Best Computer For Graphic Design

Best Computer For Graphic Design

CG Director Author Alex  by Alex   ⋮   ⋮   90 comments
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A Graphic Designer needs an excellent Computer specifically targeted at Graphic Design work to make him work fast and stay motivated.

The absolute best Computer for Graphic Design has more and more become a powerhouse-machinery, that can put a good load on the hardware similar to working in 3D Modeling and Rendering, Video Editing or CAD. Images have become much larger in resolution, the Vector Illustrations have become more complex, and the Software Features rely on Hardware Features that a slow or older Computer just won’t be able to handle anymore.

The Adobe Creative Cloud with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and lots of additional tools to accompany your Workflow will have the Computer crawling in no time if the Hardware is not picked out very carefully.

I have put together a list of what you should be on the lookout for when building or buying your Graphic Design Computer and Workstation that will be your workhorse of creative endeavors in the years to come.

Now, to some, the Computer might just be a black or gray box, or sometimes a Monitor with some magic built in, but every Computer on the inside consists of the same type of very specific parts, that we will now take a look at and see what hardware is relevant for what type of Graphic Design work.

For those of you just looking for great Graphics Design Computer Parts Lists, feel free to skip to the end of the article.

Best Hardware Parts for Graphic Design

Best Computer for Graphic Design – The CPU

Opening the case of a Computer and looking inside, what you will usually notice right away, is the cooling solution on top of the CPU (Central processing unit) also called the Processor.

Best Computer for Graphic Design - The CPU ( Processor)

Image-Source: Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The CPU is the central processing station that does all of the multi-purpose calculations of what a typical software is supposed to be able to do:

Change a color, draw a line, process keystrokes, open a menu – all that will put the CPU to work, which will then return a result: An open menu, a new color, a finished line or a word that you typed.

There are two main ways a Modern Processor goes about its tasks: It can either work them off one at a time after one another or more simultaneously on several so-called CPU Cores at the same time.

Many at the same time, sounds like it would be much faster, but the problem with having lots of cores is, that the more Cores a CPU has the slower the individual cores are usually clocked.

Let’s look at an example: A Single-Core CPU that clocks at 5 GHz would be roughly the same speed as a Dual-Core CPU that clocks at 2,5 GHz.

Well, then let’s just get a CPU with the highest core clock and as many cores as possible and all should be great, right?

Unfortunately, since most Software makes heavy use of single Cores and isn’t coded in a way to be able to handle lots of Cores, we should be leaning towards high Core clock and not lots of Cores.

In other words, a 4-Core 5 GHz CPU would be much faster for your Graphic Design needs than a 32 core 2 GHz CPU.

Long story short,  here are some recommendations for the Best CPU for Graphic Design:

  • Intel i9 9900k has a 3,6 GHz base and 5 GHz Turbo Boost Clock with 8 Cores.
  • AMD Ryzen 9 3900x has a 3,8 GHz base and a 4,6 GHz Turbo Boost clock with 12 Cores
  • AMD Ryzen 7 3700x has a 3,6 GHz base and a 4,4 GHz Turbo Boost clock with 8 Cores
AMD Ryzen vs i7 8700K

Image-Source: AMD/Intel

I recommend going with the AMD Ryzen 7 3700X for everyday use in Photoshop, InDesign or Illustrator, and to go with the AMD Ryzen 9 3900X when you plan on also doing more multi-core optimize tasks such as rendering or Video-Encoding.

Here are some Photoshop Benchmarks by Pugetsystems that show us right away, which CPUs perform the best in Graphics Design Applications such Photoshop:

CPU NameCoresGhzPhotoshop ScorePriceValue
CPU NameCoresGHzPhotoshop ScorePriceValue
AMD Ryzen 7 3800X83.91027399
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X123.81040499
AMD Ryzen 5 3600X63.8925249
Intel i9 9800X83.8841589
AMD Ryzen 7 2700X83.7813251
Intel i5 9600K63.7881262
AMD Ryzen 5 2600X63.6785149
Intel i9 9900K83.61026488
AMD Ryzen 7 3700X83.6964329
AMD Ryzen 5 360063.6915199
Intel i9 9700K83.6931362
AMD Threadripper 2920X123.5811369
Intel i9 9900X103.5903989
Intel i9 9920X123.59171189
AMD Threadripper 2950X163.5815729
Intel i9 9820X103.3845889
Intel i9 9940X143.38931387
Intel i9 9960X163.19011684
AMD Threadripper 2970WX243.07471300
Intel i9 9980XE183.09141979
AMD Threadripper 2990WX323.07441699

Best Computer for Graphic Design – The RAM

Another very important Hardware Component for the Best Computer for Graphic Design would be the RAM or Memory.

It caches and holds all kinds of working data at the ready for the CPU to work on. Basically everything you are currently working on should nicely fit into your Memory, otherwise, the system speed will crawl to a halt.

If your working files don’t fit into your RAM, the system starts swapping these files to disc and the hard disc or your SSD usually is a lot slower than any kind of RAM out there.

So make sure you have enough RAM for your working tasks. How much is enough? Well lets make an example:

Your system boots up, usually Windows, and already needs around 4 GB of your RAM just for it to run smoothly. Then you start Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, and open some photos, a book your are working on, and some illustrations, and a few seconds later your are already using 8 GB RAM.

Best Computer for Graphic Design - RAM Usage

You might want to have Chrome or another browser open for some music or reference images on websites, and there goes the next GB of RAM.

RAM is interesting, it doesn’t really make anything faster when you have enough of it, but it will slow you down without a question if you don’t have enough. So make sure you tend to have a bit too much than too little.

For our Best Computer for Graphic Design, I would recommend a minimum of 8 GB of RAM. That might be pushing it a bit though and you will be much happier with 16 GB of RAM, especially if you want to work on more complex projects, have more than one project open at a time or like to keep different software and browsers or email programs open in the background.

Current modern RAM is stated as DDR4, and for those of you who want to optimize the RAM speed as much as possible, you should be looking for high Clock Speed and Low CL Latency. So A Corsair DDR4 3200MHz CL15 would be slightly faster than a 2400MHz CL17.

Good Memory Modules that I can recommend are the Corsair Vengeance LPX Series.

Best Computer for Graphic Design – The GPU (Graphics Card)

Now the Graphics Card is a hardware component that is responsible for outputting anything to be displayed on any kind of display device, usually a monitor.

If you move an image in Photoshop the GPU takes care of displaying that, draw a line, update the Viewport, scroll through pages, this is all done by the GPU.

A good thing about Graphic Design is, that there are almost no GPU intensive tasks like there are in 3D Animation, Simulation, GPU Rendering, Video Editing, Encoding or the like.

The image manipulations you have in Graphic Design usually don’t need the GPU to update a bunch of hires images at a time, as is often the case in Motion Design or anything that is heavily animated work. You usually work on a single image or canvas that nicely fits into your system RAM and Graphics Card Video RAM (VRAM).

For our Best Computer for Graphic Design therefore, the GPU is a hardware part that you can save some money on without trading too much or any performance. Your Viewport will still be snappy and smooth.

As a minimum for serious Graphic Designers, I recommend an Nvidia GTX 1050 or better a GTX 1060 which will keep your PC performing well for a long time.

Image-Source: pugetsystems.com

Now there is one big BUT that I will mention before we can continue on.

If you are serious about accurate colors, are color grading, or do lots of color setup and color grading for print and the like, then you might want a great monitor that can display a wide range of colors in a range of 10bit or higher.

The bad thing about GTX graphics cards (as in the NVIDIA GTX 1050) is, that they don’t display more than 8bits of color. If this is something you can’t live without as can be quite common in the Graphic Design world, you will have to go for an NVIDIA Quadro Workstation Graphics Card, that are quite a bit more expensive but enable you to use these kinds of features.

Best Computer for Graphic Design – The Storage, SSD, HDD

Let’s talk about storage. Print resolution images, raw images, huge illustrations and books with hundreds of pages and graphics embedded in them need lots of space.

The project files are often very large and can get into the gigabytes fairly quickly, so you will want to get a decent hard drive to store all your files.

Back in the old days, the HDDs (Hard Disc Drives) were the way to go, using moving parts and magnetism to read and write data, but these kinds of storage devices have now been overtaken in almost all areas by the new SSDs or Solid State Drives.

Solid State Drives have no moving parts anymore and kind of work like flash memory cards or USB memory sticks, just a bit larger and much, much faster.

Speed is actually the greatest part about SSDs. They are a multitude faster than hard drives.

HDDs might still be cheaper in terms of cost per gigabyte, but SSDs are faster and better in every other aspect. They are smaller, shock resistant, have longer durability, have faster read and write speeds in all kinds of workloads and consume less power.

For your Best Computer for Graphic Design, you should get an SSD with at least 500 GB to get you started. You can always get another or switch to a bigger one if you run into space problems.

I can recommend a Samsung 860 EVO 500 GB SATA SSD.

That said though, there is something even better in the storage department, even faster than SATA SSDs: The PCI-E (M.2) NVME SSDs.

PCI Express non-volatile memory-express Solid State Drives. This sure is a fancy long name but the features deserve it.

Best Computer for Graphic Design - SSD vs NVMe

Image-Source: atpinc.com

NVMe SSDs are about 5 times faster than normal SSDs in sequential read and write performance and usually about twice as fast in other more random workloads. They are still twice as expensive as normal SATA SSDs but if you work with large project files within the gigabytes more often, a M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD will be a time saver.

For a PCI-E NVMe SSD, I recommend a Samsung 970 EVO M.2 500 GB drive.

The Mainboard (Motherboard)

The Mainboard is usually the tricky part as it has to fit all of the other parts that are supposed to go onto it.

The CPU has a certain socket type that the Mainboard has to have as well. An i7 8700k, for example, will have an LGA 1151 socket, and an AMD Ryzen 2700x will need a mainboard with an AM4 socket.

Some mainboard features that you might find handy usually are an inbuilt WiFi chip or card, a LAN port for connecting to your router with a network cable, a sound chip and lots of USB plugs for your input devices, external drives and USB sticks that you might use.

Having multiple PCI-E Slots for GPUs or any other cards usually shouldn’t concern you all that much for solely building the Best Computer for Graphic Design, but if you are planning on Gaming or using 3D Software for GPU rendering, you might want to consider it having more than one.

I put together some Computer Build Recommendations down below for you to take a look at, that will work well, in case you are not familiar enough with mainboard features and sockets to pick one out for yourself.

Upgrade-ability

New Technology changes so fast and hardware such as the CPU or GPU will be overtaken by new tech within a year at the latest.

If you want to be sure your Computer is future-proof for Graphic Design and will let itself be upgraded without having to buy an entirely new System, be sure to keep some things in mind:

AMD CPUs such as the Ryzen or Threadripper on AM4 and TR4 sockets usually can be upgraded to the next few CPU releases without having to buy a new mainboard.

Intel usually likes to break compatibility quite fast and its 1151 socket has been around for quite a while now so expect having to buy a new Mainboard for future Intel CPU generations.

RAM can usually be updated quite easily, either by swapping out with bigger sizes or can be added to if you still have some slots free.

Beware though that sometimes, even though you add the exact same type of ram speed and size to your already existing RAM, there might occur some incompatibility issues that can lead to instabilities as reported by some users.

It seems to be best to always get a complete RAM Kit in the final size and not two or more individual kits that will be combined to a total amount of RAM.

GPUs run on the PCI-E socket and can be swapped out usually without any problem unless you get an extremely new GPU that absolutely requires a new PCI-E Version, though this is almost impossible to happen, as PCI-E is backward compatible.

You should only be aware of how much power your PSU delivers, how much your overall system needs and if the new or additional GPU will draw too much if you decide to change to a new one or add a second graphics card to your setup.

Best Monitor for Graphic Design use

There is a huge price stretch when it comes to monitors. You can get a 24” Full HD monitor for 150 bucks or a seemingly same monitor for 1500$. Hows that?

Certainly, some of the reasons are the brand, additional features, pivot, design and so on, but the main reason between really expensive monitors and cheaper monitors has everything to do with how colors are displayed.

The panel that is used in expensive monitors usually has a greater color range, better contrast, higher bit depth, blacker blacks, and brighter whites. As mentioned in the GPU section though, you will need a more expensive Workstation Graphics card to make use of 10bits or higher color ranges in monitors.

Now it is quite difficult to recommend a monitor as there are so many different use cases. You should think about what you do in a typical Graphic Design day.

If it has lots to do with how accurate colors look if you are color grading a TV spot or adjusting colors for a print magazine, then, by all means, be sure to get a good monitor, not necessarily expensive, but good.

If your budget is tight, consider getting a smaller Reference Monitor for proofing your colors on and a larger but cheaper monitor for actively working on in your programs.

If you would like to know more, definitely check out this in-depth Guide to buying the best Monitors for visually demanding work, which has all the information you need for getting the best Monitor for Graphic Design work.

Additional Hardware and Devices

Now to complete this Best Computer for Graphic Design you will need some more parts such as the PSU.

The PSU is the power source of a Computer and you’ll have to make sure it can provide enough watts for the computer to run stably even under full load. You can check your power needs with this watt calculator.

Depending on the CPU you get, you well need a CPU cooler. The AMD Ryzen CPUs already come with a CPU cooler, but you will need to get an additional processor cooling solution for Intel CPUs.

A good pick here is the BeQuiet Dark Rock 3 that I can recommend and have used several times myself. Noctua is a great go-to Brand for Cooling Solutions as well.

If you are looking at building the Computer yourself completely or just want to inform yourself about the different hardware parts necessary for building a Computer for Graphic Design use, it is good to know what kind of enclosures there are currently on the market.

The most common one would be the tower case that will nicely fit all of the above-noted hardware within and can be populated with all Standard off the shelf Hardware. These Tower Cases come in different sizes, materials, designs, and colors depending on your wishes.

Then there are computers that are built into a monitor itself such as the Microsoft Surface Studio or the Apple I-Mac or new Mac Pro.

Beware though that these kinds of ready to go computers won’t have the upgrade possibilities as a tower computer, especially because there is usually now way you can open and fiddle with the insides of such a computer on your own, also the parts used in such Pre-Built Computers are non-Standard. The price of such computers usually is crazy high compared to a self-built tower solution.

Input devices will be my last point on this list, but they are very important and can make or break an effective workflow. Some people like to use the mouse and keyboard, a pen and Touchscreen or the tablet and pen.

If you haven’t already figured out your preferred input device, it is wise to do a test run or borrow some devices from friends to get a feel of what type of input device fits you best and makes you the fastest.

The best Computer for Graphic Design in different Price Budgets

That was quite a long list, let’s take a look at some hardware combinations that will fit the best Computer for Graphic Design into your price budgets.

The best Computer for Graphic Design, AMD Build – 700$

 

The best Computer for Graphic Design, AMD Build – 1200$

 

The best Computer for Graphic Design, AMD Build – 2000$

 

The best Computer for Graphic Design, Intel Build – 2000$


 

Custom PC-Builder

If you want to get the best parts within your budget you should definitely have a look at the Web-Based PC-Builder Tool that I’ve created.

Select the main purpose that you’ll use the computer for and adjust your budget to create the perfect PC with part recommendations that will fit within your budget.

CGDirector PC-Builder Tool

PC-Builder Facebook Title Image

That’s about it! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions or need some build advice.


Alex from CGDirector - post author

Hi, I'm Alex, a Freelance 3D Generalist, Motion Designer and Compositor.

I've built a multitude of Computers, Workstations and Renderfarms and love to optimize them as much as possible.

Feel free to comment and ask for suggestions on your PC-Build or 3D-related Problem, I'll do my best to help out!

90
Comments

Elliot

Hi Alex,

Great website! Very clear and informative.

My wife is a graphic designer who does branding, logos, print and web design (no rendering or animations). Most of her work is done in InDesign, but she regularly uses the rest of the Creative Cloud apps including Photoshop & Illustrator. I’m building her a new computer, as she’s been working on a Asus N56 laptop for the last 6 years and it’s time for an upgrade.
These are the specs I’ve put together and would be great to hear your comments. Thanks!
Elliot

CPU – AMD RYZEN 5 3600X 6-Core 3.8 GHz

MB – Toss up between GIGABYTE X570 AORUS ELITE & ASRock X570 STEEL LEGEND. Any thoughts on that one?

GPU – Another toss up between GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1650 & MSI Radeon RX 570 DirectX or should I go
with the GIGABYTE GeForce GTX 1660

RAM – G.SKILL Aegis 32GB (2 x 16GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3000
SSD – SAMSUNG 970 EVO PLUS M.2 2280 1TB PCIe Gen3
FAN – be quiet! 250W TDP Dark Rock Pro 4
POWER SUPPLY – CORSAIR CX-M Series CX550M 550W 80 PLUS BRONZE

MONITOR – Dell UP2716D 27″ from your blog post on monitors.

Phúc Trịnh

Hi Alex,

I’m a graphic designer and photographer. I pretend to build a pc around 1500$ (No monitor). Software: Lightroom, Photoshop, Illustrator, Capture One, Premier.
Sometimes 3DsMax + Vray.
Here is my specs: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/7bvMP3
Please give me some advice! Thank you alot.

EDS

A very compelling and well-written article as always, although I think the $700 build could be a lot of better if we do a few changes:

-> Ryzen 5 3600X only has a ~7% improvement over the vanilla R5 3600 with a $50 makeup at the moment. The Ryzen 5 3600 would be a better option at this price range.

-> If you don’t plan to OC, you can get away with using the stock cooler. Ryzen 3rd gen is better optimized to not need OC (And it’s harder do so that in previous gens), so I would save the money on the cooler.

-> You can use the saving on getting 16GBs of ram instead of 8GB which is a MUST if you plan to open Chrome and anything from Adobe at the same time. (And I would also get faster RAM too since it makes lots of impact on Ryzen.)

-> The Evo Pro SSDs are crazy fast, but also really expensive. It makes no sense to me at this range point when you could get a great quality 500Gbs SSD from Crucial or WD for the same price. You are most likely gonna need the extra space, especially if you work in print.

-> Sorry but the GTX 1650 is a terrible card, it only makes sense in some systems that have some limitations in power and connectors. I would get a Radeon RX 580 8GB. It’s usually a ~30-35% improvement in performance, twice the VRAM, and it gets on sale at the same price often. ($160 right now)

-> You could get a cheaper case and maybe a lower watts PSU since this system is still under ~350Ws, saving around ~$60 and still be on $700 budget with MORE ram, disc space and GPU.

My attend: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/ywxQjy

Dominic Shearn

Hi Alex. I rarely comment on peoples articles but this is a great post. Keep up the good work. I have recently built a system around a 3900x (having used Intel for the past 15 yrs). A few things to note: I’m using a matx chassis and have used an ASrock 570M pro4, I’m trying to keep the case as silent as possible. I read a lot about noisy system fans on 570 motherboards and also noted that the ASrock allows you to adjust the systeme fan speed whereas the Aorus doesn’t. This might be a factor for some people as those system fans are very noisy especially on the Aorus. I also have a Corsair Force MP600 1TB NVME M.2 drive which is awesome as it runs at double your benchmark for about the same price being PCI-E 4/4. Thanks again

David

Hey guys I need help with a build for machine that will do well with Adobe Creative Cloud, CAD, Solidworks, Rhino and light gaming. I’m a first timer and know very little. I put together this with some research here and there, mind taking a look?

https://pcpartpicker.com/list/y9dwGG

I put this together with the build posted here as the skeleton and switched things in and out comparing it to other things I’ve seen. Any help would be really really nice since no one has been able to provide feedback.

Miranda

hey im a student trying to build a 3d design computer for adobe solidworks and a few other softwares down the line
https://pcpartpicker.com/user/mirgirl/saved/
this is what i came up with with some help of computer science friends
i know the operating system isnt listed
can i get some advice

Rucha Patel

Can I buy a Macbook pro 2019 for graphic design?

keith L

Hi Alex, Question wanting to upgrade my computer, looking at the $1k pricing, own a sign graphics design biz, adobe, corel, flexisignpro, etc. programs, dual monitor. Have i7-3770k 4 core with msi motherboard ms-7752. ssd 850 500gb drive & 1tb hd., Amd Radeon hd5450, the case says CM STORM on it. Want to know if everything in the $1k list will work with what i have? I believe it was built in 2013.thanks keith

Greg

Hi Alex,
Great read! I work as a freelance Illustrator and graphic designer but am and have always been a mac user. Currently looking at costs of upgrading from my upgraded 2013 mac mini (2.3ghz quad i7, 16gb ram & samsung 850 pro ssd) – I work on fairly large complex AI/PS files and as I’ve been taking on larger and larger projects it’s bogging down once things get towards completion. It’s helpful to have multiple large files open at the same time.

It’s served me pretty well but looking at one of the older mac pros – if you don’t mind commenting on Mac set up (I understand it’s more limited than PC) would you recommend:

Cpu:
3.5ghz 6core <(I'm assuming this one)
3ghz 8core
2.7ghz 12core

Graphics:
Dual AMD FirePro D300 GPUs with 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM
Dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM
Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM <(assuming this one)

Would upgrade ram myself but comes with 16GB as base

some further specs can be found here: https://support.apple.com/kb/sp697?locale=en_GB

Thanks for any help!
Greg

Greg

To give my reason for upgrading a little more context – I am not looking for ‘the best of the best’ for the sake of impressive stats or saving a millisecond here and there – I think a PC would achieve that much more affordably! But do want something that gives me confidence I can take on large projects from big clients and work smoothly. The mac mini was the best mac I could afford at the time but feel it’s time to start working toward a more capable machine – I use a 27 inch Eizo monitor – kinda ‘ugly’ but the screen is fantastic 😉

I don’t mind that the ‘trashcan’ Mac is a bit old but just hope I’m not considering something that will be obsolete v soon?? I have no issue with going for the base model if it has more than enough for my needs (I doubt I’ll ever be doing high level 3D/video/etc rendering and the such and leave my gaming to consoles) but do work with some pretty large and complex photoshop and illustrator files and often need 2-3 large photoshop files and illustrator files open at the same time with image heavy web stuff going on and the usual music, email etc etc…

I was hanging on for the new mac pro … but it’s price killed any consideration … a bit too ‘pro’ for me ;P

Julie Niles-Fry

HI Alex,
Are any of these suggestions available in a ready made computer? I’ve really enjoyed reading your suggestions, but I’m just a graphic designer, not a computer builder. I need something $1k or less.
Thanks!