Just like every artisan needs a good set of tools, every web designer needs a dependable laptop to do their job.
Not all web designers are created equal, however, and each has different needs. That’s why it’s essential to shop around for the best computer for web design according to your standards.
If you’re always on the road, for example, you’ll want to consider ultra-portable laptops and tablets that prioritize weight and battery life. If you use your laptop to run large programs for eight hours a day, you may want to look at desktop replacements equipped with powerful components.
Keep reading for a guide to what to look for when searching for the right laptop for web development and design.
Set a Budget
First things first, set a budget and aim to stick to it.
While graphics programmers and computer scientists over-tax their computer hardware, web designers are lucky that you don’t need the absolute highest performing machines to get the job done.
A decently fast CPU and a fair amount of RAM is all that’s required of most web design work. An expensive graphics card and ultra-performance CPU isn’t particularly necessary unless that’s essential to you.
Most laptop and tablet models fall into one of four pricing brackets:
- Budget: $150-300
- Mid-range: $350-700
- High-end: $700-1000
- Performance: $1000+
If you want to invest in a model that will last you a few years, consider purchasing a more expensive model with a good warranty. However, if you’re on a strict budget, several excellent laptops are available in each price bracket.
Technology is excellent and necessary, but shopping for it can be overwhelming. What equipment do you really need? Mac or PC? Where to even begin?
Let’s start with the hardware.
Most computers less than three years old and more powerful than a netbook will meet your basic needs. Everyone engages in photo editing here and there, even if it’s just adding black and white filters to family photos for the holidays.
As a web designer, however, you’ll want to upgrade your device. The best laptop for web design will vary by designer, but there are some key features to focus on while shopping around. As you search for the best Cyber Monday laptop, pay attention to each computer’s memory, processor speed, screen resolution, and hard disk speed.
Software for graphic design is processor-intensive, becoming even more so each year. For most design programs, look for a CPU that runs at least 1GHz. This means the machine can make one billion calculations per second.
And that’s just the minimum. You should really be shopping for a processor that is even faster if you can afford it. But a computer’s speed is determined by more than just its processor.
Next up is Random Access Memory (RAM), which is sometimes referred to as just memory—not to be confused with storage memory.
Think of RAM as a brief memory. It’s the information your machine keeps handy only at the forefront of its mind. The more memory you have, the more calculations you can process at once because it’s faster than reaching for the hard drive for the files in use.
If you have extra money to spend, spend it on RAM, as 16 or 32 gigs will significantly speed up applications.
Any standard computer you’re considering will have a fairly large hard drive. This shouldn’t be your primary concern, as your built-in hard drive should be reserved for software and storing the projects you’re currently working on. Files you only access occasionally should live on an external hard drive, which we’ll discuss next.
Hard Disk Drives (HDD) and Solid State Drives (SSD) are the two types of hard drives you’ll encounter. HDDs are magnetic-coated disks on the inside. They spin similar to a record player, only much faster. SSDs are made up of several memory chips and have no moving parts.
There are pros and cons to both HDDs and SSDs. Typically, HDDs are more affordable—about half the price for the same storage capacity. HDDs have a higher ceiling for total storage, while SSDs max out at around 4 terabytes. Because SSDs have no moving parts, they are more durable. While you can accidentally drop an SSD into the floor and it would survive, the same is not likely for an HDD.
If you travel a lot or move from place to place while working, an SSD is probably the best choice.
If you’re looking for speed, SSDs win in this category, too. Your computer will boot faster and launch programs more quickly with an internal SSD. As an external drive, data transfers more quickly to and from SSDs than HDDs.
Pay attention to the hard disk speed of any HDD you’re considering as the best computer for web development. The drive on which you install software should spin at 7200rpm. For external storage, speed is less important, and 5400rpm is acceptable.
A 1TB hard drive is an adequate place to start, but 2TB isn’t bad either.
As a web designer, you’ll likely need to expand your storage space continually. According to Moore’s Law, you shouldn’t worry about it anyway because it’ll get cheaper every year. The law states that as our computers’ speed and capability increase every couple of years, we will begin to pay less for them.
Ensure that the monitor resolution on the computer you ultimately choose is at least 1280 x 800, but a higher resolution is always best if you have the budget for it.
If you need a portable option, your choices may be limited. Just keep in mind that a monitor with a resolution lower than 1280 x 800 likely won’t even run the graphic design programs of your choice.
Most new monitors are Twisted Nematic (TN) panels because they’re cheaper. However, they’re cheap because of low color reproduction. You’d be better off with a Vertical Alignment (VA) panel or an In-Plane Switching (IPS) monitor. Out of these three options, IPS monitors are the most expensive, but the cost is justified.
Retina is technically a term only used by Apple, but it’s the cream of the crop of high-pixel density display. Retina displays are used to make text and images appear extraordinarily sharp.
Traditional computers have a 72 PPI resolution, which means every inch of the display is made up of 5, 184 tiny squares (72×72). Retina displays have a much higher resolution, ranging from 218-401 PPI. Retina displays are sharp but not necessary if you can’t afford the upgrade.
However, if you’re investing for the long-term, it’s probably worth it, as high pixel density displays will likely become the norm in a few years.
Keyboards and Touchscreens
When it comes to deciding on keyboards and touchscreens, it’s really based on preference. If you prefer a stylus-based system, several Microsoft tablet-style laptops fit the bill. They include the Microsoft Surface Pen, which gives you control over the finer details—just like using a pencil.
Some people prefer a touchscreen display. If you think your fingers would be an accurate measure, there are several choices of laptop computers and tablets that will allow you to work that way.
The advantage of using a mouse or mousepad is that it’s accurate with less sensitive motions. With Bluetooth and plugged-in options, there’s a plethora to choose from. Most modern machines have Bluetooth built-in, so there are many available options for graphic designers who wish to remain cordless while they work.
Mac vs. PC for Graphic Design
As a designer, you’ve probably heard others say that Macs are best for artists and PCs are more suited for office workers. What you might not know, however, is that this cliche comes from an Apple ad campaign.
There was a time when Apple dominated the market on graphic design machines. After all, digital typography began on a Mac. Photoshop was designed solely for Macs. Because Apple was the only option for decades, designers stuck to what they knew. They knew the system and weren’t about to change their process when they were excelling.
Today, things are different. Most software runs equally well on both types of computers. Mac still has a cult-like following, but Windows users enjoy the flexibility and customization options available for PCs. Outside of creative industries, most industries prefer Windows.
So, the most important thing to consider is what you’re most comfortable with. Have you always used a PC? Then stick with a PC, and vice versa. Forget the cliches and choose the system that seems right to you.
Start Shopping for the Best Computer for Web Design
As you search for the best computer for web design, consider all of the features and functionality discussed above. And remember, there’s more to graphic design than the tools.
To stand out as a designer, you’ll need more than a high-quality laptop. You need talent, dedication, and a lot of practice. With the right computer as your canvas, it’s your time to shine.
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