Creative professionals and students need the right computer for graphic design work, whether they’re working on a midterm design project, creating newsletters for small businesses, or managing corporate marketing campaigns that include a range of graphic-heavy deliverables.
When it comes to selecting a laptop for design or desktop for graphic design, you have many options. Consider how you will use the computer and what functionality you will need. The key is getting the appropriate hardware for the software applications you intend to use. High-end graphic design tools work best on a computer that provides enough power and options to make use of their full potential. At the same time, if your graphics work does not include a lot of photo editing or transferring of large files, you may not need a machine with as much processing power, memory, and storage to get your creative work done.
Fortunately, hardware options have expanded dramatically to support a range of digital tools that enable graphic designers to push boundaries and bring their ideas to life more easily than ever. You also have greater choice these days when it comes to your operating system. Several Windows-based computers today provide the graphics capabilities required by professional designers and other creators, offering more options at lower prices.
Laptops for Graphic Design
Laptops for design are more powerful than ever. Many now boast speed and storage capacity that nearly rival that of high-end desktops. You can take your work with you wherever you go, present on-screen design mock-ups to your clients during meetings, and connect to resources or transfer files remotely. Built-in high-resolution screens up to 4K Ultra HD provide stunning detail and sharpness.
Most laptops today feature PCIe* solid state drives (SSDs), making for superfast speeds when it comes to opening and transferring files.
While portability is important, if a laptop is too small, it can become a hindrance. Your screen needs to be large enough for you to see your entire work area and easily access the tools you need. Many laptops today have 15-inch or larger screens, which offer you the visual real estate you need without compromising aesthetics. You can also choose a 2-in-1 computer, which lets you switch between laptop and tablet modes to best fit your activity while delivering the high performance you need to run your key creative tools. In tablet mode, you can use a drawing stylus to sketch out your design or create mock-ups on the fly when brainstorming. Tablet mode can also be a great way to present your work. It’s easy to sit side by side with a client and flip through your designs, pausing to zoom in and point out important elements.
High-performance laptops give you the flexibility to work while traveling, visiting clients, or just when you need a change of venue.
Desktops for Graphic Design
Desktop computers for graphic design offer greater processing power and the ability to support larger screens. Because desktops typically have more memory and storage capacity, they are well equipped for the massive file sizes that come with high-end photo or video editing. The ability to connect more than one monitor to a desktop machine enables designers to view multiple layouts simultaneously, which is handy when working on complex projects.
Desktops provide more power, more features, and more flexibility than other PC types. A PCIe* SSD for graphic design use can amplify the performance. Desktops outfitted with Intel® Optane™ SSDs are optimized for fast application loading, fast boot, and low power consumption. In addition, Intel® Optane™ memory in desktop computers provides mega storage capacity.
Desktops can be easily upgraded with more memory and other custom configurations, while laptop components are usually more difficult to upgrade or change. They also have more ports than laptops for peripheral devices such as cameras and mics.
In addition, desktop computers tend to get less wear and tear simply because you aren’t moving them around, stuffing them into bags, banging them into door jambs, or dropping them. They are also less likely to get stolen.
Desktops come in different styles as well. There’s the traditional desktop computer, with the tower and a separate monitor. Or you can get an all-in-one computer that combines a monitor and computer in one. It takes up less room than a traditional desktop and still provides the performance you need to do your graphic work.
What Capabilities Do You Need in a PC for Graphic Design?
Intel works with leading creative software developers and hardware manufacturers to understand the specific needs of creative professionals. Together, we ensure that the creative applications you rely on perform their best on PCs for graphic design.
Here’s a breakdown of the key elements you will want to consider when looking for a new graphic design computer.
Processing Power (CPU) is what enables you to move between Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, creating beautiful, multilayered projects without slowing down your workflow. Having a higher number of processor cores, however, does not always boost this type of workflow because some graphics programs are built to run on a single core and will not scale across larger numbers of cores. Four- or eight-core processors will perform well for most graphic designers. (Multicore tasks such as 3D rendering and video encoding do, however, make use of more than one core at a time).
Another aspect of a CPU for graphic design is clock speed, calculated in gigahertz. This number determines how fast your processor can do its job. For graphic design processors, the higher the clock speed, the better. This is especially true for tasks such as transferring large files from an external hard drive to your desktop or working with high-performance programs such as Photoshop or Lightroom.
Graphics Processors (GPUs), or graphics cards, translate your work into the graphics you see on-screen. They can either be integrated or discrete. Integrated graphics are built into your computer’s motherboard, on the same chip as the computer’s CPU, and they share memory with the CPU. They are less powerful than discrete graphics but use less energy. Discrete graphics cards are on a totally separate GPU chip on the motherboard. Discrete graphics deliver more processing power and a higher-quality visual experience than integrated graphics and are ideal for high-performance applications such as HD video editing and games.
A GPU is different from a CPU in the type of tasks it completes. The CPU offloads work to the GPU, which boosts graphics performance. For some programs and tasks, a GPU allows you to move objects around your editing workspace quickly, which is key when you’re working in the brainstorming phase, bouncing ideas around with a client during a meeting, or making late changes to a project on deadline.
Memory, or RAM, enables you to efficiently run your powerful programs, such as Photoshop and Painter. It stores your working files temporarily, enabling your processor to crunch more data. The more RAM you have, the faster your workflow can be. Preview files will render quickly, and you can run multiple instructions on files simultaneously without system lag.
Storage Capacity for graphic designers needs to accommodate the fact that you create very large files on a regular basis and require plenty of storage for housing them, both for easy access while working on projects and for archiving after a job has been finalized. As opposed to RAM, which stores information temporarily, storage drives store data permanently.
Two storage options to consider are hard disk drive (HDD) and solid state drive (SSD). A computer HDD is a conventional spinning disk. A 1 TB hard drive can comfortably support any operating system and leave at least 700 GB for other programs and data. An SSD is another type of in-computer storage that’s built using chips. Since SSDs have no moving parts, your apps can load and run much faster.
Insufficient storage can create bottlenecks that slow down processing, editing, and other high-performance tasks. As a designer, you do not necessarily need to store all of your large project files on your main computer’s hard drive. Many designers use external hard drives to save the bulk of their work—often having dedicated drives for each client, which not only keeps their computers lean and mean but helps keep multiclient work clearly separate and organized. As mentioned earlier, faster processing speeds and graphics cards even enable designers to work right off an external hard drive.
Laptops usually come with SSDs, which are more durable than HDDs, though desktop computers can be outfitted with either.
Display considerations are critical for graphic designers—including screen size, color accuracy, and resolution. When it comes to laptops for design, screen size is critical. As a graphic designer, you need a 15-inch or larger display to really see enough detail to do your work. It’s also helpful to have enough room on-screen to keep your toolbars and control panels handy. If you need to work in multiple programs and see what you are doing in all, you might consider connecting a second screen to your laptop or use a desktop computer with a larger screen. Having an expanded display area helps when working on large layouts or for viewing high-resolution files up close.
Most of your clients will have brand colors that you need to match perfectly. Your display should deliver the color accuracy for both digital and print work, no matter which color space you’ve chosen.
You need to be able to trust that the color you see on-screen is what you will get when you send a document to the printer.
In terms of screen resolution, a 24-inch monitor with 1920 x 1080 pixels provides full high definition and is usually sufficient for basic needs. Professional designers—especially those who also do photo editing—may require a higher resolution screen, such as 1440p or 4K.
Regardless of size or resolution, matte or antiglare finishes can help reduce eyestrain and visual distractions; however, they also reduce contrast and vibrancy, which are essential for color accuracy in graphic design, photography, and video editing.
Ports and Wired Connectivity are also very important for graphic design work. The more inputs and outputs you have, the easier it will be to upload files from external drives and SD cards, add another monitor, connect a tablet and stylus or ergonomic keyboard, and make use of a range of other peripherals.
Thunderbolt™ 3 technology provides fast, versatile connections for a range of peripherals and storage devices. In addition, Thunderbolt connectivity makes it easier for you to connect to client networks and quickly transfer files while working on-site. In fact, Thunderbolt is up to 8x faster than USB 3.0 and provides more video bandwidth than HDMI 1.4.1
Wireless Connectivity gives designers the flexibility to work from anywhere. PCs featuring Intel® Wi-Fi 6 (Gig+) deliver a generational advance in Wi-Fi performance, traffic management, interference avoidance, and security for best-in-class connectivity.2 You’ll also experience nearly 3x faster download speeds3 Plus, all Wi-Fi 6–enabled products feature WPA3 security technologies, designed specifically to meet today’s cyberthreats.4
If you frequently work on the go or while visiting clients, Wi-Fi 6 offers improved WLAN speed, capacity, manageability, and security3, 4 to help boost your overall workflow performance—especially when it comes to large media file transfers and other bandwidth-intensive activities.
Touchscreen capabilities allow you to quickly zoom in and out when showing your work, but they require regular cleaning. Keeping the screen clear of fingerprints and smudges is vital so that you and your clients can see your work clearly. Slightly different from touchscreen capabilities, working with a stylus gives you a realistic feel when drawing. For many designers, this is key when sketching out ideas or working on illustrations.
The Best Machine for the Job
Graphic designers often wear many hats and have very dynamic work lives. For that reason, many choose to own and use multiple systems. High-performance laptops give you the flexibility to work while traveling, visiting clients, or just when you need a change of venue. More intensive work such as 3D rendering or video editing can be done in the office or at home on a desktop computer.