I've been really impressed with my 2012 MacBook Pro using Adobe CS6 Premiere and After Effects, as well as Lightroom 4, Photoshop, etc.
I have the 15" 2.3GHz with only 512MHz 650M GPU, but I've installed 16GB of RAM from Crucial ($130) and removed the DVD drive and stock 500GB HDD, replaced with two SSDs. The first SSD (Samsung 840 Pro 256GB, $180) is for the OS and all programs/apps, and the second is for scratch and previews. Then, I use an external via USB 3 for all my raw media.
The CPU is running in turbo mode most of the time, at about 3.1GHz (indicated by Intel Power Gadget, free app) and CS6 uses the 650M in hardware acceleration via OpenGL, so everything plays smooth.
Since you have a 2011 (no USB 3 ports), I'd suggest using a Thunderbolt external drive instead of your USB 2 port. That will be a bit more money, but it will allow you to be using three physical disks to edit with, which is what you want. If I needed more disks, I could hook up five total with my two internal SSDs and two USB 3 and one Thunderbolt port externally, but three disks have been working brilliantly for me.
Thanks for the tips!
It would be awesome to get a SSD in my laptop, but wouldn't removing the DVD drive make it so that I would be unable to reinstall the OS if anything were to happen? I'm not very savvy when it comes to messing with computers. I would hate to start removing and adding parts and not know how to put everything back together again
Do you think that simply installing an extra 4GB of RAM (for a total of 8GB...currently have 2x 2GB. Apple says it won't support more than 4GB but I've read somewhere that it actually can support 2x 8GB for a total of 16GB like you've done. Have you experienced any issues with this?) would help when using these programs?
I think a Thunderbolt drive is out of my price range. But wondering if it would make sense to daisy chain two drives together. One for performance and one for protection?
Thanks Eric! If the TB is out of my price range, could I use a USB 3 drive with an adaptor - or would that slow down data transfer rates?
You definitely want atleast 8GB of ram if that is an option. 16GB would be ideal. The mobile cpu's from Intel support 16GB from that platform. As long as the EFI supports those modules with detection, your fine. You should also have the option to install the OS via a USB optical drive in the future if that is required. Swapping the internal Optical out for a HDD bay should not be an issue. I am not sure if you will find 2x TB drives much cheaper than the 2 drive unit but that would also be a configuration option. That will just have more latency than a single TB unit. I would not use a USB3 to TB adapter though. Just start with 1x TB drive and look at other options later once they are affordable.