The Best Specs for a Photo or Video Editing Computer or Laptop


Technology is always changing. So this list is by no means going to last the next six months before being outdated by something better. But for the moment, this is the mid-to-higher budget investment for editing visual media (photo, video, illustrations, multimedia, etc.).

Additionally, while I am writing only the specs which may or may not be available for laptops, this list has been compiled specifically for desktops. Please note that you will also have to check into the availability for laptops, should that be your only option. The hardware involved in the software manipulation (processors, hard drives, grafix cards, etc.), are most likely available in both. But the other hardware (cooling stations, motherboards, connection portc, etc.) will be more specific to laptops and may require further investigation for your needs.

video-editing

If you are upgrading a current system, it’s probably best to shoot for desktop upgrades as they have the most adaptability. Laptops change so much, and so often, that the one you buy with an Intel chip today, may well be incompatible with the latest chip next week. So just keep that in mind when going over my recommendations below.

For PC, I recommend Windows Vista over Windows 8 for a wide variety of reasons (most of which revolve around software usability which has not caught up to most touch technology available on W8).

Intel Core i7-4770S or 3.4GHz Intel Core i7 Quad-Core Processor – Among all that is listed here, the processor will go out of date first. Just buy the absolute best one you can afford. The processor is the linchpin for all of the demands that your editing will place on your computer. DON’T compromise on the processor.

16GB 1600MHz DDR3 RAM – You’ll want the absolute best RAM out there. Second only to the processor will be the RAM, which allows your computer the necessary space to functionally operate its editing programs.

1TB 7200-7600rpm (or better) SATA HDD  – The faster the drive, the better for rendering and finalizing your non-linear editing projects. Two terabytes would only be necessary if you’re using also storing larger video/photo files on the computer: like the D800 36 megapixel RAW images with timelapse video purposing, for instance. Having 1TB for video is adequate for supplying the computer/processor with adequate virtual memory for larger edits.

NVIDIA GT620 Graphics. There are better options out there. If you’ve got gamer friends, this is when you’ll pull in your favor from them. Ask them what they recommend. Gaming and editing pool the same resources and supply the same results.

USB 3.0 x 4 ports / 2.0 x 2 ports (I would recommend getting as many 3.0 ports as possible, though most only offer a mix of the two. When using several of the same brand of mass external storage devices, be sure to rename your drives so that the computer won’t confuse them when using the various ports. And make sure that your device drivers are always kept up-to-date.

ASUS P8H61 (or better motherboard) – Again, there are better ones out there. This one will be determined on the style of computer you have and what it is capable of handling. It is also a pretty variable item. You just want a motherboard that is the most compatable with upcoming hardware and its future upgrades. My recommendation may be well out of date, but it happens to be compatible with my other hardware requirements. Do your research for your own computer.

Coolermaster 750w PSU – This will be desktop specific. I recommend the better cooling systems because it’s going to do the most good in maintaining the functionality of your other components. Ever find your computer working slow, or programs are not responding? It may be because they’re overheating. And this could cause permanent damage to
your hardware components. You’ve invested all the time and money in the other items. Don’t get cheap when it comes to protecting them all. Short of storing your computer in a refrigerator, you’ll need to keep your system cool (especially all you travelers who find yourself in a muggy Cambodia squelcher or the sticky jungles of Costa Rica).

DVDR/RW – If you burn your own discs, this one should be a no-brainer. For laptops, it may just add weight and take up space. Look at what options you’re willing to travel with vs production you can do at home.

Gigabit Ethernet Connectivity – The NIC you use shouldn’t make that much of a difference. Nowadays, they’re all pretty good.

HDMI-out & VGA Connectors – Presenting your work brings with it the requirement of connectability to newer devices. I show my work in exhibitions and lectures all over the world. And I use HDMI in/out connections when linked up to my recording bodies. So I can’t afford to not have these components.

Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit) – Again, I wouldn’t go with Windows 8.

Wireless Mouse/keyboard – for desktop users, you need to keep your space clear – especially when you already have to put up with wires coming from your external drives and power supplies. Take up one of your 2.0 ports with the USB reciever on your mouse/keyboards. And save yourself the hassle of cables running all over your workspace.

Waterproof Keyboard cover – If you’re on the road a lot, you’ll at least want to keep dust and liquids out of your keyboard. They’re getting better these days, but they can still use the help of a $5 cover. When I travel to the desert or other dusty places, I wrap the computer in plastic wrap, cutting out holes for ventilation and connections.

As for the monitor; these range the widest, though you wouldn’t expect it. There are a million forums talking about a million different monitors. So here’s what you need to know: Get a good sRGB unit with the best monitor color calibration software you can afford. If you’re just starting out, Calibrize will be a great first step. The software is free and will give you a great introduction in color calibration and maintainance.

Great resources for putting together your ultimate computer editing package:

B & H Photo/Video

Spider Color Calibration

Latest firmware updates for your camera and a staggering array of reviews ‘on all things photo’ at Digital Photography Review

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6 thoughts on “The Best Specs for a Photo or Video Editing Computer or Laptop

  1. Hi I am just about to purchase a PC and I want it to match the specs you have recommended as I have recently got into photography. I am planning a trip from UK to either Sri Lanka or Mexico for maybe 3-6 months and will want to take the PC with me for photo/video editing. So can you recommend a smaller unit for travelling or is it feasible to get a larger unit delivered? I was researching units and happened on your site which is so relevant to my plans, I’m thrilled to have found it. I am sure the answer to my question is somewhere on your blog or youtube, which I look forward to, but I need to make a purchase pretty snappy so don’t have much time to play with. I would be sooooo grateful for any advice. Many thanks. Manda

    • Manda,
      I’m stoked that I may have helped send you in the right direction. Off hand, I’d first recommend going to http://www.bhphotovideo.com/ and looking through their list of computers for the latest on what’s offered in the photo/video field.

      Until then, look around for the following:

      Max out your processor speed with the 3.4GHz Intel Core i7-4770 Processor, couple that with 16GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM, and go big on the memory with a 1TB and a minimum 7200rpm Hard Drive. PCs nowadays also allow you a convenient upgrade of a Gigabit LAN, 16-in-1 Card Reader, 8 Channel Audio Support and as many as 6 x USB 3.0s. You may also want a DVD burner if you’re involved with video.

      Hope this helps, and be sure to come back and lemme know how the trip went!

  2. Thank you very much for this invaluable advice. I have been an artist, printer and IT tech most of my adult life. Due to health reasons, I started to explore photography as a creative outlet and have learned it blends the things I love to do. As I go forward starting my own photography business (website under construction, nearly ready), your advice will save me valuable time and money I cannot afford to waste. Thank you very much for your knowledge and insight.

  3. Thank you for the informative article. What would be system requirements if all I want to do is make individual video clips to submit as stock?

    • They wouldn’t differ greatly. You’re only big difference would be that it would not necessitate as big a processor. But I would still pretty much suggest the same setting all around.

      Thanks for the comment!

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