Choosing the Right Computer for Creatives

Fellow creatives and anyone else who is reading this— honestly, buying a new computer sucks. It's super fun to have a new computer but the process (and the investment) aren't the most fun. Unless you have a history of computer science or working at the apple store, it's pretty tough to figure out what you need. That said, I bought THREE computers this week. I did so much research, but then would buy them, bring them home and set them up, all to realize it wasn't fast enough or big enough or overall just wasn't what I needed. So, after my back and forth and a lot of very affirmative replies to my Instagram story, I'm here to share a behind the scenes look at my many Apple store visits this week. 


About three years ago, my parents bought me a MacBook for my last year of college because my old one had crashed. At the time, I had no plans to go into graphic design and the MacBook Pro I'd had before felt way too bulky to carry to class everyday. But then I graduated and wound up as a graphic designer and that MacBook (that mind you, is in perfect condition) just wasn't fast enough to run 15+ art boards in Illustrator every day. 

Originally when I decided to get a new computer, I thought I'd get a MacBook Pro and buy a monitor to use in my office for sake of screen size, thinking this would be the most cost efficient option. Welp, I was so wrong. When I found out it would be about $800-$1,000 more to buy a laptop + monitor rather than a iMac, I jumped into iMac research. With the processing speed and 1TB of storage, I decided on the 27" iMac, but annoyingly set it all up only to find it crawling as I tested it out in Illustrator.

Turns out there are about three big things that go into a computer purchase:

1. Processing Speed

Processing speed is measured in GHz and cores (dual-core, quad-core, 6 core, etc). According to Apple, "The processor orchestrates all the tasks performed by the hardware and software that make up your iMac. So the more powerful your processor, the faster your iMac will get things done." My good friends and computer experts over at Rhys & Co explained to me that for photographers and graphic designers using Adobe software, anything around 2.2 6-core or 3.5 quad-core should be plenty. For students or others using their computers simply for the internet, email, music and even iPhoto, much less is sufficient. For reference, my old computer was 1.2 GHz dual-core and worked perfectly for my student needs, but you can see the difference here. 

2. Memory (Also known as RAM)

Memory and ram are the same thing and Apple explains them their function this way: "The more memory your MacBook has, the more apps you can run simultaneously and the better they will perform." So while the processor on the iMac I purchased was incredibly high, it only had 8 Gb of memory which just wasn't enough to run multiple Illustrator art boards or multiple windows at a time. For the most part, Apple has moved away from computers that allow users to install more RAM later on, so however much you think you'll need longterm is what I'd recommend you buy at the beginning. I decided to upgrade to 16 GB, but if I'd had a little more budget, I would have quickly upgraded to the 32 just in case.

3. Storage Type + Amount

There are three different types of storage on Macs— a typical Hard Drive, a Fusion Drive, or a SSD which stands for Solid State Drive. A hard drive contains a spinning disk which is a little flimsy and normally crashes after a while with a computer. A fusion drive is a combination of that disk and a storage chip and is less likely to crash, and a SSD is just a chip-based drive with no disk. The first computer I bought had a fusion drive which felt like a huge upgrade, until I learned that SSD's are incredibly faster. Because I use iCloud Drive for all my files, I didn't need a huge amount of storage, but I did need a good storage type that would be a) fast and b) unlikely to crash. Most laptops come with SSD's now (partially why they cost more than desktops), but you can easily customize an iMac to have the SSD instead of a hard drive or fusion drive.

So after I returned the 27", I decided to downsize to the 21.5" (the 27 also just felt way too big for me. Totally took over my desk!) and bump up to 16 GB memory and 512 GB Solid State Drive. But then I ultimately decided the flexibility of a laptop was important to me and I was willing to pay extra for it. So my final two options were:

1) 21.5" iMac with Retina 4K Display customized to include: 16 GB memory and 512 GB SSD. This one was custom (ie you can't just walk in and buy it at the apple store) and cost around $2100.

2) 15" MacBook Pro 2.2 GHz 6-core i7 Processor with 16 GB memory and 256 GB SSD. This one was as-is, but if you opted for the 13" screen, you'd need to upgrade several things. It was around $2400. I'll probably buy a monitor to go along with it eventually!

These options are pretty comparable in terms of functionality, so for me, it just came down to my personal preference of laptop vs. desktop, but you do save a chunk of money on the desktop! If you've made it this far down this blog, thank you for reading and happy computer shopping! 




ResourcesLydia Kerr