Finding a Photo-editing Laptop

MacBook-1

In a previous post I mentioned that I may need to purchase a laptop computer that can be used for photo editing. I am not talking about using Picasa to modify a few JPG images taken by a camera phone either. It needs to be suitable for running Photoshop CS6, Lightroom 4 (and now Lightroom 5), the OnOne and Nik suites and PhotoMatix Pro all at the same time.

I started by working out what sort of things I would need and came up with the following specifications:

Processor:Intel Quad Core Mobile i7 >2GHz – Photoshop likes as much speed as possible so it is important to have a good processor, this means Intel and the Core i7 gives the speed needed.

Memory: This needs to be 8GB minimum, whilst 4GB should be enough in most situations, running all of these programs at once (along with email, a browser and more) means that I don’t want to wait whilst programs are swapped in and out of memory.

Storage: The storage should be fast and ideally be a 512GB SSD or greater. The biggest laptop hard-disks are 1TB which is barely enough for all of the data needed so I would have the main data on an external disk with the library files on the local disk. An SSD would ensure that I am not waiting for the device to start-up (or wake-up) and the size would allow a reasonable amount of local storage for the applications.

An optical drive is not essential as I can connect an external CD/DVD writer when needed (I have one of these already).

technology

Connectivity: The laptop MUST have at least 2x USB3 ports (more would be better but they rarely have more than 2 and sometimes a the third USB Port is just a USB2 port!?). Ideally other (faster) connections will be present (Thunderbolt maybe), finally a way of connecting an external monitor should be present – I would prefer Display Port, followed by then DVI then VGA Connector. A HDMI port is OK for connecting to HD displays but does not support very high resolutions.

The Screen: This is of utmost importance, for using Lightroom a MINIMUM of 13” should be considered, anything smaller will impede the usefulness of Lightroom. I also need a MINIMUM of 1080 pixel height, 768 pixels is too small. A high-res display would be preferred (matched to the various screen size).

Battery Life: This should be around 4-5 hours minimum, more is better.

Weight and size: These should be reasonable and not excessive and this really comes down to the screen size. The weight and size of the power supply should be considered too; I have seen some that are the size of a house brick!

Other essentials: These frankly should be available on all laptops and things such as Wireless a/b/g/n, Audio connections, backlit keyboard and no silly latches to keep the lid shut. Touch control of the screen for Windows 8 would be nice but not essential and the keyboard and touchpad must be of good quality too.

Operating System: I have no preference but will either be Windows 8 (possibly Windows 8 Pro) or OS X Mountain Lion. Both have pros and cons.

With the specifications set, I started (and have been) looking at the various options out there and as my main computer is a PC I naturally looked at the various PC laptops out there, one of the advantages to the PC platform is choice (this is also a hindrance at the same time) so I looked at the following companies:

  • DELL
  • Lenovo
  • Sony
  • HP
  • Samsung
  • And a few others such as Toshiba, Fujitsu, etc

The added advantage is that many of these (who have their own stores) have discounts and cash backs through my company’s EPP program. The ones sold by resellers also have discounts and cash backs attributed to the reseller.

However after looking at the options around I found that nearly all of the powerful PC laptops did not match up with the specifications. The number one problem was inferior screen resolutions; why do they think that a height of 768 pixels is enough? This is crazy and I don’t understand this.

Others who did match most of the specifications were too heavy and/or had a brick sized external power supply or had inferior battery life measured in tens of minutes.

ThinkPad-W530-Laptop-PC-Front-View-3-gallery-845x475

It wasn’t all bad, there were a handful of laptops that met and exceeded the specifications but these were all quite expensive and some were well over the £2K mark some were nearly £2.5K. They were still plastic and the build quality left a lot to be desired.

And ALL of the PC laptops were loaded with various amounts of “Crap-Ware”. What if I don’t want all of the bloated stuff that I never need? The first exercise with any PC laptop once it is up and running is to remove the crap-ware and you never know how many remnants of them are left behind.

So after this fruitless exercise I looked at the Apple laptop Computers. Although I liked the size and weight of the Retina 13” Macbook pros, these were only dual-core processors and they didn’t have dedicated graphics processors either (not a specification requirement but the latest version of Photoshop CS6 does use the GPU for some of its effects).

The Apple 15” MacBook Pros (MBP) all have quad core i7 processors as well as dedicated GPUs as well. You can choose the older (non-retina screen) MBP or one of the Retina devices. The Retina MBP is better specified (it can have 16GB Ram for example) and if you specify the standard MBP with a similar CPU/GP combo and a 256GB or 512GB flash disk the Retina Macbooks are actually less expensive.

With the option for 16GB, the Retina Display and the fact that they are cheaper means that the logical choice comes down to one of the Retina models. The two standard options are:

  • 2.4GHz Quad Core i7, 256GB Flash Storage and 8GB Ram
  • 2.7GHz Quad Core i7, 512GB Flash Storage and 16GB Ram

Both have Nvidia GeForce GT 650M (with 1GB) Graphics, the Retina display, up-to 7Hours battery life and the same amount of connectivity ad the 2.4GHz model can have the larger SSD and more memory is needed. The only problems with the Retina MBP is that they are not upgradeable (the flash storage is possibly), so you need to specify the components that will last the natural life of the computer (i.e. 3 years or more). With that in mind I need to get one with 16GB Ram and a 512GB SSD, either the 2.4 or 2.7GHz CPU will be fine.

The additional problem with the Retina MBP is that they are not cheap and the model with the 512GB flash storage and the 16GB RAM spec is the 2.7GHz model @ over £2000. I can get a discount through our EPP program which helps save a few hundred pounds but it is still a lot of money.

Fortunately Apple also sell refurbished and returned devices with a full year’s warranty and these can be an additional £200 cheaper than the EPP price. They also sell the previous generation models too, I can get a 2.6GHz model with 512GB flash storage and 16GB Ram for just over £1900; not bad as the only difference is the 0.1GHz slower CPU, this is also cheaper than the current model with the same disk and memory configurations.

MacBook-3

However, I don’t need the laptop until November which gives me plenty of time to save up and by then Apple will have probably updated the MacBook Pro Retina laptops which should make the first generation (refurb) Retina laptops even cheaper. The downside to waiting is that I will also need to look at the PC laptops again too (maybe by then they will understand that Crapware is not needed and that we would all like decent screens too!).

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