How to Choose the Best Laptop for Graphic Design
Trying to decide on the best laptop for graphic design can be a challenge, and different than purchasing a laptop for general use or gaming. Laptops for graphic design need to be light, portable, and powerful enough to do complicated work.
The main question is, what laptop is good for graphic design? Before researching and getting too far in the decision-making process —consider the kind of work you do and your budget. If you do complex 3D work, you will need to be on the upper end of all the specifications. If your work is mostly 2D, you can be at the mid to low end of the range.
Graphic design laptop specs
The most important laptop specs to look at for graphic design are the operating system, CPU, memory (RAM), storage drive, display type and size, and color accuracy.
There is more to a good laptop than just speed. Sure, you need speed to run your programs but, you also have factors such as deciding between Mac or PC, RAM, drives, displays, and color accuracy. You need to find the right balance on how you use your laptop. Lets get into it!
Mac vs. PC
The first question is whether you want to work with a Mac or a PC. Most software, even for graphic design, is produced for both iOS® and Microsoft® Windows® platforms. Of course, you'll want to make sure that your files are compatible with the software and operating system used by any company you work with.
Mac boast several advantages. First, their monitors tend to be very color accurate with high display quality. This is steadily becoming less true, however, as PCs ramp up their graphic-design friendliness. PC advantages include the ability to run more general software, which could make a difference if you will use your laptop for business or personal work. Lately, Apple has been removing ports from their devices. This gives the products a sleek, streamlined look, but can be frustrating when plugging in multiple accessories. PCs are more upgradeable than Macs, with the ability to initially configure or upgrade more components. This ability can enable you to upgrade only an outdated or failing component, without replacing the entire laptop.
The CPU, or processor, controls the functions of the computer. For graphic design, you need a fast, powerful processor to run complex design software. The top brands change quickly, but generally you need a quad-core or extreme series processor for graphic design.
In addition to the CPU, it is important to look at the computer's graphics ability. A computer can have either a graphic chip integrated on the processor, or a separate graphics card. Previously, integrated graphics chips were very basic, not able to do much more than display spreadsheets and web pages. In the past few years, however, integrated graphics chips have improved considerably. Unless you do a lot of 3D designs, an integrated chip is usually enough to run most graphic design programs. Using an integrated graphics chip instead of a dedicated graphics card will save you some money. If you have the budget or tend to work in complex applications with a lot of textures, you'll need to look for a laptop with a separate graphics card.
Memory, or RAM, holds the data the computer needs to access on the fly, such as all the information in the file you're currently working on. If you typically work with multiple applications open, or if you work with very large files, you need more RAM to provide seamless switching between applications and scrolling through complex files. Try to get as much memory as you can in your laptop. If the configuration does not include enough RAM for your needs, you can buy and add memory easily.
Storage drives can be either a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) or a solid state drive (SSD). Hard drives, although they tend to be cheaper and have more capacity, can be problematic in laptops. Solid state drives are lighter, faster, and more durable than hard drives. Most laptops are sold with solid state drives, but computers can be upgraded with SSDs if they didn't happen to come with one.
Display size and type
Because graphic design is a visual medium, you want the best monitor you can afford. Generally, a 13-inch monitor is too small for graphic design work. You should try for at least 15 inches. 17 inches is better for working, but could be cumbersome to carry. You'll also want a HiDPI (called Retina HD® by Apple) screen. These screens have a higher density of pixels, allowing you to see more detail. The lowest end screen for effective designing would be 1920x1080 pixels.
Many laptops now come with an option to use the monitor as a touchscreen. Some of these can also be used as a tablet, as well. If you want to use your laptop as a tablet, you'll have to get a touchscreen. If not, some people can find the touchscreen problematic, especially with fingerprints.
Laptops that convert to tablets are more and more common. Using a tablet can be effective if you want to draw or otherwise use a different input device for your designs. If you don't ever need to do that, however, the extra expense might not be worth it.
If you do choose to use a pen as an alternate input device, look around at the one you like the best. That might dictate the laptop you buy.
Color accuracy and a wide color palette are very important parts of the monitor, as well. Generally, you want to ensure that the monitor you're looking at has at least 100% of Adobe® RGB. If color isn't your focus, you can get away with a monitor that has 100% of sRGB. Color accuracy is usually measured by Delta-E, an indication of how far from complete accuracy the monitor is, as a result, a lower number is better. Try to get a monitor with a Delta-E score below 5. Of course, Delta-E cannot be considered by itself, it needs to be compared to the color palette. A monitor with a smaller color palette will have a better (lower) Delta-E score as it has fewer colors to get right.
So, what is the best laptop for graphic design? To summarize, it depends on what you do design-wise, your budget, and what applications you run. There are a lot of good laptops for graphic design, it's just a question of finding the one that's right for you.
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