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Similar to choosing a laptop for videos, the first thing is to consider is where you are in your career and where you hope to go. If photo editing is more of a hobby, you won’t necessarily need a beast of a machine that can handle huge files and multiple editing applications running at once. But if you’re an aspiring photographer needing to touch up the most minute details of what you shot on your professional DSLR, you’ll want to make sure your laptop will be able to keep up with the programs and tasks (and deadlines) you’ll need it for.
What to Look For in a Photo Editing Laptop
Memory: Photo editing programs take up a lot of memory, and at the very least, your machine should have 8GB of RAM (though you can find lower, down to 4, but it’s not really recommended). RAM is what powers the computer’s processing unit (CPU, or processor) and translates to the speed you get while using. As the RAM goes up, so does the price, but a slow and laggy editing application can quickly become immensely frustrating to use. Just the act of opening and booting up a studio program like Photoshop can instantly use 1GB of RAM.
Speed: CPU speed matters too, and though the specifications vary between manufacturers, a 2GHz 6-Core processor is around the minimum you’ll want to go. A core is the unit inside that handles the speed, while threads keep track of managing tasks, and typically there are two threads per core. Intel processors also usually include a TurboBoost feature, which helps give it an extra kick when it’s getting overwhelmed with tasks.
Storage: Similarly, the amount of space in your Solid State Drive (SSD) and Hard Drive (HDD) will increase with cost too, but more is always better if it’s in your budget. Photo files can be massive, especially when you start saving multiple versions of them in an ongoing project, and a storage drive can quickly get full.
Display: If you’ll be connecting this up to a bigger, external monitor (or two, or three), display size on the laptop itself may not matter too much in your setup. The graphics processing unit (GPU, or sometimes called video card) is going to be important if you want the ability for the laptop to push that same quality up to your bigger display, and is of more concern to video editors. But for those who will be taking this on the go with you, a 15-inch display is the norm, with a few outliers leaning larger or a little smaller.
Color: All screens are not created equal, and color accuracy is crucial for visual editors and designers. While some laptop brands have a screen perfectly capable of everyday things like web browsing, photo editing requires a display to bring out the intricate details of colors so you can clearly see the full spectrum, and this is a big area where brands cut quality in order to drop the price down. Look for the “Color Gamut Range” – the scale of colors that the device is able to reproduce. The sRGB should be as high as you can afford, preferably 100%, while the Adobe RGB only applies if you’ll be working with Adobe RGB images.
1. Apple MacBook Pro
No surprise here. The Apple MacBook Pro was born for photo editing.
The color gamut range is as full and dazzling as you can get, at 100% for both RGB and sRGB. Photos look gorgeous on its 16-inch full HD Retina display with TrueTone tech, and 16GB of RAM will keep your editing applications running smoothly. The Touch Bar is a welcome way to streamline your editing tasks even further, and the 6-Core Intel Processor can effortlessly handle it all.
There are four Thunderbolt ports, and the battery life is a nicely long 11 hours. Plus, an SSD up to a staggering 8TB means you won’t need to worry about file size for a long, long time.
2. Asus Zephyrus G14
This 4K photo editing laptop features an 8 Core/16 Thread AMD Ryzen 9 processor, and boasts a TurboBoost up to 4.2GHz as well as 16GB of RAM. It’s even able to handle VR and is compatible with Oculus Rift.
A 1TB SSD storage drive offers plenty of space to store your projects, and this also comes with the NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060, a powerful graphics card normally used for gaming.
The LED backlit, 14-inch FHD display with a 120Hz refresh rate is on the smaller side of the picks here, but the resolution and color gamut range more than makes up for it: 1920 x 1080, with 91% RGB and 60% Adobe RGB.
3. Lenovo Ideapad S340
This light laptop is fueled by the 8th Gen Intel Core i3-8145U, getting up to 3.9GHz with a 4MB SmartCache for fast processing.
8GB of RAM can still be enough to get the smaller-sized editing jobs done, and 128GB of SSD storage leaves room to stash all your projects that are in progress.
The bezels lining the screen are nicely narrow, and allow for more room in the 15.6-inch display. The Intel UHD Graphics 620 graphics coprocessor also keeps your images looking sharp, and can even handle gaming too.
Battery life is a little less here, at 8.5 hours – but still plenty of time to get work done while on the go.
4. Acer Aspire 5 Slim Laptop
For those just getting started into the world of photo editing, this laptop is a great place to begin your journey.
The Intel i3-1011i30U keeps things moving at 2.1GHz with a TurboBoost up to 4.1GHz, and along with the 4GB of RAM, should be enough for basic Photoshop functions (but you can always upgrade later).
Graphics look pretty great on its UHD display, with 65% sRGB and 47% Adobe RGB. A 128GB SSD is a good start to storing your projects, but an external drive might be a necessity somewhere down the road once it eventually fills up.