How to choose a PC for video

When I decided to replace my aging three-year-old laptop with a new one, I resolved to custom-order a system optimized for video. Video is my passion. My new laptop would need to edit video, audio, and photos; burn DVDs and Blu-ray discs; and convert video files to the formats required by portable devices and Web sites like Facebook, YouTube, and Vimeo.

My biggest reason for buying a new laptop was to get my hands on a smoking-fast second generation Intel Core processor, so my first decision was whether to go with a Core i5 or a Core i7 CPU. (The Core i3 is an awesome processor, but it doesn’t offer Intel Turbo Boost technology, which supercharges performance by dynamically redirecting power as it encounters more computationally demanding situations. You know, like having to decode the latest HD video formats used by camcorders, DSLRs, webcams, and smart phones.) Knowing that any of the second-gen cores would perform nicely, I chose the 2.3GHz Core i7 because it would deliver more than enough horsepower to handle HD video, high-resolution still images, great-sounding 5.1 surround audio mixes, and even 3D movies. How did I know that? Because its four-core, eight-thread architecture accelerates encoding and decoding of HD video codecs, thanks to integrated Intel Clear Video HD and Intel Quick Sync Video (QSV) technology.

Next, I had to decide how much RAM to buy. Back in the days of 32-bit computing, there was no point in putting more than 4GB of RAM in a machine because that’s all the operating system could access at a given moment. And while there are still plenty of 32-bit content creation apps on the market, the future is 64-bit applications such as CyberLink PowerDirector 9. These apps take speed, ease of use, and productivity to a new level by letting you access all your RAM, which on a laptop typically means up to 8GB. And on top-of-the-line workstations that include the Intel Xeon processor series, up to 192GB! I went with 6GB, knowing I could add more RAM later if I needed it. And I chose triple channel RAM because, to maximize performance, your RAM has to run at least as fast as your CPU’s memory controller.

What’s so special about having access to lots of RAM? For starters, it makes it easier to run multiple applications at the same time without bogging down the system. In video and photo editing, more RAM lets you do more with bigger files. For instance, you can work with longer scene files, and the gigantic images created with 10-plus megapixel cameras.

Next, I had to choose a hard drive – or other storage technology – that was up to the task of saving and retrieving tons of data fast. I’ll delve into this subject in my next post.

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