MacBook or iMac for editing home movies?

In an effort to answer as many reader queries as possible, we turn to CNET Labs' Julie Rivera, who will tackle some of the best laptop and portable computing questions in this public forum.

Julie Rivera Former Associate technology editor
While taking psych and theater courses in college, Julie learned her mom overpaid a PC technician to...lose her data. Thus, a tech geek was born. An associate editor for CNET Reviews, as well as a laptop testing analyst at CNET Labs, this wayward individual has maniacally dissected hardware and conquered hardware/software related issues for more than a decade. Just don't ask for help on her time off--she'll stare at you quizzically, walk away, and make herself a drink.
Julie Rivera
2 min read

Editors' note: In an effort to answer as many reader queries as possible, we turn to CNET Labs' Julie Rivera, who will tackle some of your more pressing laptop and portable computing questions in this public forum.

Dear Julie,
I am trying to decide between getting one of the new [Intel Core i7] 15-inch MacBook Pro vs. a 27-inch iMac with a Core i7 processor. I find that my mid-2007 vintage MacBook Pro is really chugging when I try to make home movies using iMovie. Is there a significant difference in performance between these two computers? I would normally wait for a refresh for the iMac, but I want to buy a computer by June.--Anirudh

The answer depends largely on whether you want to be portable or tethered to a desk. Both systems are pretty powerful--as we can see when we compare the two identically priced ($2,199) configurations:

MacBook Pro 15-inch (Preconfigured):

  • 2.66GHz Core i7
  • 500GB SATA hard drive
  • 512MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 330M (auto-switchable graphics)
  • SD card slot 

iMac 27-inch (configured for price):

  • 2.8GHz Core i7
  • 1TB SATA hard drive
  • 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850
  • Magic Mouse

Right off the bat, the latter would be the better bang for your buck in terms of actual components. The performance difference would be probably be minimal--speaking in terms of a just a few minutes and frames--based on the higher end CPU and graphics.

Although both graphic cards have 512MB of video memory, the NVIDIA GT 330M on the MacBook Pro is part of Nvidia's midrange line, while the ATI HD 4850 is one of ATI's higher-end options. Making the case for the iMac is also the 1TB hard drive, versus the MacBook Pro's 500GB hard drive--but that would only matter if you're a storage whore like me. Finally, the 27-inch screen has a higher resolution; both that and the HDD are pretty important for someone working with video files.

Having benchmarked the Core i7 MacBook Pro last week, I can tell you that I was pretty impressed with the overall performance, especially with the 6-hour battery life. Normally, the combination of high-end CPUs and larger batteries don't make for impressive battery life, but in this case it fared much better than expected, outdoing last year's model by nearly an hour. It'll be more than capable of handling your video-editing tasks, and there's very little you could throw at the MacBook Pro that would choke your system.

So weigh the pro and cons, and happy shopping!

Julie dispenses laptop advice and more every week on the Digital City video podcast.