Best new, (relatively) cheapo Amazon laptop for graphics?
November 25, 2020 1:01 PM   Subscribe

I am close to buying a laptop I plan to use for video editing, game making, comics creation and other graphics-intensive tasks. I have some rather specific requirements and I'm bewildered by all the choices. I hope the tech-savvy among you can help me out!

I've literally spent months dithering over this, and every review I read just confuses me more. I feel like I'd need to take a night class just to understand all these specs. I'm overwhelmed and I'm really hoping that some kind, tech-savvy person here will read what I'm looking at and be able to say, "The machine that will absolutely fit your needs is..."

Requirements, in order of necessity:

* I will be buying this on Amazon because I've saved up about $500 in Amazon gift cards. I hope to find something under $1000 (factoring in the cards) but I can go a bit over if needed.
* I need a machine that can handle graphics, including video editing and graphic design. Graphic stuff will be my main priority on this machine so I need the best I can get for the money. (And yes, it absolutely needs to be a laptop.)
* Something relatively new. I want to avoid refurbished after a series of bad experiences with refurbished computers that had great reviews. Ideally I'd like to buy from Amazon itself rather than an Amazon seller.
* I'd prefer a 15-inch screen, or larger. I could do 14-inch but I wouldn't be too happy about it. I need a decent display.
* The best memory and speed I can get for my price. I'll probably never upgrade anything. I want a machine that works well out of the box.
* I pay my rent with my writing and I don't want a cheap, bouncy keyboard.
* Windows preferred. I can do Apple if need be but I'm much more accustomed to Windows.
* A company that offers decent tech support and warranties would be nice. Is that even a thing? (I had cruddy tech support from Lenovo years ago, and it's been older, refurbished junk for me ever since.)
* A touch-pad with actual buttons would be nice, but I can live without.

Things that don't matter as much:
* Laptop weight. I'll mostly be working from home and when I do go out I don't care if it's kind of heavy.
* Battery life, although obviously a longer battery life is better.
* Flashy laptop design. I'd prefer a machine that looks nice but if it works well I don't care if it's plain or even ugly.
* A touch screen. I usually just switch them off.
* I never hear a big difference in laptop speakers, so "mediocre" sound is OK to me.

I know I can't expect miracles on my budget, but I want the very best new machine I can get in my price range. If you can't suggest a specific machine, it'd still be helpful if you could give me some idea of what features will make the most difference. We're coming up on Black Friday, so I'll be ready to pounce on any good sales!
posted by Ursula Hitler to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
I just bought an M1 Macbook Air with 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. Theres is tons of Youtube Reviews on it by now but this one convinced me that 8 GB of RAM on the new M1/Apple Silivon SOC/ARM-platform is different from "my/our" old conception of how RAM works.

This guy is playing 4 (concurrent, color-corrected) 4K streams in full resolution on the M1 processor (this is a Mac Mini but the differences to the Macbook Air are fairly minimal even though the MBA lacks a fan (which means it is completely quiet). And here's him editing 8K compressed raw files.

From all I read the new processors are truly in a class of their own (Apple say 98% faster than alle Windows Laptops sold in the last year) - which is crazy. But seems true - they are 3,5x faster than the previous generation - and the base model Macbook Air brings you specced out Macbook Pro 16'' performance (or base Model Mac Pro) which is insane!!

I bought a cheap 4k display for home (200€ slightly used, a Samsung UR554 (LU28R554UQU)) - plus a VESA-desktop mount which makes the monitor on desk experience much nicer to sort/clean and look at. This way the display size is not an issue for me.. If you have the time you wait until mid 2021 when a redesigned Macbook Pro 16 inch and potentially 14 inch might arrive with even faster performance.

The base-model Macbook Air at 999$ or 899$ with education pricing is quite a steal in my opinion.

(and the trackpads on Apple notebook are so much better.. all my work-trackpads drive me insane)
posted by mathiu at 1:27 PM on November 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you aren't aware, I really like tech review site wirecutter for things like this.
posted by bbqturtle at 2:11 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

You'll get better responses if you specify Mac or Windows.

If you go Windows, I recommend getting a business class laptop. The big vendors have consumer products and business products, and most consumer grade laptops are poorly constructed. I'm sorry you had crappy experience with a refurb. Lenovo sells through Amazon, so that might help. I am a fan of refurbished Lenovo Thinkpads. They are well built, repairable, use quality components. Businesses lease them and return them after a year or 2, resellers test and refresh them. Some resellers use a Class, A, B, C system, get Class A if it's designated.
posted by theora55 at 2:30 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm hoping for Windows. I could do Mac but it's been years since I worked with one. I bought a Lenovo refurb years ago, a model that had great reviews from a seemingly reputable seller, and it was such a constant nightmare (keys kept falling off the keyboard, for one thing) that it left me with a sour taste for the whole brand.

I'd be interested in any tips for what I should look for to get the best speed. Like, does memory matter most? The number of cores? The quality of the graphics card? It's all just technobabble to me and it'd really help if I knew what things will actually make the most difference.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:29 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you go back a bit you'll find a question in which someone bought a laptop based on performance considerations and found out the display was unsuitable for content creation.

Don't be that person.

Good litmus test is that an acceptable display is going to be IPS and have sRGB coverage at least in the upper nineties. IPS gives you better evenness looking at the display at slight off-angles and the sRGB coverage means that it can convey web colors accurately. The recommendation above of a (current) Apple product is a good one - they all have excellent displays and this is one of the ways that they differentiate themselves. I'm guessing, however, you're going to have a hard time finding these attributes along with a high class processor at your price points.

I'd be more inclined to compromise on performance than display, unless you only ever intend to use it tethered to a desk and buy an excellent display to use it with - and note that a high-performance external display also costs a fair bit more than the bargain-basement ones.
posted by doomsey at 5:26 PM on November 25, 2020

If your requirements aren't absolutely definitely has-to-be-windows, then the new M1 macbook air is the only graphics machine there's any point in thinking about at a $1000 price point. Nothing else will come remotely close to it.
posted by tillsbury at 8:56 PM on November 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have found Just Josh's youtube channel to be super helpful in explaining the ins and outs of laptops. Even if
posted by oceano at 4:41 PM on November 26, 2020

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