How to buy a laptop to edit photos, videos or other creative tasks?

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Lori Grunin / topwatchbest

Are you surprised by the lot? laptop, desktop and tablet options are being thrown at you as “creator” or “creator”? Marketing material seldom distinguishes between very different needs for different activities; Marketers basically consider anything that has a separate GPU (a GPU that is not integrated into the CPU), no matter how low power consumption is appropriate for all kinds of creative endeavors. It can be really frustrating trying to make your way through a mountain of choices.

On the one hand, the abundance of options means that there is something for every type of work, suitable for every creative tool, and at multiple prices. On the other hand, it means that you risk over-spending on a model that you don’t really need. Or, more likely, you won’t spend too much and end up with a system that just can’t keep up because you haven’t judged the trade-offs between the various components properly.

One thing hasn’t changed over time: the most important components to worry about are the CPU, which generally handles most of the final quality and AI acceleration for the growing number of smart features; GPU, which determines the smoothness of interaction with the screen along with some AI acceleration; screen; and the amount of memory. Other considerations can be network speed and stability, since so much moves up and down from the cloud, and storage speed and capacity if you’re dealing with large video or rendered files.

You still won’t find anything particularly worth a budget for a decent experience. Even a basic model worth buying will cost at least $ 1,000; how gaming laptopthe extras that make it worth its name set it apart from its general purpose competitor, and these always cost at least a little more.

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Andrzej Hoyle / topwatchbest

Should I buy a MacBook Pro or a Windows laptop?

If you’re really wondering if your Mac is generally better than Windows in terms of graphics, then this hasn’t been true for a while. The Windows graphical programming interface has gotten much better over time, allowing for wider support and better performance in your applications. However, calibrating the display on both platforms can feel like walking barefoot on broken glass. Windows, as the management of color profiles doesn’t seem to have changed since its launch in Windows NT and macOS as the UI changes made in Monterey, coupled with ambiguities about the supported calibrators, software, and the new MacBook Pro screens make some people squash their collective teeth.

MacBook Pro now has native M1 processor support for most important applications, including software written to use Metal (Apples Graphical Application Programming Interface). But many programs still don’t have both Windows and macOS, meaning you have to choose a platform that supports any critical tools or specific software packages. If you need both and are not severely limited on a budget, consider purchasing a fully equipped MacBook Pro and running a Windows virtual machine on it. However, this is imperfect as the virtual machines are unable to access the full capabilities of the graphics processor.

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Dan Ackerman / topwatchbest

How do I know which specifications are important?

The first decision you’ll have to make is whether you’ll need a workstation-grade system or you can get away with a normal laptop; the latter is generally cheaper. In order to be able to use some advanced features, speed up certain operations, or maintain certain security restrictions, some professional applications require workstation grade components: Nvidia A or T series or AMD W series GPUs instead of their GeForce or Radeon equivalents, Intel Xeon or AMD Threadripper and ECC Memory (Error Correction Code).

Nvidia has relaxed its grip on the divide between consumer GPUs and workstation GPUs thanks to the Nvidia Studio intermediate. Studio drivers, unlike GeForce Game Ready drivers, add optimizations for more development-focused applications rather than games, meaning you don’t necessarily have to spend as much cash.

Companies that develop professional applications usually provide guidance on recommended specifications for running their software. If your budget requires trade-offs in terms of performance, you need to know where to throw the more money. Since every application is different, you cannot generalize to the level of “video editing uses CPU cores more than GPU acceleration” (although a large, fast SSD is almost always a good idea). The requirements for photo editing are generally lower than for video, so these systems are likely to be cheaper and more enticing. But if you spend 90% of your time editing video, it may not be worth the savings.

There are a couple of generalizations I can make to narrow down my options:

  • Increasingly faster processor cores – more P-cores, if we’re talking about new 12th-generation Intel processors – directly translate into shorter final quality rendering times in both video and 3D, and faster processing and thumbnail generation of high-definition photos and video. The new Intel P-series processors are specially designed for creative (and other computing-intensive) work.
  • Increasingly faster GPU cores and more graphics memory (VRAM) improve the smoothness of many real-time work, such as using the secondary display option in Lightroom, viewing complex timelines to edit video, working with complex 3D models, and so on.
  • Always get 16 GB or more of memory. Honestly, that’s my overall recommendation for Windows (MacOS works better on less memory than Windows). However, many graphics applications use as much memory as they can use up their dirty bits; for example, I’ve never seen Lightroom use less than all the available memory on my system (or CPU cores) when importing photos.
  • Stick to SSD storage and at least 1TB. Budget laptops can have a slow spinning secondary drive to reduce data space cheaply. And while you can get away with 512GB, you’ll likely have to delete files to external storage too often.
  • Get the fastest Wi-Fi network possible, which is Wi-Fi 6E at the moment. Much has been split between the cloud and local storage, and even if you don’t intend to use the cloud, the software may impose it on you. For example Adobe really, really wants you to use your clouds and move more and more files to the cloud. And if you accidentally save that 256MB Photoshop file to the air, you’re in for a rude awakening when you try to open it next.

Do I need a 4K or 100% Adobe RGB screen?

Not necessarily. For highly detailed work – think wireframe or CAD illustration – you can take advantage of the higher pixel density on the 4K display, but in most cases you can get away with something lower (and you’ll be rewarded with a slightly better battery life).

Color is more important, but your needs depend on what you do and at what level. Many manufacturers take shortcuts with a 100% sRGB display, but won’t be able to reproduce many of the saturated colors; this really is the least common denominator, and you can always buy a cheap external monitor to preview or check images as they will appear on cheaper displays.

For graphics that will only appear on the web, my primary choice is a screen with at least 95% P3 coverage (aka DCI-P3), which are becoming quite common and cheaper than they used to be. If you’re trying to match the colors between print and screen, 99% Adobe RGB makes more sense. Each will display beautifully saturated colors and a wide tonal range that may be needed for photo editing, but Adobe RGB leans more towards cyan and magenta reproduction, which are important for printing.

Display supporting color profiles stored on hardware such as HP Dreamcolor, Calman Ready, Dell PremierColor and so on will allow more consistent colors when using multiple calibrated monitors. They’re also better because calibration requires a tighter color error tolerance than typical screens. Of course, they are also more expensive. And you often have to switch to a mobile workstation to get these types of capabilities; you can use hardware calibrators such as the Calibrite ColorChecker Display (formerly X-Rite i1Display Pro) to generate software profiles, but working with them is more difficult when color matching on multiple connected monitors.

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