Choosing the Right Laptop for Photo Editing

What are the ideal features of a laptop used for photography post-processing? For someone like myself who sits for hours at their computer using editing software programs, this is an important question. Not to mention the wide range of products available on market today can make it difficult to know what works best, especially when budget is an important consideration.

This article will go through what I think are a few of the key elements for a high-performance laptop that would work well for photo editing.

Dell Laptop

Laptop for photo editing

When buying a computer, you should aim for the best package you can find. So consider purchasing a laptop that is suited for video post-production, even if you don’t specialize in it. It’s likely that the specifications of that kind of laptop will be recommended by software developers for a few years making it a better investment.

The ins and outs of processors

For processors, I would aim for a mid-range, dual core PC if you’re on a budget, or go for quad core models if you want to have as much performance as possible. Photography post-processing software doesn’t require as much juice as video editing programs but it’s always smart to consider how quickly technology changes and have a laptop that can handle a little more than necessary.

intel

For Intel processors, i5 applies to the newer versions of Core2Duo processors and i7 stands for Quad Core processors.

With the current series of AMD processors, A10 is comparable to i5 and the FX line for i7.

Keep in mind these three factors:

  • AMD processors that ‘compete’ with Intel’s i5/i7 lines don’t have as much power but are more affordable.
  • AMD processors tend to overheat more than Intel processors. Make sure the cooling system provided by the laptop is sufficient or consider buying extra refrigeration devices.
  • AMD processors tend to use 10-15 more watts than Intel models.

Memory – How much RAM is needed?

For most post-production software, the speed factor is set by a combination of processor + RAM.

For RAM, I recommend always trying to aim for the highest value possible within your budget. If you’re planning on doing some serious work, the minimum requirement for a high-performance laptop is 8 GB of RAM. Anything higher than that will be fantastic right now, whereas anything less than 8 GB will probably lead to compatibility issues with the latest software and have a harder time handling large amounts of file data.

DDR3L or DDR3 models are more or less universal these days, but if you want to spend a little bit more and get a DDR4 RAM-packed laptop, you will appreciate the added boost.

You can also buy a laptop with 4-8 GB of RAM and upgrade it later. Just make sure you check out the manufacturer’s maximum recommended RAM capacity prior to making the purchase.

Macbook

Graphic cards – gaming vs workstation models

There is a HUGE difference in price when it comes to gaming and workstation models of graphic cards.

Gaming cards: Known as Geforce for Nvidia and AMD Radeon for AMD – these display the same differences as discussed in the Intel vs AMD comparison, with Nvidia being more compatible with Intel processors. These cards are intended for gaming and not for intense usage, although current high-end models are more versatile and provide better reliability.

Good cooling is critical with these cards, as they heat up quickly during use. They also require lots of power, which leads to a shorter battery life for your laptop.

AMD Firepro

Workstation cards: Known as Nvidia Quadro for Nvidia and Firepro for AMD – these are created to work with high loads and a variety of applications, being the perfect solutions for post-production editing. A comparable model is priced at about 5-6 times the price of gaming cards. But a workstation card won’t heat up nearly as much and require less power to work.

Overall you need to balance your need for performance and the amount of money you’re willing to spend on a laptop. If you spend a lot of hours every week editing, then investing in a little more expensive graphics card might be worth it in the long run.

Cooling is important

A cool computer will last longer. I remember an old laptop I used to have; I had opted to buy the cheaper model and initially it worked well, but the laptop had very poor refrigeration which was noticeable every time I would use it. This eventually resulted in performance issues when opening up software programs. Had I invested in a laptop with better ventilation and cooling, I never would’ve dealt with it crashing while editing pictures with Photoshop and Lightroom goodies due to overheating.

Antec Cooling Device

Summary

I would like to share my personal preferences about what I look for in a good performance laptop that fits my needs as both a photographer and designer.

First I set a budget (mine is around $1500). Then I decide on a good processor speed and the amount of RAM needed. My preference is an i7 processor and 12-16 GB of RAM. I feel this would allow me to use my laptop for a few years without any performance issues. Because I’m on a budget, I would go for a mid-range graphics card solution, like the GTX 960. Since I want to be able to travel with my laptop, I’d opt for a smaller screen size for a lighter, easier to carry computer. Finally, I would consider getting a good cooling pad like an Antec or Cooler Master as it will prove to be extremely helpful during warmer days of the year or when I’m editing for an extended amount of time.

I hope this helps you in your quest to find the perfect Mac or PC laptop. If you’re ever in doubt about what you need or are still confused about what type of laptop you want to invest in, talk to other creatives who might have a quality setup and/or visit multiple stores and get advice from the tech associates there. The more research you do, the better you’ll feel about your buying decision.

Jane Grates manages the Lightroom shop at Sleeklens.com. When she’s not busy running Sleeklens, you can find her traveling the world or enjoying long walks in nature.