If you're into photography or making videos, you know it takes a powerful computer to keep up with your work. Whether it's making touch-ups to your high-resolution photos or editing your latest cinematic masterpiece, you need a machine that won't keep you waiting as it renders--especially if you use software that chews up a lot of resources like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Premiere. Finding the right laptop for photo and video editing is a matter of seeking out the models that have the right stuff under the hood. Here's everything you need to know to pick out the best one from the crowd, including our top three picks. Our favorite laptop for photo and video editing is the Apple Macbook Pro, which combines power and storage with a crisp, 15-inch retina display.
Considerations when choosing laptops for photo and video editing
Take a moment to consider what you need out of a laptop before you buy one. Start with these questions.
Will you be taking your laptop on the go?
If you regularly take your laptop to meetings, coffee shops, or on trips, pay attention to how portable different laptops are. Some models that are great for editing photos and videos are enormous beasts that weigh close to six pounds, and they're a pain to lug around. Other models are thinner and lighter and, as you might expect, more expensive.
What size screen do you need?
Consider the content you'll be working with and how large a screen you'll need to see everything clearly. Laptop screens vary in size, anywhere from 11 to 17 inches, so you've got good options to choose from. Just keep in mind that larger screens use more battery life and add weight overall, so the right choice for you should take a variety of factors into consideration.
Do you need tablet functionality?
Some laptops for photo and video editing are touchscreen laptops, so they also function as a tablet. Many creatives are big fans of touchscreen laptops because they work with stylus pens and often make editing even easier.
Laptops for photo and video editing are still laptops, so here are the specifications to compare.
The central processing unit (CPU) is the laptop's main processor and determines the overall speed of the machine. The faster the CPU, the more expensive the laptop. It's crucial to have a fast CPU for editing photos and videos. We recommend getting a laptop with an Intel processor. If you're looking for a middle-of-the-road machine, look for a laptop with an i5 processor, and expect to pay between $500 and $1,000. If you're looking for an above-average computer that you won't have to replace for a while, expect to pay between $1,000 and $2,500.
The graphics processing unit (GPU) is where all of the laptop's video rendering happens. You need a good GPU for visual tasks like editing photos and videos. Look for laptops with a minimum of 2GB of video RAM. If you see a laptop that says it has integrated video, don't buy it. This means there is no dedicated GPU, and the video work is all handled by the CPU.
Random access memory (RAM) is the memory your laptop uses to run multiple applications and processes at the same time. If you usually have a lot of windows or tabs open at a time, or if you work with directories that have more than a few hundred files in them, get a laptop with plenty of RAM. For photo and video editors, we recommend 16GB of RAM.
Other important details
Remember to budget extra money for software subscriptions. The best photo and video editing applications use a subscriber model now. You'll want to make sure to set aside money or integrate the cost into your budget. Before you buy a laptop, look into the monthly fees associated with the services you'll use.
Q. Can I upgrade an older laptop to make it better for editing photos and videos?
A. Laptops aren't generally made to be upgraded, and disassembling one usually does more harm than good. With laptops, it's better to buy a new one rather than upgrading an old one. A new laptop will last longer, and you know you're buying components that are designed to work together.
Q. Is it worth it to get product insurance with a laptop for editing photos and videos?
A. Yes. Most vendors offer add-on product insurance plans for an additional fee. With some products, it's a waste of money but not with high-end laptops. The laptop you buy will likely store a lot of your content, and while a backup is always a good idea for your data, it's important to have a plan B if your hardware fails.
Q. What's the best screen resolution for laptops for photo and video editing?
A. It's a matter of preference, but we recommend a minimum resolution of 1440p (2,560x1,440 pixels). When it comes to laptops for photo and video editing, pixels matter. You'll need to see every last pixel in your content, so it's important to get a laptop with a sharp display. In most cases, a 1440p display is more than enough. However, if you're working with 4K video, you'll want a laptop with a 4K display.
Laptops for photo and video editing we recommend
Best of the best: Apple MacBook Pro 15" Retina Display
Our take: Apple's MacBook Pro laptops have been the go-to choice for creatives for years and with good reason. A near perfect mix of power, flexibility, and convenience. If you want the best editing experience available, this is it.
What we like: Everything. The retina display is gorgeous. The included 4GB of dedicated video RAM makes video editing a snap. It comes with more than enough storage.
What we dislike: Like all Apple products, the MacBook Pro is more expensive than any other competitor. Some users have complained of issues with the new butterfly keyboard design, which requires a technician to fix.
Best bang for your buck: Huawei MateBook X Pro Signature Edition
Our take: Huawei's products are often deeply inspired by Apple's, and in the case of the MateBook X Pro, that's a really good thing. It's got a gorgeous 3,000x2,000-pixel screen that's also a touchscreen, more than enough RAM, and a hefty GPU.
What we like: It's only three pounds. It supports Dolby Atmos audio and includes a dock for expanded connectivity. It's hard to find a similarly tricked-out machine at this price from any other brand.
What we dislike: The MateBook X Pro often sells out quickly, so it can sometimes be tough to find one in stock. The fans can be noisy, and the built-in webcam is only 1MP (which makes us wonder why they included it at all).
Choice 3: Microsoft Surface Pro 4
Our take: The Surface Pro takes everything you need from a beefy, powerful laptop and puts it in an impossibly thin, tablet-like form. If you need a Windows-based laptop that's powerful enough to support giant images and 4K video but portable enough to fit in any bag, get a Surface Pro.
What we like: It's super-thin but still includes an i7 processor and more than enough RAM. The low-glare screen makes it easy to see what you're doing in any light conditions.
What we dislike: It's expensive. The matching keyboard cover, which we consider essential, is a separate purchase. The 12.3-inch screen is a little small for some users.
Jaime Vazquez is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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