I'm sure that you are already well aware that video editing on a laptop has compromises, so the objective is to get the best mix of features and specs. considering your budget and tolerance for carrying weight and size.
Regarding GPU, the GTX 460M and 560M have reportedly been working well, and while the more powerful GTX video cards sound great they are more difficult to cool and would not likely be as robust for video editing. DDR5 is better.
Regarding CPU, you did not ask, but make sure you choose a quad-core 32nm CPU. Even the slower versions work pretty well and will save lots vs. the faster models of CPU in that same series.
Regarding RAM, go with 16GB for sure if you care about rendering speed (i.e. burning a DVD or Blu-ray). You can squeak by with 8GB, but with RAM prices today I would not suggest it.
Regarding eSata, I REALLY like it for laptop use. Fast and very reliable. USB 3.0 would be a second choice, and firewire 800 a distant third. USB 2.0 is pretty much only useful for backing up files on a video editing rig.
Regarding brand, Sager is the first choice around this forum for mid-priced laptops ($1500 to $2500) and high-priced ($2500 and up). Asus and MSI have some offerings that are more affordable, but do not have eSata ports.
Multi-spindle laptops are great. Some larger Sager's take up to 3 hard drives! The ultimate for video editing would be a SSD boot drive (around 120GB) + RAID 0 array with two 500GB or 750GB 7200 rpm drives. If you go with a smaller form-factor that cannot hold so many drives, Hitachi's G-RAID mini is a very nice small, fast RAID 0 2.5" drive solution that speaks eSata, firewire and USB (only 2.0); only downside is you need to plug it into a wall socket if you are using the eSATA.
Finally, don't forget to look at screen resolution, not just screen size. Personally, I would want 1980 x 1080 or better if I was editing on a single laptop display much at all.
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...check out Asus 17.3 inch models,as well as Sager. Look at PPBM5 website to see benchmarks for laptops and desktops...you will see that even the best laptops are far behind the desktop rigs. So, you will still have issues to expect,esp. editing long GOP codecs...but, it can be done.You need :
1920x1080 large display to see what you are doing and to properly show the whole interface
Min 16 GB ram
Min 1 GB DDR 5 NVidia video card to use the Mercury playback feature,(you can enable Mercury on a non-supported card easily with a simple hack),which renders your timeline previews 10 times faster than without it.
Min 2 7200 rpm HDDs....best if both onboard and then eSATA to a third external drive...or USB3.
Fastest I7 cpu you can afford...cpu speed is king for encoding or processing.
External hdmi port,so you can see your program monitor on a large hdtv,or,monitor.....the tv hookup will let you see how everything appears on a tv, which is quite different than a computer monitor. There remains on this forum a debate on whether an SSD boot drive is a good thing...my laptop was fastest
on the PPBM5 test when I used two separate Corsair F120 SSDs....however, it has been reported that SSDs have issues with transferring uncompressed data...like video files...even the new monster SATA III drives. Some say it is the sandforce controllers and marvell controllers may be ok. Read this forum...there is a tremendous amount of info here from experienced pros. You will know what to expect better..esp. when new technology appears.
Thank you for all your help with this. I'm able to start narrowing the search down now.
So, for a stupid question, what is the performance difference between using an ATI card with GDDR5 and an Nvidia card with GDDR3 and an Nvidia card with GDDR5? Is it so huge that I shouldn't even consider a laptop that is perfect in every other way because it doesn't have that Nvidia card, or because the Nvidia card doesn't have DDR5? I hear a lot that these Nvidia cards are the way to go, but they don't really come in any practical laptops, mostly just behemoths. I realize that in going for a laptop there will be some sacrifices, I'm just hoping they aren't total sacrifices. Maybe I'm just hoping for too much.
Again, thanks so much for your help in all this. I can look at data all day and it still doesn't give me as much information as talking to another human being.
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Simply put: An ATi (now AMD) GPU cannot use MPE's GPU acceleration feature at all; therefore, using an ATi/AMD GPU would permanently "lock" CS5.5 to the MPE software-only mode. In that mode, the features that would have used the GPU now go completely to the CPU. This slows down timeline renders/exports - often by a factor of 10x to 20x.
On the other hand, a low-end Nvidia GPU with only 64-bit or 128-bit DDR3 VRAM is simply much too weak to take much, if any, advantage of the MPE GPU acceleration. In fact, in CS5.5, the H.264 Blu-ray encoding and especially HD-to-SD MPEG-2 DVD encoding would be so glacially slow with such a low-end Nvidia GPU that you might as well permanently lock CS5.5 to the MPE software-only mode. Why? Because those cheapo mobile Nvidia GPUs are far too weak to handle both scaling and MRQ simultaneously.
.....a lot of this has already been explained on this forum.....you would benefit to read more here....PPro is a professional, demanding program that requires serious horsepower to run well...a tricked out laptop can barely handle it , not to mention the difficulty of natively editing AVCHD footage, some from DSLRs, which is highly compressed.There is a huge performance difference in PPro between the DDR5 and DDR3 video memory....a post by RJL here recently explained it. Take it from me, as a newbie who foolishly believed the "minimum requirements" shown on the Adobe box when I first started and suffered much agony getting started.....finally, had to transcode everything just to edit.
Today's new Sandy Bridge cpu's can bring a new level of performance to a laptop, but, only if part of a well balanced machine that has no weak links in it. You need solid components to make it work and edit natively....ATI will not enable Mercury....only NVidia. Without Mercury, you will take ten times longer to render your preview files and to process certain effects. Jim's recommendation to find a laptop with eSATA is a good one...I saved money getting an Asus last year,but, found out the USB3 is not as fast as advertised...about 106MB/sec. top transfer speed. Disk speed is very important in running PPro smooothly...a RAID setup for your project disk would really help you fly through multi-layered timelines!!
Also, definitely max out the memory!!! 16GB is a minimum!! You can see the much slower laptops on the PPBM5 website which are using 8 GB,or less.My Laptop scored higher than identical ones due to faster disk speeds,( using the 2 SSDs), and more memory.Good luck with your research and buying decision!