Greatly appreciate any insight from experienced users on the best route to take.
I'm tech savvy, done basic video editing before with ULEAD VideoStudio, most my source content will be 720P AVCHD-Lite from my Panasonic DMC-ZS3 camera. I'm running Win-7 64-bit on a laptop with Core i3 370M (2.4ghz) processor with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD RAM DRIVE. I've also got a desktop with Intel Quad Core Q8200 (2.3 Ghz) with 6GB RAM also running Win 7 64-bit I can use also. I'm just making basic home movies, no commercial content. Nothing fancy, but when I have spare time (rarely) I do like to try to get 'fancy.' I don't want to spend more than $100 on software if necessary.
I already have ULEAD VideoStudio 11.5 Plus. My gut is to just continue to use that or use the free latest version of Windows Movie Maker which has gotten quite good reviews for a free program. But if there is significant benefit to using something else I'd like to know what it might be.
My main OBJECTIVE is SPEED. I don't have a lot of spare time so I need a program that has an easy interface that allows me to create movies quickly without fuss, and the program actually needs to encode them quickly, with no glitches/crashes/etc. I'd also like to avoid having to having to do an interim conversion of the AVCHD-Lite format as last time I checked about a year ago, most editors couldn't edit that format natively.
I've read Pinnacle Powerdirector 9 is fast because it is 64-bit, but is it THAT much faster than VideoStudio? I've also read Adobe Premiere Elements is right behind Powerdirector in performance but maybe better in features? I'm not an Adobe loyalist but I would assume if I took the time (which I have little of) to learn Premiere, it would be beneficial in the sense if some day in the future I needed to create commercial content and had access to the full Premiere Pro, it would be much easier to pick-up Premier Pro. The chances I'll need to create Commercial content are slim and my line of work is not in multimedia but there is some benefit to having some knowledge of industry "standard" tools in my opinion as I'm always looking to expand my skill set.
I should also mention I'm an avid Adobe Photoshop Elements user and am using a very old 2.0 version and will probably upgrade to 9. I can get Photoshop and Premiere Elements 9 together for a measley $125 USD.
Any suggestions as to the path to take?