Before You Buy a Video Editing Computer

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Choosing a video editing computer can be tricky. Many old computers won't support video editing at all, and many new computers will only work with the most basic editing software.

If you plan to use your new computer for video editing, this guide will help you purchase an appropriate video editing computer system. There are several essential considerations when looking for the right system, from hardware to video editing software.

Data Storage

Digital video footage, especially high-definition footage, takes up an enormous amount of drive space, so you'll need a storage solution that can accommodate large video files. An external hard drive is one way to solve that problem. If you buy a video editing computer with a lot of internal drive space, you can put off buying the external hard drive for a while.

Computer Ports

Take note of the inputs, also called ports, on any video editing computer you plan to buy. There is a wide range of these types of inputs, and they are not created equal, and what is considered the fastest connection can change every few years.

Ports are important because you will be moving those enormous video files around, from device to computer to storage. There are several types of USB connections, for example, differing from one another by data rate and the physical connectors used. USB 2.0 is older but very common but the slowest with a data rate of 480 Mb/s (megabits per second). USB 3.1 Gen 1 (which was previously named USB 3.0) is newer and faster, with a data rate of 5 GB/s (gigabytes per second). There is also USB 3.1 Gen 2 with a data rate of 10 GB/s—also note that this version can have a connector that is Type A, which looks just like past USB connectors; or it can be of Type C (also referred to as Thunderbolt 3), which is a newer and smaller connector. In addition, Mac users will encounter Thunderbolt 2 (20 GB/s) and Thunderbolt 3 (40 GB/s) connectors as well as the older FireWire, also referred to as IEEE 1394.

Obviously, this can be a bit overwhelming if it's new to you. For video editing, you want to have as fast a data rate as possible because of the large file sizes, as mentioned. For Mac users, Thunderbolt 3 is a good choice. For Windows users, USB 3.1 Gen 2 with Type C connector is a good choice as well. When you are selecting your video editing computer, you will likely have more than just one of these types of connections, so you will have flexibility.

You will use these ports to connect your video camcorder to the computer and transfer video files to storage devices like an external hard drive.

External Storage Options

There are several options for external storage of your video files when editing so they are not filling your important internal hard drives. There are external hard drives, which are mechanical hard disk drives (HDD) just like those that are inside a computer, except they are kept in an enclosure and plugged into one of the computer's ports. These are affordable and can have very large capacities—perfect for video file storage.

There are also external solid-state drives or SSDs. These are much faster because they do not use mechanical disks for storage, but instead use RAM as the memory inside your computer. These are much more expensive than mechanical hard disk drives, especially when you get to the larger capacities, and generally, don't have as large capacities as the HDDs that are available. They are, however, very fast when reading data from and writing data to, speeding up the transfer process for big video files.

Cloud storage is another option. In this case, your video files are not stored on your computer or in an external drive near your computer. With cloud storage, you essentially rent data storage space on large servers maintained by the cloud service provider. Usually, you pay a subscription fee depending on how much storage space you need. The advantages to cloud storage are that you can get very large amounts of storage space at an affordable price, and you scale it depending on how much you need.

The cloud storage is maintained by the service provider, protecting you from the potential for a storage device of your own failing and the loss of your files. Likewise, because the storage is located off-site, if a catastrophe strikes your location, such as a flood or fire, your files are safely stored elsewhere. Also, your storage can usually be accessed from anywhere you can get an internet connection. This can also be a small disadvantage if you lose your internet connection.

Consider Your Video Editing Plans

Before you buy a video editing computer, consider the projects that you plan to create. If you're only going to be editing basic videos using free software like Movie Maker or iMovie, most new computers out there have the right ports and plenty of storage space to fit your needs.

If you plan on editing with more powerful professional editing software and high definition video, you’ll want a computer that gives you more processing power and storage.

Get a Computer with Expandability

Of course, you may not know exactly what you'll be doing with your computer in the future, and your video editing needs may change. It is a good plan to get a computer that can adapt to potential changes you may want to make. Before buying a computer for video editing, find out how easy it will be to add memory, increase internal storage, and upgrade graphics cards.

Mac, Windows, and Video Editing Software

It's the age-old question when it comes to buying a video editing computer. The answer will be determined by your software choice and by your personal preferences.

When it comes to free video editing software, Apple's iMovie is hard to beat, though there are other great alternatives. Movie Maker is also a fine choice. For intermediate and professional video editing software, there are good choices for PCs, and most have Mac versions available. Macs may be a bit easier to use and perhaps more stable for those who aren't wedded to Windows because of long use and familiarity. Many consider Mac to be a better choice for video and image editing tasks, but these days the two are close in quality and software choices.

Ideally, you'll know beforehand what type of video editing software you'll be using to edit video on your computer, and its operating system compatibility and minimum system requirements will help guide your hardware choices for your computer. You'll want to at least meet the minimum requirements, but it's better to aim above those for the best results and to avoid having to upgrade sooner rather than later.

Research and Reviews

Make sure to check out computer reviews to find out if the computer you're considering will live up to your expectations. Reviews can point out computer drawbacks you may have overlooked, they can point you to a computer you may not have thought about before, and they may let you in on other video editing secrets that will give you an advantage as you embark on your hobby or career in video editing.