Help me find a great COTS graphics/multimedia PC
January 28, 2014 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm a graphics and multimedia artist working for the federal government who's always used Macs. It's again time for me to get a new system (laptop, please) and for the first time in my career I feel the need to explore my PC options (Apple has apparently abandoned its professional users). Unfortunately, I have no idea where to start looking. My new system needs to be commercially available from a vendor that can do business with the federal government. Building my own system is not an option. I perform a full range of creative functions including graphic design, video editing, photography and webcast hosting, so I need plenty of graphics power and fast processing. I don't, however, need a huge local storage capacity since I work off of our LAN. Where do I start looking? Any recommendations on models and/or features?
posted by Jamesonian to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
MacBookPros totally cover all those options. Could you be more specific what it is you don't like about the current crop of MBPs?
posted by chairface at 7:44 AM on January 28, 2014

Yeah, I'd think a MacBook Pro would still be your best option, even if you have to invest in some external thunderbolt equipment.
posted by Oktober at 7:57 AM on January 28, 2014

As far as I'm concerned the only two options for laptops are MacBooks and ThinkPads. With everything else there are just too many bad options; it's a minefield of crap. And even then, the ThinkPad brand has been diluted a bit so you'd want to stick to something on their high end, such as their T series and W series, and then something with Nvidia graphics.

However I wouldn't say Apple has abandoned their professional users. For example, I think with the new Mac Pro they were a bit too ambitious and they let the previous model wither on the vine a bit too long. In their 30 years of Mac retrospective their focus is exclusively on scientific and creative professional users. They seem to be directing the Mac to be more and more as thing to use when you want to get serious, process-intensive work done.
posted by zsazsa at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2014

Heh, love that the suggestions so far are still "buy a mac" even though you pretty much said that's not what you're after. It absolutely kills me to say this as a primarily PC user, but the problem is that pretty much no PC vendor sells a laptop that has hardware that's as well put together as a Macintosh. If you want a PC, you could do a lot worse than just slapping BootCamp on your MacBook and forgetting MacOS exists.

That said, if you're set on a non-Apple solution, I'd probably look into a Lenovo laptop from their ThinkPad line. They are solidly built machines that are probably the best you're going to find outside of the Apple umbrella. The ThinkPad W540 is probably their beefiest workstation-replacement laptop at the moment, though it clocks in at about 5.5lbs, so don't expect an ultrabook. Other Lenovos may work for you as well; the big thing for you would be to make sure you're getting something with a discrete GPU, an i5 or preferably i7 processor (look for Haswells or "4th generation"), plenty of RAM (8+ GB) and an SSD.
posted by Aleyn at 9:13 AM on January 28, 2014

Er, yeah, what zsazsa said. :)
posted by Aleyn at 9:14 AM on January 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

Apple has apparently abandoned its professional users

Based on what evidence? Various bloggers who are ticked because Apple's views of what a pro machine should be are stuck in the last century?

Look, Apple abandoned the command line, expansion cards, and the 5.25" floppy and ended up creating desktop publishing. They abandoned the floppy in favor of optical drives, to much grousing, only to have the rest of the industry follow suit. They are now phasing out optical drives, with some grousing, but I doubt there will be much controversy when I say that they won't be the last to make that choice. The latest complaints seem to be that MBPs and the MacPro isn't as upgradeable as people expect, nevermind that you can get a new MacPro now for about the cost of a pro GPU upgrade. You know people complained about integrated circuits because you couldn't repair them when part of them failed? Or maybe its that they are turning OS X into iOS? They aren't. Or that some new versions of their various apps have been a step backwards, at first, even though they ended up being better?

If you've been a Mac user to this point, I don't see why you should switch, unless you have specific issues, and even then, you might be better of with BootCamp or Parallels/VMware Fusion. If you insist on Windows, I'd look at Thinkpads. I tried Sony, only to discover that they often don't do a very good job of providing driver support for the next major windows release beyond what the device shipped with.
posted by Good Brain at 7:58 PM on January 28, 2014

I can't think of anything about the new MacBook Pro lineup that indicates Apple has abandoned its professional users. They're fast, light, have gorgeous displays, great battery life... So what is it? Lack of an optical drive? When I bought my new iMac and MacBook Air, I was sort of freaking out about not having a built-in optical drive, so I bought the external SuperDrive. I've used it once, for about 5 minutes.

What, specifically, about Apple's current notebooks do you dislike, so that we can make better suggestions?
posted by xedrik at 11:41 PM on January 28, 2014

I see that many Mac users who've responded to my post felt compelled to answer a question I did not ask, regarding whether Apple has in fact abandoned its professional users. I'm sorry if my opinion (which, by the way, isn't only mine but is an opinion held by many in the graphic arts and multimedia community) distracted you from my actual question, which was on high-end PC options.

To those who did offer suggestions and ideas, thanks. They were very helpful and most appreciated.
posted by Jamesonian at 11:38 AM on January 29, 2014

Sorry, wasn't trying to say "You should just buy a Mac." But as the current MBP lineup really is pretty solid, and since you are a long-time Apple user, I was curious what specifically you found lacking about the current MBPs, so that I and others here can give you a more helpful PC-based suggestions that avoid those issues.

The Macs are Intel under the hood now, and I have several friends in IT who absolutely loathe OS X, but their weapon of choice is still a MacBook Pro wiped clean and running Windows 7 Pro, because the hardware really is that good. It has the Apple logo on it, but at that point it is a pure Windows PC, as much as anything else is these days.
posted by xedrik at 1:03 PM on January 29, 2014

The problem with Macs isn't the hardware, it's the OS. Federal government users must have computers that can read their biometric ID badges. We insert our ID card into an external card reader, it reads the card and verifies that we have access to that computer. My IT team tells me that Apple continually breaks this function with every OS update, making it difficult if not impossible to use Macs legally in the executive branch of the federal government. Until such time as Apple starts playing nice with their government users, we will be pushed onto PCs. While this is no problem for the average computer user, it is a colossal headache for creatives.
posted by Jamesonian at 11:24 AM on February 6, 2014

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