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Desktop PC buying advice needed for editing home videos

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / July 22, 2011 6:03 AM PDT
Desktop PC buying advice needed for editing home videos

Dear fellow members,

I need advice on a good computer for editing home
video. I've been using my 8-year-old Gateway desktop (512 MB RAM, 160
GB HD, WinXP SP3, 128 MB GeForce4 MX440 video card, Pentium 4 2.66
GHz) with two big external HDs to convert VHS to DV-AVI and it's worked
fine. But when I move to editing it's too slow to handle the big
20-30GB files and all the special effects in my editing program (Adobe
Premiere Elements 4). I need a dedicated computer just for home video
because converting, copying, and burning to disc for archival purposes
takes so much time. Should I try to upgrade the Gateway or look into a
new and hopefully not too expensive new computer? If the latter, what
specs should I be looking at? And is there any way I can use my old
software, which has been satisfactory? Thanks.

--Submitted by: Dennis B.

Here are some member answers to get you started, but
please read all the advice and suggestions that our
members have contributed to this question.

Question sounds simple but complex --Submitted by: DOSpower

Some recommendations: --Submitted by: jallisy

Time for new computer --Submitted by: DarkRubyMoon

On the hardware side. --Submitted by: Alain Martel1

Upgrade or new? --Submitted by: mal_aus

Thanks to all who contributed!

If you have any additional advice or recommendations for Dennis, click the "reply" link below and submit away. When submitting your reply, please provide as much details as possible.
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win 7 will do it nice
by hothta / July 22, 2011 10:46 AM PDT

all you need to do is buy a new hp desktop with win7. i paid $300 and i can edit just fine ~ windows 7 on a pc that can handle it is great. a small ajustment time and it is good to go. ~ i do use pinnacle hardware for the transfer from vhs to the pc ~ cost $48 if i remember correctly there is no other cost both work out of the box just fine. or you can buy the extras and do a little more if you like ~ good luck and have fun.

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Seriously ?? 512MB Ram ??
by Katmandu2 / July 22, 2011 10:53 AM PDT

Seriously ?? 512MB Ram ?? This is 2011!

You need a serious upgrade to your RAM at the bare minimum!

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Desktop PC Buying Advice for Editing Home Videos
by golferbill0922 / July 22, 2011 11:06 AM PDT

At some point, video editing software involves a process called "rendering". This can take a whole lot of time - like 5 hours or more for a one hour video. It can also take much longer if your output is to a Blu-ray disc. My point is: you really need a huge amount of address space to efficiently do this. And that reveals a significant limitation inherrant in current software. Adobe Premier (and Photodex Corporation's ProShow Gold) are written for 32 bit address space. This means that the maximum amount of addressable space is about 3.5 GBs. Both vendors are working on releases based on 64 bit address space. This will result in essentially an unlimited amount of address space. So if you have a PC with a 64 bit based OS, and with a fast, large memory Graphics Processor board, and a large amount of real RAM (at least 16 GB), you should be able to process home videos fairly quickly.

Since software that is based on 64 bit address space is essential, my advice, before you spend any big bucks on the PC hardware, is to wait. Both vendors indicate they will have 64 bit versions out by the end of this year. By waiting, you should see hardware price/capability improve considerably over the next six months. PCs with 16GB real ram are available now, and PCs with 32 GB are just around the corner. Large, fast GPUs are now relatively low priced with real memory in the 3GB range.

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Desktop PC buying advice needed for editing home videos
by Review_Guy / July 22, 2011 11:11 AM PDT

Dennis,A fresh install of an operating system, currently Windows 7. For best results (speed &tim) is based on many features. Make sure your Windows operating system is the 64 bit, NOT the 32 bit. 32 bit only will accept 2gb of RAM. 64 bit is what you want. Multiples of 3gb RAM are best. So, if you can afford it, 9 gb of RAM will be best.

So, now that you are equipped with Windows 7 64 bit in your cart, next you need TWO (7,200 rpm) hard drives, one for your operating system, the other for working with your images and videos to be rendered to.

Even though you might now be considering a Blu ray burner. With the prices close in price to a DVD burner, it's worth it now to add that feature. You just don't know when you might step up to it since Blu ray is so much higher in quality. Hint: 30 minutes or less works with DVD disks when burning a Blu ray rendered video on most Blu ray players.

Sound is important, so a good sound card should be considered.

Also, a decent graphics card. To go with that, an affordable monitor. Don't be cheap, remember that you get what you pay for. What you see on the monitor (correct colors) relates when you edit your videos. With a cheap monitor which might throw the colors off, you might tend to adjust to what you see on screen which relates to poor color in your final project/video.

Finally, the software. For the most for your money I recommend Sony's Movie Studio Platinum 11. It might seem overwhelming at first, there's are websites that have "how-to" videos as well as forums that will answer personal questions as to "how-to." This software even includes 3D creation from video camera like the new JVC and Sony.

Most of all, have fun!

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Not correct with ram-
by morrie 52 / July 29, 2011 8:40 PM PDT

Guy Win 32 bit as has been already stated can utilise 3.5Gb's of ram.
And your ram suggestion of 3Gb's a stick is correct in multiples of 2,and 1333Mh's or more,so try 6Gb's and if not speedy enough fill the other available slots,12Gb's should be plenty?

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iMac for Video editing
by ayoungblood / July 22, 2011 11:12 AM PDT

You should really look into an iMac for video editing. They are great for video editing (really), reasonably priced and can run all your PC software with VMware Fusion, Parallels or Boot Camp.

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iMac for Video editing
by LateralNW / July 22, 2011 4:34 PM PDT
In reply to: iMac for Video editing

+1 and actually I use an i5 2500K 16GB mem and 5770 1GB video card.. Windows is painful.

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Gateway upgrade would not be satisfactory for your needs.
by Edmundwr3 / July 22, 2011 11:16 AM PDT

I was in a simular situation this past January with my Dell Dimension 4500 with only 1GB RAM and a
Pentium4 running Windows 7.
My suggestion would be close to what I did in February 2011, - I bought an iMac.

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Home movies;
by terryblount / July 22, 2011 11:27 AM PDT

Hi Dennis,I've been making excellent presentations for quite some time,I have 4 PCs all of different specs,my oldest has XP Pro and I've upgraded the RAM to the max,this is the best way to speed your system up.My others all have W7 Ultimate 32 & 64 bit.All W7 systems "hog" a lot of RAM and require a good quality graphics card to run.With regards to your software,if you have purchased it and it needs to be activated,you might not be able to install it on a new PC without buying a new license.The Windows Movie Maker 2.6 which is pre-installed on XP is good for editing,it can be installed on W7 via the MS Download center.The DVD Maker installed in W7 very unreliable,it can go to 96% burning and then tell you it has failed,(wasted disc) I use AVS4YOU software which is the best I've ever used,also with MS Office 2010 you can insert animations into your presentation and convert to WMV.I will never get rid of XP,a clean install and a Ram upgrade would be the cheapest first option.I wish there was an option to post attatchments on this site,just to show you, good luck.Terry.

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pinnacle14 and adobe elements 4
by pabickett / July 22, 2011 11:37 AM PDT

I have used both these programs and each has it's strong points, I was using a p4 2.8 and it would take 1.5 hours to render 1 hour of video, and I could not do anything else while rendering, I upgraded to a first gen I7 2.8 quad core w/ 8g mem and it now takes about 12 minutes for the same job and I can do whatever I want at the same time.

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Replace that old dog (aplogies to my puppy, Rusty)...
by maynardo007 / July 22, 2011 12:09 PM PDT

HP has a VERY capable Elite series of PC's. Many configurations are available. Several people (myself included)have purchased these systems and are EXTREMELY happy. Mine was about $850 w/o monitor. It's specs are: Six core processor - AMD Phenom II X6 1090T / 8 GB memory / 1 TB hard drive / DVD/CD burner+free Blu-Ray player /
ATI (AMD) Radeon 6000 series graphics with 1 GB memory. Office Max has one on sale next week with roughly same specs. but 10 GB memory, TV tuner card and 1.5 TB hard drive - $899. You can go faster, but you will pay more. This computer is VERY CAPABLE as a movie editor. A local company is in fact using one for video editing with Vegas software (more than you need for home movies, probably)... This is link to system at HP - well that didnt work too well. It's a HP Pavilion HPE h8z series - configure at HP / desktops / high performance. Good luck.

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by qprize / July 22, 2011 12:32 PM PDT

But don't just automatically choose another PC because you've got a legacy of programs and skills. Don't just assume you can automatically install all your old programs in Windows 7. You might be happier building an entirely new system, with new software. Do a real, clean sheet plan, but based on what you'll do, not what you already have and know. You might find you actually want a more program even more powerful than Elements. Or you might find that something like iMovie already does everything you need.

If you've got access to an Apple store, see if you can make an appointment with a Genius or someone with video expertise to walk you through what the Mac does. They'll let you sit there and play with it for a couple hours if you want. See if there's someone at the Best Buy (or wherever you'd buy your PC) who knows about video editing and make an appointment to see them, too (do the Best Buy for the Mac too, if there's not an Apple Store). If anyone says you need X GB more Ram and a giganto hard drive, ask them to explain why. Don't let them just tell you "it works better."

I'm not cheap, but I don't like to spend a lot of money if I don't have to. I treat anything over a couple hundred bucks as an investment, and I like to make sure I'm getting value, not just a low price. It sounds like you want to make an investment that will last more than a year or two, and not just grab a quick & dirty bargain. Take your time, ask a lot of questions, make sure you get what you need. There's one thing that's definitely worse than buying a computer that's more expensive than you planned: buying the wrong one and being unhappy.

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My Advice is .. don't buy a PC :)
by AmeedEl-Ghoul / July 22, 2011 12:50 PM PDT

Seriously, don't buy a PC Happy
I was in your boat couple of years ago, with my passion to photography moving up, that I started getting more and more assignments and request to photograph. I needed to upgrade to a machine that can handle the huge RAW files and the heavy editing I do. I waited till Win7 was released, it was nothing but pain, with the continues crashing, Photoshop crashing, plugins crashing, then I ended up keeping the new machine for photo editing only, but still .. lots of problems, and spent too much time maintaining it than using it. I made the switch and moved to Mac, got the 27IMac .. to save you the specs, I got the latest .. Since then, I never looked back, productivity over the roof, much faster, there is no registry that gets missed up and I end up reformatting, In a year, I had maybe couple of application crashes .. and they were MSN and Microsoft Office, beside that, it is working like a charm. I never had an operating system that lasted me till the newer OS was released, it happened with Mac, I just upgraded yesterday to Mac OS Lion.

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Imacs suck.
by Ingeborgdot / July 29, 2011 11:43 AM PDT

I had to use imacs in the office I worked in for a long time. I hated every minute of it. Macs are mere toys.

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Desktop PC buying advice needed for editing home videos
by greerguy / July 29, 2011 1:37 PM PDT

Get a Mac:
The new Mac models with dual Intel processors and other enhancement will do all you need to do.
Like it has been said, there is a reason creative graphics companies use Macs. Macs are much more intuitive and run any Windows apps you need for graphic use. Get into the Future - get a Mac!

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Severe lack of RAM
by tim63 / July 22, 2011 1:18 PM PDT

The cheap and quick solution would be to add RAM, up to at least 2 GB. The motherboard should accept it. If not, it's time for a new computer.

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Question sounds simple but complex
by DOSpower / July 22, 2011 1:35 PM PDT

As others have indicated, 512 MB RAM to do video capture is base spec. Video editing wants a whole lot more!

I would recommend against pouring more money into your Gateway machine as 8 years is a long time in IT and you might find it hard to get parts that work well with it. Your timing to move into something new for video editing is perfect as the new Sandy Bridge processors from Intel are fitted with an accelerator for editing video. Match that up to a Z68 chipset motherboard and as much RAM as your budget will bear and you have a good chance to do your work rapidly. If you have an absolute thirst for rapid render time it would be worth considering a small SSD (solid state drive) in combination with a larger hard drive. The new processors have built into them a video processor, so you don't need a video card but doesn't stop you adding one should you want.

The hard part of the question is then the software. To get the most out of a machine that I have outlined would require a 64 bit operating system (Windows 7 64 bit). If you still want to use your familiar software you can, in certain distributions of Windows 7, operate in XP mode, so all your existing software will operate in a virtual machine and most likely at a far greater rate than you current machine. Depending on how adventurous you want to get with your editing, I tend to use TMPenc products for authoring DVD, which allows for audio normalisation, menu schemes and clip editing/merging. For anything more tricky I use Sony Vegas, which is a resource hog but has great flexibility.

The question comes down to how much do you want to spend versus how much time you are willing to let your machine sit and render. I upgraded a few years ago and it was a revelation. Leave the gateway for capture and the new machine for editing. That is if space permits!

Good luck

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Editing Home Videos
by Fred2794 / July 22, 2011 3:14 PM PDT

Dennis B.
I was in the same spot as you a couple of years ago, I found the computer and the program I was using at the time just not good enough to handle the big files. So I switched to first a Mac Book with the iLife 09 program. I also bought a new video camera which uses a SD Card with MPEG4 files. The Mac Book handled the files very well, with no problems at all, I have since moved to an iMac with a 1000GIG hard drive, so I can keep the video files a little longer. The secret is to keep your video small about 30 minutes or so and keep cleaning out your hard drive. I do other work on the computers as well, so they are not dedicated to only video editing, I also have an extensive photo library which takes up a fair bit of space. Hope this was helpful for you Dennis B. Regards Fred2794

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Desktop PC buying advice needed for editing home videos
by whoozhe / July 22, 2011 3:23 PM PDT

Grunt is the keyword. Video processing is the most resource hungry of all computing tasks.
It really doesn't matter if it is a PC or Mac, running Windows or Linux, hardware is the key.
Plenty of processing power, as much memory you can install, ample HD space and most importantly a good graphics card.
One of the big hurdle is understanding the terminology used in video editing. Once you have a grip on that then manuals and such make sense.
Find a forum that deals with video editing. They can be a source of invaluable information and guidence

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Homegrown PC for home video editing
by photobug56 / July 22, 2011 3:26 PM PDT

There are a number of ways to go at this. You can, as suggested, by a fairly inexpensive pc with a cheap external device to import analog video. But like you I had no success in handling video with weak equipment. And the components (mobo, PSU, RAM) that came with my now 9 year old HP desktop ranged from fair to junk, IMHO. Most prebuilt desktops that I've seen have cheapened down motherboards, PSU's (power supplies) stretched to the limit, tight limits on RAM capacity, and locked down bios's. You should be able to do far better on your own with a bit of effort.

BTW, MAC's are nice for video, but expect to pay much higher prices for everything MAC then the same items would cost in the PC world.

I decided to build a PC from scratch. Mine's a bit on the overkill in some ways, but it ought to aim you in the right direction.

1. Use a PCI-E based video import card with hardware MPEG encoding. I have one from Hauppauge and it just burns right through video encoding with virtually no CPU load.
2. Good motherboard and CPU. I have the Intel I7-2600K (you don't need the K - overclocking) SandyBridge CPU. You could also do well with a new I5. With it a P67 mobo - I have the ASUS P8P67 Deluxe but you could tone that down a bit - but be sure it has the latest SATA 6MBPS controllers. Anything less will slow you down. The mobo should also have 1394 / Firewire and USB 3 on the back plate.
3. Good hard drive - again, 6MBPS interface, such as on the WD Caviar Black on some models. Solid state would be great in terms of speed but not capacity, and I don't know how the constant writes to it would affect its lifetime.
4. Good (doesn't have to be great - you're not doing gaming) video card that takes video conversion work not handled on your import card away from the CPU. I have an NVIDIA GTS450 based card which meets my needs so far but that was a bargain months ago. I'm sure you can get better today in the $100 to $150 range.
5. Good case - the Corsair 600T I got is well ventilated, piles of extra room to grow, and fantastic cable routing.
6. Good power supply - I wanted a high power one that was efficient, would last a long time. Got the Corsair Professional Series Gold High Performance 850-Watt Power Supply. This one has completely modular cables - only attach cables you need.
7. At least 8gb of decent ram. I bought Corsair, but I'd also go for Crucial.
8. Win 7 Home Premium at a minimum, 64 bit.
9. BD (Blu Ray) writer, maybe you need it, maybe you don't, but think - huge capacity backups with few discs can be nice.
10. An external back up system of some sort, minimum 500 GB.

The whole setup is fast, quiet, and easily upgradable. You can downscale some choices to save money, but don't buy junk.

BTW, I have a JVC HRS9400U SVHS deck with S (aka Y/C) connector for video for my VHS and SVHS tapes. I also have a Pioneer DVL909 LD player hooked up since I may take video of old laser discs that I can't find DVD's for. They connect through a JVC switchbox. I also have a Sony 8mm HI8 / Digital tape deck for my HI8 tapes connected via firewire. It imports my analog HI8 video AFTER converting it to digital inside the deck, and most video import software can control the deck transport controls.

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CPU based video - not great idea for video work
by photobug56 / July 22, 2011 3:29 PM PDT

If I was building a PC for light day to day use, I'd be happy with a Z68 mobo with the built in video of the Sandy Bridge I5 or I7 CPU chip. But most decent video cards today can offload video rendering load from the CPU and the cards don't cost much.

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Some recommendations:
by jallisy / July 22, 2011 3:40 PM PDT

Do yourself a favor. Look at, or any other computer etailer and find the best bargain you can on a new computer. Dell, HP etc all have a computer "sizer" - video editing is a high performance usage. If you go to one of those sites, see what they recommend for your use, look at the detailed specs of the recommended models and use that as a baseline to shop around. You probably can't oversize for video edfiting. You are going to want the most ram you can afford (sometimes cheapest at than from vendor), the fastest hard drive speed and a dedicated video card. The motherboard will dictate how much ram you can use but most 32 bit machines/boards recognize 4 GB, much more for 64 bit machines. You will only be able to get Windows 7 most likely - if that is the case, I might recommend that you get the 32 bit machine because the learning curve on the OS could be kind of steep, 64 bit adds on complexity plus any drivers you want to install will have to be updated on the 64-bit, easier compatibility with the 32-bit. Most machines are compatible for either 32 or 64 so you can always go to 64 bit in the future. You probably will not be able to install your Adobe Effects software and use it without conflict. You have version 4 - the current version is 9 I think and it sells retail for like $80. You can no doubt get a bargain somewhere (If you are a student Adobe has a great student sale program with fantastic pricing) and will probably love the new features in it. If that is out of the budget there are tons of freeware or opensource apps around - CNET's downloads is a good place to start. Once you get set up and familiar you will wonder how you ever got along without the new toys. Good luck!

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upgrade or new?
by mal_aus / July 22, 2011 3:56 PM PDT

Generally, in this day and age it's better to buy a new PC.
1/ It's more often cheaper than an upgrade.
2/ You're getting your choice of more powerful, faster more up to date hardware.
3/ On board software will be the latest version ie. Windows 7 OS.

Having said that, before making a decision, you will have old software that you would like to retain and therefore need to check that it will run on any new machine. "Windows Upgrade Advisor" can help here. It will check your current PC and report on existing software suitability with Windows 7.
You can find it here

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Buying another PC
by suzihelper1 / July 22, 2011 4:19 PM PDT

Take a look at TXMICRO.COM. This site has all kinds of used but perfectly functional computers at reasonable prices and free shipping. I picked up a dual core intel processor Dell for $159.00 shipped free to my door..
3BTEch is another site free shipping and these are tested systems with windows XP- pro you can't beat the price..

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Go big or re-adjust everything
by flrhcarr / July 22, 2011 5:15 PM PDT

Seriously though. I'm agreeing with hothta on the Pinnacle system. I use 8, 9 & 15. I do have an issue w/ 15 connecting to my old Moviebox DV, but otherwise it's awesome on my older xp system (upgraded a bit internally). But you're using AdobePremiere Elements 4, so stick with it. The learning curve on Pinnacle can be daunting.

The biggest leaps have been RAM (system & video) & processor speed. Because rendering takes the longest. All of those fades & swipes are grueling. You may want to turn everything single thing off that doesn't boot the computer & is needed for video editing.

If you're really looking for a new machine, look to someone to build you one, not buy it out of a box. Visit your local computer store (that doesn't have a neon sign), & talk to the person there. They'll be able to build you a very powerful system for very little money. Usually the ratio is something like six to one. They'll be able to install your old stuff that you want to keep or advise you (like private hard drives) on where to put things after they are done.

Unless you want to eat out of a bread bag for a year or so?

You could also upgrade your software, which will help a bit in the quicker rendering (I'd hope, I don't use Adobe for motion), along with some RAM & a good video card (IF it'll work in your Gateway). Second, you're looking for a dedicated computer just for video. Have the machine (either the new one or the old one) formatted with nothing on it, & delete the AVP after you get your updates & registrations.

Just a few other suggestions. Hope this helps.

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by cwatson50 / July 22, 2011 9:42 PM PDT

Industry standards vary but the one computer that does not is a Mac.
It is known for its video and photo editing.
While I don't own one ( I have an Ipad) I respect their product.
Everything I do is Microsoft oriented so when I bought I went with a Sony.
If you want a PC you can build a computer with the specifications you want through Dell or Sony.
You can make a computer to suit your needs as opposed to what Staples selects or Best Buy.

If you are going to spend money do it wisely and don't get the cheap unit.
Its always worth spending a little more when you buy a computer and cut back somewhere else.

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by MARK_W_G / July 23, 2011 12:05 AM PDT

I recommend a Dell XPS Studio 8300, or if that's beyond your budget, the 9100. Go with the fastest processor and largest hd you can afford. Be sure to get it with a USB 3.0 port and upgrade your external drives, if you are going to continue to use them, to 3.0 as well. Don't skimp on the video card. With 8GB of ram (or more), you can also set up a virtual drive with XP to run your older programs that might not run on W7.

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by onemoremile / July 23, 2011 12:46 AM PDT

A new iMac will do a great job for you. The acquisition cost will be more than a cheap Windows machine and it will be worth every penny. Just having the iMovie application, which is standard equipment, will improve your workflow considerably. You can specify a fast processor and a large hard drive, if you order online. I would advise purchasing extra RAM from a third party, such as or, since Apple's price for extra RAM is very high. If you load up too many of those large video files, you will be able to add an external Thunderbolt drive, which will move files to and from your computer faster than any drive that you can attach to a current Windows machine. The price of Thunderbolt drives should come down by the time you have filled the drive on your iMac.

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You do need much more processor speed and RAM
by highmeadowhiker / July 23, 2011 1:00 AM PDT

I am using my old Pentium 4 computer at this moment to process this reply, and for such usage it is fully satisfactory. But I was forced to buy a more powerful system when I bought a High Definition camcorder, because the P4 simply cannot handle high def video. (It "stuttered" very badly.) If you plan to upgrade your future home movies to high def, you have no choice but to upgrade to something like an Intel Core i7 920 or similar. RAM is relatively cheap nowadays, so I bought 9GB. And you need a powerful video card! My advice is not fully responsive to your question about editing from VHS, but the chances are that someday you will upgrade to a high def camcorder.

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Video editing
by blue51557 / July 23, 2011 1:55 AM PDT

Howdy Dennis B.
For video editing you need two things, power and more power. A good video card like the Radeon 58xx or 68xx series, and an Intel i7 1366 CPU. A couple of large( and by the way, they are cheap), HDD 1tb or larger. Use one for backup. Win 7 Home Premium 64 bit version, and at least 8g RAM. If you are buying a name brand computer, look for those specs, if you feel brave and want to try building one, then add an ASUS mother board to the mix and go for it.
Bob c.

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