This article is for those looking to buy a computer or laptop primarily to use Photoshop or Lightroom, either for digital painting, graphic design or photo editing. I've used Photoshop for more than 10 years in my job as an artist creating art for newspaper publication.
Oh, yeah. All the systems are pre-built. If you're the DIY kind, then this article probably might not be as useful.
Official specifications vs my recommended specifications
Below are the specifications as recommended by Adobe for running Photoshop:
- 2 GHz or faster processor
- 2 GB of RAM (8 GB recommended)
- 2 GB of storage for installation
Those above at the minimum specifications recommended by Adobe. I'm happy to say that most computers nowadays are much more powerful than the listed specifications.
Here are my recommended optimal specifications for running Photoshop
- At least a dual-core 2Ghz or faster processor
- 8 GB RAM minimum
- SSD for storage
Below are reasons for my recommendations.
Unfortunately after all these years since the introduction of multi-core processors, Photoshop is still unable to take advantage of all the cores available.
In short, a 4-core processor will not be significantly faster than a 2-core processor. Getting 4-core is recommended if other applications you have can make use of the cores though. However, for Photoshop, getting a 2-core processor is sufficient.
The important thing is to get as high a processor clock speed as you can (afford). A dual-core 3Ghz will perform faster a quad-core 2Ghz. Because Photoshop don't use all cores, clock speed of each core will matters more.
You will definitely want a dual-core because the OS also needs processing power. So having a dual-core will balance the load out between Photoshop and the OS, either Windows or Mac.
There are two types of storage options, the traditional hard drives HDD vs modern solid state drives (SSD). Here the takeaways you should know
HDD are cheap and have larger storage capacity. They are great for storing huge files, or files you don't use that often, and good for backup purposes. They transfer up to 50 - 120MB/s of storage.
SSD are more expensive, have lesser storage capacity compared to HDD. They transfer up 200 - 500 MB/s. If you install your OS or Photoshop on the SSD, they will start in a fraction of time compared to HDD. When opening and saving huge files on SSD, you save a few seconds with each save. Time savings with SSD is significant.
Storage is often the bottleneck to performance on any system. If you have limited budget to upgrade your system, I recommend upgrading the HDD to SSD first. You can get external storage later on.
If your computer has two storage slots, you can get a smaller SSD (save money) to install OS and applications and a HDD to store more and or larger files.
RAM, aka Random-access memory or just memory, is the temporary storage for your opened files.
RAM usage depends on the number of files you open, the file sizes, the number of layers in your Photoshop files, and also other applications that are opened and also how the OS is managing memory.
Running the OS, launching Photoshop, working on multiple files at the same time, looking at a photo reference on a web browser, listening to music --- all those require memory.
8GB of RAM is the minimum I would recommend. Having 16GB RAM will be great.
Photoshop has a feature called scratch disk. A scratch disk is a place for temporary storage for memory as well, such as caches for your opened files. You can choose to use storage (either HDD or SSD) as a scratch disk. Storage drives are slower than the RAM. So if you have more RAM, having a scratch disk becomes less important.
A powerful graphics card is not necessary for Photoshop. Even an integrated graphics card with the CPU will suffice. If you intend to play 3D games on your computer, then go ahead and get a better graphics card.
Photoshop runs at a minimum of 1024 x 768 resolution. Nowadays, it would be difficult to buy a monitor or laptop that runs at that low a resolution.
If you want to get a desktop, I recommend you check out the budget non-glossy monitors I've featured on this article at http://www.parkablogs.com/content/budget-monitors-artists-and-designers-...
Nowadays most laptop screens are glossy. Glossy screens present colours more vividly compared to matte screens. Personally, I don't like the distractions of reflections, or looking at my own face on the screen when working.
My system recommendation
I'm splitting this section into desktops and laptops.
Mac vs Windows? Photoshop, including most of Adobe's Creative Suite software, runs on both platforms. Main difference comes down to interface and also slight differences in usability. It's a personal preference. Subjective stuff. Which OS you choose depends on what other applications you want to run. If you want to run games as well, then it's better to get Windows for the wider selection. If your system is purely for work, either OS is fine.
All the systems below fulfill my recommended minimum specifications:
- At least a dual-core 2Ghz or faster processor
- 8 GB RAM minimum
- 128GB SSD for storage
- 13 to 15-inch screen for laptops
I've included only systems that use SSDs. For extra storage capacity, get an external hard drive. I recommend Western Digital My Passport (I have several for backups of backups).
Not all systems below are budget systems, so click their names to see the continuously changing prices and more reviews.
High end (above USD $1000)
- Apple iMac (glossy screen): 27-inch Quad 3.2Ghz | 27-inch Quad 3.3Ghz | Other iMac configurations
- HP Envy Phoenix - Quad 3.6Ghz, 16GB RAM, 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD | (other specs)
- Asus G11 - Quad 3.4Ghz, 16GB RAM, 256SSD + 2TB HDD
Budget (around and below $1000):
- Apple Mac Mini (no screen): Dual 2.8Ghz, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion (SSD+HDD) | Dual 2.8Ghz, 8GB RAM, 2TB Fusion (SSD+HDD)
- Lenovo IdeaCentre 700: Quad 3.4Ghz, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
- Lenovo H50: Intel Quad 3.6Ghz, 8GB RAM, 120GB SSD + 1TB HDD
- Lenovo X315: Amd Quad 3.5Ghz, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD + 1TB HDD
- Intel NUC NUC5i7RYH: Dual 2.6Ghz not inclusive of RAM, Storage and OS
- Gigabyte Mini - Quad 2.5Ghz with NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 not inclusive of RAM, storage and OS
The Mac Mini, Intel NUC, Gigabyte Mini and other miniPCs do not come with keyboard and mouse so you have to factor in the extra cost. I recommend the Logitech Marathon wireless mouse and Logitech K360 wireless keyboard.
And all desktops above do not come with screens except the iMac. For budget high quality monitors, check out this list: http://www.parkablogs.com/content/budget-monitors-artists-and-designers-...
The main compromise for laptops is screen size vs weight. While I want to help you save money, a good laptop is just not cheap.
- Apple Macbook Pro (glossy screen): Various configurations
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1: 14-inch, Dual 2.3Ghz, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 2.877 lbs (1.31 kg)
- ASUS K501UX: Matte 15-inch, Dual 2.5Ghz, 8GB RAM, 256SSD, 4.4 lbs (1.99kg)
- Dell XPS: 13-inch, Dual 2.3Ghz, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 2.78 lb (1.26 kg)
There aren't a lot of matte screens nowadays and ASUS's one manufacturer that still makes some. If you don't mind glossy screens, there are lots of options.
While I want to include the Microsoft Surface Book (above), they are more expensive compared to the laptops listed above. Probably because of the Surface Book's gimmicky detachable screen. If you don't need to use the computer in tablet mode, you can save a few hundred dollars by getting other laptops.
The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is a good choice too but the screen is only 12.3-inches. And it does not come with a keyboard. 13-inch screens to me still feels small but I've to say they are much more portable. But if you have an external monitor, the getting the 13-inch screen makes more sense when you have the option to work from a larger screen.
Note that the Surface Pro 4 does not come with the keyboard cover (expensive).