Best Computer For Graphic Design

Posted on September 27th, 2018

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 or Video Editing. Images have gotten much larger in resolution, the Vector Art more complex, and the Software Features rely on Hardware Features that a slow or older computer just wont be able to handle anymore.

The Adobe Creative Cloud with Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and lots of additional tools to accompanying 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 and or buying your Graphic Design Computer and Workstation that will be the 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 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.

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, hit a key, open a menu – all that will put the CPU to work, that will then return a result: An open menu, a new color, a finished line, and 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.

Lets 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 lets just get a CPU with the highest core clock times the Number # of cores and all should be great, right?

Unfortunately, since most Software makes heavy use of single Cores and aren’t coded well enough 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 great recommendations for the Best CPU for Graphic Design:

  • Intel i7 8700k, has a 3,7 GHz base and 4,7 GHz Turbo Boost Clock with 6 Cores.
  • AMD Ryzen 2700x has a 3,7 GHz base and a 4,2 GHz Turbo Boost clock with 8 Cores

I’d recommend going with the 8700k for heavily single Core optimized tasks such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and go with the 2700x AMD Ryzen when you plan on also doing more multi-core optimize tasks such as rendering or Video-encoding.

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. So basically everything you are currently working on should nicely fit into the RAM or otherwise the system speed will crawl to a halt.

If your working files don’t fit into your RAM, the system starts swapping to disc and the hard disc usually is a multitude 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.

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, 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.

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 a Nvidia GTX 1050.

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 have lots to do with color setup for print and the like, then you might want a good and expensive 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 a NVIDIA Quadro Workstation Graphics Card, that are quite a bit more expensive but enable you to use these kind of features.

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

Lets 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 kind 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, schock 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.

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 a 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.

Upgradeability

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 futureproof 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 backwards 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 brand, additional features, pivot, design and so on, but the main reason between really expensive monitors and cheaper monitors has everything to do with color display.

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.

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 build into a monitor itself such as the Microsoft Surface Studio or the Apple I-Mac or new Mac Pro.

Beware though that these kind of ready to go computers wont 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, lets 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 – 600$

PCPartPicker part list

 

The best Computer for Graphic Design, AMD Build – 1000$

PCPartPicker part list

 

The best Computer for Graphic Design, Intel Build – 1100$

PCPartPicker part list

 

The best Computer for Graphic Design, Intel Build – 1800$

PCPartPicker part list

 

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

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Alex from CGDirector - post author

Hi, I am Alex, a Freelance 3D Generalist / Motion Designer and Compositor.

I have built a multitude of 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!

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