What You MUST Know Before Buying Your Next Computer

Posted on by Larry

The articles in my series: “How to Configure [a Mac computer] For Video Editing” are among my most popular. We all want the absolutely fastest computer – until we see the price. Then, our challenge becomes making informed trade-offs that save money without significantly decreasing the performance of the system for the work we want to do.

Invariably, after someone reads one of these articles, they post the question: “This is a great write-up, but… Will this computer work with MY media?” The only accurate answer is: “It depends…” In this article, I want to spend time explaining what “it depends,” depends upon.

BACKGROUND

Here are three typical examples, just from last week:

“I’m considering the iMac 2019 (i9 + 32GB RAM + 580X + 1TB SSD) for video editing. I usually shoot on 4k 60fps 10-bit 4:2:2 (Fujifilm X-T3 H.265) and edit on Premiere Pro CC. Would you say (or assure if you already tried) that this set up is able to handle a sequence at full-res without using proxies and without dropping frames?”

“I don’t really mind to turn down resolution on Premiere to 1/2 or 1/4 from time to time, but what would really frustrate me would be the fact of being forced to do so even after purchasing a 3,500 dollar machine…. :/ There’s a lot of misinformation all over the Internet, but there are a lot of “video creators” on Youtube claiming that a similar price (or much less) PC would kill the iMac 2019 for good.”

“I plan to shoot a no-budget feature with the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K in 4K BRAW format. I want to edit, color correct and deliver in Resolve. Money is a big factor…. I think, according to your writings, an entry level of iMac can do the job, right? And I can shoot, edit, color grade, finish the whole film safely and problem free on this system, right?”

These questions are sincere, typical, understandable, and almost impossible to answer; especially the plea for an assurance that any new system work “safely and problem-free” for their project.

Smile… no pressure.

INITIAL THOUGHTS

I totally understand the fear of spending thousands of dollars only to discover that you bought the wrong thing. I also understand how opaque much of technology has become. CPUs now range from i3 to i9. GPUs range from 560 to Vega whatever. Is an editor’s life over if they get an AMD 570 instead of a 575X? Is an i5 really THAT bad?

The challenge for Apple and other technology providers is that answering these questions quickly wanders into the weeds of hardware specs and arcane testing parameters. The only accurate answer is a technical answer that, in most cases, doesn’t answer anything.

It’s similar to comparing two sports cars. If you exclude styling and the seat, what’s the difference between a Camaro and a Corvette? Suddenly, you find yourself discussing horsepower, torque, acceleration, braking, and handling (however THAT can be quantified)… as well as the hundreds of other technical details that quickly lose the average driver.

So, without getting completely technical, let me share some basic ideas with you.

IN GENERAL

CODECS

STORAGE

CPUs

GPUs

RECOMMENDATIONS

The most important question you need to ask is: Why am I REALLY buying this computer? Is it:

There are lots of reasons to buy a new computer, but not all these reasons demand the highest-performance gear. For example, commercials tend to be more technically complex than features, but features require more sophisticated media management than commercials.

Here are eight guidelines to help you spend money:

Bonus

A few more thoughts to wrap-up:

Yes, there are exceptions to these rules, but not in most cases.

Finally, I’m happy to explain any of these points in detail; but… it will get technical.


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11 Responses to What You MUST Know Before Buying Your Next Computer

  1. Kevin Sio says:

    Wonderful summary

  2. Great article! Always appreciate your hard work to bring us important information.

  3. Gloria Messer says:

    Larry
    Thank you so much for an excellent and informative article.
    I am looking forward to your opinion of the new MAC PRO, when it comes out,
    Hopefully in September.
    I always depend on you to make any final decisions.
    xxo glo

  4. Neil says:

    Just in time. I now know what to buy!

  5. Gayle C. says:

    This was an awesome article, Larry! Thank you for answering that very question about getting a PC vs a Mac. My editor friend gave me PC specs and said my money would be better spent but THAT is the bottom line for me – less tinkering, more editing. I have a PC at work and I’ve needed support way more than I ever did with my almost 10 year old iMac. Been wanting to upgrade for 4 years and will hopefully soon. This was very helpful.

  6. Blair Smith says:

    Thank you. Very helpful, a new machine is in order and I can pass this along to my IT dept who make our purchases.

  7. If you are focused on GPU performance, does an eGPU offset the need for a faster internal GPU?

  8. Adi Ell-Ad says:

    I did a poll on an editors facebook page on computer choices. PC won by a landslide… I believe they were not engaged in mainstream films. Should I Mac Pro or wait for iMac Pro Gen 2?
    BTW, You are a great teacher. always enjoyed your classes when I lived in LA.
    Aloha!

    • Larry says:

      Adi:

      The only times I’ve used a PC for video editing, I’ve been disappointed with the experience. That being said, each editor should pick the hardware they are most comfortable working with.

      Your choice in computer depends upon what you are using it for, how tight your deadlines are and your budget. Any current computer can edit video today – the key difference is the speed with which it does so. Simple cutting is easy, where it gets complex is in creating effects, color grading and export.

      If you are editing 4K or larger frame sizes or HDR, more horsepower will be required. However, don’t ignore your storage in this equation. Storage speed and capacity is even more critical than CPU speed. Finally, NEVER!!! make buying decisions based upon what Apple MAY release. We can only buy what’s shipping today. If you need it now, but it now. If you don’t, it is always fun to wait and see what the future brings.

      Larry

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