Finding the right laptop to use with Photoshop
October 8, 2008 4:16 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend needs a laptop with Photoshop to do her freelance design work on the road. She uses an iMac at home and is worried about compatibility. Must she continue using a Mac? Or can she use a more affordable pc laptop?


Buy a new mac laptop (which model?)
Buy a used mac laptop (ebay?)
Buy a pc laptop (which one?)
Rent one (from where?)
posted by mizrachi to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
Speaking as one who uses Photoshop under Windows and Mac regularly, I can assure you that she can work on her Photoshop stuff between two computers without compatibility issues.

Speaking as someone who has an entry-level macbook, I can assure you that even the least-powerful Mac laptop will run Photoshop pretty well, although 2 GB of ram or more wouldn't hurt.

As for any decisions related to cost: If you're buying new, you can always get a PC for cheaper than a Mac with similar specs. But whether the cost savings are worth it is a very personal, subjective decision.
posted by chudmonkey at 4:25 PM on October 8, 2008

Photoshop's file format is the same, and file exchange is very easy (burn CDs, network, use a thumb drive, whatever), so a PC version will work. The interface is very similar, so it's not hard to move back and forth.

That said, if she's very used to a Mac, the million other tiny differences in Windows will waste her time and frustrate her, probably enough that the cost-savings won't be worth it. She's working with it, after all, right? Making money? So her personal efficiency is very important, I imagine.

Any current Mac laptop, even the lowest-end MacBook, will be more than enough for part-time, short-term Photoshop on the road. The difference between the low and high end of Mac laptops is very small these days.

Refurb from Apple will be $1000ish, which is high. Older ones from eBay, with all the usual eBay caveats, will be much cheaper but of course... the usual eBay caveats. No warranties, either.
posted by rokusan at 4:28 PM on October 8, 2008

Agree with chudmonkey. Photoshop works just as well on either platform. A PC will get you more power for a given amount of money.

But it may come down to more than Photoshop. People rarely use a laptop for a single task, so she might find having a Mac laptop more convenient as it will run other things that she's become used to using on her iMac.

As for which PC laptop to buy (if she decides to go down that route)... there are thousands, and often little to choose between them. My approach would be to draw up a list of must-have and would-like-to-have features, and shop around for a good deal online. Plenty of RAM is quite a good idea for newer versions of Photoshop, so I'd say 2GB would be a safe bet. Also, she'll need to decide between Vista and XP. I'd personally go for XP as it still performs better than the newer OS.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 4:36 PM on October 8, 2008

The biggest thing she'll need to adjust to is personal, not technical. Like rokusan said, file exchange is very easy. There are, however, some differences between OSX and Windows, and it's not limited to Photoshop. I'm a recent PC-->Mac convert, yet I still prefer working in Photoshop over on Windows (I know, I know). But that might be because I've got 10+ years working with Photoshop on Windows, and only about 6 months on the Mac.

Bottom line: it will take some getting used to, but it's not a huge deal. If she goes the PC route, have her buy it well before she leaves so she can get used to working in it.

Also: since she's traveling, is size an issue? If so, Lenovo's new S10 is mighty sweet, and pretty cheap to boot. It would need a boost of ram -- and might not be ideal for graphic design -- but it's very economical ($399) and super small. Great for travel.
posted by nitsuj at 4:40 PM on October 8, 2008

She will make up the difference in price between a PC laptop (that she will probably always be slightly uncomfortable using, if only because of the different keyboard shortcuts) and a Mac laptop via the money earned in a single freelance design job.

And she won't have to buy a new copy of Creative Suite for the PC, which would more than cancel out the price difference anyway.
posted by bcwinters at 4:41 PM on October 8, 2008

There are probably new MacBooks coming out in the next week or two. The entry level one will be a very good value even relative to most PC laptops. I think the intangibles of having to switch between Windows and OS X make paying a little more (and it really won't be much when the new MacBooks come Mac configs are not the same kind of rip off they were four or five years ago) worth it.
posted by prozach1576 at 5:11 PM on October 8, 2008

Agreed with everything here-- get an entry-level Macbook (with some extra RAM, preferably not from Apple since it's expensive). If you can, wait till at least the new models come out (potentially next week, but wait thru October if you can). It's better to have a Mac if you're used to it, and little things (such as Windows' totally obnoxious open/save dialog boxes) will get frustrating FAST.

I also (personally) can't understand how people manage multiple documents within the same program effectively via the Windows taskbar. I know it's just me, but I find it completely infuriating. Expose has spoiled me-- and even before that I used command-tilde (as opposed to command-tab)...

The entry-level Mac is $1099 (less if you get an educational discount of some kind) and will be able to handle all the Photoshop work you can throw at it. An equivalent PC is not really going to be a whole lot cheaper, and you will need to buy a Windows version of Photoshop all over again.
posted by dmaterialized at 5:11 PM on October 8, 2008

I'm a bi-platform Photoshop user myself, and the thing I kept coming back to is what dmaterialized said. Unless you already have a copy of PS for Windows, you're oing to have to get one to run on any pc laptop you buy.

I started as a PC but more and more have been standardizing on Mac. FWIW, I run CS2 perfectly well on my ancient powerbook. All the advice to get a macbook with a min of 2gb ram (try Otherworld Computing out of Chicago for inexpensive reliable Mac memory) is the best advice.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:20 PM on October 8, 2008

If she's going to be switching back & forth between the two computers while working on the same document, I'd say definitely get a Mac. I've run into issues where fonts which should have been the same on both platforms were actually slightly different, which meant that my text shifted every time I opened the file again.
posted by belladonna at 5:22 PM on October 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

One other piece of advice regarding your original set of questions. If you decide to go "preowned" mac laptop, I have been burned on ebay (made whole by my credit card company not by the putzes at eBay), but have had very good results with out of Los Angeles.
posted by beelzbubba at 5:26 PM on October 8, 2008

I use PS on both daily with no problems. But if she has to buy PS for both platforms, that will negate any "savings" gained by purchasing a Windows laptop.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:28 PM on October 8, 2008

As belladonna points out, fonts can be a problem if they aren't flattened before they're transferred. This can be gotten around, but it has been a persistent problem for me when I receive files form clients working on another platform.

Other than that, CS cross-platform compatibility is solid. I'm a Mac partisan, but I also know that every designer should work with where they're comfortable.
posted by lekvar at 5:28 PM on October 8, 2008

If you're buying new, you can always get a PC for cheaper than a Mac with similar specs.

Not true.

Numerous studies have shown that while macs can't compete at the lower end of the spectrum (cheap) they're very competitive at the upper side.
posted by justgary at 5:46 PM on October 8, 2008

Why not sell the iMac and get a super power Mac laptop, with an external monitor and hardrive. Going between two computers for work is annoying and constant battle of "Which computer has the latest edition of the file?!" There's enough headaches with free lancing and clients that she should attempt to make her workflow as easy as possible.

Also: Apple a refurbished store where can modern Macs for a lower price with full warranty. I've gotten and know several people who have gotten Macs from there and they work just fine.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:46 PM on October 8, 2008

Buy a pc laptop (which one?)

A convertable Tablet-PC with wacom tablet built right into the screen is the best laptop to own for photoshop.

Some tablet-PCs don't use wacom brand digitizer, avoid those if (as in this case) photoshop matters.
Some tablet-PCs don't convert between laptop and slate form factors, and are slate-only. In your case, avoid these too.
That narrows it down to just a few models that you can easily compare, so from there you can decide based on cost, whether she wants bulky features (DVD drive, etc) vs light weight, the screen size, whatever.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:44 PM on October 8, 2008

The LCDs on many laptops have narrow viewing angles compared to decent-quality desktop monitors. You don't want to be doing levels & curves adjustments on a screen where a slight shift in viewing angle changes the apparent contrast of the image. Just something to be aware of.

From what I understand, Adobe allows a single user to install their software on both a desktop and a laptop, so she shouldn't need to buy a new licence for the MacBook. But, if she had a Windows laptop, she'd need to get a new Windows version of Photoshop.

Compatibility issues aside, she'd probably be happier with a second Mac if that is what she is used to.
posted by D.C. at 7:10 PM on October 8, 2008

she won't have to buy a new copy of Creative Suite for the PC, which would more than cancel out the price difference anyway

With CS4 coming out, I believe she can easily get upgrade pricing on a Mac or PC version, so this shouldn't be much of an issue.
posted by kindall at 9:35 PM on October 8, 2008

I'll third the refurb route. Best option for saving money and making sure you don't get a laptop that someone spilled coke into (from ebay/craigslist)

• You'll get a FULL 1 year warranty from the day you buy it. Which comes with all the in store service and repair.

• Comes with all the normal gear you'd get from a brand new one (even stickers lol)

• Only difference from a brand new one is the box is plain brown, not an issue.

As someone who used to work on a mac at work, and a laptop pc at home for a while, I can tell you it's much easier that you don't have to switch mental gears to do the same thing you did at work. Like key commands and other OS tendencies. The PC got a lot of .. "aww fuck" .. after coming home and still beingl in "mac mode".
posted by axltea at 10:30 PM on October 8, 2008

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