How to choose the best laptop for graphic design? [2022]

Henry is a technical advisor of a network-based institution in New York that provides internet service to its clients. He has achieved Bachelor’s Degree in...Read more

Henry is a technical advisor of a network-based institution in New York that provides internet service to its clients. He has achieved Bachelor’s Degree in...Read more

Choosing the best laptop for graphic design might seem daunting given the plethora of options available in the market – but it doesn’t have to be that way. In this article, I’ll be walking you through all the intricacies of picking the best laptop for yourself.

Firstly, we’re going to learn between MacBooks and Windows laptops, which one you should pick, and why. After that, we’re going to take a look at what factors you should keep in mind while choosing the model.

To help you even further, we’ve even included a list of the best processors (CPU) for graphic design work, the must-have peripherals, and what specifications we recommend.

Lastly, we’ve answered some commonly asked questions in the FAQ section to clear up any confusion you may have.

Excited? Let’s get right down to it!

Is MacBook better for graphic designing or Windows Laptop?

Long gone are the early days of graphic design when the Apple Macintosh was the only computer that allowed digital typography. It is high time we debunk the myth that MacBooks are the best for graphic designing.

This is 2022 – both Windows laptops and Macbooks can perform equally excellent for graphic design work.

That being said, each of them has its own set of pros and cons. Let’s take a look at them below, so the next time the topic Macs vs. Pcs gets brought up, you don’t have to wonder about the answer anymore. 

Reasons to go for MacBook

How to choose the best laptop for graphic design
  • Thunderbolt 3: It is significantly faster than USB 3.1 ports. If you plan on doing large file transfers frequently or using 4K monitors with your laptop, you’d appreciate the insane speed this technology offers.
  • Apple ecosystem: If you already have some other Apple devices like the iPad and iPhone, a MacBook would allow you to benefit from the Apple ecosystem.
  • Simple and user-friendly operating system: The macOS is widely regarded for its simplicity and reliability compared to Windows. If you aren’t much of a techie and want to work effortlessly without worrying about maintenance too much, macOS is better than Windows for that.
  • Build quality and longevity: Five words. MacBooks. Are. Built. Like. Tanks. Yes, I’m not exaggerating. On top of the sleek, modern design their Aluminium unibody offers, they also have a fantastic lifespan. For example, you can easily expect to use a MacBook for eight to ten years without headaches.

 Reasons to go for a Windows laptop

How to choose the best laptop for graphic design
  • More economical: A windows laptop will run you significantly less for the same performance specifications. Moreover, the maintenance and repairs are pretty cheap, and you don’t need a specialized shop for that either.
  • Ability to customize and upgrade: One big advantage of Windows laptops is that most of them can be upgraded as you go. You can swap the HDD out with a speedy SSD or increase the RAM if the stock one doesn’t cut it. However, be noted that some of them don’t allow hardware customization.
  • System compatibility outside the creative industry: MacBooks might be the go-to laptop for most designers, but about 73% of devices worldwide use Windows. If system compatibility with your business clients is crucial to you, a Windows laptop would be better.
  • Ability to do advanced OS level customization: While the macOS offers an easy-to-use interface, it doesn’t allow the user to tweak the nitty-gritty details of the operating system. On the contrary, that’s possible to some extent with Windows. However, if you’re not an advanced user, chances are low you’ll ever need that.

Deciding on the specifications: what factors to keep in mind

Display: Color accuracy, resolution, and type matter

The rule of thumb with laptop screens is that color accuracy and resolution come first, then you should check the size – since a big display is of little use if it can’t bring out the subtle details of your design. 

The screen type should be IPS or OLED for optimum color accuracy where the latter is superior. Steer clear of TN panels. You shouldn’t go for a screen resolution lower for 1920 x 1080; the higher, the better.

If the display checks all the previous boxes, determine if the screen size is ideal for you. In most cases, 13 inches and lower is too small for graphic design work. It should be at least 14 inches. However, keep in mind that large displays like 17 inches and higher will translate to less portability.

A touch screen can be nice, combined with a 360-degree rotating display allowing you to use the laptop as a graphic tablet.

Graphics card: Can it run your applications?

How to choose the best laptop for graphic design

Ensure the laptop has a dedicated graphics card, not an integrated one like Intel HD Graphics.

Your software would run much smoother with the help of a dedicated GPU. For 2D graphic design work, mid-tier graphics cards like NVIDIA GeForce GTX1050 or AMD Radeon R7 are enough. However, if you use 3D modeling software, you should get something more powerful like NVIDIA GTX 1060, GTX 1070, or GTX 1080.

As for the VRAM (video RAM) size, 8GB is the standard if you want a future-proof GPU and/or plan on using a 2k or 4k monitor. Try not to go for anything lower than that unless you’re on a tight budget.

RAM: Your best friend for multitasking

As a graphic designer, you will often be using multiple software side by side, like Illustrator, Lightroom, or Google Chrome. All of them need to store large files on the fly, so if your RAM can’t cope with that, your workflow would be suffering.

8GB is the absolute minimum you should aim for. I strongly recommend getting at least 16GB of RAM, so your machine doesn’t feel sluggish while multitasking and 32GB for heavy users who also use memory-hogging video-editing software.

As for the generation, DDR4 would be good enough for most purposes. If your budget allows it, get for DD45 as it’s somewhat faster than the previous generation.

Don’t cheap out on this. A decent RAM is always a good investment that’ll make your work fly by.

CPU/Processor: The stronger, the better

As the processor, or CPU, is essentially the brain of a computer, it is critical to choose the right one to ensure the processor doesn’t bottleneck the rest of the system.

There are two ways to go about that: focusing on the clock speed (measured in Gigahertz) or how many cores it has.

While many believe that for multitasking, the more cores your CPU has, the better – that’s not really the case. Most graphic design software are not built to benefit from many cores. Hence, a higher clocked CPU would be better than a CPU with a gazillion cores. For instance, a quad-core processor with a 5 GHz clock speed would be much better than a 32 core 2 GHz processor.

Speaking of quad-core processors, that’s what I recommend. A higher number of cores mightn’t be beneficial, but anything lower than a quad-core will probably hamper the performance.

One last thing, generations matter greatly for processors. A one-generation old processor will be less expensive, so it’s okay to go for that for budget issues. But anything older than that will make your laptop outdated faster.

Storage type and capacity: HDD vs. SSD

Always, always go for an SSD. If your laptop only comes with a hard disk drive from the factory, check if you can install an SSD alongside. You might even want to replace the HDD with an SSD if it doesn’t. If none of them is possible, don’t go for that model.

Yes, that’s how important SSDs are. It was possible to make do with an HDD with Windows 7, but Windows 10 will take forever to boot and shut down without an SSD. Not to mention, the performance of graphic design software would be lagging considerably as well.

Another piece of advice would be that check if the SSD your laptop comes with is SATA or M. 2. SATA is a relatively older technology and much slower than M. 2, while the M. 2 is a few times faster, and the price difference isn’t drastic either.

As for the storage size, you wouldn’t want to go for anything lower than 512GB as designers often need to work with large files. Get at least 1 TB of storage to be on the safe side. 

Some laptops use a hybrid storage arrangement with one SSD being used for the operating system and one HDD for storing other files, which can be a good choice, too, since large SSDs tend to be very expensive.

Battery life: If you’ll be working on the go

The whole point of getting a laptop is to take your work everywhere with you, right? In that case, long battery life can be such a lifesaver.

Unfortunately, since graphic design software are pretty resource-intensive, they drain the battery pretty quickly. The manufacturer might claim the battery to last even as much as ten hours, but in most cases, that’s only true if you’re a light user who only watches Netflix and surfs the web on the laptop.

To know about the actual battery life, look up the reviews of the model you’ve picked and check how much the heavy users are getting. The recent MacBooks with M1 chips come with breathtaking battery life, which you might want to look into if it’s one of your deciding factors. 

Upgradability: For the forward thinkers

Last but not least, upgradability. It’s not an option for MacBooks, but if you’re picking from Windows Laptops, this is something you should keep in mind too.

With the rapidly changing tech world, even a newly released laptop can become outdated in a year or two. The best way to overcome that is to get a future-proof laptop with the latest components and compatible with the hardware coming out in the following years. 1 TB SSDs might cost a fortune now. But when the price comes down, it will be such a bummer that you can’t upgrade simply because your laptop isn’t compatible with the M. 2 SSDs.

Or, if you’re just starting out with graphic designing and still not sure if the extra cost of 32 gigs of RAM is worth it, you’ll want to go for something that’d allow you to upgrade your RAM at least – should you wish to in the future.

Upgradability is often one of the overlooked aspects of choosing a laptop, but it’s perhaps the most important one. Make sure to look into this before you make the final decision.


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Three of the best processors for graphic design work

Intel i7-9750H: Best overall

Advantages:

  • Fast enough for graphic design applications.
  • Doesn’t overheat.

Disadvantages:

  • Weaker than the desktop version.
  • A minor upgrade from the previous generation – i7-8750H.

 AMD Ryzen 5 3600: Best budget CPU

Advantages:

  • Affordable.
  • Decent base clock speed

Disadvantages:

Intel Core i9-10980XE – The premium choice

Advantages:

  • Significantly faster performance in some Adobe software.
  • Has 18 cores, which, however, is of no use for graphic design.

Disadvantages:

  • Comes with a hefty price tag.
  • No support for PCIe 4.0.

Read also: Why Is My Laptop Battery Draining So Fast?

Top peripherals that will boost your graphic design workflow

External monitor

If you want to create design drafts while working on the go, your laptop display is fine for that.

However, it would be very productive to have an external monitor at home or your office where you can take full advantage of the big screen. It’s a great yet underrated way to improve your workflow.

Make sure to get a monitor just as good as your laptop, if not better.

Graphics tablet

A graphic tablet is a must-have for those who create illustration-based artworks.

Humans have been using pens and paper for at least 4000 years. Your computer’s mouse or trackpad simply can’t replace the natural hand-eye connection that takes place while drawing. I’m not saying graphics tablets can fully replace that either, but the experience is as close as it gets.

If you’re planning on doing a lot of illustrations, you should definitely give graphics tablets a shot. They can be on the expensive side, but the basic models are pretty affordable.

Ergonomic mouse

How to choose the best laptop for graphic design

A proper mouse can transform the way you design and open up a whole new level of depth to your workflow.

Ergonomic mouses are designed to keep your hand, wrist, and arm in a natural position and significantly reduce the chance of common conditions like mouse arm syndrome, carpal tunnel, and RSI. The much healthier position would allow you to be more productive and energic.

The best part is, some ergonomic mouses are purpose-built for graphic design, so they come with plenty of programmable buttons to help you work even more efficiently. Take a leap of faith and switch to an ergonomic mouse – trust me, you won’t regret it.

Portable hard drive

Portable hard drives can come in really handy for collaborating with other graphic designers at work or collecting large files like design assets from your business client.

While the internet speed may not cause any headaches in first-world countries, it’s a suitable replacement for cloud storage services if the internet speed is somewhat slow in your area.

On top of everything, it allows you to backup all your files, too – just in case.

What specifications do I recommend for graphic design?

If you’re still confused about what specifications you should go for, here’s what I recommend –

CPU: 8th Intel Core i7 or better
RAM: 16GB
Storage: 512GB SSD or more
Display: 15.6-inch FHD IPS (1920 x 1080)
Graphics card (GPU): 4GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 or better
Battery life: 8 hours or more

If you don’t find a laptop within your budget that checks all the boxes as is, make sure to check if it can be upgraded or customized. For instance, if the model you’ve picked has 8GB RAM, see if you can swap it for 16 GB.


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FAQs on How to choose the best laptop for graphic design

How much RAM is good for graphic design?

You should get at least 8GB of RAM. For smoother performance in multitasking, I recommend 16 GB.

Is SSD better for graphic design?

Yes, I firmly recommend getting an SSD for graphic design.

The software would open faster, the load time for large files would be reduced a lot, and overall, your system will be far more responsive. If budget is an issue, you can use a 128GB or 256GB SSD for the operating system and a larger hard disk for the rest of your files.

Is a graphics card necessary for graphic design?

Yes, your laptop should have a dedicated graphics card if you plan on using it for graphics designing. While you might be able to get away with an integrated GPU for some software, the performance will never be that great.

Is GTX 1650 good for graphic design?

Yes, it is.
The on-paper specifications might not blow your mind, but that is to be expected given the price point. The question is, how does it perform for GPU-intensive tasks in practice?

GTX 1650’s performance sees a decent improvement compared to the GTX 1050 and 1050 TI from the previous generation. It’s a reliable 1080P GPU with a very power-efficient design and can do even better with better cooling. However, the memory is somewhat lacking as it comes with only 4GB of GDDR5 RAM, which might be considered outdated in 2022.

Will it get the job done? Yes.
You can easily use most graphic design applications like Photoshop, Illustrator, and Lightroom with a GTX 1650.

Does it mean it’s the best budget-segment graphics card? Absolutely not.
If Radeon RX570 is available in your country, I would recommend you go for that as that offers way better performance at the same price and has both 4 GB and 8 GB variants. Another plus is that its GDDR5 memory uses a 256-bit interface, whereas GTX1650 uses an inferior 128-bit one.

Why wouldn’t additional cores guarantee exceptional graphic design performance?

Most graphic design software is optimized to use one core only, so it doesn’t matter much whether you have eight or sixteen cores. Your money is better spent on a processor with a higher clock speed – preferably one that supports overclocking too.

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Conclusion on How to choose the best laptop for graphic design

Graphic design is a vague term. The system specifications of the ideal laptop for you depend entirely on which applications you would be using.

However, almost all of them are pretty CPU and GPU-intensive, so it’s wiser to overshoot with the specifications than end up with a slow system. I hope my guidelines will help you pick the right laptop for yourself. Good luck!

Henry is a technical advisor of a network-based institution in New York that provides internet service to its clients. He has achieved Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Engineering and has been in the service for seven years. As part of his job, he needs to keep updated information on computers and different technologies so that the institution can update itself for the new challenge. In this line, he always keeps himself updated with the latest technologies and devices.

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