Upgrade Old PC for Video Editing

Frans writes, We have been trying to find out what sort of video to buy in conjunction with our laptop which has no FireWire! It seems impossible to find out. How do people import and edit digital video without a FireWire connection in their (older) computer?

We have a Toshiba Satellite Pro 4300 series, 600 mhz, 10 gb (of which 5 used), 1 USB port (USB 1.1). Question can we use this for video importing and editing? If so with what software, what sort and type of cameras can we do this with, and how?

How should we store the edited endproduct? On a CD? We have no CD writer on our laptop but could buy a external one. Or should it be a DVD writer (more expensive!)

We just want to be able to film our kid and our sailing around the world. We are complete beginners and want a simple, robust, easy to use system, preferably a camcorder that has a waterproof casing!, cheap, and preferably without having to buy a new laptop!

Would be extremely happy with some info, insights, and advice here. Have been trying to find out for days now, but it only seems to get more confusing! Please help!??

While it is certainly possible to rig up a solution that will allow you to edit movies on an older PC, you are talking about a number of video production issues. You computer has a very limited amount of hard disk space. You need a video capture solution of some kind. The computer currently lacks a solution for burning either CDs or DVDs and it sounds like you are planning to record video with a camera requiring a waterproof housing. Ignoring the age of the computer and potential for parts to start failing, a number of upgrades to your existing system will allow you to import video over FireWire with your current setup.

Video requires a fairly large amount of hard disk space. 5GB is enough room for only a few minutes of uncompressed video. Ideally you should either upgrade the internal hard drive in your laptop or buy an external drive. Replacing the internal drive may be impossible if the laptop won't support current drives or if the internal drive is inaccessible. An external solution is both cheaper and easier to work with, but works better with either USB 2.0 or FireWire. Ideally you want a minimum of 80-100GB so you can keep projects on your hard drive without continually deleting video files. External hard drives cost in the $120-200 range depending on drive size and speed.

Your problem of no FireWire connection is easily solved by purchasing a PCMCIA FireWire card. IOGear sells a card that adds both FireWire and USB 2.0 for about $60. The alternative is an equally expensive USB analog capture card which will produce lower quality video and ultimately increases the possibility of dropped video frames and problematic video editing.

While an external CD burner might be cheaper than an external DVD burner, DVD is certainly the standard for sharing video on shiny disks. Some careful online shopping will turn up regular sales with DVD burners priced in the $40-45 dollar range. Newegg.com is often the best place to find deals on external burners.

In terms of hardware upgrades for your computer, you're looking at approximately $220-300 for necessary hardware upgrades for a computer that may or may not last a few more years. While the older models of the Toshiba Satellite series were built with more reliable components than current models (I am one of several people I know who got a lemon in the last two years), computers start wearing out over time. At some point parts will fail. You're well beyond the availability of compatible replacement parts for that model. If you can budget for $800-1000, get a new laptop with all your feature requirements that should last for several more years.

In terms of software, you could easily edit your movies with free software like Windows Movie Maker (if you are using Windows XP) or VirtualDub, which will work with your existing laptop or any future purchase. DVD authoring is possible with the free Video DVD Maker or one of the authoring solutions typically bundled with DVD drives.

In terms of waterproofing your digital video camera, the only housings I can track down online are for professional level digital video cameras. The housings run about $500 with compatible cameras starting in the $2000+ range. You might be able to rig something up that would keep your components dry without breaking the bank, but alternatives for waterproof digital video are fairly scarce.