There are quite some things to consider when looking for the best Laptop for Animation. You will want specific Hardware of the Laptop to have certain specifications and very specific parts should be built into the Laptop for maximum speed.
The best Laptop for Animation is the culmination of optimum hardware and mobility and in fact there aren’t all that many great Laptops for Animation out there.
Before we dive into what specific components you should be looking for in a Laptop for Animation, lets take a look at how the task of animating on a Laptop actually uses the Hardware Components. This way we can see clearly what components we will need to optimize as much as possible, to pick the right Laptop.
If you feel like you know your way around the Hardware components and would like to skip directly to the Best Laptop for Animation Recommendations follow this link:
How does Animation utilize the Hardware?
Animation in itself is making virtual objects move in a way we define. This can be in 2D or 3D and there are lots of Programs that we use to go about the task of animation.
Some 2D animation Programs that are currently popular are After Effects, ToonBoom, Harmony, CrazyTalk Animator, Synfig Studio, FlipBook, Photoshop and many more as well as popular 3D Animation Softwares such as Cinema 4D, 3ds Max, Maya, Blender and many others.
Now, what we do when we animate, is usually pose a rig, set Keyframes and adjust certain parts and objects, so they are placed to our satisfaction. One important thing to note here is that we usually do this not while looking at a final quality image, but a rough Preview Viewport, a Wireframe or simple Shaded View.
Why is this important?
As there is not a lot of graphical calculations going on, we can pretty much already say the Graphics Card Hardware Component is something that won’t be quite as important in finding the Best Laptop for Animation.
But if it’s not the Graphics Card that does the heavy lifting when animating, what other Hardware Component might be the crucial part in speeding things up?
You might have already guessed, and it really is the CPU or Processor, that is the most important Hardware Component in a Laptop when using it mainly for animation.
Although animation seems to be a very visual task, it’s the CPU that has to do all the calculations for the scene objects, rigs, simulations, hair splines, soft body dynamics and so on to be calculated, and only after these CPU calculations are finished, the Graphics Card displays the result.
In other words, the GPU is almost never the bottle neck in a 2D and 3D biased Workstation / (PC) Computer or Laptop.
You will want to make sure the CPU is as fast as possible.
That said, of course you should still have a strong enough GPU but it does not have to be unproportionally fast compared to the other hardware components.
The best CPU in a Laptop for Animation
This brings us to the CPU specifically. What makes a CPU fast, anyway? Is it the number of cores, the clock-speed, or the cache size, or maybe just the Brand of Intel or AMD?
To make it short: For animation the most important CPU feature to look for, is the clock-speed. The CPU clock speed is more important than having lots of Cores or getting a certain Brand.
If you have a low clock speed your Viewport will become very slow and you won’t be able to animate in real-time. The CPU usually has a Base Clock Speed, such as 2,2 GHz in the Intel i7 8750H and a higher in Turbo-Boost Clock that clocks the CPU up to 4,1 GHz on less Cores in this case if applicable.
Turbo Boost overclocks your CPU automatically if not all Cores are in use at the same time.
In animation it is often the case, that only one or two CPU Cores are being used because of how animated objects are being calculated by the software you are animating in. This means, having a high Turbo Boost clock will do lots in speeding up the Viewport snappiness while animating as will a higher base clock speed.
Recommended CPUs for the best Laptop for Animation: Intel i7 8750H or i7 8850H
Both of these CPUs are excellent for animation as they have a high Base-Clock and a great Turbo-Boost Clock. The Intel i7 8850H will give you a slightly snappier Viewport, while the i7 8750H might keep your CPU cooler and Laptop quiet overall.
RAM (Memory) for the Best Laptop for Animation
The second most important factor in getting the Best Laptop for Animation is the RAM or Memory.
RAM Speed isn’t that much of a factor but the size of the memory will do wonders when working on complex scenes, long animations, multiple characters, high resolution meshes and images and the ability to keep preview Playblasts in your memory for comparison and checking the current animation state, if you don’t have Real-time playback.
You will want to go with 8GB as an absolute minimum and target 16GB for a much better experience.
32GB will help in some cases, having more usually isn’t necessary but might help with extremely complex scene, large textures, or animation simulations and dynamics that are not keyframe-driven but will need to be cached.
The thing about RAM is, that it doesn’t seem to improve Speed all that much, unless you have too little.
If you don’t have enough, the System will start swapping active working Files to Disc and at this point the overall Speed will crawl to a halt.
You definitely want to avoid having too little RAM.
My recommendation for RAM (Memory) in your best Laptop for Animation:
16GB of DDR4 RAM
If optimization is something you crave, you can slightly improve overall RAM Speed by carefully choosing RAM with higher Clock Speeds and lower CL Latency as a general rule.
Best Graphics Card (GPU) for Animation in a Laptop
As discussed above, although not as important a factor as the CPU, the Graphics card is responsible for displaying to your monitors or any attached display device.
It will also help in displaying textures and any other Shaders and Graphical Effects such as SSAO (Screen Space Ambient Occlusion), Realtime Shadows, Anti-Aliasing, Anisotrophic Filtering, for an experience that is closer to an actual (final) rendered image.
The Maya Viewport 2.0 for example makes heavy use of such effects and likes strong GPUs.
Although these type of effects can be computational intensive, the GPU is specialized for this and can usually handle them quite well, meaning in most cases it wont be the Framerate Bottleneck when updating the Viewport.
The CPU though usually is.
So having a fairly strong GPU will definitely help, but only to a certain point.
As soon as the CPU becomes the bottleneck, the GPU will not do anything for the performance or Viewport snappiness and Refresh rate.
My base recommendation for a great GPU for Animation in a Laptop:
NVIDIA GTX 1060
Now I have said quite often that the GPU is not an important factor in animation.
This changes entirely if you plan on final rendering your scenes on the GPU instead of the CPU.
These Render Engines utilize the Graphics Card instead of the CPU to render out your scenes and can be quite a bit faster than using the CPU.
If this is the case and you plan on using GPU Render Engines, then you should invest more in a better GPU. My recommendation then would be to get a GPU such as the the 1080 GTX.
Beware though, that having extremely strong GPUs in a Laptop will almost definitely make the Laptop more Bulky, Heavy, Larger and draw more Power, it will also make the Laptop very noisy when GPU Rendering.
You might want to consider external GPUs for Rendering on a Laptop. Or try to use an extra Computer or Rendernode that you can offload any Rendering-intensive tasks to.
Storage Devices HDD/ SSD for the Best Laptop for Animation
There has been quite an update in terms of storage hardware over the past few years, and almost all laptops now have Solid State Drives (SSDs) built in.
In the past these storage devices used to be Hard Disc Drives (HDDs) that were very slow and bottle-necked many aspects of a running system.
SSDs are much faster at reading and writing to the storage System and you can now boot the operating system faster, start your programs faster and load / save your scene updates in a fraction of the time it used to take.
SSDs also are much more secure, they don’t age as fast as HDDs and they are almost completely schock resistant.
Having an SSD in a laptop is an absolute must. My recommendation here would to look for:
500GB+ SATA SSD
For those of you who want even greater speed in Saving & Loading and general storage related workloads, the new PCIe M.2 NVMe SSDs are the way to go.
These SSDs are about twice as expensive, but you get 5-6 times the speed in several use cases, especially the sequential read and write performance of PCIe M.2 NVMe SSDs will be a lot faster compared to conventional SATA SSDs.
Take a look at this comparison of HDD vs SSD (Sata) vs PCIE NVMe SSD Write and Read Speeds:
The conventional Hard Drive still has a purpose though.
As HDDs are a lot cheaper per Gigabyte, you can use them as long term storage, archiving, backup systems or storage systems for files you don’t need to access very often, that are too big for your built-in SSD, or that don’t require that great a speed.
Basically anything that is not directly involved in your day-to-day workflow when actively working inside your software.
I usually have external HDDs that I switch on in the evening after a days work and backup anything i worked on to the external HDDs, so nothing can get lost.
The best Laptop for Animation should have the ability to be upgraded and expanded within its hardware components.
As a great Laptop should be able to last you for a couple of years, the innermost hardware components usually aren’t quite up to speed anymore after a few years, as development of new technology is extremely fast.
In Laptops there are many components you can swap out on your own and upgrade, or have a repair shop replace.
For example you can now buy a Laptop that has only 256GB of SSD Storage built in, and after a year you might realize that you would need more room for all the new projects and clients that you are working on and a larger SSD would come in handy.
You can now easily upgrade to a larger and maybe even faster SSD, as the technology has progressed.
Get a 500GB or even 1TB SSD that will keep you settled for longer until it is time to get an entirely new Laptop for Animation or maybe other type of related fields that you have grown into.
The same applies to RAM. You can usually get a laptop that has some RAM slots still unused at purchase date, and add more later on, if you find your memory to be full all the time.
The CPU and GPU unfortunately aren’t that easy to upgrade on your own, as these are usually hidden beneath parts of cooling solutions, and you would have to talk to the manufacturer or a repair shop to have these upgraded.
Apple MacBook (Pro) for Animation?
I know of many that would like to just get a MacBook Pro. They look nice and it seems everyone in the Design Industry has a Mac or MacBook, right?
Since this is a topic that is usually heavily fought over with very personal opinions, I’ll just list some facts here and let you decide for yourself:
- Cost: The Laptop(s) I recommend down below are 50% cheaper than the exact same parts in a MacBook Pro
- Graphics Card: The recommended Laptop(s) have (for this use case) superior Graphics Cards from Nvidia (CUDA based), that you can also GPU Render on in much more 3D Softwares (Apple only offers AMD Radeon GPUs with OpenCL)
- Industry usage: Any serious 3D Studio I have worked and freelanced at so far, uses Windows based PCs and not Macs. There are some that only had Macs in their Infrastructure, but those were advertising agencies that always outsourced any serious 3D or Animation work.
- Expandeability: Laptops can usually be upgraded easier
- Repair cost: Laptops can usually be repaired cheaper
- Connectors / Adapters: A Laptop has all of the usual Connectors already built in. MacBooks usually need additional expensive Adapters for anything external.
Now, please do comment down below, if you have had a different experience. This is what I myself have experienced so far, but I would love to hear from you!
Using the Laptop
An absolute must to be productive on a Laptop is a good input device such as a mouse or a tablet & pen.
I have never seen anyone on a Touch-pad come even close to the speed of someone using a mouse or tablet & pen.
I know that using additional Input devices can be quite impractical at times, especially if you are in confined spaces such as on the train or the airplane.
Whenever possible though, especially at home, at work or at School where you have a fairly large desk, use an input device that will greatly speed up your work.
Some Laptops have Touchscreens, that can also be quite fast if you are used to using the Touchscreen as an input device. You might want to try this out in a shop and see if it suits you. Also, a mouse is not expensive, you can always get one later-on.
As Laptop screens are usually much smaller than external screens that you can buy, you should make sure the resolution of the laptop screen is high enough for you to fit all of your software pallets and windows on the single screen that you need.
A Full HD Resolution (1920×1080) usually is a good minimum to buy, but there are Laptops with even higher resolutions such as 4K, that you can fit much more on.
Beware though that with High-Resolution Screens the pixels are much smaller and as the screen doesn’t get bigger, individual elements and Window/Menu Texts will get smaller and might strain your eyes if the Software you are using does not support Text Scaling.
Best to get an extra external monitor for a Multi-Screen setup or even just use your external monitor in a single screen setup if it is much larger.
I would recommend a 15″ Screen size as the minimum on a Laptop for Animation.
Now, the reason you are looking for the Best Laptop for Animation and not a Computer or Workstation, probably is also for mobility reasons.
You want to be able to take this with you, maybe work while traveling, or you have a docking station at work and home and you just take your laptop with you wherever you are currently working.
Maybe a Computer setup is just too big and you would like to start with something leaner that doesn’t require a dedicated area with cables running everywhere.
If you are a Student, then having a Laptop might be required by many Schools and you will take your Laptop from Class to Class and back home every day.
Obviously, a Computer or Workstation will be better for Animation in almost every aspect because it has more room for faster parts a better power supply and larger cooling solutions.
But it certainly falls far behind in one important aspect: Mobility.
You want to be mobile and you probably don’t want to carry a huge 10KG Laptop with you that will give you back pain after a days use.
Trust me, there certainly are Laptops that don’t really deserve this name anymore, as you won’t want them to be resting on top of your lap.
They are loud, extremely hot, heavy and very large and look more like a heavy briefcase than anything else.
What we are looking for is the Best Laptop for Animation that is also somewhat lightweight, yet still has a large enough screen, doesn’t produce too much noise and has a battery that lets us animate for some hours before we have to plug it into a power supply.
I have put together some recommendations of Laptops that will fit your needs in different price ranges below four you to take a look at, but as we are almost through this article lets see what else is important in a great Laptop for animation:
What else is important in a Laptop for Animation
If you are planning on using the Laptop with external devices, which I would recommend to enhance your speed and workflow, you should make sure it has all the required connectors.
If you have a docking station for your Laptop, the docking station will usually take care of most of the connectors as not all of the connectors will be present on your Laptop directly for space reasons. If you don’t have a docking station, you will want to make sure your Laptop has some of the following connectors already built in:
For external monitors you will wan’t a HDMI and or Display Port Connector. Some of the older monitors also just support DVI or VGA Plugs though these connectors, because they are so big, usually aren’t found on modern laptops anymore. But you can always get an adapter.
If you are using a Local Area Network at your workplace or at home you will want a RJ45 LAN port for attaching a LAN cable that offers much higher speeds than a wireless connection can provide..
For external USB devices such as external HDDs for backup and storage, Input Devices such as Mouse, Tablet or Headsets, you will want enough USB ports that are fast enough such as USB 3.0.
So here they are:
The best Laptop for Animation costs ~2000$
If you plan on using Cinema 4D, After Effects and other graphically less demanding Software more extensively, then the following Laptop recommendation is for you:
First Choice: MSI
Considering all aspects in this article such as, Size, Weight, Mobility, and especially Performance & Price your best Laptop for Animation that I can recommend is the MSI GS65 Stealth THIN-050 15.6″ Laptop. Some Features include:
- Ultra Thin
- CPU: i7-8750H (6 cores)
- Graphics Card: GTX 1060 with 6 GB VRAM
- RAM: 16GB RAM
- SSD: 512G NVMe SSD
- Win 10 Pro
- 15,6″ Screen with a FullHD Resolution
Some notes on this Laptop:
It says “Gaming Laptop” in the Title, which can be somewhat misleading. The reason why Laptops or Computers have the Word “Gaming” anywhere on the product page, usually is because the Graphics Card is fairly strong and the manufacturers think these Laptops will only be gamed on.
Well, they are excellent for animation as well, so don’t let that distract you!
This Laptop weighs under 2KG and is extremely portable and slim. You can configure this MSI Laptop to the next higher Tier GPU, RAM Size, and SSD Size if you want, though I don’t think it really is necessary.
Second overall Choice: Gigabyte
If it’s Maya (with its Viewport 2.0) and other graphically more demanding Software you use most, you will want to lean towards a better GPU such as the 1070 as you will find in the following Laptop:
A close second choice within the same Price range and Hardware Components is the GIGABYTE Aero 15X v8-BK4 15″ Ultra Slim Laptop. The Features are:
- CPU: i7-8750H
- GPU: GeForce GTX 1070 with 8GB of VRAM
- RAM: 16GB RAM
- SSD: 512GB PCIE SSD
- Win 10 Home
- 15,6″ Screen with a FullHD Resolution
Some notes on this Laptop:
This Gigabyte Laptop again has the “Gaming” branding in its Title, but will be excellent for animation as well. It even has a higher Tier Graphics Card, the Nvidia 1070 GTX with 8 GB of VRAM. It weighs just slightly over 2KG.
What Laptop are you thinking of buying?