Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

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Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Sun Feb 12, 2012 5:08 pm

Hello everyone, I need some advice. I'm helping a friend who is a graphic designer choose a laptop. Although I consider myself very knowledgeable about hardware, I've never used Photoshop CS5 or have much knowledge about how to choose components for a CS5 system. I've done some searching and have found some background knowledge but have been presented with a "rock and a hard place" situation:
His budget is pretty constrained at the moment ($700ish). The laptop I was looking at is no longer offered. In order to stay within budget I need to choose one of the following:
1) i5-2430 (2 cores, 4 threads, 2.4 - 3 GHz) and GeForce 540M/555M
2) i7-2670 (4 cores, 8 threads, 2.2 - 3.1 GHz) and Intel HD Graphics 3000
As far as I know, all his Photoshop work is 2D. Is he better off with the 2 extra cores or the better graphics card?
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Sun Feb 12, 2012 8:49 pm

I suspect that you will need some discrete graphics for that software. Click here for a suggestion.

The reason why is here: Tech Specs
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Sun Feb 12, 2012 9:42 pm

I would go for the better graphics card. Photoshop doesn't usually need a ton of processing power, while a good GPU can make use of some genuinely useful features.

Another thing to think about is storage. Having a fast disk drive (SSD/Hybrid/7200RPM) is very important, as well as ports for a fast connection to any external storage (such as USB 3.0 and eSATA).
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 9:03 am

MixedPower wrote:Another thing to think about is storage. Having a fast disk drive (SSD/Hybrid/7200RPM) is very important, as well as ports for a fast connection to any external storage (such as USB 3.0 and eSATA).


Yes, I already had him purchase an SSD and we will be putting the 500/640 GB hdd in a hdd caddy so he's got a dual drive system. Also, I agree USB3.0 is a must.

As far as the graphics requirements linked by riviera, I believe the Intel HD graphics meet these requirements.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 11:51 am

Mainly, max out the RAM. Large image editing will chew through the stuff like butter.

My system here at work is a Q9400@2.66 with 4GB of RAM, and I have crashed Paint.Net with "out of memory" errors a couple times just trying to do things like, for example, sew a couple high-res TIFF files together because a customer's old drawing was too large for their flatbed scanner and arrived in two files.

I expect CS5 is a lot better optimized and graceful compared to Paint.Net, but even so.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 1:45 pm

Yes, definetly. The computer I was looking at comes with 6GB. He's going to work with that for a while and possibly/probably upgrading to 8GB at some point down the road.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:13 pm

Photoshop only uses gpu processing for accelerating display functions (zoom, rotate, etc). So, it doesn't need a lot of gpu horsepower.

A quad core will thrash the dual core.

More RAM, the better.

SSD is good.

Here's the unasked bit: What about the display? Seems like someone working in Photoshop would care about the display quality.

Look at http://www.notebookcheck.net/ for decent laptop reviews.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:16 pm

No one has mentioned the display? For a Photoschop-centric system, I would have thought that would be one of the most important considerations.

The OP's friend is unlikely to be able to afford a new laptop with an IPS display for $700, but some refurbished models might be worth a close look. Here's a list (not exhaustive) of laptops in the past year with IPS displays.

My $0.02, in terms of priority:
1. Good screen. IPS or high-gamut TN. Need color calibration if working with print media.
2. RAM. 6 GB minimum. That means 64-bit OS and Photoshop.
3. CPU.

In terms of nice but not essential:
4. SSD.
5. GPU. Contrary to some posters in this thread, I don't feel that a GPU is crucial to photoshop performance. The OpenGL acceleration in CS5 is minimal at best, and even very low powered discrete GPUs can handle them. IGPs are more than adequate for even power users at this stage.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 2:58 pm

riviera74 wrote:I suspect that you will need some discrete graphics for that software. Click here for a suggestion.

The reason why is here: Tech Specs


As a daily user of Photoshop, I have a XPS15 with Core i7 8-thread CPU and discrete NVIDIA GPU, and I can tell you for certain that discrete graphics have no impact.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 3:13 pm

Having been a photoshop user for years now, across MANY configurations, I can definitively offer the following experience:

1. 90% of the time, Photoshop needs high GHz CPU more than it needs high # of threads. More threads are always better if you can get them, but take care to maximize the CPU clock rate first.

2. Memory - RAM is so cheap right now, you are a FOOL if you don't max out your laptop. Prices only go up from here. Max it out with 8GB or 16GB if you can.

3. SSD - This is a must. SSD makes a HUGE difference in photoshop. Besides the usual opening / closing files, PSD relies heavily on the hard disk subsystem for what it calls "scratch disk." Essentially it stores / saves history states to the hard drive which can get HUGE. My own experience has been that switching to an SSD resulted in HUGE performance increase when working with large / complex photos or images.

4. GPU - Not relevant, as long as you are on the Intel HD 3000 generation. I have used Photoshop on both Intel IGP 3000 and ATI Radeon 6850, and I can say that GPU has virtually no impact unless doing 3D stuff. Then again who the heck does 3D with Photoshop??

Some comments in response to Voldenuit:

Voldenuit wrote:1. Good screen. IPS or high-gamut TN. Need color calibration if working with print media.

I don't disagree, but I will add to that a suggestion: If you're going to pay the price for a decent screen, you might as well get a Mac. They have the most consistently good screens available, even the Air's.

Voldenuit wrote:2. RAM. 6 GB minimum. That means 64-bit OS and Photoshop.

Make it 8GB. or 16GB. RAM is so cheap right now. Max it out.

Voldenuit wrote:3. CPU.

Yes. Photoshop generally seems to favor higher clock rates. Only when you are doing certain filters will it run up more threads.

Voldenuit wrote:In terms of nice but not essential:
4. SSD.

Strongly disagree based on my own upgrade experience. See above.

Voldenuit wrote:5. GPU. Contrary to some posters in this thread, I don't feel that a GPU is crucial to photoshop performance. The OpenGL acceleration in CS5 is minimal at best, and even very low powered discrete GPUs can handle them. IGPs are more than adequate for even power users at this stage.

Absolutely agreed. My own experience proves this.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 3:43 pm

Well, I've been doing a little looking, and it's slim pickings for IPS panels, especially at the OP's pricepoint.

The best deal I have found so far is for some refurbished Thinkpad X220's with IPS monitor going for$689.

Tablets in general often have IPS displays, as they need to be legible in a wide variety of orientations and viewing angles.

Other IPS-panel laden machines include the hp tablets, the dell precision M4600 ($$$), LG's P330 (expensive, hard to find and lousy support in NA), and older Thinkpads with Flexview displays (T60p, T61p, not recommended as they have 4GB RAM limit). There are paradoxically a handful of netbooks and atom/ARM tablets with IPS displays, but they are inadequate for the OP's tasks.

I do agree with JdL that SSDs will speed up Photoshop a lot, I just don't think they're a realistic option at a $700 budget. Your friend could always upgrade his or her system with an SSD at a later date, but upgrading a laptop screen is pretty major surgery.

EDIT: Thinkpad X201 Tablets can be found online for $700, but make sure to get one with 64-bit windows (I have heard that lenovo will ship 64-bit recovery media to owners of 32-bit thinkpads, but have not tried it in person).
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Feb 13, 2012 11:00 pm

Thanks for all the input everyone. It was exactly what I was looking for. What I'm trying to work with here is a tight initial budget (he just bought a new vehicle, which he severely needed) and then being able to have more money for expansion down the road. He was initally considering a MacBook Pro because apparently CS5 behaves better on macs than PC's? (can anyone confirm this?) He soon found out that a MacBook Pro was out of his price range.

Some of the better advice came a little late. He purchased the above-linked laptop earlier this afternoon. I have been watching it for 2 months and it has only been available about 10 days total during that time. It has gone for as little as $600 in late December 2011 when he first asked me to help him choose a laptop. Unfortunately at that time, he nor I had laid hands on the laptop to get a feel for it, and I hadn't explored other options enough to know how good of a deal it was, so we let it slide. $680 is still the best price for anything similar that I've seen in my 2 months of looking (we were also looking at a Lenovo Y570 = 2nd choice)

I chose the i5 because of its high clock rate and the fact that it has a 35W TDP instead of a 45W like the i7 = more battery life. The GeForce 540 was because I had seen that you could use the CUDA cores to accelerate certain features in CS5 (unsure whether my friend actually uses these features, but figured it couldnt hurt to have the ability). It seems from your input that I could have recommended this laptop with the i7 and HD graphics at a similar price and perhaps been a bit better off. But I figured the i5 would perform ok and given my limited CS5 knowledge at the time, I didn't want to take the chance of creating a graphics bottleneck and not being able to do anything about it (the reason I prefer desktops)

The point in steering him toward a lower price range was to afford a Vertex 3 90GB for $100 right out of the gate. I think he will be very pleased with the performance boost. As I said earlier, I'll be putting the mechanical hard drive in a caddy and swapping out the dvd drive so he'll still have that for storage.

I am indeed encouraging/steering him toward a nice 24" Dell IPS display. After all, even a 15" high resolution IPS screen can become annoying for its lack of real-estate, and having a dual-monitor setup is sooo handy.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Tue Feb 14, 2012 12:14 am

DPete27 wrote: He was initally considering a MacBook Pro because apparently CS5 behaves better on macs than PC's? (can anyone confirm this?)


I can confirm that it's not true.

When OSX Lion came out, it actually introduced many compatibility problems with existing Adobe products, including Lightroom and Photoshop. Unfortunately, due to the pissing war between Adobe and Apple, neither side is giving in, and as of January 23 2012, many issues remain unresolved.

Good call on getting an external display. A good external IPS LCD is superior to most high end laptop LCDs, and having the extra workspace is great. I didn't suggest it earlier because your friend's insistence on getting a laptop made it uncertain whether he'd have the desk space or work habits to support a tethered workflow.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Tue Feb 14, 2012 10:21 am

Voldenuit wrote:Good call on getting an external display. A good external IPS LCD is superior to most high end laptop LCDs, and having the extra workspace is great. I didn't suggest it earlier because your friend's insistence on getting a laptop made it uncertain whether he'd have the desk space or work habits to support a tethered workflow.


He wanted a laptop mainly to be able to bring his work to clients. He's looking at starting up his own independent (firm?) so house/business calls may be necessary. He and I discussed this in great length as I pointed out to him that I could build him a much better and more flexible desktop. Ultimately, he will be doing the majority of his work from home where the external display will come in handy.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Tue Feb 14, 2012 10:41 am

Make sure that his laptop outputs to DVI or HDMI so that he will get the best picture quality to his IPS monitor. Go here for a list of recommendations.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Tue Feb 14, 2012 11:12 am

DPete27 wrote:He wanted a laptop mainly to be able to bring his work to clients. He's looking at starting up his own independent (firm?) so house/business calls may be necessary. He and I discussed this in great length as I pointed out to him that I could build him a much better and more flexible desktop. Ultimately, he will be doing the majority of his work from home where the external display will come in handy.


Well, the horse has bolted, and the budget might have been too limited to allow for it, but a desktop for work + IPS tablet for client presentations could have been a good option. A hacked (or even stock) nook or Kindle tablet with its lovely IPS screen would be a much nicer medium to show clients his work than the typical dull, low-contrast, narrow-viewing-angle TN screens we see on laptops these days. And the nook has a microSD slot for quick transferring of files to and fro (there is also an Android app that lets one transfer files through wifi).

I'm not criticizing your decision, since it makes a lot of sense to get a single machine now that can do double duty, but for graphic design, tablets (be they Android/iOS or full-blown x86) make great presentation tools for customers.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Tue Feb 14, 2012 1:02 pm

Interesting suggestion about the tablet Voldenuit, I hadn't thought of that. Maybe something for him to think about in the future.

I spoke with him regarding the "CS5 works better on Apple OS" and was told that he prefers OS because its easier to work back-and-forth between photoshop and illustrator? Something about auto-updating between programs jibberish that apparently doesn't happen in the Windows version?
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Thu Feb 16, 2012 11:09 am

Voldenuit wrote:Well, the horse has bolted, and the budget might have been too limited to allow for it, but a desktop for work + IPS tablet for client presentations could have been a good option. A hacked (or even stock) nook or Kindle tablet with its lovely IPS screen would be a much nicer medium to show clients his work than the typical dull, low-contrast, narrow-viewing-angle TN screens we see on laptops these days. And the nook has a microSD slot for quick transferring of files to and fro (there is also an Android app that lets one transfer files through wifi).

The main convenience of a laptop in this case is that if you need to make mockups/quick changes while presenting an idea/design to a customer, you can.
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Mon Mar 12, 2012 3:10 pm

So my friend has since recieved his ASUS A53SV-NH51 laptop, I installed the 90GB Vertex 3 and we're waiting on the hard drive caddy to show up so we can install the hdd in the DVD drive bay. The laptop came with 6GB of ram and I was encouraging him to just get another 4GB stick for $20 to max it out at 8GB total. Apparently $20 seemed to be a bit steep to him (maybe he's getting sick of all the add-ons: SSD, HDD caddy, and a 24" monitor in the near future) so he initially wanted to forego the RAM upgrade. However, my RAM suggestions seem to have made him paranoid.

**Keep in mind I have NEVER used photoshop** He called me the other day to ask about memory usage and I directed him to the "Efficiency" monitor in photoshop as well as Windows resource monitor. I suggested that he "render a bunch of layers onto the biggest picture he had" in order to utilize the most memory possible. According to what he observed, that only used 3GB of RAM total (including that used by the OS) and "Efficiency" never dropped below 100% (all operations being performed on RAM, no scratch disk used). I told him that usage varies from person to person and that if he rarely uses 6GB of RAM (let alone 3GB) for projects that he does, that it's probably unnecessary to upgrade RAM at this time.

I'm in a predicament here, he has no knowledge of computer hardware and I have no knowledge of photoshop. Hence, I'm looking for suggestions. What can one do in Photoshop or Illustrator that will use the most memory possible?
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Thu Mar 15, 2012 10:37 am

DPete27 wrote:What can one do in Photoshop or Illustrator that will use the most memory possible?

Why are you so adamant this upgrade? Your friend probably won't do anything that will use that much memory, and if he ever has the need for more RAM he can upgrade later. For whatever it's worth I just repeated the most memory-intensive action I've done before, a photomerge operation creating a ~100MP panorama, and it used 3GB of RAM (2GB was being used by other programs, bringing the system use up to 5GB).
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Re: Photoshop Laptop on a Budget

Postposted on Thu Mar 15, 2012 10:46 am

MixedPower wrote:
DPete27 wrote:What can one do in Photoshop or Illustrator that will use the most memory possible?

Why are you so adamant this upgrade? Your friend probably won't do anything that will use that much memory, and if he ever has the need for more RAM he can upgrade later. For whatever it's worth I just repeated the most memory-intensive action I've done before, a photomerge operation creating a ~100MP panorama, and it used 3GB of RAM (2GB was being used by other programs, bringing the system use up to 5GB).


That's exactly what its worth. I just want to be able to estimate a "memory profile" for his usage. I just have no knoledge about what you have to do in photoshop to use a certain amount of RAM. Comments like that are exactly what I was asking for, keep 'em coming.
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