THE LAPTOP WORLD is full of technological innovation, so there’s never been a better time to buy a notebook if you want a portable product with the potential to turbo-charge your photo editing.
Laptops have never been so powerful – and that’s a boon if you need to motor through edits in order to get jobs finished and make more money. It’s not just about saving time either, because having extra power enables creatives to use their laptops to handle a wider range of tasks, from rendering to improving outputs with AI.
Today’s creative laptops have better screens than ever, which means you can deliver improved results – and looking further you’ll find improved keyboards, faster connectivity and lengthier battery life. You’ll be faced with loads of choice, which is ideal when you need to pick a machine that will perfectly suit your needs, but it can also serve to make choosing your device more complicated. That’s why we’ve highlighted the areas you should examine before you buy any new laptop – and we’ve also delved inside four top notebooks that could transform your business.
That’s not all this guide covers either. We’ve also taken a closer look at OLED and IPS screens to see which technology is better for your workflow, and we’ve also examined how high-end graphics cards can take your work into the future.
Before you start think about anything else, you need to consider the internals your prospective laptop features, because the processor, memory and graphics card are the crucial parts under the bonnet that will actually be doing the bulk of the work.
When looking at what to invest in, the processor should be your primary port of call. In that department, your initial decision involves picking between Intel and AMD, and the two firms have historically swapped places in terms of content creation prowess. Right now there’s only one winner, and that’s Intel.
Testing reveals that Intel’s chips are faster than their AMD equivalents in the most popular creative applications, including Adobe tools such as Photoshop, Lightroom, After Effects and Premiere Pro. Go beyond Adobe software and Intel still has convincing leads in tools like DaVinci Resolve, Pix4D and Blender. Certain AMD chips might squeak ahead of Intel parts in the odd test, and we’re not saying that AMD’s mobile processors are slow, but it’s a fact that an Intel CPU is definitely your best creative choice just at the moment.
Once you’ve made that decision it’s time to pick a processor. Happily, you can follow some rules of thumb to get topnotch creative performance. You should buy a laptop with a Core i7 or Core i9 chip –anything below that won’t be fast enough.
A chip like the Core i7-12700H will be the perfect companion to most creative tasks you’ll face on the road, but you should upgrade to the i9-12900H if you need a machine for more challenging situations. If you want the most power possible, then the i9-12900HK has to be your chip of choice.
You don’t have to worry if you’re moving to Windows from a MacBook, either. The Apple M1 Pro and Max chips inside the MacBook Pro 16 trade blows with Intel’s Core i7 parts, but they’re still generally outpaced by Core i9 silicon.
The newer M2 CPU still can’t overhaul Core i9 chips in most situations, although it does put up a great fight in video processing and efficiency – it’s worth waiting for a MacBook Pro 16 with an M2 processor if you want to edit video or get great battery life. For photo professionals and most workloads Intel remains the king however.
No matter what laptop processor you buy, bear in mind that laptop chips still can’t match their desktop counterparts. Mobile CPUs have never been so good, but processors like the i7-12700H are still about 10% slower than desktop equivalents in single-threaded tasks, and roughly 25% behind in multi-threaded situations.
Beyond the Processor
Getting a great photo-editing laptop isn’t just about choosing the best processor. When considering memory, make sure you get DDR5 rather than DDR4, as it’s faster. You also need dual-channel DDR5 rather than single-channel, and you should get at least 16GB – but step up to 32GB if possible.
Asus Zenbook Pro 16X OLED
PRICE: £2999 | ASUS.COM/UK
ASUS HAS MADE big strides in the world of professional laptops over the past few years, and its Zenbook Pro 16X OLED is a stunning addition to the range. In particular its16in OLED display is sensational. Its 4K-busting resolution of 3840 x 2400 delivers huge vibrancy, while its 550-nit peak brightness means it works indoors and outdoors. Its colours are accurate, it renders the sRGB, DCI-P3 and Adobe RGB colour gamuts, and it has Pantone validation.
It’s as close as you’ll get to have a high-end creative display on your notebook. On the inside you’ll find a fast Intel Core i9-12900H processor, 32GB of memory and a 2TB SSD, alongside loads of Thunderbolt and USB ports, an HDMI 2.1 output and SD Express 7.0 card reader. The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 graphics core is great for photo-editing, but it’s not hugely powerful. The keyboard tilts forward for an intuitive feel, and the touchsensitive Asus Dial is a circular button that activates extra functionality when using Adobe tools.
The Zenbook is not perfect. It weighs 2.4kg, so it’s bulky, and you won’t get an entire day of battery life from this notebook. And, at £2,999, it’s on the expensive side. For that money you could buy a PC with more powerful components and a topnotch professional display. But if you want an incredible screen, huge performance and plenty of functionality in your notebook, the Zenbook should be at the top of your shopping list.
On the storage front, ensure that your next photo-editing laptop has a PCI-E 4.0 SSD, so you’ve got lashings of speed. You’ll have to judge how much capacity you need, but 1TB should be the bare minimum. You’ll also have to think about connectivity. Any decent laptop these days will have dualband 802.11ax wireless and Bluetooth, which is great, but not all machines have wired internet these days. If you do want to connect with an Ethernet cable, make sure the laptop you’re looking at has the right port – and if you want real speed, seek out a machine with faster 2.5Gbps Ethernet.
The final component to consider is the graphics card, but we’re covering this side of things in more depth later, and we’ll also take a closer look at screen technology.
On the Outside
Of course, a good professional laptop isn’t just about the components – you need to be paying attention to the exterior, too. Examine the keyboard to make sure it’s got everything you need. You might want a quiet, shallow unit if you work around other people often, but if you work at home you could opt for a taller keyboard or a mechanical unit to deliver more satisfying typing. And make sure that the laptop has a numberpad if that’s important for your workflow – lots of mobiles omit those.
Consider the ports, as well. You will know how many USB connections you’ll need, and you should find the fastest ones possible. It’s worth buying a laptop with Thunderbolt 4 connectivity or USB-C sockets for more modern peripherals and for device charging, and check if your favoured portable has an SD or microSD slot, so you can easily transfer your photos.
OLED or IPS?
Not sure which screen technology to choose? We reveal the top things to look out for when you’re picking a laptop. If you cast your eye over photo-editing laptops these days, then you’re going to see some with OLED panels and others with IPS displays. When buying a notebook you’ll have to decide between the two.
IPS displays use a traditional backlighting system to illuminate a layer of crystals and produce colour, and they’re renowned for displaying accurate colours with great viewing angles. Conversely, OLED screens are built with pixels that produce light themselves. They don’t rely on separate backlights and those pixels can be turned off, so OLED screens produce better black levels than their IPS counterparts, which means you get better contrast.
There are pros and cons elsewhere. The best IPS displays pair their top-notch colours and viewing angles with lower prices than OLED displays, and IPS screens also tend to offer more mellow colours. OLED screens are punchier and more vibrant, but they’re more expensive than IPS technology – and, depending on your work, you might not necessarily benefit from OLED’s more extreme colours.
Over the past year the tide has begun to turn in the display market. OLED screens used to be rare but now they’re just as readily available on high-end laptops as their IPS counterparts.
They’re still more expensive than IPS screens at the moment, but the gap is narrowing. This is great news – it gives professional photo editors plenty of hoice. Top-notch IPS and OLED panels will both deliver exceptional colour accuracy, so it’s worth weighing up the more realistic colours delivered by IPS screens and the brighter, punchier tones and deeper blacks of OLED technology.
Acer ConceptD 7 SpatialLabs Edition
PRICE: £3499 | ACER.COM
ACER’S CONCEPTD creative machines regularly innovate, and that’s especially true of this ConceptD 7 machine. SpatialLabs is Acer’s 3D imaging department, and this laptop deploys a next-level display that enables surprisingly effective 3D content.
The screen creates an image for each of your eyes, and combines this with a specialised optical lens and AI-powered eye-tracking technology to ensure you get consistent 3D imagery. In real life terms it works pretty well, too, although you’ll have to get used to a bit of lag between your head moving and the display catching up.
This kind of 3D screen isn’t immediately useful for photographers perhaps, but it has great uses in the wider professional world. It’s ideal for designers, 3D printers, game developers, animators or architects,
for example – indeed, for anyone who might have the need to see objects in three dimensions in real time.
Elsewhere, the display uses IPS technology and has a 4K resolution, so you get great colours and crisp imagery without the incredible black levels of the average OLED display. The ConceptD 7 also has a great keyboard and loads of ports, including Thunderbolt.
Negatively, Acer’s machine uses last generation Intel and Nvidia components – so while it’s still fast enough for creative workloads, other laptops might well be quicker. At 2.54kg in weight and with a thickness of 26mm it’s the largest laptop in this group, and its £3499 price tag makes it the most expensive too. The price and niche appeal means it won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s a great option if you want to add an extra dimension to 3D software.
You also need to consider other specifications: a higher resolution will deliver crisper imagery, but at a higher price. More affordable screens may only display the more muted sRGB colour palette, but you’ll want a panel that renders the entire Adobe RGB or DCI-P3 spaces if you want to work in those areas.
You should also examine the screen’s refresh rate – aim for more than 144Hz if you want to enjoy some gaming after work – and buy a display with a high brightness level and a matte finish if you’re going to work outdoors or beneath bright lights. It’s worth thinking about size, too: we may have covered 16in laptops in this feature, but you can find great displays at 14in and 15.6in if you want something smaller, along with top-notch panels at 17.3in for a larger and more immersive experience.
Nvidia’s Graphics Ecos stem.
Your next editing laptop will probably have Nvidia graphics – here’s why that’s important.
ANY DECENT PHOTO-EDITING LAPTOP will need a proper graphics card – Intel and AMD’s integrated graphics cores are fine for basic work, but they won’t get the job done with anything more demanding. Happily, you don’t need to buy a laptop with a range-topping graphics core to handle your professional workloads. The Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 in the Asus Zenbook still deploys 3,840 graphics cores and 6GB of dedicated memory, so it’s got plenty about it in terms of performance to get the job done.
Of course, if you opt for a notebook with an RTX 3070 Ti or RTX 3080 Ti then you’ll benefit from even faster rendering and processing and the option to tackle video workloads, tougher rendering jobs and a wider range of games. A more powerful graphics card is especially worthwhile if you work in multiple creative disciplines or want to expand from photography to video in the future.
Virtually every creative laptop on the market uses Nvidia graphics, and its GeForce GPUs are leaders in terms of performance and features as well.
Nvidia GPUs uses Studio drivers in creative machines, which means that your graphics card is certified to deliver reliable and accelerated performance in loads of creative apps, from popular photographic tools like Photoshop and Lightroom through to software from the likes of Topaz Labs, Cyberlink and Autodesk.
Nvidia cores are your best bet for the future, too. The firm’s AI Playground indicates how GPUs will accelerate workloads with artificial intelligence in the future, and Nvidia’s EditGAN app can already deliver AI-powered edits to images within seconds. And while features like that are experimental, you can bet that they’ll arrive on GPUs in future driver updates.
The power and features on offer from Nvidia aren’t restricted to desktops, either – Nvidia Studio drivers can be used on laptop cores and desktop cards like the RTX 3090 Ti. That makes for a smoother workflow, because it means you can have a beefier GPU in your home desktop for tougher tasks while deploying Nvidia hardware inside a laptop for editing on the move. ❚ nvidia.com
PRICE: £1879 | CHILLBLAST.COM
THE NEWEST ENTRANT in our roundup comes from Chillblast, and the Defiant is an ideal choice if you’d like a powerful rig from a UK-based business. The £1879 version we’ve evaluated includes a Core i7-12700H processor and Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti graphics core alongside 32GB of memory, so you’ve got ample power for professional photo workloads unless you want to tackle the really demanding stuff.
Chillblast’s notebook has a keyboard with a numberpad, plenty of full-size USB ports and a sleek, subtle chassis, while a three-year on-site warranty means you get more protection than most laptops offer. At this price, though, there are a few compromises. For example, the 16in display uses IPS rather than OLED hardware and has a QHD resolution that can’t match 4K displays for sharpness or contrast, and the laptop only comes with a single Thunderbolt port.
These are probably acceptable accommodations at this price though, especially if you need a laptop to work in the field while retaining a desktop and a better editing display in a home situation.
Gigabyte Aero 16
PRICE: £2799 | GIGABYTE.COM
THIS LAPTOP IS MORE conventional than the envelope-pushing Acer and, on the inside, it boasts a Core i7-12700H and an RTX 3070 Ti graphics core – so it’s more powerful as well. It’s easily got the grunt to scythe through pro-level photo-editing.
The high-end internals don’t stop there. The Aero 16 XE5 that we’ve tested includes two 1TB SSDs, and the OLED display matches the Asus’ 16:10 panel for resolution and quality – it’s an incredible screen that easily has the quality for any colour-sensitive photography task.
Elsewhere, Gigabyte’s rig delivers a snappy, satisfying keyboard, a large touchpad, good speakers and easy upgrade options on the inside. At 2.3kg in weight it’s a bit lighter than many of its rivals, and it looks great – the metallic body, sleek keyboard and tiny screen bezels create a stylish impression and means that people will mistake the Aero for a MacBook Pro.
Negatively, the specification we’ve reviewed only has a middling 16GB of memory and the battery only lasts for half a day. The port selection could be better – you get Thunderbolt and USB-C connectivity but no full-size USB ports, no card reader and no wired internet.
Still, the Gigabyte is a greatlooking, powerful creative laptop with an incredible display. You can get an even faster model, too, because the forthcoming Aero 16 YE5 includes a Core i9-12900HK, 32GB of memory and an RTX 3080 Ti graphics core. It’ll cost a monstrous £4,299, but on the upside it will be able to handle anything.
THERE’S ALWAYS PLENTY to think about when it comes to choosing a laptop – and there’s always more pressure on of course when your business happens to depend on it. But with some research you can make an informed choice and start using a notebook that will come with the ability to successfully power your business for years to come.
On the component side of things, you should almost certainly use an Intel Core i7 or Core i9 processor alongside 32GB of memory. Ensure you’ve got enough storage on board, pick a graphics card that’s got the grunt to handle your workflow and any after-hours gaming, and then start to think about the other factors in your new machine.
On the display front, you should pick between IPS and OLED: the former will deliver gentler colours, while the latter provides contrast and punch. And once you’ve chosen a screen size, a laptop with the right connectivity and a rig with a topnotch keyboard, you’ll be good to go.
Follow our guide – and even opt perhaps for one of the four stellar machines we’ve highlighted here – and you won’t go far wrong. And, in turn, your business will only benefit.
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