Computer technology advances at an extraordinary rate, with faster processors, bigger hard drives and tinier pixels emerging almost constantly. Some of the latest developments help graphic design advance, but others are less important—and if you’re looking for a new graphic design laptop, you need to be able to tell the difference. Your notebook has to stand the test of time, and travel with you through a myriad of projects, and possibly over some pretty challenging terrain. Here are five of the very best laptops you can buy, and a full rundown of why they’re just that good.
There’s an old saying in the graphic design world: once you go Mac, you never go back. Some designers balk at this, but many absolutely agree. Apple has a long history of catering to creative professionals, and there are demonstrable reasons why the company holds a solid and stable market share. If you need a dependable graphic design laptop and have a little extra cash to spare, the MacBook Pro is worth investing in.
Sleek and stocked with high-quality components, MacBook Pros remain a top industry choice. They’re extremely easy to set up and run Mac OS X, which is extremely stable, so you can get on with your work instead of constantly pressing shift, alt and delete. Macs are also notoriously resistant to viruses and malware.
Several MacBook Pro options exist, some of them more suitable for students and some ideal for professionals. Make memory and graphics processor top of your list of “must haves.” You can substitute a speedy external drive for the machine’s onboard hard drive, after all, and modern Mac displays are all excellent. Having said that, you’ll probably thrive with a 15-inch Retina display, particularly if you design for print, master video footage or professionally retouch photos.
If you don’t want a Mac and enjoy the customizable features inherent in a Windows desktop, you’ll probably really like the Acer Predator 15. Like some of the other options on this list, the Predator 15 is a gaming laptop. Gamers and designers covet many of the same things in a notebook: RAM aplenty, outstanding graphics performance, high display quality and a speedy hard drive, for example. This Acer checks all the important boxes and then some, making it an ideal machine for creative professionals.
Equipped with a 6th Gen Intel Core processor, 16GB of fast DDR4 memory, a 256GB solid-state drive and a 1TB standard hard disk, this laptop handles multiple demanding programs at once and packs plenty of storage space. The notebook’s NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 graphics card has 6GB of dedicated GDDR5 VRAM to take pressure off the system memory for a highly responsive design experience. Finally, the Predator 15’s FrostCore technology keeps its components cool during really intense work sessions.
Several genuinely innovative features set the Microsoft Surface Pro apart from all the other laptops in this post. Let’s start with its detachable high-resolution 13-inch PixelSense display, which folds over 180 degrees to turn the notebook into a tablet. You can use a range of stylus models, including the ultra-sensitive Surface Pen, to draw directly in Adobe and other graphic design apps. Six million pixels and staggeringly accurate color reproduction make the Surface Pro an excellent choice for illustrators and traditional artists looking to go digital.
Smaller solid-state drive options include 256GB and 512GB, but you can upgrade to 1TB if you prefer to store your files onboard, rather than in an external hard drive. Built around a 6th Gen Intel Core i7 processor and enhanced with either 8GB or 16GB of RAM and a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 965M graphics card, this machine powers through memory-hungry programs like InDesign, Photoshop and CAD. Small and light, the Surface Pro also incorporates a surprising number of ports, so you can easily attach peripheral devices.
Lauded as a mobile workstation, the HP ZBook Studio G4 packs enough punch to replace your regular desktop computer. Highly customizable and powerful, the ZBook lives inside a beautifully machined aluminum and die-cast magnesium body, and its diamond-cut edges give you serious street cred in the office or at the coffee shop. Less than an inch thick and under 5lb, this machine travels exceptionally well.
Advanced build options include a Quadro M1200 graphics card with 4GB of dedicated GDDR5 RAM, a 3.10GHz Intel Xeon E3-1535M v6 processor, Intel vPro technology and a stunning 15.6-inch B-LED Ultra HD DreamColor display. Every system comes with a rather generous three-year limited warranty, which is nice.
Made specifically for professionals on a mission, the Dell XPS 15 easily outperforms its immediate competition. One of the nicest things about this laptop is its gorgeous and virtually borderless 15.6-inch Ultra HD InfinityEdge touch display, which sits inside a shell usually reserved for 14-inch laptops. Slim and surprisingly light, this notebook works well for creative pros who love to work on the go.
The XPS 15’s onboard tech includes support for up to 32GB of RAM, a Killer 1535 Wireless adapter for reliable Wi-Fi connection and a 7th Gen Intel Quad Core processor. With a maximum 19.5-hour battery life, this notebook won’t let you down, even if the power grid does.
Whatever you do, don’t be tempted by price over quality as you look for a professional-grade notebook. Sure, you can spend $300 on a machine packed with generic parts, but if it the motherboard shorts in a year, you’ll need to drop money on an expensive repair or purchase a totally new laptop. Over a five-year period, you might go through several laptops, which could cost you well over what you’d have spent on a premium notebook to begin with. So, don’t be a Scrooge: stretch your budget a little and go for the best graphic design laptop you can afford. In all creative endeavors, high-quality materials generate high-quality results, and graphic design is no exception.