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What computer hardware matters to a graphic designer?


Question

I've had my MacBook Pro since 2007 and I'm starting to think about what the next system might look like. I'm not made of money, but if upgrading a component helps to make me a more efficient worker for 5+ years, that's worth something to me. Point being, I don't want to just max out every category; I want to be smart about it.

So, what bits of hardware matter the most to a designer? Is a dedicated graphics card overkill for a Creative Suite power user? If not, how fast should a GPU be to handle Photoshop and cutting-edge Web technologies? How much of a difference would four cores make over two when I run a script in Illustrator? Does the usage of design software mean that my system would need more RAM? Two small monitors or one big one?

I know storage space is a big deal, so straight solid state probably isn't viable...but having OS and Creative Suite on a smaller drive and throwing in a 1TB drive might work really well. That's the kind of thinking I'm trying to have.

Along the same lines, has anyone gone to the desktop to save some bucks and regretted it later? Can a desktop plus a tablet fill in well enough for a laptop?

2013/04/08
1
7
4/8/2013 11:42:00 PM

I've been using a 16,4" laptop for a bit over 2 years now.

What I considered for the purchase of my system were my typical working conditions. In my case:

  • I needed my own computer
  • I had to be able to work in different locations
  • No workplace I was going to work in, was going to have a dedicated workstation. So I could not rely on getting more than electricity and WiFi access.
  • Daily commutes with that damn thing on my back
  • I nearly never have to work while traveling. (important point that defines power vs batterylife requirements)

My keypoints for the purchase where:

  • Highest resolution possible. I went with 1920x1080
  • Lots of RAM (helpful if you need to do video or big print productions)
  • fast CPU, ok GPU with dedicated ram

Diskspace was not too important (I back my work up at another location and generally have no more than 150gb of current projects on the laptop).
Also battery life became secondary mostly because the more energy-efficient machines were either underpowered, too small or just plain expensive. But I went with the biggest battery pack I could get.

Regarding accessories.. I pack a wireless mouse and sometimes a keyboard. When I know I'm going to work more than 1 day at a place I almost immediately start bugging, pleading, bribing and talking people into getting me a monitor to hook up to my laptop as secondary screen so I can work comfortably.

The screensize of 16,4inch with 1920x1080 is awkward for reading but works well for PS, AI and the likes. It's all there, just very tiny :)

If I'd have to work while traveling I would get a less power-hungry setup (they are also a lot lighter). I'm now down to 1,5 hours of batterylife due to aging cells. That would be a dealbreaker if I'd have to work while traveling.

As it is, I merely resigned to lugging around a relatively heavy slab. But I can be sure it's going to handle most of the things I'm going to have to do at work.

At home and for work I don't like to do on the laptop I use a desktop PC. I spent the same kind of money on the desktop PC 4 years ago and it has virtually the same performance as the laptop. I get a more "stable" feeling. Since it does not get hot or warmer under my hands I feel more comfortable throwing intense renders at it and working long hours. I also use the desktop for illustration work with the tablet.

I use two 23inch monitors, but would like it much more to have one big 2560x1600 monitor instead.

The most important thing you should consider is if you are willing to sacrifice performance and comfort for the ability to be mobile.

2013/04/09
5
4/9/2013 12:38:00 AM