiny computers. For all three groups, the Surface Go 3 is a bummer.
The Surface Go 3 is Microsoft’s smaller-sized Surface tablet. It has a 10.5-inch screen and one fewer port than its larger Pro sibling, but otherwise looks very much the same. That means it offers the same excellent build quality and overall premium design as full-sized Surface tablets. It is a great-looking device that’s often a pleasure to use — so long as you don’t use it to do too much or need it to last very long.
The 2020 model is a worthy successor to the XPS line, which has been among the best laptops for around a decade, that makes some important refinements like adding an innovative webcam and thinner bezels while also improving the performance.
With this XPS 13 model, Dell has proven that the line truly is the bar for all other Ultrabooks out there, not to mention Windows laptops as well. The laptop comes with that elegant design that you expect with the line, as well as a surprising amount of power, a feature set on par with any other laptop out there, and a gorgeous display. Additionally, Dell has managed to create the newest iteration without sacrificing anything that made the previous versions so fantastic.
Best Laptop for Film Students – BUYER’S GUIDE
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
You don’t need to worry about graphics card if you are working with a basic 1080p assembly.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which is the most demanding film making domain, when computing resources are concerned?
Adding effects to the existing imagery or scenes via VFX or implementing exclusive CGI or Computer Generated Imagery are some of the most demanding aspects of movie-making. Either one of these tasks is both CPU and GPU-intensive and requires high-end laptops like the MSI P65 Creator to take care of.
How important is laptop portability for a film student?
A film making student needs to travel around the globe to study more about the filmmaking process. Therefore, it is desirable to have a light-weighted gadget and that too with a solid battery in place. Portability, in case of laptops, is the perfect balance between weight and battery backup, sans any performance compromises.
What are the benefits of Touchscreen displays for film making students?
Film making isn’t as straightforward as audio or video editing as there are several simultaneous processes involved. Moreover, every application has a different UI that requires continuous interactions with the system. This is why a touch panel comes in handy as it cuts down on the requirement of keyboard and touchpad for feeding in or interacting with the existing software.
Why workstation-notebooks aren’t always good for film making students?
Film making students often find it hard to invest in separate notebooks for work and entertainment. Therefore, if they get workstation-laptops for handling 3D modeling, CGI, color grading, compositing, VFX, and other demanding processes, it becomes difficult to indulge in leisure gaming due to the lack of the gaming prowess, mostly associated with Quadro GPUs. Moreover, workstations aren’t portable and therefore are popular among the students.
Which is the most powerful CGI tool for aspiring filmmakers and what computing resources does it use?
If you are looking for an excellent CGI tool that caters to professionals and students alike, you must consider the Autodesk Maya. The existing application software allows you to work with 3D animation, 3D modeling, shading, 3D rendering, and motion graphics. Therefore, for using Maya in the best possible manner, it is necessary to get a laptop with a powerful, HyperThreading, Intel i7 or i9 processor, and an RTX 20-series GPU with at least 6GB VRAM.
What are the essential software modules that every film making student must know how to use?
Besides Autodesk Maya, you need to get a good grasp of Adobe After Effects for proper video editing and compositing and even the all-encompassing DaVinci Resolve for efficient color grading. However, top-notch applications like these require powerful laptops, including overclocking processors, GPUs with support for ray tracing, and even sizeable RAM for handling multiple workflows with ease.
Most importantly, these are only a few software selections and students often need to work with other similar combinations, based on the preferences and options provided by the institutes. As there are no generic devices that can fit in with every requirement, it is necessary to zero in on a few specifications, based on the preferred specializations.