After more than 20 hours of research (especially concerning the display screen because that’s the most important hardware device of a laptop computer for a graphic designer), reading dozens of expert reviews and listening to actual user feedback, I have chosen the Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK as the best laptop for graphic design or photo editing.
The Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK has a sharp 15.6” screen, displays colors accurately, the viewing angles are really good, although, the brightness level is not as high as on some other similar laptops. Is that a deal-breaker? No. The Inspiron i7559-763BLK is also a very capable laptop and thus you will easily be able to simultaneously run two or three professional graphic designing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator on it, without any lag in performance whatsoever.
It’s also great for video editing (such as for using Lightroom) because it has a dedicated Nvidia GPU (Graphical Processing Unit) that’s very powerful. It’s actually an entry level gaming laptop. The battery life is also great (when not gaming of course). You should be able to get more than 6 hours on it easily.
The only downside of this Inspiron is its weight. It weighs in about 2.5 kg. If you’ll be carrying it around in laptop bags, then you shouldn’t care about the weight too much, because it has got the two main aspects that make a great laptop for graphic design: A High Quality Display Screen & Powerful Computational Capabilities.
But, if the weight is a concern to you, and you want something more portable, then you should consider the Asus UX305LA which weighs only 1.2 kg. Due to its portability & capability, I was actually going to put it at the top of the list. But then I saw that a reasonable number people have reported that the display comes somewhat poorly color
calibrated by default, even though the display (13.3 inch) has pretty much all the newer technical features that make a great display screen.
Some people have been able to fix it to a great degree by simply re-calibrating the color using software tools, but others that have access to premium hardware based screen calibrators (the best of their kind) such as Andrei from Ultrabookreview.com, notes that after calibrating it using the ‘Spyder’ color calibrator, the screen looked fantastic afterwards and it actually became one of the best display screens in its category with a color gamut of 98% sRGB, 69% NTSC, 74% AdobeRGB. It’s a shame that Asus hadn’t done it in the first place.
Even though anyone will be able to use software tools to re-calibrate it, due to lack of clear evidence from the users as to what extend the software tools can correct the accuracy, I was hesitant to recommend it over the Inspiron model. But if you have, or at least can lend from someone, a hardware based screen color calibrator, then I definitely recommend the Asus UX305LA.
So anyway, before going any further into the review, let’s first consider the things that you as a graphic designer should keep in mind when purchasing a laptop (without going into all the boring technical aspects of course). I think this will be very beneficial to you, because when you have a good grasp of what these things are, then you can easily figure out for yourself how to find the best laptop that suits your needs. And you can totally discard my recommendations even.
So what are those things that you should keep in mind when choosing a laptop? Well, there are couple of things you should consider. But all those features can be broken down to two main aspects, as I mentioned earlier. The first thing you should consider is the Quality of the Display Screen. And the second one is the Computational Power.
Table of Contents
- Why Do They Matter?
- Display Screen Quality
- Computational Power
- So then, What Type of Main Storage You Should Choose? And How much of RAM Does a Graphic Designer will Need After all?
- The Best All Rounder – Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK
- Best Budget Laptop – Acer Aspire E5-573G
- The Affordable Powerhouse – ASUS X751LX-DB71
- Final Words
Why Do They Matter?
The quality of the display screen matters because graphic designers are visually more intuitive individuals. Your job is to present complex ideas or subtle suggestions, in the most simplest form visually, so that people will remember them. Therefore, if the display screen that you’re working on shows colors poorly, you won’t be able to accurately determine the accuracy of your design. In other words, a low quality display screen can be misleading and counterproductive, even though it will save you a few bucks when purchasing a laptop.
The computational power matters because even though drawing complex visuals maybe easy to you, displaying a complex image on a screen requires a lot of complex mathematical calculations being performed from the computer’s end. Therefore, having powerful hardware matters.
Now, without complicating your mind with boring technical details, I actually can explain to you what type of individual hardware features you should consider when trying to find a laptop with a quality display screen & enough computational power to meet your requirements. So let’s talk a little about them in more detail first.
Display Screen Quality
Among other things, there are three main technical features that define the quality of the display screen. That is its sharpness, the color accuracy, and the viewing angle.
The sharpness mainly depends on how many pixels there are per inch (also known as the pixel density). The more pixels there are the more sharper the display screen will be able to display images etc. However, display screens with very high pixel densities (such as those 13.3” displays that have a 3200 x 1900 resolution for instance) are quite expensive. And most displays that have such pixel densities on laptops tend to be touch-screens. The problem with touch-screens is that they’re fingerprint magnets!. If you buy a laptop that has a high pixel density touch-screen and actually use the touch-screen quite often, then you’ll find yourself wiping off the screen quite frequently to get rid of those fingerprints, which can be very annoying. Therefore, I advice you to first of all to stay away from touch-screen based laptops. The touch-screens also tend to consume more power so that it’ll also shorten the battery life as well. All the laptops that I have listed here have Full HD screen resolutions (1920 x 1080 pixels) and as long as the physical size of the screen is between 13.3” – 17.3”, they’ll still be quite sharp when displaying images or other elements that matter to you as a graphic designer.
Another thing that you have to worry about when buying a high pixel density screen (say 3200 x 1800 pixels on a 13.3” screen) is that old applications don’t scale well on these new displays. They usually appear too small, and you’ll struggle while trying to read menus etc. Even premium products such as Adobe Photoshop, although the latest version (CC 2015) officially supports high pixel densities, struggles on such screens. This is also true to the display screens that I’ve chosen here. But since their display density is not extremely high, they’re affected to a lesser degree. But being a graphic designer, the sharpness matters to you. Therefore, you shouldn’t buy a display screen with too low pixel densities anyway. A display screen size that ranges from 13.3” to 17.3” that has 1920 x 1080 pixels (Full HD) should be more than adequate for most graphic designers. A 13.3” Full HD screen will be the most sharpest, and a 17.3” screen is the least sharpest (relatively speaking of course).
Display screens use small squares called pixels to display images and other elements on the screen. And each pixel consists of three sub-pixels. And each of these sub-pixels can only be lightened up into a single color, namely; Red, Green or Blue. The display screen uses these sub-pixels in combination to create the rest of the colors that we see. And from a hardware point of view, the technology used to light these sub-pixels ultimately defines the accuracy of the output colors. So for instance, the old (& now abandoned) CRT display screens had excellent color accuracy, compared to the LCD and LED screens that computers use nowadays (both LCD & LED panels are based on the same technology).
The viewing angle defines by how much the output colors gets distorted when you look at the display from an angle (both horizontally & vertically). Here too, the old CRT screens had the best viewing angles where as the new LCD & LED screens are not that good, comparatively. And on these screens, horizontal and vertical angles create different color distortions for the same screen. For instance, when viewing green text on a black background on a conventional LED laptop screen, if you create a horizontal angle by moving to your left, you’ll still see the green colors, but the screen will get much darker. The easiest way to fix the brightness issue under horizontal angles is to increase the overall bright intensity of the display screen. In other words, a display screen that has more brightness will give you good horizontal viewing angles compared to a screen that has low level of brightness. And these horizontal angles become more of a concern for large LCD/LED display screens (21” or more) because a more wider screen naturally creates horizontal viewing angles when you look at the sides (edges) of that screen.
And if you create a vertical angle by pushing back the same screen, then the screen will also become more darker, but the green text will also be shifted towards more of a yellow color. Therefore, a vertical angle distorts both the brightness and the colors. And as you can guess, vertical viewing angles are more important for laptop screens. New LED screens nowadays come with a technology called IPS (In-plane Switching) and these display screens have the best viewing angles & the best color accuracy when compared to non-IPS LCD or LED panels. While IPS displays are a little expensive, if you’re a professional graphic designer looking for a laptop, then make sure its display screen has the IPS technology.
Note: The color accuracy and the shift, also depend on the overall lighting of the surrounding. Keep that in mind when calibrating a screen.
If you have a tight budget then you might not be able to find a powerful enough laptop that also features an IPS panel since they’re a little expensive. My advice is that if you’re just a novice graphic designer, then don’t make it a deal-breaker. Just go with the normal LED panel for now, use it for a year or two, and then as you advance you can spend more money and buy an IPS (or whatever it’ll be called in the future) display screen in the future.
If you have 8 minutes to spend, then I actually found an excellent YouTube video that explains the advantages and disadvantages of IPS LED panels in a very simple manner. You can view it from below, and I highly recommend that you do so:
Brightness Level & Color Gamut (sRGB, AdobeRGB etc)
I did a quite a lot of research before making these recommendations (I took about 3 days to write this post mostly because of my research). And according to actual experts in the field (photographers, designers etc), unless you’re doing extremely sensitive or critical work, a display screen with 60% – 70% sRGB is more than enough (displays with high sRGB profile are quite expensive too). And according to them, even having a high brightness profile is not a priority. For the vast majority of professional graphic designers, you can absolutely avoid these expensive screens, without it negatively affecting your work. Here’s a quote from ‘Conrad Chavez’ (an expert photographer and Adobe Creative Cloud trainer):
High maximum brightness is another specification promoted as a virtue. High brightness is great for televisions and projectors, but not a priority in photography or design—especially for print projects… For many creatives, higher maximum brightness is not useful.
And as far as the color gamut, or more specifically, the sRGB gamut coverage, is concerned, it is totally depended on the type of work that you do. If you’ll be required to work with lot of highly saturated images then you should want to choose a display screen that has a wide sRGB coverage (accuracy). But as far as I understand what a graphic designer actually does, a screen with sRGB coverage of 60 – 70% should be more than enough for your requirements. And expensive display screens that have more wider color gamut coverage, are mostly required for professional photographers, not graphic designers. Arnaud Frich over at Color-Management-Guide.com has written an in-depth article. Should you be interested in researching more into the subject, it’ll be an excellent starting point.
What About the Size?
There are other things that are equally important such as the workspace, or more loosely put, the physical size of the display screen. If portability is the most important factor to you, then choose a laptop with a screen size ranging from 13.3” – 15.6”. And ideally the weight shouldn’t be more than 2.2 kg. If you won’t be required to carry the laptop around a lot, then you can purchase a 17.3” laptop which should also give you the largest workspace, for the same resolution. You can also look for other features such as DVD or even Blu-Ray burners (these are not usually available on 13.3” laptops, or even on some 15.6” laptops), if they’re important to you. For such a laptop, it shouldn’t weigh more than 3.5 kg.
Matte or Glossy?
Matte screens are the best display types overall because they can be used under various different places & under different lighting conditions. However, the glossy screens have more color accuracy and brightness, although they do reflect your surroundings. They can be annoying to use outdoors, and even indoors sometimes, especially if it’s well lit (they are actually best to be used in a place like a dark room to be honest). Matte screens have matured a lot in recent years, and when in doubt, I recommend that you buy a laptop that has a matte display screen.
Almost all the processing on a laptop computer is performed by the CPU and the GPU (when can be utilized, GPU is the best piece of hardware to render graphical processing since it’s made specifically for that purpose. But unless you’ll be doing a lot of video editing, having a high-end GPU is not required. Yes they’re also expensive). But power without efficiency is simply wasted energy. In other words, even if you have a powerful CPU and a GPU, if you have a slower main storage & small RAM capacity, then that’ll significantly reduce the efficiency of the data flow to those processing units. Therefore, choosing a faster main storage (and one that’s also big enough to hold your data comfortably) & high RAM capacity are as important as choosing a powerful CPU (and a GPU if needed).
So then, What Type of Main Storage You Should Choose? And How much of RAM Does a Graphic Designer will Need After all?
The Main Storage
The most fastest main storage devices are called SSDs. They store data in electronic chips as opposed to the more conventional rotating hard disk drives. When compared, SSDs are few times more faster, produce less heat and very energy efficient. However, they’re more expensive than the conventional hard disk drives thus, capacity-wise, they come in smaller sizes. I would advice you not to choose anything below 256 GB because storing high quality images take a lot of space. A 512 GB drive would be the most ideal, but not all laptops come with SSDs at that capacity range. But the good thing is, you can easily replace an existing SSD (or HDD – Hard Disk Drive) with a more faster and spacious one in the future.
SSDs can speed up Photoshop loading times up to 73%!
There is another (newer) type of storage device called the hybrid drive. A hybrid drive basically has a roomy but a slower rotating hard disk drive inside, and also a capacity-wise smaller but a faster SSD drive. The rotational disk will be used to store your data and the faster but smaller SSD will be used to temporarily store your most frequently used data. In theory, it’s far better to end up with a hybrid drive rather than with a rotating hard disk drive. But even in a hybrid drive, resource hungry applications such as Adobe Photoshop can take about 40 – 50 seconds to load, whereas on a dedicated SSD drive, the same application can be opened in 10 – 15 seconds.
That said, on a hybrid drive, programs such as Photoshop will be only slower when opening for the first time. And it’ll be opened much faster from the next time on. This is because the smaller but faster SSD is used for what is technically called ‘caching’. In simple words, the hybrid drive will monitor your most frequently used data (programs, files etc), and then it’ll store them in the fast SSD drive for faster access. Since the SSD is small in capacity, the drive might not be able to store all the data of your most frequently used programs & files in it. But, if the method that it utilizes to figure out which data you most frequently use & how to store most of it within the small SSD, is highly efficient, then you’ll be able to open your most frequently used programs and files, very fast. The technical term for ‘figuring out how to efficiently store a user’s most frequently used data‘, is known as the ‘caching algorithm‘. The algorithm efficiency slightly changes depending on the manufacture of the drive, and I usually recommend Seagate due to my experience with them. But there are many other that’re as good as, or perhaps even better than Seagate. And unless you’ll be purchasing one separately (to replace the existing one), you won’t be able to choose a certain manufacturer for the hybrid drive when buying a laptop. You just have no choice but to go with the default one included by the laptop’s manufacturer. And, while a hybrid drive (they’re also known as SSHD – Solid State Hybrid Drive) won’t still be as fast as a dedicated SSD, however on most occasions, SSHDs can deliver very close performance. But despite whether you’ve used a file or a program recently (or frequently) or not, on a dedicated SSD drive, you’ll be able to open anything in the same blistering speed all the time.
So in summary, if you think that 256 GB of SSD capacity is too low for your needs, and a laptop that has a 500 GB + SSD is too expensive, then I advice you to purchase a laptop with a hybrid drive that has at least 1 TB (that’s 1000 GB) of space utilizing a rotational (slower) hard disk for permanently saving your data, and a SSD drive with 8 GB capacity for ‘caching’. Otherwise, going for a dedicated SSD drive is the most optimal solution as far as performance is concerned.
As far as the RAM size is concerned, I would recommend that you buy a laptop with at least 8 GB of RAM. A 12 GB or 16 GB of RAM would be just about perfect. RAM is also quite expensive and, not all the laptops let you upgrade it. Some laptops come with in-built RAM chips that you just cannot upgrade.
CPU & GPU
As mentioned earlier, graphic designing work consumes a lot of processing power. Therefore, having a capable of CPU is a must. Unless you’ll also be doing things like heavy video editing, having a high-end GPU is not always necessary. And almost all new processors come with an in-built GPU that should be more then enough for your requirements. As of February 2016, I would say an Intel Core i5 fifth generation CPU (i5-5200U and higher) or a more newer Intel Core i5 sixth generation CPU (i5-6402P or higher) will be an excellent choice for you. If you have a tight budget, even a Core i3 processor would still be quite enough actually.
How Do I know if These Will Deliver Enough Power?
Personally, I’m a highly technical individual. So when it comes to computer hardware, I know what I speak of. However, I’m not a graphic designer. Therefore, I took a couple of hours when writing this article just to figure out what graphic designers actually do. I read many articles, but what Kimberly over at Udemy has written was the most helpful one of all. It’s an excellent piece that goes into depths of what graphic designers actually do. It was very helpful to me. If you’re a novice graphic designer, then you should definitely read it.
So anyhow, coming back to the point. After reading various different sources, I narrowed down the three main software tools that most professional graphic designers use. That will be the Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Indesign. Sure there are a few serious others, but these three were the very resource intensive and the most popular applications. And if a laptop computer is powerful enough to comfortably handle running them all, or at least two simultaneously, then chances are, it’ll be able to handle pretty much any other such professional graphic designing software. So I went to Adobe website, and checked the ‘System Requirements’ they have listed for running each of these applications in their latest version. And based on that information, I used my technical understanding for calculating the computational power. Pretty simple.
What About the Operating System?
There’s an interesting debate on whether you should be using the Apple Mac OS or Microsoft Windows as the operating system. Microsoft Windows is the most popular operating system. It runs on various different hardware and more than 90% of all computers use it. It’s modern, easy to use, and has a huge application eco-system compared to Mac OS as well. When in doubt, you should go with MS Windows – the latest version is Windows 10.
Mac OS on the other hand uses a different approach. The operating system itself is very minimalist in appearance, looks gorgeous, and very intuitive. It runs on a carefully chosen hardware devices that are manufactured by Apple, and Apple computers are quite expensive too. There aren’t a lot to choose from either. But these computers are extremely well crafted to the final detail and they look great. You look at an Apple computer and you’ll know that it’s designed by someone who’s extremely passionate. In my opinion, its the intuitiveness of the operating system, and the subtle sense of passion the Apple computers represent physically, that attract designers, because they’re ‘hardwired’ the same way.
If you can spend just a little over $1400, then buy the Apple Macbook Pro 13.3”, end of story!. It has all the hardware features that I mentioned (and even more) crafted to their final details, and since both the software and hardware are carefully matched by Apple engineers, it delivers the best efficiency & computational power. And the laptop itself of course, looks gorgeous and weighs only about 1.6 kg.
Otherwise, stick with me a little bit, and I’ll give you two or three MS Windows based affordable alternatives that you will not regret either.
The Best All Rounder – Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK
Loads Windows 10 within 10 seconds!
The Dell Inspiron i7559-763BLK comes with a 15.6 inch IPS LED display screen that has a resolution of 1920 x 1800 (full HD), which as mentioned in the beginning, is sharp, has really good viewing angles and good color accuracy. Again, it’s not the most brightest display, but as far as my experience is concerned, it’s actually quite bright (I watched a few video and written reviews, just to conform that). The sRGB color gamut of this display is about 69%. It’s also a matte screen and doesn’t reflect your surroundings at all when working. There’s also a HD (720p) web-cam above the screen as well.
This laptop belongs to the Dell 7000 series and most these laptops have very similar hardware specifications. This model has 8 GB of RAM, fast 256 GB SSD drive, dedicated NVIDIA GeForce GTX 960M GPU with 4 GB of RAM, and the latest version (sixth generation) of Intel Core i5-6300HQ processor. Whether you open applications such as Adobe Photoshop for the first time or not, I guarantee that on the i7559-763BLK model, you will be able to open Photoshop within 10 – 15 seconds because of that dedicated SSD drive. Although this is not suitable for heavy professional video editing, according to one user, he uses this laptop to both play games and run Adobe Lightroom, and he’s very happy with both the display screen and the overall performance. The laptop comes with Windows 10 pre-installed, and when you turn it ON, it’ll only take about 10 – 12 seconds to fully load the operating system so that you can carry on with your tasks. It’s quite fast. On a single charge, you should able to use it anywhere between 5.30 – 6 hours, or even a bit more, depending on your configuration.
The keyboard is comfortable to use and is backlit. The touch-pad is also nice, although, it’s located more to the left which can be a little annoying if you’re a right handed individual, because you have to move your dominant right hand a lot towards the left (relatively speaking) for using the touch-pad. Otherwise, it registers multi-gestures and other functions without any big issues. The biggest disadvantage of this laptop is the 2.5 kg of weight, as mentioned in the beginning. The charger is also somewhat bulky (after all, it’s a gaming laptop). I usually don’t recommend anything that’s 2.2 kg or heavier if portability is of the utmost importance. But given its powerful features, the weight is only just a little bit over my threshold limit. If you’ll be carrying it around in a laptop bag, then you should purchase this laptop. Otherwise, well, trust me, I looked over few dozens of laptops, and while each one of them excelled in one way or the other, they all had some kind of fault that became a deal-breaker for a graphic designer.
Take Dell’s extremely popular XPS 13 series for instance. It’s a very capable lightweight ultrabook that has a really good display screen (the full HD version of XPS 13 display is actually only marginally better than this Insipiron). But it has a horrible touch-pad. It might not be a huge issue for some graphic designers who mostly use a mouse, but if you utilize the touch-pad, then it’s a big issue. There’s a community thread at Dell that’s well over a year long and even though the issue seems mostly software related, it’s still there on the XPS series, more or less. And one user had specifically mentioned that due to the issues, the touch-pad is mostly impossible to use with Photoshop.
Best Budget Laptop – Acer Aspire E5-573G
I did not think that I’d be able to find a laptop under $500 that would contain a 15.6 inch display with 1920 x 1080 pixels, very capable Intel Core i5-5200u CPU the kind of which most premium laptops come with, 8 GB of RAM, dedicated NVIDIA GeForce 940M with 2GB RAM, and a hard disk drive with 1 TB (1000 GB). But I actually did and it’s the Acer Aspire E5-573G!.
Yes the display is not an IPS panel and you won’t find one at this price range anyway. But it’s still very sharp, and while color accuracy (59% sRGB) or the viewing angles are not as good as on an IPS panel (obviously), it’s a great display screen for under $500. I’m not trying to trick you here, and you don’t have to take my word for it. Just go to Amazon and try to find a better deal (for some reason if you do find one, which is highly unlikely, then please do notify me, I’ll replace it with this one).
The hard drive however is a 5400 rpm one, and there’s a 8 GB SSD drive as well. The Acer won’t be able to load resources hungry graphic editing software such as Photoshop quite fast compared to Dell Inspiron, but once opened, you’ll be able to carry on with your tasks without big lags in performance because other than the hard disk drive, this is still a very capable entry level gaming laptop. If you want to dramatically improve the performance of this laptop, then replace the existing the hard disk with an SSD with 256 GB capacity which should cost you about $60-75. If you do that, then I guarantee that you’ll see huge improvement in application loading times.
I watched a couple of video reviews and none of them found any major issues with the keyboard or the touch-pad, although, when using they do sound cheap (which they are). The laptop weighs about 2.4 kg, and under mid load, the batter should last 4.30 – 5 hours easily (even more if you turn ON the power saving features). Oh and the battery is non-removable.
The Affordable Powerhouse – ASUS X751LX-DB71
The ASUS X751LX-DB71 is a large (17.3 inch) and a heavy laptop (2.8 kg) that’s suitable to be used as a desktop replacement. The display screen won’t be as sharp as the previous two models because they all have the same amount of pixels, but the screen on this one is a little bigger. But there certainly is no huge difference, and it’s still a very sharp screen which’ll also give you about 10% more workspace due to the size.
The official product description says it an IPS panel, but according to one user, it’s a TN (non IPS) panel. And I suspect that he’s correct because newer TN panel have quite the same great horizontal viewing angle the IPS panels have, and many users say it has great viewing angles (they usually mean horizontal angles not the vertical ones). It also has high brightness levels according to the users, and TN panels actually do have high brightness levels. So again, it’s quite possible that the display is actually a non IPS. Nonetheless, even according to him and many other users (it’s rated 4.5 out of 5 stars), it’s a pretty good display screen. And two users who’ve brought it for photo editing love it.
This Asus laptop has the most capable CPU of the all the laptops that I’ve listed here as well. It’s an Intel Core i7 – 5500u. It’s got 8 GB of RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX950M 2 GB of RAM and 1 TB of hybrid drive. It has a high-speed rotational drive (7200 rpm) and 8 GB of faster SSD for storing the frequently used data. It’s a much faster drive compared to the one that the Acer model had. You’ll be able to open applications just a little bit faster on this one. This laptop, I guarantee, will not have any lag in performance while letting you run at least three professional graphic designing software, once opened.
The keyboard is good and comfortable to use, but it’s not a backlit. One user says the touch-pad is great, but that’s not good enough to properly evaluate its usability. However, I haven’t seen any major complains and that is always a good sign. I couldn’t find any numbers concerning the battery life, but given its power and & weight, I don’t think it’s a major concern for a user anyway.
I did a through research just to understand the mindset of a professional graphic designer. I actually took a couple of days to write this article. And at the end, I’m confident that I’ve been able to come up with a couple of products that should meet your requirements. I will update this article in the future, whenever I find better products, and if you have personal opinions or suggestions, please use the comment section below. Thank you for reading.