Don’t get a fucking laptop for college.

I’ve seen this question posted about… six billion times. “What laptop do you suggest for a freshman going into film school?” None. I suggest none of them.

The amount of prep courses you’ll have to take before you can even think about taking a film course changes from school to school, but there will be prep courses nonetheless. Taking a desktop replacement to and from class is going to be a huge fucking nightmare. Power draw is also a factor. The more work editing and adding graphics is going to draw more power from the laptop’s battery, thus needing an even bigger battery or wall power. Finally any school that has a worthwhile film program is going to have editing computers. It’s always best to be around your peers as much as possible. Being seen around gives you a better opportunity to meet and make connections with your peers.

English, math, science, history and whatever other classes you’re going to have to take will also need your laptop, are you really going to want to unplug, pack and lug your desktop replacement to class? Four pounds doesn’t sound like a lot of weight, but it can be. Also consider that college isn’t like high school. You’ll have breaks, sometimes one class a day, other semesters you might be there all day. Constantly having to lug your laptop out of the wall, searching for power and/or acceptable wi-fi, not to mention the fact that you’re carrying around $2,000 on your back that can get damaged, lost or stolen at any time. Undergrad prep is pretty much inevitable… and you won’t be needing anything more than a program to take notes and to do papers on. A 15 inch, 4 pound beast isn’t something you need to take to class.

With power comes… a need for power. Four pounds is excellent for the amount of power some desktop replacements are capable of, but there is a caveat. Some laptops only last a maximum of two hours on battery power… that’s not even the length of some classes! That power is wasted on running the unused graphics card, or the multiple cores, and the 15 inch screen… if it dies while you’re working on a project you’ll be carrying around a useless brick until you can get it plugged in. If you’re going to be stuck using an outlet you might as well be working on a desktop, and if you’re going to be on a desktop it might as well be in a editing lab.

A desktop can be a big investment that you don’t want to leave with a shady roommate, but working in a computer lab can be a good alternative. The community college I went to for a year had Xeon hexacores, Quadro gpus, and plenty of ram in their editing classroom. They also have the Adobe CC suites as well as Avid so you can choose which software suits you. They even have older Macs running Final Cut Pro 7 if that’s your cup of tea. The labs are open when there aren’t classes in them, so that’s nice, but the main thing is to be in there editing AND being on campus around people. They can give you insight, help with an edit or effect, and contacts in the future. It’s always easier getting groups working when you know the people around you. Making contacts is one of the biggest reasons to go to college. You can learn just about anything through the internet and a few books… but contacts are hard to make organically in random situations. Working on baseline workstations can also inform you of where those computers are lacking, and how you can make your own custom PC to fix those problems.

Finally the problem with getting a laptop for editing in college is that you have a VERY small window for upgrading, sometimes you’re limited to a small RAM upgrade and that’s it. A desktop PC can easily be upgraded with more RAM, drive space, drive speeds, amount of drives, GPU upgrades, adding sound cards etc. etc. and can last much longer than four years at college. Not to mention how much easier they are to keep clean from dust and over heating. All the features, plugs, and hardware are basically permanent. If you want something more you’ll have to buy a new laptop.

In the end, if you’re even planning on being an editor, then buy your own desktop. If you want to be a director, cinematographer or whatever else, you won’t need an editing PC. You should be working with people who have the gear to do these things. Film making is a collaborative effort, so you should find people to work with and see what you need for your path. It doesn’t make sense for a cinematographer to have a high end editing PC and shoot on an iPhone does it? Use what the school provides for you until you KNOW what you need. Until then, rent or borrow what you don’t have. Experiment with different tools and see what suits YOU. My style won’t fit you, and your style won’t fit me. If you need a laptop for travel editing, the Razer Blade is an OK option, as is Origin PC’s EVO15-S Pro. Both are around the $2k mark. The Macbook Pro in the same hardware configuration is around $2,800. Lastly consider how long you’re going to be in front of your computer. Hunched over trying to stare at a 15 inch screen trying to edit a three minute film could be hours to days. That’s going to lead to a LOT of strain on your back and neck, not to mention your wrists and shoulders. I hope there is something here for you! Good luck!

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