Laptop for Photoshop and Lightroom 2020

Hector1970

EOS 6D MK II
Mar 22, 2012
1,127
318
Hi all

I did find older posts on this topic but time moves on and requirements and available equipment changes.

Personally I think computer manufacturers and chip companies and video companies between them all really screwed up and made it very complicated to tell what is better and what is required. They'd sell more if it were obvious that this is better than that.

I'd like a thin laptop but that seems to come with alot of restrictions.
Apple is under consideration but are expensive (I had an iMac Desktop).

RAM
I'd love to get 32GB but it seems to be a rare option. 16GB is about as high as you can get on a thin laptop (where I am anyway).
Is 16GB enough for Photoshop and Lightroom? (I know people say the more the better but is it actually true in a noticeable way?)

Processor
I5 or I7 and how can you tell whether the processor is new or old. Its not obvious from the complicated numbering systems

Video Card
Does it make a difference and what sort of specs should I be looking at?
Is an integrated Intel card not a good idea.

SSD - For certain and as fast as possible. I have a laptop with 128GB SSD and its proven to be troublesome as its all eaten up with Adobe folders that don't seem to clean down when there are upgrades and NVIDIA drivers are a huge issue. Regardless of you laptop set up (eg two SSD drives - make sure you have at least 256GB on the driver you are installing the programs on

Screen - What's a suitable display and does it change the bigger the screen is. Ideally I'd like a 14" screen but specs tend to be better on 15.6 inch screens
 
Apr 13, 2018
5
3
I don't know how you intend to use this laptop and that bears on a recommendation. I use a laptop just for travel and rely on my home desktop for very resource intensive tasks and as the archive for all of my photos. If you're looking for a laptop as a desktop replacement, I don't think you'll find a thin, light laptop as workable given the compromises necessary to reduce size.

That being said, I use a 5th generation Surface Pro on the road with an i7 processor, 16GB ram and 512GB SSD and a relatively under powered Intel graphics chip. I have no complaints with this gear. It's about as light and thin as it gets in the laptop world and is workable on the road.

My assessment is that the processor is the weak link in this system. Even though the i7s are higher end, the mobile processor only has 2 cores at a relatively low clock speed. The current 7th generation i7 Surface Pro's are now 4 core, so this should be less of an issue. Even with 2 cores, it's still very workable. It doesn't have the snappiness of my desktop, but neither does it stall or show lag in executing commands. I've never found 16GB of memory to be a constraint, even in working with stitched panoramas where I've never encountered the Surface having to access a page file. I prefer doing resource intensive work like panoramas on my desktop, but the Surface was able to do this in a pinch with a bit of patience.

I just built a desktop with killer specs to replace a 5 year old predecessor. I was expected to be blown away by its performance with Lightroom and Photoshop, and it's maybe two to three times as fast as the Surface in day to day use. That difference increases with more resource intensive tasks, but it's not an order of magnitude faster, even though the specs are. The desktop is using a 16 core processor overclocked to 4300Mhz, an overclocked RTX 2080ti, 128 GB RAM and 10TB of SSD storage. In case you're wondering, all of that power is targeted at video work where the speed does show in rendering. There might be some gaming involved as well :) However, in day to day use with Lightroom and Photoshop, it's overkill.

Most laptops use inexpensive SATA SSDs. There is a performance benefit in PCIE SSD's, which can be 10 times faster. However, photo work, with the exception of very large stitched photos, is generally not SSD bound in my experience. They definitely can be HDD bound, but then the vast majority of laptops have moved to SSD storage.

Video cards don't seem to make a lot of difference, but others with more knowledge can speak to that. My 2080ti is at least an order of magnitude more powerful that the low end Intel graphics chip in my Surface and I definitely don't get an order of magnitude increase in performance.

The screens on all laptops are an issue. They don't have good colour accuracy and calibration is only partially effective. An external, colour accurate monitor is pretty much essential in my view.
 
Last edited:

Codebunny

EOS RP
Sep 5, 2018
250
189
The MacBook Pro always has a fantastic screen for photography but you'll really want a external if colour is critical. Anything i5, 16 GB RAM, and lots of external storage will do. MacBooks have a lot of TB3 ports for fast storage and fast importing via whatever TB3 card reader you can find.
A dedicated GPU is good for pushing some parts of Photoshop, but not enough to really push it yet. In all unless you are really pushing it, just about any modern laptop will run Photoshop well. Even the iPad Pro runs the Photoshop well for many use cases.
 

Kit.

EOR R
Apr 25, 2011
1,700
1,049
I use Lenovo X1 Extreme with 4k display and a 1TB NVMe SSD for Lightroom (and some other, non photo related work). Works for me. I bought it with the minimum of RAM and then upgraded the RAM to 32GB (it was cheaper this way). It has a second NVMe slot ready in case I need more of internal storage.
 
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Hector1970

EOS 6D MK II
Mar 22, 2012
1,127
318
Thanks for the inputs. If there are any other thoughts let me know. Particularly 16GB RAM versus 32GB.
I did have travel in mind or at least portability.
 

Kit.

EOR R
Apr 25, 2011
1,700
1,049
Thanks for the inputs. If there are any other thoughts let me know. Particularly 16GB RAM versus 32GB.
I did have travel in mind or at least portability.
16GB of RAM should be enough for basic photo image processing right now. However, these days I wouldn't be buying laptops that aren't user-upgradable to at least 64GB of RAM.
 
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Codebunny

EOS RP
Sep 5, 2018
250
189
Thanks for the inputs. If there are any other thoughts let me know. Particularly 16GB RAM versus 32GB.
I did have travel in mind or at least portability.
Go for 32 GB if you can afford it. I personally got big jumps from 8 to 16 then to 32GB RAM on my work, but 32 to 64 and then to 128GB didn't really provide anything extra. Well I got a big boost outside Photoshop with 128 GB RAM but that was also with 12 core running full blast, 16-32 GB is likely not going to limit you even when dealing with multiple GB sized PSD's.
 

Joules

EOS 7D MK II
Jul 16, 2017
619
576
Hamburg, Germany
Thanks for the inputs. If there are any other thoughts let me know. Particularly 16GB RAM versus 32GB.
I did have travel in mind or at least portability.
I'd say it really depends on what you're doing. Photoshop can use as much memory as you throw at it, from what it seems. Stitching large panoramas I've seen a good chunk of my 64 GB used up at times. But for smaller files, less memory is sufficient.
 

Quirkz

EOS RP
Oct 30, 2014
232
166
Fully support what most have written , but will add:

1. I strongly agree with the 32mb ram if you can. that can be hard to upgrade later, and is one of the biggest limiters in ‘future proofing’

2. Ensure it has at least one, preferably more, usb-c 3.2 connectors or, even better, thunderbolt 3 - with these you can easily upgrade your storage later with excellent and very fast ssd and nvme based small external drives. They’re excellent, and mean you don’t need to max out disk now (important if you’re buying a Mac)

3. Read the reviews, and don’t just buy a machine with an 8 core cpu. Many laptops have poor cooling solutions, and the cpu never reaches peak performance. Just search for ‘thermal throttling’ and the laptop name.

4. Check reviews for screen accuracy. Some laptops are great, many are very poor, and perfectly specced machines aimed at being great for gaming will be poorly calibrated for photo editing.

5. Watch the weight and size! Especially if you’re buying online, as it can be deceptive. Some windows laptops are more like desktop replacements than something you’d want to lug around when traveling.

6. The latest gen of MacBooks as of late last year give you more cpu/ram/storage than previously at the entry level, making them less terribly priced vs equivalently specced windows machines, so they’re worth considering again if you’re on a budget. I personally upgraded to the recent 16” and am pretty happy after years of disappointingly mediocre Mac laptops.

7. If this is something you’ll have for a long time, I’d consider strongly getting at least a 6 core cpu for future proofing.
 
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dwarven

EOS T7i
Dec 12, 2019
76
107
Anything with 16GB of RAM, fast SSD and quad core CPU. You can get a plastic Dell for $900 or a MacBook for $1500+. They'll both run the programs the same. But with the Mac you'll get a way better screen, which is important for editing photos lol.
 
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