I am a big fan of Sager. There are, however, some others that work well too. What one wants is multiple, physical HDD's, a good CPU, lots of RAM, an nVidia, or ATI graphics card/chip, and nice cooling. Sager offers those features in a stout laptop. Do not spring for SLI, or any dual graphics cards though.
I have had my Sager for 4 years, and it's still going strong. I will be upgrading soon, and will stay with Sager.
For the memory...did you mean 4gb instead of 4mb?!
If you want to have (system) memory past 12gb, you'd probably have to look at a workstation like the a Dell M6500, HP8740 or Lenovo Thinkpad W series. Otherwise you can go with a Sager that, depending on the model, usually have anywhere from 8gb to 12gb max for system memory.
I have personally been in the same situation that you are in as I was researching for awhile trying to get a good laptop for video editing as I am entering a degree program in January. Basically, the top names for workstations on the PC side from what I saw were Dell, HP, and Lenovo. Depending on your preferences for portability vs. usability you can get the workstations in 15inch or 17inch models. Personally, I didn't have 3-4,000 to drop in a computer so I ended up grabbing a great system from the Dell Outlet. HP and Lenovo also have outlets. To give you an idea of the savings, I got a $4,600 machine as configured new from Dell for $1900. The machines listed as certified refurbished come in brand new condition with the same warranties as the new items in the Dell outlet. HP and Lenovo might have different outlet warranty policies. I have looked at the Sager laptops and some other ones as well, but I wasn't able to find any of those machines with an anti-glare, or matte, display finish. If you are traveling a lot and glare is an issue for you, it might be something to think about. Also, the top end Sager machines could definitely hold a lot of hardware, but they are very thick. I have a Precision M6500 and it is pretty sweet in addition to being fairly thin. I can confirm that the Mercury playback engine works great on either the FX 2800M or the FX 3800M graphics cards in those machines. If you are using Premiere CS5, stay away from the ATI cards so that you can get the GPU acceleration. In doing a test for myself the GPU was literally 12 times faster than rendering without it. Also, I don't know about the Lenovo w701 machine, but I know that the HP 8740w will only allow two hard disks if you remove the optical drive and make it external. However, some of these workstations offer the ability to have a mini SSD in addition to the main hard disk. The Dell Precision will allow for two full laptop hard disks in addition to the optical drive. If you wanted to remove the optical drive then you could have a total of 3 real hard disks in the M6500. Definitely check them out, but seriously I looked for a long while and these 6 are all that you need to look at:
Dell Precision M4500 or M6500
HP 8540w or 8740w
Lenovo W510 or W701
Get one of these and you'll be a champ! Oh yea, if you are going to be working outside I have the RGB LED display and it is insanely bright. Looks and performs amazingly! Hope this helps.
One thing to remember is to make sure your laptop has a firewire port.
A friend of mine just bought ah HP ENVY 17 ( not for editing ) but it didn't have one.
If your going to capture from tape or use OnLocation you need it.
My business recently transitioned from full-time video production into mobile eLearning (with a bit of video), so I have very similar needs as yourself. Because my business model no longer supports "high-end" video production, I decided not to pay for the premium machines that do the best job for that purpose. (Although, I still admire them!) A few thoughts that will require prioritization on your part:
1) Price range. For me, it was $5k, including software. I purcahsed the eLearning Suite CS5, and then Premiere separate, which is a better deal. That left me with about $2500 for the laptop.
2) Prioritize primary purpose (which software you'll use the most). For me, it was, in the following order: Flash, Captivate, Premiere, Photoshop, Encore, Dreamweaver. Flash and Captiavte aren't nearly as processor heavy.
3) Understand/prioritize what video format you'll shoot/edit/compress. I shoot mostly my own stuff with a Sony EX3, so I typically edit on a XDCAM-EX 1080/30P timeline. With the NVidia hack, I'm certainly very happy with perfromance w/ a 460M (1/5GB Ram) and 6-8GB of RAM, Firewire, and an external SATA RAID. Compressing to H264 is a bit slower than I'd like, but I don't do that everyday. (See #2) Plus, I'm ok with the machine rendering away while I take a break. Of course, if you're editing AVCHD, then you may need a bunch more.
4) Mobility needs. How portable do you need to be? How important is screen resolution/size? I really wanted a 1920x1080 full HD screen, but I pay for it in weight and size. I ended up with 18.4 inch screen! Not exactly small, but most of the time it saves me from carrying a projector with me. (I meet with 1-2 clients at a time anyway)
5) Future-proof/connectivity. USB3? Firewire? Blu-Ray burner? ESATA? OnLocation/Firewire doesn't support more than HDV... Since I shoot HD with XDCAMEX, an ExpressSlot was a must. A great way to transfer footage in the field. (Not for live streaming, though)
As I've said in other threads, I ended up with a Toshiba Quosmo X505-898, 6GB RAM (upgradable to 8GB), NVidia 460M 1.5GB Graphics w/ hack, 50GB SSD (C:) and 500GB 7200RPM (Media) for <$2k. It's certainly no Sager or custom built desktop, but fits my needs just fine.
Check out Harm's benchmark results for an idea of performace.
A very solid and rational approach. Thank you for putting this up for everyone to read. These kind of liberations one definitely needs in order to make a well founded investment decision. It also shows you don't need to spend future inheritances now, in order to be productive.
At times we all may get carried away with wanting the ultimate and latest technology, but what ultimately counts is the best best-for-the-buck with your own needs and applications.
Thanks again for stating this approach so clearly. Many will profit from that.
I owe you and a few other regular contributors (Adobe, ADK, etc) a big thanks for the hundreds of hours you have saved those of us by posting and providing benchmarking data. Obvious other things to consider also include:
1) Archive/Backup processes - Lucky for us, our projects are relatively small and don't require archive. We follow routine backup procedures to external drives.
2) Client formats - Our clients are wanting YouTube, h264 via FTP or BluRay. We stopped BetaSP and other "high-end" costly tape outputs a long time ago.
3) Quality. Lucky for us, 8-bit MPG 4:2:0 is sufficient. I *really* wanted 4:2:2 10bit or above, but our clients aren't asking for it - don't even know what it is.
Realistically, a top-of-the-line high quality desktop video workstation could (and probably should) pay for itself after landing a few corporate video gigs. (It has for us in the past) Off the original topic, but... Unfortunately, I've had to re-evaluate my pricing model for video/media production. H264 Rendering times only matter if you are charging clients by the hour for the service- and if you are losing productivity because either you, or the workstation can not be used (profitably) in the meantime. I wish I can say my workstation(s) are cranking out media 50-90% of my business hours. But they're not.