Buying a Photoshop Mac Laptop 2013
Due to several request and an attempt to not leave out valuable information for designers and artist using Mac/Apple based solutions I’ve put together some Mac specific advice regarding Buying Photoshop Laptops. While most of the information in my previous articles on Photoshop Laptops still have useful information that overlaps and are still valid, there are some specific things that Mac Laptop users need to consider when Purchasing or Upgrading their Photoshop Laptops, and I will cover some of that in this article, and recommend some solutions to make it affordable.
What this article is not is Windows or Mac fanboyism. I use and own both and I have reasons and things I prefer to do on one vs the other. This article is the information I think is relevant to a hardware purchase if you currently own a Mac Laptop for Photoshop and are considering a purchase or upgrade, or if you are planning on switching from Windows to Mac for a Laptop using Photoshop. This article will attempt to save you money, manage your expectations and eliminate assumptions you may have as well as give you general guidance on what to look for to get the best Photoshop experience. So I am writing this as a Photoshop User, not as Mac or PC user (who also isn’t made of money).
Part of my reason for avoiding this in the past has been the cost prohibitive nature of Apple Laptops based on their specs has always made me feel very negatively about them because designers, particularly young designers, are made to feel that they are not “professional” or “real” designers unless they are working on these. Cost wise they get less in terms of raw performance but pay the premium for the credibility and prestige as well as the aesthetic and user experience.
Putting that aside their are some benefits to working with these machines even if their are no performance gains specifically for using the Mac OS (see Adobe Hardware Performance White Paper) when working in Photoshop, that wouldn’t be gained using the same hardware specs on a Windows based PC. Generally speaking Mac Laptops cover the minimal requirements outline for effective Photoshop Performance:
- Dual to Quad Core Processors 2Ghz or Better
- 4GB of Ram or More, 8GB recommended minimum.
- 5400 RPM – 7200 RPM Hard Drive speed or SSD when possible.
- Ability to add an additional HDD or SSD
- Dedicated GPU 256-512MB minimum 1GB-2GB recommended.
- Minimum 1280×720 Resolution
- Long average battery life
However Before committing to buying a Mac Laptop for Photoshop their are some limitations to consider. Mainly this has to do with Apple’s Philosophy regarding their products. They create great products (that I enjoy) but the main issue I have is the cost of maintaining and supporting, and upgrading those products. Not all designers are more technical and like to tinker with settings, or add extra hard drives or fans to their devices or customize them, but if you are Apple products present a difficulty for you. They create a great product experience, and then they control it completely.
- If you have a Mac laptop with a built in battery you cannot replace the battery yourself without voiding you warranty, additionally it is difficult to do.
- The maximum Ram in most of these Laptops will be 8GB, for the same price a Windows Laptop can go to 12GB or 16GB
- The maximum upgrade capability will only provide you with a maximum of 2 Drives, at this price point Windows based laptops can get up to 3 Drives (which improves performance in Photoshop using operational layering: Application/OS layer, Data Layer, Caching Scrath Disk Layer).
- Macbook Air has not optical disk drive, no wired ethernet, no removable battery, a lack of common connectors and very little hard drive space for large Photoshop files.
- When upgrading a Macbook Pro you cannot add an SSD to optical bay only the main drive bay which can complicate the process of an upgrade with you needing to clone your OS and main applications to the SSD first and then wipe them from the HDD all before you can physical complete the upgrade…
If you want to upgrade your Macbook Pro this handy video shows you how, but bare in mind its not for novices.
Best Mac Laptops for Photoshop:
- 15 inch Macbook Pro. Meets all of my performance criteria and has NVIDA graphics and i7 Quad Core processors.
- 15 inch Macbook Pro Retina. This cost $500 more for no real performance gain. However it is upgradable to 16GB of Ram.
- 13 inch Macbook Pro. This is the bare minimum for Mac/Photoshop. Dual Core Processors at 2.9Ghz
You can compare all Mac Laptops here for yourself: http://www.apple.com/why-mac/compare/notebooks.html
Cost of Buying a Mac Laptop for Photoshop
Buying a piece of hardware at this level is not a one night stand, its a relationship the gloss and polish will wear off and you will be spending a lot of days and nights together that will either be full of joy or constant test of your patience… With that in mind you also shouldn’t settle since you’re in this for the long haul. I strongly recommend going the refurbished route and or buying a gently used Mac Laptop. The upgrades year to year usually are not too significant and as long as you have the minimal requirements I outlined earlier you will be more than fine.
But I will be honest, this price point is going to exclude some people as getting a Mac Laptop for Photoshop is going to be a $800.00 minimum and if you really want to best for your money, including upgrades you are looking at $2799 for the top of the line retina Macbook Pro, however this is not including any upgrades but the only one I think worthwhile is putting in an extra HDD at about $120. An optimal Non Retina Macbook Pro with 8GB of Ram and Quad Core Processors would be $2099, and that is without the Hi-Res Glossy screen.
Recommended Apple Mac Laptop For Photoshop CS6 and Photoshop CC
The reason I’m recommending this particular model is because of what they do to handle the capabilities of modern Photoshop. Modern Photoshop means the versions of Photoshop that take advantage of large amounts of Ram, Multiple Processors, GPU and OpenGL, when we are talking about technical ability which means Photoshop CS5, CS 5.5, CS6 and Photoshop CC. Also as it is refurbished it makes the price competitive to a Windows based solution.
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch (Glossy) 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo (Mid 2009) MC118LL/A Refurbished by MacofAllTrades
Apple Part Number: MC118LL/A
15.4-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen TFT display, 1440×900 resolution
2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor
4.0GB (2×2.0GB) PC3-8500 (1066MHz) DDR3 SO-DIMM, supports up to 8.0GB
320GB Serial ATA hard disk drive @ 5400RPM
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics with 256MB DDR3 shared memory
AirPort Extreme card (802.11a/b/g/n)
Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Built-in iSight camera
1- Mini DisplayPort
2- USB ports
1- FireWire 800 port
1- Ethernet port
1- Secure Digital (SD) slot
Conclusions on Buying a Mac Laptop for Photoshop
Now that Photoshop has moved to Photoshop CC with the only boxed Photoshop Product being Photoshop CS6, we have some basic standards and expectations about what a Photoshop machine will be for the next few years. So as a Photoshop user “future proofing” your computer will not be as difficult. However due to the habits and usage graphic designers and photographers put their hardware through the need to replace them is still fairly regular 2-5 years. Additionally you have to consider your circumstances and how prone your hardware may be to damage, loss or theft. In the case of damage you have consider how quickly you could repair or replace it if you need to and the cost associated with that. With that in mind buying a Laptop for Photoshop is a difficult and costly decision that you should consider very carefully. Buying a Mac Laptop for Photoshop is going to be an investment, and you should make sure it is worth it, because once you are in the Apple ecosystem too deep it is hard to pull away.
Why I Do NOT Recommend Mac Book Air For Photoshop
Due to the lack of upgrade capability, minimal amount of hard drive space, low processor speeds and the fact that the 13in Macbook Pro is a superior machine at $100 more new, several hundred less refurbished, I could never in all serious recommend this for high level Photoshop. Can you us Photoshop on this Mac, yes. But at every specification level my Asus laptop crushes it at less than $500, so in terms of cost you can’t justify this purchase for design work based on the performance and capabilities it provides, in favor of the aesthetic value and light weight. At the end of the day, we work hard and play hard on our machine as designers, we need them to body builders , not super models.
Is It Worth It To Buy a Mac Laptop For Photoshop?
My honest answer is MAYBE. If money were not option or I was given a $10K budget for upgrades or new equipment, a new Macbook Pro would not be part of that equation, a used refurbished one might be though. At the cost of a 15inch Macbook Pro ($1799) I could purchase and iMac and Windows Laptop and have my primary hardware covered investing the rest into upgrades to that hardware, a new DSLR, software etc. In terms of the risk associated with any mobile based equipment to damage, loss or theft it seems too painful to have replace a $1199-$1799 piece of equipment just like that. If the goal is to have capability to do Photoshop on the go, and do it at a high level this can be accomplished without buying the newest Macbook Pro, hence the refurbished or used route.
I wish that Apple had retained the Macbook line, I feel it was a better product line than the Macbook Air and was a decent compromise between cost and capabilities. The prices in general could be lower, given that production cost and the fact they have refined the process more should mean passing on savings to consumers.
There is a stigma that real designers use Mac. I would argue that real designers use Xacto Knives, Leading Rulers and Non-Repo Blue Pens… but I sound really old when I say that (29 is ancient). So what I will say is that the tools you have are no reflection of your status or ability as a designer, just a reflection of how deep your pockets are or what you are willing to spend money on. As this is an overall business decision frugality speaks better of you but speaking as someone in advertising, fiscally responsible just isn’t sexy.
If you are working in a metro area and meet with clients in person their may be a psychological advantage to presenting to clients on a Macbook Pro,, but if you are working remotely as long as you are prepared for any and all compatibility issues (very few still exist regarding Adobe software, least of all Photoshop, I would worry more about InDesign Packages) then it doesn’t really matter what you are on, just your quality of work and ability to manage the client relationship.
If you’re a graduate then you probably worked exclusively on Mac, but after student loans are struggling with how to afford one. Again go with a refurbished or older model and do the hardware upgrades when you can, starting with the Ram. Also offset the performance of old hardware by optimizing Photoshop. You also will likely find that most places you apply to will want you to have Mac OSX experience so having a Mac Laptop and staying current will be important in establishing yourself.
As I said, the answer is MAYBE. Which has always been my point in the Mac vs PC debate, there is not blanket answer, and it is supremely lazy for anyone intelligent enough to be a designer to say that there is. There are many scenarios and circumstances and business decisions surrounding this and it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
If you have recommendations or opinions or questions then feel free to leave them in the comments below.