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Laptop: good or bad


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So I am preparing to calibrate my LAPTOP monitor. I had messaged you before and you said my computer wasn't too old. But after reading your article about light you state it isn't good to edit on a laptop. If someone is looking at upgrading should they go for a desktop or entertain the idea of plugging a monitor into a laptop? Thoughts?

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10 minutes ago, AYoder said:

you state it isn't good to edit on a laptop.

Well, it's not the laptop, exactly. A laptop is fine if it has a good screen, and you're careful about where you use it.

11 minutes ago, AYoder said:

If someone is looking at upgrading should they go for a desktop or entertain the idea of plugging a monitor into a laptop? Thoughts?

Well, there are pros and cons both ways.  Desktops are more powerful, but of course not portable, if you really need to go somewhere.

I'm going to move this thread into Ask Brian, and he'll have more thoughts for you about the laptop-or-desktop decision.

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I found a portion of an old article about laptops and photo editing that I wrote a few years ago. Here it is, and I will be updating it to version 3.0 in the very near future. Oh, this article is more of a rant that needs to be toned down. That will happen in version 3.0. You have been warned. :)

The short answer is: "I DO NOT RECOMMEND LAPTOPS FOR PHOTO EDITING." Culling and showing a slideshow...fine. Editing, notsomuch. 

Here is why:

1. The Screen's Angle of View is the main thing. Each time you open the display, your colors and contrast will change because the angle of what you’re viewing has changed. So unless you make some sort of jig or use an alignment tool to guarantee the angle of the screen is the same, you aren't going to be very consistent from shot to shot or batch to batch. Have a Cat or Children? A simple bump or rub from them can screw up the laptop's Angle of View. Even if you "know" that you have never touched the screen. There are no guarantees.

2. Laptop screens are usually very glossy and bright. Laptop screens are meant to be viewed in a variety of environments and in all sorts of lighting, from an Airport to Coffee Shop to your Home and points beyond. They are great for web browsing, watching a movie, writing e-mail, balancing your checkbook, etc. basically everything else BUT NOT PHOTO EDITING.

3. Be sure to budget for a Calibration Tool if you don't already have one! Your colors are going to be a whacked until you get a baseline and get calibrated. THEN you will have to compare them to your prints. Expect lots of frustration and questions posted in "Ask Damien" on why your screen won't calibrate correctly. Since laptops change so quickly, they are "orphaned" a lot quicker than desktops. Meaning driver updates or compatibility issues with your calibration tool likely won't be fixed or addressed. (I can't tell you how many photos I have seen in Ask Damien on why Calibration Profiles just don't "stick" with laptops, due to their crappy drivers.) The only laptops that I've still seen get good reviews for being decent out of the box are the MacBook Pro's, but those laptops are very expensive. Now, I usually get the response, "But my last laptop was fine and it lasted 7-10 years…" or "My Prints matched my laptop's screen pretty well (on my old laptop)…" or something along those lines. My response: YOU GOT LUCKY!! Don't bank on it happening again. As display panels change, so do the way they reproduce colors. Manufactures are always looking to cut costs and keep power consumption low on laptops, so the displays could be better…or more than likely worse with each newer model.

4. Horsepower is another issue. They are designed with low power consumption in mind so they aren't always the fastest. Heat…Heat is the enemy. The faster or harder something runs, the hotter it gets, the longer things take to complete, and things to lock-up and hesitate on a normal basis. So if you are doing a lot of batching, that could've an issue. Now comes for the upgradeability issues and hardware limitations. RAM usually can't be upgraded more than 8GB and HD's are small and tend to be slow, again for lower power consumption. Laptops usually only have 500GB HD, and if you are lucky a 750GB HD. Unfortunately, one third of that is taken up by the Operating System, and pre-installed crapware. After you add your software, there is very little room left over for large .psd and RAW files.  Video Memory is often shared with the RAM so the ability to power very large resolutions that drive 27" displays is non-existent. Meaning, you can't just simply go out and by whatever display that you wish, you'll need to pay attention to the maximum resolution that the laptop can produce for an external display. Laptops that have their own dedicated memory are a little better powering the larger displays, but most people don’t request them, so those models are a bit harder to find and usually cost a lot more.

5. Keyboards and Trackpads are usually terrible. It's an eye-opening experience when you physically go to a store and try some typing and use a track-pad. Keyboards are quite cheap these days and I can almost guarantee you, a mouse will be hooked up to a laptop for photo editing. So that kills some portability right there. Now, I have seen some folks like trackpads for editing, but it's pretty rare to see.

6. Reliability. Laptops often only last about 3 years before they become "Too Slow" or start locking up or just downright fail on you. 3 Years is the average these days. So where do you get them fixed? At least with Apple and Sony, they have Apple and Sony Stores. OEM Batteries aren't cheap either. They average about $150 or more to get a replacement. Time-frame, batteries seem to last 1.5 years on the average. Sometimes it’s less, sometimes it’s more.

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As far as using an external monitor with a laptop, it's a really good idea. Why? Not only will you have a larger viewing area compared to a 15" screen, it will also be easier to calibrate. That said, trying to get the external screen and the laptop's built-in display to match will be extremely difficult. Like Tequila and Aspirin will be required after calibration, due to the frustration. It's also a good idea to get the "Premium" version of the calibration tool, as it has all the calibration choices enabled in the software. Think Sypder5Elite or equivalent for the best results, but I'm sure Damien can chime in on this opinion. I have seen people get their external screens calibrated just fine, even get their laptop screens almost matching, so it can be done. As for which laptops have the best chances of accomplishing this? I have no idea. Your guess is as good as mine. 

The other good reason for an external display is that it will be kept in the same area the majority of the time. This is a good thing for editing photos. You want to do it with a screen that is at a consistent angle, in consistent lighting conditions and that makes calibrating easier.

The main downside with laptops, is that you really need to have separate dedicated video memory with a dedicated Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) to do this type of setup well. No sense in buying a fancy 27" display, with all the cool features if your laptop can't support the thing. Combine that with drivers that won't be updated and you could have some aggravation in dealing with an external screen.

So what to look for? Anything in the 20"-24" sizes have the best chances of working just fine with a laptop. A monitor that has at least a HDMI port, since most laptops have that port these days. If you can only find a monitor that has a DVI-D port, there are HDMI to DVI-D adapters on the market.

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Now I'm sure some folks are interested in...say it with me now!!!

"What's a good laptop for photo editing?!?!!"

I am so sick of this question. Believe it or not, a laptop for photo editing pretty much matches up with a desktop for photo editing. At the minimum you are looking for:

  • i5 or i7 CPU
  • 8GB RAM Minimum / 16GB Preferred
  • A 1TB HD
  • Separate and dedicated Graphics Processor with at least 1 GB of dedicated video memory
  • Most importantly, a display that is IPS based.

That's IT. Seriously, don't over-think. Basically, a low-end gaming laptop or desktop with a IPS display will be fine for photo editing. Don't make it harder and get all worried about specs and sales mumbo-jumbo. Five things to look for. 1-2-3-4-5. That's it. :D

Now finding an external monitor that is IPS based is pretty easy. On a laptop, it's difficult and you usually have to do some searching. So if IPS isn't stated in the sales literature, more than likely it's a TN (Twisted Nematic) screen, which is great for watching movies, playing video games, answering e-mail, wasting time on Facebook, etc. Everything but photo editing! For that, it is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED you purchase a IPS based panel. IPS screens have a much larger viewing angle and are consistent color-wise from edge to edge. Which is a good thing when you edit photos.

Here is a Asus 15.6" Republic of Gamers Laptop that has all of my requirements. If you look in the product highlights, it has everything a person should look for. So if you aren't keen on Asus, that's fine. Just find another brand that has all of the same specs.

Oh! One more important thing!

If someone does purchase a laptop to edit photos, it is a VERY GOOD IDEA to purchase one of Acratech Viewing Angle Gauges. This little thingy attaches to the back of the display. When you see the hole filled, you are at a good angle for editing photos. If you see the hole either empty or the little nub not filling the whole, you need to adjust your laptop's display angle.

It comes in Silver and it comes in Red.

They are both $14.95 and if it were me, I'd get the RED. Why? Because chances are, it's gonna get lost at some point and Red is easier to see or to remind you to take it off before storing your laptop. :)

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WOW Brian!! Thank you so much!! As I was reading I would think of another question and then there you were with another post to answer it!!! :) I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of your help!! It is so hard to know what you are looking for or like until you use it. My current laptop is definitely showing it's age and only has 4GB!! While my husband thinks I would be best off with a desktop, I really think I would miss the portability of a laptop for other reasons. So again, thank you for all of your advice!! You.are.a.rock.star!!

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