Laptop vs Desktop

Am contemplating upgrading my design machine (which is currently a super low-spec laptop: Pentium 1.10 GHz and 4 GB RAM), but am not sure whether I should go for a desktop with a video card that has loads of horse power or if I should go for a powerful laptop or maybe a laptop with an eGPU :thinking:

The work I primarily do is primarily in Illustrator and InDesign. My current low spec machine lags occasionally on documents with lots of pages and images and on vector graphics with lots of detail.

If you’re driven by power alone, the inclination is to go for a desktop, however I do facilitate sessions with my clients in person with my laptop, hence having one laptop to rule them all enters my thinking.

What do you use?

If I can do the heavy duty large format photoshop file work I do, at home, on my laptop with a 250gig hard drive, any designer should be able to do the standard fair InD, Illy, and Photoshop work they need to get done. Max your specs, large hard drive for scratch (larger than 250gigs LOL!,) 16+ gigs of Ram (I’d max out on purchase so’s not to have to deal with getting it updated later, and a docking station with a larger monitor for those times you just cannot work on the screen.

If you are doing animation heavy work though, a laptop may not have the chops to do what you need to do in the rendering department.

Most designers I meet on site are using large tablets for meetings these days and not dragging around a laptop. They have either a laptop or desktop at home to do the real work though. They’re not using the tablet for that. They can do quick concept work and can take photos for site surveys and that kind of thing with a tablet.

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What’s your budget?

Ensure the graphics card is compatible

If you’re going PC - I don’t the GPU enhancement for InDesign works, it only works on Mac. But it’s not a huge deal.

Depends on the budget - but make sure you get the hardware that is compatible with the software.

16gb RAM is minimum these days - but I’d be going for 32gb.

Plenty of diskspace too. 1tb/2tb etc.

Laptops are quite as powerful as as desktop.
But I believe you get more for your money with a desktop. It’s easier to upgrade, and you can get a really large screen too.

You can with a laptop too, but I don’t like working on my laptop, much prefer the screen/desktop setup.

Whatever the merits and demerits of lapto vs desktop, Windows vs Mac, for me, I just wouldn’t use a laptop. It is screen size that would be an issue for me. I use an iPad for mobile stuff and in the studio, I have an 27” iMac with two other screens attached and I use them all. How anyone ever works on a laptop, I’ll never know. I know you can attach another screen, but then what’s the point? Get a desktop with a good sized screen – or three.

This is one of the few areas where I seem to disagree with Sprout, but that’s likely due to what we’re used to and our work/travel/lifestyle requirements.

A good laptop makes a great workstation when connected to a large desktop display. For typical graphic design work, a desktop machine has no particular advantages other than significant cost savings, which, depending on your budget, might be the deciding factor.

What a laptop does offer is portability and a second display when connected to a desktop monitor. If these two things aren’t important to you, a desktop machine is probably the best bargain since they cost less. All things considered, I’d personally go the laptop route.

As others have said, 16GB of memory is probably adequate — for now. If you can afford it, though, I’d opt for 32 because you’ll likely need it in two or three years. As for disc space, a large SSD is great when paired with an external drive for storage (I don’t keep many things other than applications on my computer’s SSD). A fast processor is also important, but there’s no need to go overboard with it. The extra cost of the fastest processors doesn’t result in noticeable performance enhancement on typical graphic design projects.

You mentioned mostly using Illustrator and InDesign. If that’s the case, the specs I’ve mentioned above are enough. For that matter, they’re also enough for Photoshop. If you’ll be using Premiere extensively or regularly working with animation or 3d modeling, you’ll need more of everything.

I see no need for an eGPU for typical graphic design work — seriously, no need at all. If gaming is a big part of your routine or, as already mentioned, video editing and 3D modeling become mainstays of your computer use, it might be something to consider. Otherwise, I’d put the money saved into more memory, additional external storage/backup, software, or peripherals, like a good printer or drawing tablet. Even a more comfortable chair seems like a better investment than an eGPU.

I have no idea how you’re managing on a 1.10 GHz, 4 GB RAM machine. That’s barely enough for the operating system.

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That’s exactly it. I just don’t need to travel anywhere for work now – nor do I even want to any more – so portability is not an issue for me, apart from when, once upon I time, we still could, I’d maybe sketch ideas out (with a Sunday afternoon beer in the pub). For that I have an iPad and the very rare times I needed to go places for work and present anything.

I have both. Decent PC laptop for on the road. 27 inch Mac in the office.

I used to work from both my employer’s office and from home. Working on the same computer in both locations was important. I also have two separate residences and work in both places, which creates a similar problem. My video calls are also best done in areas of my house with better lighting than my studio, which again requires portability. Now that I’m working for myself, I need to be available to do some basic work while traveling. And students, of course, need to move between classes and to and from school.

For those without these kinds portability issues, I agree, a desktop computer is probably best and certainly less expensive.

And easier to upgrade

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:laughing: It actually runs smooth as butter :butter:, have very few issues with it, is super portable, A4 sized! Only ever struggles when you ask it to do something graphics intensive.

Ahh so you reckon 16GB+ is what I should be aiming for? It looks like a lot of laptops which have 16+ GB are either Apples or super chunky and impractical.

Probably thinking of 1K, will buy second hand though to get better value.

I think the other advantage a laptop has is that it doesn’t occupy a lot of space either and we’re going to move in to a smaller place, so am conscious of this.

What specs do you roll with on your laptop?

They’re so expensive too for what they are, you could probably get gaming rig of comparitive power for the price of one!

What are the spec’s on that?

It’s getting a little old now and I will probably upgrade this year when the M1 iMacs come out (and have been out for enough time that I am comfortable there are no nightmares lurking). This one has 24Gb Ram, with a 1Tb HD (with a 2Tb secondary external scratch). I archive everything to RAID (and sync that to a belt-and-braces external disc too) once a job is complete, so the disk is never gets more than 1/2 (usually 1/4 – right now 1/3) full.

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Laptop vs. desktop probably comes down to a) personal preference and b) how much you have a need for a computer outside your office. Personally, I prefer a desktop.

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That’s very surprising. There’s just no way I could get much of anything done using a computer with fewer than 8GB. Even there, I’d be finding constant, frustrating, and time-wasting slow-downs. I have an 8GB machine connected to my flatbed scanner, but using it for real work just isn’t doable. The computer I’m using right now has 16GB, but I wish I’d opted for 32GB a couple of years ago when I bought it.

I’m on a Macintosh, which might make some difference, but I’m really not sure how much difference that would make. I typically have between 10 and 15 applications open at any given time and switching back and forth between all of them. For example, just now: Transmit (an FTP app), Grammarly, BBEdit (code editor), Chrome, Opera, Apple email, Glyphs (font design), Acrobat, InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, MSWord, the Mac Terminal app, and a calculator.

I’m assuming you’re considerably more judicious in what you’re working on than I am.

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My two cents.

I would assume that to this point you know your working habits.

Do you move your computer from place to place inside your house? Did you move your computer to the office, before the covid restrictions? Or you work in your cozy chair in one location of your home.

I think probably the second option because if mobility were your main factor you would not even consider a desktop computer.

For the mobility part with the clients, probably save some money to buy a tablet that is really portable, when you really need it.

A great GPU is not needed for most graphic design on Illustrator or Indesign. For graphic design, it is sometimes needed to render some special filters, video, or 3D imagery or motion graphics.

I have both a desktop and a laptop. But when I use the laptop I connect it to a 27-inch monitor, and an external keyboard and mouse, so the day-to-day experience is the same.

I only need to move my computer for a location on some specific occasions, so I use an older Laptop for that. Probably you can use your old computer for these cases.

I do not like to move the main laptop, even now that it has an SSD because I would not like to lose it to some incident. You should backup your stuff, but the truth is that most people do not backup our stuff as often as we need to.

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I used to haul my laptop back and forth between work. One morning on the freeway heading into work on my motorcycle, my backpack with the laptop inside came loose, fell onto the road, and was mangled by the traffic. Luckily, it was my work computer, so they just bought me another one.

A couple of years later, I sat down another backpack/laptop behind my SUV. I backed up and ran over it. The display was cracked, but the computer worked fine when connected to an external monitor.


Always back up your stuff. You are always one mud puddle away from disaster with any carried device.


I just save everything to Dropbox work seamlessly from it as well. Log on any computer and all files are there.


Oh. Just adding additional info.

The program itself could not “need” a GPU, just see if the laptop can deliver the desired resolution to an external monitor, in which case it needs some basic GPU, for example see if it can deliver to 4K if you need it.

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Dropbox is the bane of my existence. Because if you synch the files you need to work, it eats up all your hard drive space. I have one active job that is over 350 gigs of material (it’s a really large experiential project with lots of Hero imagery) and invariably someone will want info on a big one I’ve clouded… So I get to twiddle thumbs sometimes for several minutes why it re-synchs the thing I need. I’ve wasted sooooo much time with that wonderful ‘feature’ since we started using it.

Local RAID drive waaaaaaay better. That’s almost instantaneous, and not reliant on cloggable intertube piping.

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