Right now, we think the best laptop for graphic design is the new MacBook Pro (2018) – if you need sheer power, this pro notebook takes the crown. But those specs don’t come cheap, which is why we’ve put it at number two. Which MacBook is the best for a programmer: the MacBook Pro or the MacBook Air? What laptop should a college student get: the 12' MacBook or the 13' MacBook Pro 2015? Are MacBooks a good computer for High School and college students? It’s extremely expensive, but if you’re looking for unbridled power to get through professional workloads, the iMac Pro is the best Mac for you. Read the full review: iMac Pro 5.
The search for the best laptops for graphic design can feel like a never ending task if you embark on it alone. Fortunately, we've taken on the hard work for you and created this one-stop shop of information. Whether you're on a tight or limitless budget, and whatever your specialism may be, our useful guide has the perfect option for you.
Best laptops for graphic design: Top 5
01. Microsoft Surface Book 2
02. Lenovo ThinkPad P1
03. Dell Precision 3540
04. MacBook Pro (2018)
05. Huawei MateBook X Pro
Read on for more information on each of our picks
With all the options out there, it's understandable if you feel unsure of where to start. If that's the case, scroll to the bottom of this article and you'll find handy pointers on what to look for when choosing a laptop for graphic design.
Our overall pick for the best laptop for graphic design right now, taking into account its features and price, is the Microsoft Surface Book 2. Aside from being an excellent all-round laptop, it also doubles up as a ridiculously good tablet. And as a bonus, there are some great deals around on the versions that have a lower spec.
However, we understand your budget might not stretch to that high end option. If so, Dell’s new Precision 3540 (number 3) may be the right laptop for you. It’s an affordable quad-core laptop designed for graphics work, with some tasty options such as discrete AMD graphics and a FullHD display. And LG’s recently launched Gram is not only the lightest 17-inch laptop in the world, it’s also more than capable of top-end graphic design work. We were so impressed with it when we reviewed it that it has earned its own spot in our pick of the best laptops for graphic design.
If you can hold out a couple more weeks for a new laptop, it might be worth bookmarking our best Prime day deals page to see if the machine you've chosen is discounted. If not, you'll find the best prices right now on this page.
Prefer working on a desktop PC or Mac? Then take a look at our pick of the best computers for graphic design. And if battery life has you worried, then you may want to check our list of the best power banks available.
01. Microsoft Surface Book 2
The Surface Book is the ultimate laptop for graphic design
CPU: Intel Core i7 Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 – NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1060 RAM: 16GB Screen: 15-inch PixelSense (3240x2160) Storage: 256GB - 1TB SSD
Microsoft's Surface Book 2 is an incredible 2-in-1 laptop – even in its lowest spec option. If you're a designer who draws as well, this is the best laptop for graphic design you can get. It’s fast and immensely powerful, thanks to Intel’s quad-core Coffee Lake Core i7-8650 processor and 16GB of RAM. And it boasts an impressive battery life, plus a stunning, crisp display with superb colour accuracy.
It’s also incredibly versatile: use it as a graphics, video or photo-editing workstation on the go, or as a sketchbook. Just detach the screen and use it as a tablet with the Surface Pen (which doesn't come included, our one gripe) or buy the innovative Surface Dial and have an intuitive way of controlling your creative tools. Even better, flip the screen around, reattach it and you can use it to draw at a more natural angle.
Too expensive? If you can cope with less screen real estate, the 13-inch Surface Book 2 is significantly cheaper, with a similar core specification and only slightly less impressive overall performance. For even cheaper, Microsoft's original 13-inch Surface Book remains a ridiculously accomplished laptop, with a smaller price tag. But if you've got the cash, the Surface Book 2 is an utterly fantastic laptop for graphic designers.
Also read: Microsoft Surface Book 2 review
02. Lenovo ThinkPad P1
This amazing laptop is well worth the hefty pricetag
CPU: Intel Core i5, Core i7, Core i9 or Xeon Graphics: Nvidia Quadro P1000 / P2000 RAM: 8GB-64GB Screen: 15.6' Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) Storage: 256-4TB SSD
The Lenovo ThinkPad P1 is one of the most powerful Windows laptops around, and is aimed squarely at high-level content creators. It gives you the option of an Intel Xeon processor and a professional-grade Nvidia Quadro P2000 graphics, up to 64GB of memory and has all the ports you could need (two USB 3, two USB-C Thunderbolt 3, an HDMI 2.0, DisplayPort and SD card reader). This machine sports a slick design, with a slim chassis and a 4K display with 100% AdobeRGB coverage. The screen alone makes it a joy for creative work, but with all the performance it offers too, the ThinkPad P1 is a seriously good laptop for graphic designers.
03. Dell Precision 3540
The best laptop for graphic design if you're on a budget
CPU: Intel Core i5 Graphics: Intel UHD 620 / AMD Radeon Pro WX 2100 2GB RAM: 8GB Screen: 15.6-inch Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) Storage: 256GB SSD
Dell’s new 15.6-inch Precision 3540 has a specification that can handle even the most advanced features in tools such as Photoshop and Lightroom. It has an Intel Core i5 quad-core processor with a 1080P display and an entry-level discrete AMD Radeon Pro WX 2100 2GB graphics card, which will help with 3D and anything that uses OpenCL. A 256GB fast M.2 SSD, 8GB of system memory and support for Thunderbolt 3 round off a package that’s priced incredibly well as an entry-level computer for visual design.
04. MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (2018)
The latest MacBook Pro doesn’t disappoint
Processor: Intel Core i7-i9 Graphics: Radeon Pro 555X-Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB of GDDR5 memory RAM: 16-32GB Screen: 15-inch 1920x1200 IPS display Storage: 256-4TB SSD
Apple is back on great form with its 15-inch MacBook Pro 2018 with Touch Bar. If you need sheer power – and have the cash – this is one of the best graphic design laptops you can get. The new Macbook Pro offers a substantial upgrade over previous versions. Aimed at creative professionals, this is the most powerful MacBook device ever created, with more RAM, a choice of 8th-generation Intel Core processors (that Apple claims make it up to 70 per cent faster than the MacBook Pro 2017) and better discrete graphics cards. It also comes with blisteringly fast SSDs and a quieter keyboard.
On the downside, there are just four USB-C ports and one headphone jack port, so you’ll need an adapter if you want to plug in an Ethernet cable or legacy hardware. And while the screen is absolutely gorgeous, 4K would have been nice. Nevertheless, the Apple MacBook (2018) gives you the CPU and memory horsepower to make mincemeat of large files and complex tasks – and it absolutely looks the part too.
05. Huawei MateBook X Pro
Design and performance to rival the mighty MacBook Pro
CPU: 8th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 , Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB GDDR5 RAM: 8GB – 16GB Screen: 13.9-inch 3K (3,000 x 2,080) Storage: 512GB SSD
Huawei may not be the first name that springs to mind when considering the best laptops for graphic design, but with the Huawei MateBook X Pro, the Chinese company has proved it has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the biggest names in the laptop market. This is a gorgeously designed laptop with a stunning screen (albeit with a rather odd aspect ratio), and it comes packed with cutting edge components that allows it to perform brilliantly, and a battery life that runs rings around many of its rivals. It has a design and performance that rivals the mighty MacBook Pro. Also, it runs Windows 10, so you can install all the digital art apps you're used to using.
Read: Our sister site TechRadar’s Huawei MateBook X Pro review
06. HP ZBook Studio G4 DreamColor
Power meets portability – the G4 has repeatedly proven that it's a fantastic laptop for graphic design
CPU: Intel Xeon CPU Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro M1200 RAM: 32GB Screen: 15.6-inch 3840x2160 Storage: 512GB SSD
If you’re looking for all-out power, check out the rip-roaring HP ZBook Studio G4. The top-end model isn’t cheap, but it packs incredible specs including a 15.6-inch 4K DreamColor display that can easily be colour calibrated, a blazing-fast Core Intel Xeon CPU, 32GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and NVIDIA Quadro M1200 dedicated graphics with 4GB VRAM. If you like to connect up your favourite peripherals and monitors, then there’s also a healthy range of ports – it features a Gigabit Ethernet port, HDMI port, a legacy VGA connector, SD card reader, one USB 3.0 port, and two USB Type-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports. Oh, and let's not forget the Bang & Olufsen speakers in case you want to crank up the tunes while you work.
At just over 2kg (4.6lbs), it won’t break your back carrying it around, and it’s pretty thin at 18mm. If you're worried about security, then you'll be glad of the built-in fingerprint reader and the optional (and extremely fast) HP Z Turbo NVMe PCIe SED (self-encrypting drive) SSDs.
07. Dell XPS 15
A stunning laptop with a top-notch display
CPU: Intel Core i5 Graphics: GeForce graphics RAM: 8GB Screen: 15.6' FHD 1920x1080 Anti-Glare 100% sRGB InfinityEdge display Storage: 1TB HD/32GB SSD
The Dell XPS 15 is a truly stunning laptop – and now that the 2017 version has been replaced by the Dell XPS 15 (2018), it's much more affordable, too. For your money, you get the virtually borderless InfinityEdge display at Full HD resolution, a Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM and a 1TB HD and 32GB SSD. Spec it up a little (or a lot, actually) and you can have a 4K display with multi-touch, turning it – with the help of the Dell stylus – into a portable sketchbook. 15.6-inches of UHD definition (3,840 x 2,160) equals a lot of pixels, making for some incredibly sharp images.
Depending on the complexity of the projects you'll be working on, you can pump the Intel HD Graphics 630 GPU up to an impressive Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050. We can't imagine what you could possibly be designing that the latter wouldn't be able to handle. If you don’t need a 15-incher, look to the XPS 13, which is perhaps the perfect blend of power and portability.
08. Huawei MateBook 13
The best laptop for graphic design if you're on a budget
CPU: 8th-gen Intel Core i5 – i7 Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 , Nvidia GeForce MX150 2GB GDDR5 RAM: 8GB Screen: 13-inch 1440p (2,160 x 1,440) Storage: 256GB-512GB SSD
If you aren’t willing or able to fork out the high sums demanded by the most high-end laptops, but you don’t want to compromise on performance, the Huawei MateBook 13 is made for you. Huawei has sensibly built a mid-range MacBook clone that delivers the goods when it comes to processing, so is perfect for students and anyone on a budget. That means ultra-responsive Photoshop performance that can be used for any demanding graphics task you throw at it. With a bright 1440p screen, portable design and Nvidia graphics, it’s not much of a compromise in other areas either.
09. Apple MacBook Air (2018)
The new MacBook Air is perfect for portable graphics work
Processor: 8th generation Intel Core i5 – i7 (dual-core / quad-core) RAM: 8-16GB Screen: 13.3' 2,560x1,600 Retina display Storage: 128GB - 1.5TB SSD Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 617
After a much-needed refresh, the MacBook Air (2018) has had a few choice updates that make it a real winner for graphic design work. Although it’s not quite the powerhouse the MacBook Pro is (or some high-end Windows laptops), it now has a bright Retina display, which is a great upgrade over the dated screen in the old Air and better for working with graphic design software. The processor is much faster and will cope with Photoshop, Illustrator, and so on with ease. But Apple has sensibly ensured the Air is as portable as ever, with a seriously lightweight design that makes it a great choice for graphics work on the go.
10. HP ZBook X2
HP's stunning 2-in-1 option takes on the Surface Book 2
CPU: Intel Core i7 Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro M620 with 2GB dedicated GDDR5 graphics memory Memory: 32GB RAM Screen: 15-inch 1920x1200 Storage: 512GB SSD
Created specifically with creatives in mind, the HP ZBook X2 packs a serious amount of power, and with it a pretty hefty price tag. But if money is no issue and you're contemplating abandoning a desktop or laptop as a primary creative tool, the HP ZBook X2 deserves a look. It boasts some seriously impressive designer-focused specs, including a stunning 10-bit, 100% Adobe RGB, 4K multi-touch UHD dreamcolour display and extra ports to keep you well connected.
It also comes pre-installed with Adobe's Creative Cloud desktop application for easy access, and sports a fully detachable Bluetooth keyboard so you can switch from laptop to tablet whenever inspiration strikes. That's all backed up with the power of an Intel Core i7 processor, 32GB RAM – double that of its Microsoft rival – and NVIDIA Quadro graphics.
However, power requires more juice, so battery life on the ZBook2 is shorter than some of the other laptops featured in this list. It's also heavier than some of its competition, which isn't ideal when you're on the go. That said, while the X2 doesn't come cheap, it's still a serious option for designers looking to liberate themselves from a desktop without compromising on apps and performance.
11. Microsoft Surface Laptop 2
Microsoft’s touchscreen bargain is sleek, light and powerful
CPU: Intel Core i5 - i7 Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 RAM: 8GB - 16GB Screen: 13.5-inch PixelSense (2,256 x 1,504) Storage: 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD
The Surface Laptop 2 is Microsoft's follow up to its popular original laptop, and once again the company has created a very good laptop for graphic design students. Microsoft has boosted the hardware of the Surface Laptop 2, making it an even better proposition for people looking for the best laptop for graphic design for their needs. As with its predecessor, even the lowest-end model is powerful enough to run Photoshop and Illustrator on a daily basis, and the fact you can use the optional Surface Pen to draw directly on screen makes it even more appealing. It no longer comes with Windows 10 S Mode as default either, instead you get the full Windows 10 experience, which means you can install Creative Cloud apps and other programs easily.
Read: Our sister site TechRadar’s Surface Laptop 2 review
12. LG Gram 17'
A highly capable 17-inch laptop that’s amazingly light and portable
CPU: Intel Core i7-8565U (quad core, 4.6GHz Max Turbo Boost) Graphics: Intel UHD Graphics 620 RAM: 16GB Screen: 17-inch WQXGA (2560x1600) Storage: 512GB SSD
The LG Gram 17 is a high-spec silver laptop built from a strong and light alloy. 17-inch laptops that are actually capable of serious design work are usually too big, heavy and bulky to be considered portable – but LG has well and truly bucked this trend with this machine. It weighs an impressive 1.34kg, which is comparable to many 13-inch models, and it measures just 1.7cm at its thinnest point, again impressive for a 17-inch laptop. Expect all the performance you’ll need for heavy duty Photoshop edits and effects, all the while looking sumptuous on its 2560x1600 WXGA IPS screen that has 99% sRGB colour coverage. At time of publish, it wasn't yet available in the UK.
Read more: LG Gram 17 review
Today's best graphic design laptop prices
Laptops for graphic design: What to look for
So how do you pick the best laptop for your graphic design work? Clearly you'll be guided by what you can afford, which is why we have the best options for all budgets here. But there are a few other things to consider too.
One is power versus portability: you need something that’s thin and light enough to throw in your backpack, but also powerful enough to run your suite of creative tools. You also need to decide whether macOS or Windows is right for you. The former used to be the staple of creative professionals, but it really doesn’t matter what platform you use these days.
Whatever your preferences, each of the machines here will give you all the power and performance you need to hit the ground running with your latest, greatest project.
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You worked incredibly hard to get yourself (or your child) into college. Now when it’s time to pack up your bags and head off to campus, you’ll want to bring along all the right technology to help you do your best.
Most of Apple’s Mac lineup is overdue for a refresh, but if you’re shopping for college, you might consider a MacBook or iPad Pro. Both have key features that make them especially handy for college students. And both are eligible for Apple’s back-to-school promotion.
If you buy an eligible Mac (any model but the Mac mini), you can get a free pair of Beats Solo2 Wireless Heaphones, via a $299.95 instant credit. Buy an eligible iPhone (6, 6 Plus, 6s, or 6s Plus) or an iPad Pro, and you’ll get a $199.95 credit for a pair of Powerbeats2 Wireless Heaphones—and you can pay $100 more to get the Beats Solo2 instead. This promotion expires September 5, and conditions apply, so be sure to read all the fine print.
These are our picks for the best Apple gear for students—what to buy now, and what to wait for, as several major Apple product lines should see refreshes by the end of 2016.
Look, I’ll just level with you: This isn’t the greatest time in history to be in the market for a cutting-edge Mac laptop. As of this writing, the MacBook Air lineup has not been refreshed in 525 days, since March of 2015, and the Retina MacBook Pro lineup has languished 454 days, since May 2015. Rumor has it, Apple is poised to introduce totally redesigned MacBook Pros this fall, but perhaps not until October.
So if you need something today, the 12-inch MacBook (starting at $1299 in the Apple Store) is the most recently upgraded Mac laptop, having gotten a proper refresh this April. It’s got a lovely Retina screen, and at just a hair over 2 pounds, it’s the lightest Mac you can buy, which makes it perfect for students whose laptops spend a lot of time in backpacks getting lugged from the dorms to class to the library and back.
The MacBook only has a single USB-C port, along with a standard headphone jack. This shouldn’t slow you down when taking notes in class or studying in the library—it gets 10 hours of battery life, after all. And you can always pick up a dock for the desk in your dorm room. A USB-C dock would let you keep peripherals hooked up, like a hard drive for backups, an external display, or just a couple spare USB ports to charge your iPhone and iPad. We like the $45 Satechi Type-C Pass Through USB Hub with USB-C Charging Port if you don’t plan to hook up an external display, or the $150 OWC USB-C Dock if you do.
Best Apple laptop for students
9.7-inch iPad Pro
The iPad Pro isn’t a real laptop replacement, but if it can handle most of the tasks you would need a laptop for, who cares? With a Smart Keyboard, you’ve got everything you need to type notes during class. Or grab an Apple Pencil and use a clever app like GoodNotes 4 to scratch notes on an infinitely scrolling notepad—they’ll sync to your Dropbox and thanks to OCR you can search them later.
The iPad Pro has some more advantages for students too. With a Wi-Fi plus cellular model, you’ll always be online, on campus or off. The multitasking features in iOS 9 let you research in Safari while writing a paper in Byword or Scrivener—or just watch movies in the Picture in Picture window while you’re catching up on your reading. In fact, I’d rather read ebooks on an iPad than any other device, and the iPad Pro has Night Shift and True Tone to keep those late-night study sessions easy on the eyes.
Of course, college isn’t all work and no play, and an iPad has tons of entertainment options too, from streaming video services to games. With a $49 Lightning Digital AV Adapter, you can hook it up to your TV without needing a set-top box—but you could beam content over wirelessly with a $35 Chromecast or a $149 Apple TV.
Oh, and if you ever find yourself with free time to learn things on your own, outside of class (yeah, right), the iPad Pro is the perfect device for diving into Apple’s brilliant Swift Playgrounds app, in preview now and shipping this fall alongside iOS 10. This teaches you Apple’s Swift programming language step-by-step, no coding experience required, but it’s as fun as any cerebral puzzle game.
Best iPad for students
You don’t need an Apple TV to succeed in school. But you don’t need a cable bill at college, either. For $149, the Apple TV can turn the cheapest 1080p TV you can find into a connected cornucopia of content, from Netflix and Hulu to Apple Music to the cable-like packages of Sling. You’ll have fun watching Game of Thrones with your dormmates, or blowing off steam after a test with a few rounds of NBA 2K16.
Grab a gamepad if you plan to do much gaming—these are our favorites—and consider the $199 64GB model of Apple TV. But if all you want to do is binge-watch your latest Netflix obsessions (hey, there are different kinds of all-nighters), the 32GB model is plenty. Either one will be able to AirPlay content from your other Apple gear, which can come in handy when you’re having a group study session and want to mirror your MacBook or iPad’s screen on your TV.
Best set-top box for dorm rooms
What to wait for
We’re stuck in a little bit of a holding pattern waiting for some Apple products that should be coming soon. These probably shouldn’t find their way into your shopping cart today, but they’ll all be solid buys for students when Apple does refresh them.
The rumors about an Apple Watch 2 say it could be announced in September, alongside the next iPhone. So it might not be the best time to pick up the first model, although it’s never been cheaper, starting at $299 for the 38mm Apple Watch Sport. After a year, I still love mine the most for its fitness features, and students should find the glanceable info it provides invaluable. It’ll let you keep track of your calendar, see when the next bus is coming, order an Uber, answer a phone call, set alarms, make Apple Pay transactions, and never miss a text from your bestie.
I love the MacBook Air—even without a Retina display, it’s got the right mix of size, weight, performance, and ports that I need day in and day out. The 13-inch MacBook Air starts at $999, and the 11-inch at $899, and that starter model is no slouch. The 13-incher, for example, comes with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5, 256GB of flash storage, and 8GB of RAM, which Apple just made standard in April. If the company can keep those prices the same while upgrading the line to newer processors, this could be a more convenient option for students than the single-port MacBook.
If you’re smart enough to get into college, you’re hopefully wise enough to wait for the heavily rumored MacBook Pro refresh we’ve been hearing about. Apple reportedly plans to slim down the MacBook Pro, and add Touch ID as well as a pressure sensitive trackpad. The row of function keys along the top will be replaced by a strip of touch-sensitive OLED keys that can change depending on what app you’re using. Current MacBook Pros start at $1299 for the 13-inch and $1999 for the 15-inch, but it could conceivably last you all four years.
The next iPhone
Since a new iPhone comes out every September, buying one in August is a last resort—as in, only if your screen is so smashed you’re cutting your thumb every time you slide to unlock. (But first, try to hobble by with a screen protector or just a layer of clear packing tape.) While you could pick up an iPhone 6s now and just rely on iOS 10’s launch this fall to make your phone feel new, it’s probably best to wait for the iPhone 7. It should have a better camera, faster processor, more storage (starting at 32GB)—but no headphone jack. So I guess if that’s a dealbreaker, the iPhone 6s (or the iPhone SE) is your last chance to upgrade to a headphone-jacked phone, but then again, the 6s price should drop when the new one comes out.