Should I buy a laptop or desktop for photo editing?

The debate of laptop vs desktop has been a hot topic of discussion for years. In specific fields like Photo Editing, Photography, Videography, Graphics Designing, Web Designing, the debate is even more heated. The final verdict of choosing laptop or desktop for Photo Editing depends a great deal on user preference and needs.

As the topic “Should I buy a laptop or desktop for photo editing” clarifies that you’re planning to buy a powerhouse computer ad you’re dreaming of editing some killer photos on your machine that can handle all your workload efficiently. We’re here with some detailed notes discussing the merits and demerits of owning a laptop or desktop computer for photo editing.

The field of Photo Editing is mainly dependent on choosing the right tools for you and the right tools work on the right machines. To choose the right machine, you should be aware of your needs.

User Experience

Here is the final answer (with the logic) for you if you’re in a hurry and don’t plan on reading all the other details.

Ninety percent of the users and experts of photo editing suggest desktop computers for photo editing because the editors prefer power over portability. As the idea of a laptop for photo editing dominates your mind, you think about sitting on a beach or a train or moving abroad and editing on the move. But in the real run, most people probably never do that.

Using laptops for editing on the go, especially if you’re using MAC will be a hectic experience. This is because you’d need to plug in external hard drives so that the computer won’t slow down your loads and then you have to add on annoying adapters which end up in a laptop with wires everywhere.

Editing sucks out so much power so you have to add a power bank and if that runs out of battery, you’d need to find a plug. This is the reality of editing on a laptop which leads to the final preference of choosing a desktop computer for photo editing over a laptop.

Most laptop users complain that laptops tend to become slower over time. No matter what are the specifications, laptops get out dates faster as compared to desktop computers. Plus, the laptops heat up so quickly because the GPU consumes so much power when the graphics card is in processing which eventually results in turning down the performance. Most of the users also complain that laptops shut down automatically when heated up causing them to lose their work.

The heating up of laptops also results in damage to internal components of the machine which leads to repair costs.

Laptop vs Desktop

The number one reason to own a laptop for editing is to be portable (which is the only advantage of owning a laptop for editing). A laptop makes it handy to do a quick edit out and about or on the go, even on a holiday. It’s really its main PLUS. It is hard to lug a 27-inch desktop around which marks a Con for desktops.

But the issue most faced by the users is that the rendering of powerful software on a laptop slows down the laptop until you’re not connected to a charger. A laptop offers faster and powerful performance when the charger is plugged in.

Another benefit that a laptop gives you over a desktop is that you don’t have to be connected to an electric source all the time. If you face power cut issues in any situation, the laptop serves its benefit for you as you won’t lose your unsaved data. While in the case of desktop computers, if the power runs out suddenly, you’d lose your unsaved data and you’d have to start over with your project.

The Power available on laptops these days means you can edit high-resolution photos or even 4K video footage with no problems at all but it comes at a price which brings us on to the Cons.

Firstly, editing laptops are more expensive than desktops and for the price you pay, they’re usually less powerful too. Thus, you get less oomph for your money. A desktop PC with the same specs as a laptop would be cheap as compared to the laptop.

Laptop computers have smaller screens as compared to desktop computers. This limits the photo editing experience in terms of the display. 16 inches is big for a laptop screen but even a 27-inch screen of a desktop feels like you’d need more screen.

The worst thing about laptops is the storage space unless you’re willing to sell your kidney. You’ll end up with only 500 gigabytes of storage which means you’ll always be trying to work out what to delete next when you start a new project. Don’t fool yourself with the thought that that won’t happen. The photo editing projects devour a large portion of space and its thirst will not be quenched with merely 500 GBs.

Moreover, if you plan to go abroad with your laptop, you tend to find that travel insurance covers things up to a thousand bucks. Most people neglect this part but ending up with your laptop being stolen or smashed to pieces, hurts even more. Let’s now move towards the desktops.

When it comes to using desktop computers for photo editing, desktops have PROS and CONS over a laptop. Let’s start with the thing that lets them down: portability. You can’t edit on a train or a plane or a beach on a giant screen as you can’t carry a large screen with you all around.

The PROS: you get more of your money. External hard drives that are really important for editing sit on the desk and not on your lap.

Desktops don’t run out of batteries and tend to have a lot more internal storage so you can go years without having to have a good old tidy up and they’re more powerful.

The best advantage of desktop computers is the wide variety of customization it offers. A desktop PC is easily upgradeable and highly customizable in case you want to build your own PC. As the technology advances so quickly and the need of upgrading your machine’s internals steps at your door every other day, desktop PC offers you easy upgradability so you can pace with the advanced tech wave.

A desktop is also a budget-friendly option. You can get started with the minimum requirements in a custom PC setup and then you can upgrade your specs with time and needs.

Unpopular opinion alert: Anyone who’s really serious about editing, needs to get a desktop. A desktop is hands down a better option for photo editing.

If you plan on owning both machines

Having a laptop as a side with an editing desktop can be a plus point if you have to do traveling more often and you’d need a machine that can handle a or more projects. You have two options if you want to own both a PC and a laptop.

If you’ve got lots of money, get yourself a great big monitor and an expensive laptop spec up to the max and plug it in when you’re working at home. These giant monitors look awesome and give you so much space to work, more than a desktop standard screen.

If you’re serious with your editing but your budget is tight, get a desktop and buy a laptop when you’re rolling in money from all your sweet edits. It is good to have both a laptop and a desktop PC to enjoy the perks of both.

A beginners guide to photo editing computers

Editing photos or videos is one of the most intensive tasks you can do on a computer unless you’re a proper geek. RAM, CPU, graphics cards, Giga, and megabytes are enough to make anyone’s brain explode. So, when it comes to buying a computer for photo editing, it’s tough to know what to go for.

Beginner editors out there who might have just purchased their first digital camera and want to step things up a notch, you’re going to have totally different needs to someone who’s capturing on a top-notch red camera in high resolution and adding multi-cameras and really getting down and dirty with what editing software can do.

Now the good news is that you don’t have to spend crazy money on a machine anymore unless you’re in the latter.

What Matters when buying a computer to edit on?

We’re going to run over options which should help you with a second-hand computer as well as a new one. As a beginner, you’d need a breakdown of terminologies and your needs. So, when it comes to editing, there are a few things that matter on a computer you buy. The basic things are CPU, RAM, HDD or SDD and, GPU.

All you need to know about a CPU in photo editing as a beginner.

CPU is your processor that is responsible to power your actions and operating system. It acts as an engine. If you want to go faster and do powerful tasks you’d need a bigger engine. Being big in CPUs counts the number of cores in a CPU. If you look for a second-hand computer you’d notice it offers 4 GHz but in a single core and CPUs these days offering 3 GHz in the dual-core is faster than that.

What’s a Good CPU option?

In 2022, if you can get four cores then you’ll probably find editing DSLR or mirrorless camera snaps even some 4K video editing; which is plenty. You are suggested to go for more cores rather than a larger GigaHertz.

All you need to know about RAM in photo editing as a beginner.

Random Access Memory is responsible for handling how much work your computer can do at one point in time. The more RAM you have the more workload your computer can handle.

When it comes to editing photos, you want as much as RAM you can afford. 32 gigabytes of RAM is quite enough to run photo editing software. When discussing purchasing old or second-hand computers, there is a change in spec.

Previous computers used DDR3 RAM while modern computers have moved on to DDR4 RAM. 32 GBs of DDR3 RAM would have no issue in running your photo editing software and even has the potential to handle 4K videos as long as your CPU is powerful enough. Aim for 16 GBs of RAM in the least.

All you need to know about a GPU in photo editing as a beginner.

The Graphics Processing Unit is a CPU’s companion that acts as a turbo on the engine (CPU) but specifically for graphics-based things.

When editing photos, a GPU fires up to help the CPU perform better. A good GPU will also have its own RAM too which is known as VRAM. Make sure to have VRAM with your GPU because not having a VRAM won’t give you the best experience of owning a GPU.

Look for the least of 3 GB of VRAM in your GPU which can easily be found in second-hand computers as well as the new ones. There are so many types of GPU so, if you see a second-hand computer with it, Google its model name and number to know more about it.

All you need to know about an HDD or SSD in photo editing as a beginner.

A hard drive or Solid State drive is responsible for storing your data like a vault. The larger the number of HDD/SDD, the more data it can store.

When editing photos, HDD/SDD holds your projects, RAM stores what you are working on, and CPU plus GPU powers your projects when it is activated.

SDDs are an upgrade to HDD from the old computers. SSDs are faster than HDDs but often it has less space to store data. If you don’t plan on using much of the storage space or you can buy external hard drives, you can go for 500 GBs of SSD otherwise, 1 TB of HDD.

Expert Suggestion

The expert suggestion is to spec up an old computer as much as you can because the computer’s technology tends to upgrade very fast and in a year or two, your latest specs will be considered outdated.

Here is a friendly suggestion for you if you’ve made your mind to get yourself a desktop for photo editing. If you’re getting a new editing computer, the first thing to do is buy some hard drives and set them up so your library is stored on one, cache on the other, and the editing files on the other. You’d find that this makes a massive difference and can make your old desktop computer work magics. This can save you tons of money.

Try keeping a hundred gigabytes free on each of the external hard drives so things won’t slow down in any case.

Which Computer should I choose for Photo Editing? (the Geek Knowledge)

This part contains all the geek knowledge you must know about editing computers which can also help you in choosing just the right computer equipment if you’re thinking about building your custom editing PC. This will also help you with hardware upgrades of your old PCs.

Another debate of All-in-one computers vs traditional computers comes forward. AIO computers save space and look cool because all the components are built into the computer itself.

You don’t have to purchase a separate external monitor screen like that in a traditional tower desktop computer. Thus, it saves money. You only need the screen, a mouse, and a keyboard on your desk (cutting the cost of external monitors). This can act as a cheap aesthetic choice if you prefer but it also comes with its downsides.

AIO computers can not be upgraded easily. Its components are specially designed to be fit into the screen and hence the components are more expensive. Plus, finding and changing these components would be difficult as compared to a traditional tower desktop computer.

After choosing the desktops over laptops we are now left with the question of PCs vs Mac operating systems and that leads to another big debate. These are two different environments that work almost exactly the same but in different styles. Mac comes with its own problems and perks and so does the PC and there is not much of a difference in both of these.

Mac is the option for those who prefer aesthetic set up and are already familiar with the Apple ecosystem or a previous MAC user.

PC is the choice for those who have a low budget and prefer more customized setups. Most PC fanboys like it because it offers a wide range of customization options even on a low budget and as the tech world advances so quickly, you need to upgrade your specs quite often.

For the buck, you tend to get more power out of a PC. Apple makes some really amazing hardware so it comes down more to personal preference. If you’re a MAC person and find it easier to use then go forward but nowadays, most of the stuff people hated about Windows is gone. Windows is pretty stable and uses all the same apps; Lightroom works the same, Adobe Photoshop works the same, Premiere Pro works the same when you edit photos.

Being on a MAC gives you more options because you could use Final Cut Pro which is available only for the Mac but otherwise, for the most part, you’ll probably get a little more power for the same amount of money if you go with Windows.

The Disk Drive

Up first the disk and is probably the most important thing in a laptop to edit photos especially in Lightroom which is the one app everybody wants to be a little bit faster. Most of the time, it is bottlenecked by your disk. The disk stores file persistently so when you import pictures from your camera to your computer, it’s copying them all to the disk and every time you go to open up those pictures, it is to read them back from the disk and if you have a slow disk, your computer is going to seem very very slow. Even though it’s probably only the disk for photo editing for working with Lightroom in particular you absolutely need an SSD.

There are two types of drives available on the market these days. Field magnetic drive which is the conventional drive or a hard disk drive. These are little plates of magnets that a little head can read. These are cheaper but also slower. The new generation of drives called the SSD works exactly like the flash memory cards that you put in your camera. Thus, these have no moving parts and tend to be very fast in bandwidth but these are particularly fast in random access. Hence, if you ask an SSD to read a particular picture from the computer, a conventional hard drive will have to wait for a beat as it waits for the disc to spin around to that particular part of the drive and waits with the head to get in place but that happens very instantly on an SSD. Everything goes so much faster on an SSD and you can make a computer seem brand new just by upgrading the standard drive to the SSD.

Focusing particularly on photo editing, there’s a big problem with SSDs and that is the storage space. SSDs don’t get to be that big to store a tremendous amount of data. Most SSDs that you find for a reasonable price come up with 256 gigs which fill up really fast with even just taking still photos. If you’re looking for a PRO level setup, you’d need a bare minimum of a terabyte size.

The SSD drives get about 500 megabytes a second of throughput; both in and out for reading and writing data.

Pro tip: Archive with a big, cheap drive.

You are suggested to install cheap or magnetic drives in your computer and use them to archive your stuff and use the main drive as your working drive. This results in a faster experience and fliping through images in Lightroom is smooth.

When you’d import photos in Lightroom, they’d go to the C drive; the fast drive, and after a couple of weeks, you’d copy those files to another drive which can be one or more magnetic drives as suggested.

Another tip to save yourself from corrupt drives.

You can mirror your drives using the storage space feature (Windows 8). It intelligently mirrors the drives. Furthermore, you can use ReFS which is a special file system to help protect them in case a file gets damaged. It goes in and detects that corruption to fix it. This will prove very beneficial because extra protection against corruption is important as drives start to get corrupted.

Tip Alert

Many people ignore the importance of backups and end up losing their important data. It is a very friendly tip to always keep your backup and you can allot a separate drive for backups only. Furthermore, it is highly recommended to use web storage or a cloud storage service. They will copy your files and take them up to the web and works quite well with a terabyte of pictures which will satisfy most people. Off-site backups are good but they won’t protect you from fire, theft, and natural disaster.

You can also use the cloud storage space as an additional photo storage space.

The next tip that is going to maximize your performance in Lightroom is using a USB 3 memory SD card reader. USB is basically a connection to connect your cameras or other files and USB 3 is substantially faster. It is recommended to get a computer that has USB 3 and then get a USB 3 memory card reader.

The Processor

Now we will be talking about the processor which is the next and the most important thing. After you have a fast disk drive, a good processing power is going to make the next big difference. A processor is what the computer uses when it’s converting your files like making big adjustments. When it’s rendering previews, it’s using the processor and the disk together heavily.

The processor and disk drives are the areas where you do want to spend your money on and you can save money in other ways. A slower processor can be a big compromise on your work speed and quality.

The processor is very important and is particularly for editing photos. If you want to go over the top, you can get yourself the newest Intel processors and can even overclock them. Overclocking is a very stable and reliable option for you if you’re not satisfied with the speed.

Tip Alert

A water cooler for your processor can work wonders to speed things up. This is one of the coolest things you’d like to invest in. You can take just about any processor and make it run much faster. The challenge is dissipating that heat because when you run a processor faster, it will overheat. Thus, it needs something that is extremely efficient at moving the heat away from the processor and exhausting it. The water cooler enhances the processor speed up to 30%.

If you intend to overclock your computer, make sure to pick a motherboard and BIOS that support it.

The Memory

It very much depends on what you’re doing. Most people would tell you to get as much memory as you possibly can but in some cases, that would be a waste of money. Most features of apps like Lightroom work just fine on 8 gigabytes even when you’re working on amazing panoramas.

If you’re working with Photoshop pictures and you have to do 20, 30 layers or many different photos merged together; at that point, you might need more memory. It’s not common to see Photoshop using 16 gigabytes of memory.

The Monitor

The monitors are one of the most important parts too. Most of the users prefer a big screen size so they use 2 monitors when it comes to editing stuff. This is totally up to user preference. You can take whatever budget you have for one big huge 4K monitor or buy two smaller monitors with decent screen quality with that same budget.

You can satisfy your buds by choosing one or two monitors. Applications like Lightroom and Premiere Pro are designed to work well with two screens and greatly improve your efficiency.

If you’re planning to get a single screen, get yourself a nice 4K display. New Retina displays are becoming pretty common these days and make a huge amount of difference when working on editing photos. When doing things like previewing your pictures and making sure that the photos are sharp, those extra pixels will make it much easier. It also leaves more screen space for in, say, Photoshop or Premiere Pro.

The Video Card or GPU

The CPU is very fast at handling computation tasks and the GPU is much faster at doing simple calculations. Photo or Video editing apps will offload a bunch of the work to the GPU that making things go much much faster.

Photoshop and Lightroom technically can offload some tasks to the GPU. Photoshop will do it only with some filters. When you’re applying some filters most of the time it does not use the GPU at all. Lightroom will do it like making some develop module adjustments so you might see a performance improvement say adjustment brushes and stacking many many different adjustment brushes or you’re doing some sort of transformation in the Lightroom. For the most part, you’re not going to notice the performance benefit in Photoshop or Lightroom.

For editing photos, professionals recommend getting the cheapest graphics card that can drive the monitor or monitors you have. You don’t need to pay extra for one of those Quadro graphics cards. They will not make a noticeable difference in performance. Here is where you save your money; you get a cheap graphics card. Even with video editing, you don’t need a big graphics card.

It is better to put the extra money for the faster drive, a bigger drive or memory, bigger processors.

The Network

The part most people don’t pay much attention to is the networks. Most people use wireless even though their computer is within a couple of feet distance of their cable modem or their outgoing connection.

Whenever possible, it is preferred to use a wired Ethernet connection. Not only it is reliable but it is always faster than wireless. Typical wireless throughout is more like 30 to 60 megabits a second even with the latest technologies though it depends on a lot of different factors.

A wired gigabit Ethernet connection is always faster and very beneficial when it comes to working as a team. Constantly exporting files between different computers than a wired ethernet connection is going to make all the difference. It is also more stable and reliable.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which is best for photo editing laptop or desktop?

Ninety five percent of the users prefer using a desktop for editing photos as it provides much more perks.

What type of computer is best for photo editing?

Deciding between a Mac or Windows is totally up to the user preference and experience.

What kind of laptop should I look for in photo editing?

If you intend to get a laptop for photo editing, make sure to get the minimum required specs; 16 GB RAM, the most latest Intel processor available, a large drive, an average GPU, and a 4K or Retina display screen.

Should I buy a laptop or desktop for photo editing?

According to ninety five percent of the users and experts, it is better to have a desktop computer for photo editing unless you’re you have to travel more often. Laptops are a good option when you need portability; you’d need to showcase your projects, you need to design your projects on the go, you like to work in a cafe.

Pros and cons to using a laptop for photo editing?

Laptops are portable. You can access your data even when you don’t have an electric connection source. nearby. If you face power cut issues more often, you won’t lose your unsaved data on a laptop as it operates on a battery.

But with its benefits, laptops mostly fail to be very good at being the best machine for photo editing because it is not powerful enough. Modern Laptops tend to be more expensive than desktops for photo editing with the same specs. Laptops heat up and slow down when under pressure.

Pros and cons to using a desktop for photo editing?

Using a desktop computer for photo editing is the best choice as it is a cheaper and faster option. You get the choice of building your custom PC so you can get started with your career on budget and can upgrade according to your needs. PCs are far more upgradeable than laptops.

PCs are not portable, thus, you’d need a spare laptop or another source in case you need to move away from your system and showcase your work. PCs have volatile power; you’d lose your unsaved progress if you happen to cut down the main power supply.


The choice of choosing a laptop computer or a desktop computer depends on the user preference but after all the ground work, we’ve come to a final conclusion. Desktop computers are a better choice when it comes to photo editing. Desktop computers provide with far more benefits in photo editing as compared to a laptop computer.

Here are the summarized tips you need to know before you buy a desktop computer for photo editing;

  1. The larger the disk drive, the better.
  2. The newer the processor, the better.
  3. Invest in the disk drive and the processor as much as you can.
  4. You don’t need a big GPU. A cheap GPU would work just fine.
  5. Look for upgradation chances of an old PC before buying a new computer.

A laptop computer is a good option for you only if you need to travel more often, or you need to showcase your work day to day. The laptop is the option for you if you do not prefer sitting in the same chair every day to edit photos. Modern day laptop computer hardware is powerful enough to run photo editing applications smoothly but the users complain about issues like heating up, slowing down, lesser chance of upgrading the specs, lesser chances of customization, and laptops with the same specs as a desktop computer ends up being more expensive than the desktop computer.

The desktop computer is the preferred option for photo editing by the majority of the users and the experts. Desktop computers are the choice for you if you want a custom build PC. If you are tight on the budget, you can get a desktop PC with the minimum specs or get a custom PC with minimum required specs. You can upgrade on your specs depending on your needs.

Desktop computers are much more powerful than laptop computers so, you won’t have any issues with the desktop computer (except for the portability). Desktop computer is cooler, budget friendly and more up to date option when it comes to the question of “Should I buy a laptop or desktop for photo editing”

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