New to Digital-- need specs for a laptop

Discussion in 'Digital Darkroom' started by lauren_butero, Nov 7, 2011.

  1. Hello everyone--
    I am a longtime 35mm film photographer who is looking to go digital this year. Unfortunately, my laptop has decided to die on me and now I am looking to replace it. I will be using the laptop for lightroom and/or photoshop (at least until/if I stop playing around and get serious with digital). I want to make sure that I am going to get something that will function well.
    What should I be looking for in a PC?
    Thanks for helping out the newb~
  2. What's your price range? With PS the more ram and faster cpu the better, but that costs $.
  3. Are you planning an additional monitor and calibration software. If you do get serious you would likely want
    an additional monitor and calibration software. If there is a chance of that happening, make sure the laptop
    has adequate hardware to support a large monitor. With a Mac, that is not a problem, but buying a cheap
    PC laptop just may be underpowered to run a large monitor. Configuring a PC laptop, sucks.
  4. There seems to be two different camps here. Buy a cheap laptop because it will be outdated in a few
    years, or pay a lot more up front and expect it to last twice as long.

    My son bought a Macbook Pro a few years ago and he expects it will last him until he graduates college. If
    so that will be 7 years. No doubt a good PC laptop would also last a lot longer if well equipped. On the
    other hand, if I were to drop the laptop or someone steals it, I would prefer it to be a cheap one.
  5. whatever laptop flavor you will get, you need 4gig ram minimum, a good size HD.. 160-250 is good, speed have no effect for Photoshop, so keep the normal 5400rpm on ethat come normally with your laptop.
    DON'T split it (creating 2 or more partition) for Photoshop.. many people suggest that solution so Photoshop can use one of them as a scratch disk.. it doesn't do anything in real life. If you want to define a scratch disk for Photoshop it have do be a real second HD (witch you cant have in a laptop (i think some make it possible via a adapter .. but in general you cant).
    A good video card also as someone else suggest, that can support another bigger monitor.. if you go the mac route.. forget to check that as all the basic card support already a monitor up to 30inch.
    Other than that, whatever your money can buy will be good. Dont forget a external monitor, even the cheapest one should be better than your laptop monitor, and put at eye level it will be even better. With that you also want a calibrator to calibrate the whole system.. spider3 elite or the new i1display pro is what you want.
  6. If you are a full-time or even much-time professional photographer, the idea of a separate monitor being necessary is good. Otherwise, not needed for starters. I don't think that the $400 laptops are going to be much use to you, either.
    Photoshop and its kin need RAM, 4GB is good, more is better, probably can't run the latest versions on less than 2GB. Older versions of PS like CS3 may do OK with less memory and processor speed.
    Take a memory stick with some images that you know, and look at the big box store at how the images look on the monitors of different machines.
    I personally think that Mac laptops that are mid-level or above will have a longer use-span than some other machines. Apple takes their dominance in graphics fields very seriously and produce useful products in that line. If you prefer Windows, get something hot enough (speed not former ownership status) to take you a few years into the future. Cheapies can work if you are an expert and know what to do to update it, but for the rest of us, the miser always pays the most.
    Portable, some very portable in the sense of "in your pocket", external hard drives are available now for commodity prices. Even USB 2 is fast enough for back up. They're cheap enough to get two, one for use in the field, and one for backup at home.
  7. If you want to define a scratch disk for Photoshop it have do be a real second HD (witch you cant have in a laptop (i think some make it possible via a adapter .. but in general you cant).​
    Some manufacturers (I know HP for sure) do make larger 17 inch laptops with two harddrive bays.
    Also, hard drive speed does make a difference. It may not be hugely noticeable at first, but it is there. If you work on huge files (like scans of 4x5 or RAW of 20MP+) it might make a noticeable difference. Solid state is faster, but has some issues, and is extremely expensive for it's capacity. 5400 RPM is typically fine, but 7200 RPM is not a bad choice if you aren't worried about battery life all that much.
  8. Oh, and if I was going to give a basic specs to look for it would be as follows:
    Core i5 or greater CPU, 6GB+ of RAM, Mac OSX or Windows 7 Home Premium, 500GB+ HD, better if you can find one with a "hybrid" technology such as the Seagates, 802.11N wireless, and a dedicated video card or discrete, not Intel Integrated. After that, it's all your own preference.
  9. Zach, i have call Adobe about the HD speed (from 5400 to 7200rpm i mean) and they told me it wont make any difference .. So i test it myself, when i order my macbook install CS5, 4gig ram, and my regular work image around 65meg or so (also try it on my P45 image that i work on many time, a file that is around 125meg in 8bit.. without layers) .. didtn make any difference when opening or saving the file, didtn make a difference when i copied the file from / to a external HD .. i still have the 7200HD install as it was a bigger HD vs the included 5400rpm..
    SSD drive are something else, and yes you will gain speed if all of your system, software and file are on this drive.. but now whe are not talking about the same price of laptop either.
    And as you say also, a 7200 is hard on the battery and on the temperature of your laptop.. its can quickly became hot like a a hot pan on your lap ; )
  10. Interesting. I would have thought the speed of the HD might come into play more or less while working. But then again, I work with video also, so I need big beefy hard drives.
    Might I also add that I am completely jealous that you get to work with P45 and other MF backs. Man I wish I could afford that gear.....
  11. For video and music i wont fight: you need the fastest HD available .. im 200% with you on that ; )
    As for the P45 and P65+.. they are not mine (i wish they where) but as a retoucher i work alot with those file (Leaf and Blad also) .. all i have are Canon 5D and other little pocket camera.. i like to travel light.. and not have a target on by back LOL
  12. Definitely some good thoughts here-- I just want to make sure I'm not buying a new machine that is going to make me angry 6 months or so down the road when I find it is less than functional when trying to edit photos.
    Budget is about $800 dollars. Right now I am just learning and playing around, but I have done some freelance work and gallery shows in film. I would eventually like to get back into that, but it would be a bit down the road once I become more familiar with a new digital system. Obviously, at that point I would look into an external monitor and calibration.
    As it is, I am on the road 2-3 times a month during part of the year and like to take my camera with me-- I was hoping when branching out to digital I could also take my processing with me as well. This will also be my primary machine. The internet, office programs, and music are about where it stops, although I may need to put AUTOCAD on the machine for work. Still, traveling my laptops tend to take a beating and see alot of use taking notes in meetings, ect. Of course, I don't want to lug around something that is a desktop replacement at 10 pounds either.
    Unfortunately, I'm set on a PC. I hear you on Macs, but I suffered some brain damage a few years ago and HAVING to learn all the little things again to function on a new OS would probably make me insane. I'm already tempting fate by giving in to digital-- LOL.
  13. In my experience the following minimum specs will work well. Of course more is better but it will cost more.
    CPU - Dual Core 2.4GHZ although you could go as low as 2.0GHZ if you need to reduce the cost.
    RAM - 8GB but you can go as low as 4GB. However if you do a lot of layers, you will find that 4GB quickly becomes marginal.
    HD - 500GB. Given how cheap disk drives can be nowadays you can try to get 1TB. However it is cheaper to add more disk space through external USB drives rather than a bigger internal drive. Internal drives for laptops are more expensive than regular drives of the same size and regular drives tend to be faster as well.
    Brand - Lenovo and HP for their extensive after market service. Apple has the best after market service but they use their own OS which require a different version of Photoshop and Lightroom. ASUS make good laptops and is actually the OEM for many HP and Dell laptops. However they do not have the extensive service network of Lenovo, HP and Apple.
    Price - You might find something as low as $500 but expect to pay closer to $1000.
    Monitor - Only the most expensive laptops have screens that are good enough for photo work. The big problem is the viewing angle is narrow. Tilt your head a few degrees off and reds look pink and blacks turn to gray. Two possible solutions are get a external monitor that is high quality. This requiires a laptop that has an external monitor port and do not be surprise that such monitors cost more than your entire laptop. The other is use the Apple iPad as the second monitor in a dual monitor setup. The iPad is one of the best monitors out there for photo work and there is an app, airdisplay, that will work on Apple and Windows systems to make it the second monitor.
    Danny Low
  14. If you plan to record raw files, purchase 8 GB of memory.
  15. i5 chip minimum with 8-12 gb ram and 500gb-1Tb video card and a 750gb+ HD. If you're careful you should find one for between $800-$900. If you under spec yourself you'll pay for it many times over if aggrevation. A friend runs CS5 on his dual core 17" Toshiba with 4gb ram and is constantly frustrated. I have a 4 core 3ghz with 12gb ram and a 1gb video card and run CS5 without problems.
  16. Mike, maybe your friend should get a Macbook? ; ) .. i have a Macbook air with 2gig of ram, Lion and CS5 + Lightroom.. and it run flawlessly.. im not doing heavy work on it as it is more a workshop / conference tool.. but it work without a problem when i explain cosmetic retouching and digital darkroom. With Lightroom alone, all work perfectly (take around 2sec to export a image in full resolution Canon 5DMkII) 4gig should be a minimum today with any computer, more is always good, but too much is money spend for nothing. 8gig should be future proof until you change your computer in 2-3 years (normal life for a computer until the new better / faster / cheaper is coming out) and if you work image that are below or around 200meg.
    If you buy a computer for 7years you know that you will eventually be obsolete, as the next new system will probably not work correctly or slow things down.. of course, if you are simply doing word document and other not intensive photo / music / video work any computer can live forever or close too.. but for the more demanding material, 3 years in the computer world is like 20 years as camrea produce bigger file, software are more ram hungry etc...
  17. Patrick, for the price of a Macbook my friend could buy a Windows machine with an i7 chip, 16 gb ram, a 1.5Tb HD, and a video card with 3gb of memory, and still have money left over.
  18. i was referring the macbook suggestion to the i7 4gig ram and frustration vs the toshiba with the same setup that don't seem to work.. and the macbook air that i have (999$) with less memory seem to work more efficiently.. by the way, the macbook start at 1499$ with the setup you mention (4gig ram, i7, 750gig hd, thunderbolt connection etc...)
    but lets put that aside, as mac vs pc debate dont interest me as it will always end up somewhere whe dont want it to go ; )
  19. For those who come across this article, you may find the recent article I wrote on choosing a photo laptop here on very helpful. You can find it here:
    All the best,
    Andrew Darlow
    Freelance Writer,

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