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Laptop vs. Desktop: Which is Better for Graphic Design?

When you're looking for the best computer for graphic design, one of the first questions to answer is "laptop or desktop?". The answer depends on what you do, how much you do, and where you do it.


What you are doing with your computer makes a difference in deciding between a laptop and a desktop. All computer components give off heat as they operate, and heat dissipation is more difficult in laptops. As a result, laptop components don't run as fast as desktop components in an effort to prevent heat being created. For example, laptop CPUs (processors) typically have 50-60% of the performance of desktop CPUs. Generally, desktop computers can be upgraded with more RAM, as they have more slots available. If you have a dedicated GPU (graphics card), laptop GPUs have a speed 70-80% of desktop GPUs. Desktop GPUs are generally of higher quality, as well.

The next question to ask is if you always need desktop-level performance from your graphic design computer. You will generally notice the CPU and GPU slow downs only when rendering or editing video or processing photos.   

Graphics processing unit (GPU)

Desktop computers also usually come with more memory (RAM) slots available. Usually these slots are not filled, but it's easy to add more memory. You can also upgrade the memory in a laptop computer, but a laptop typically doesn't have as many available slots. Find out how much RAM you really need for common graphic design software.


Desktop and laptop components have comparable robustness. However, it is easier to swap out components in a desktop if one part is failing or is no longer adequate. Desktops also have more configuration options available without having to customize or change out parts yourself.

Monitors can be an issue with durability. Desktops allow you to choose the size of your monitor and swap it out for another one. Laptop monitor size is limited by the size of the laptop, although you can attach an external monitor if you're not traveling.

Generally, laptops are configured with solid state drives (SSDs), which are more durable in a computer that could be dropped or bumped, but there are other advantages to SSDs. Desktop computers can be configured with either kind of storage drive and can be upgraded after the fact. Find out what the SSD advantages are.

Crucial solid state drive


The most important difference between desktops and laptops is the portability of laptops. If you travel between sites or clients, and need to bring your work with you, a laptop is your only choice. If your budget permits, you can have the best of both worlds and have both a desktop and a laptop. 

Other options

If your budget won't allow a desktop and a laptop, there are other options. 

If you need the portability of a laptop but also need more storage space than the laptop will allow, you can attach an external storage drive to your laptop to store files you access less frequently.  


An external hard drive

If you need portability, but only for one or two files at a time, there are tablet and notebook computers that can handle a limited number of larger files, sometimes only for viewing. Some tablets also have the ability to run drawing software. How you use your computer, how hard you use your computer, and where you use your computer, along with your budget, will dictate whether you need a desktop or a laptop for graphic design.

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