The 7 Best Laptops for Graphic Design to Buy in 2018

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The Rundown

  • Best Overall: Apple Macbook Pro 15" at Amazon, "Paired with an AMD Radeon Pro graphics card, the Macbook Pro is blisteringly fast."
  • Best Budget: Acer Aspire E 15 at Amazon, "Easily upgradable after purchase if you decide you need more memory or storage. The machine can take up to 32GB of RAM."
  • Best for Flexible Power: Microsoft Surface Book 2 15" At Amazon, "The crisp, high-resolution 3240 x 2160 screen has exceptional color accuracy and is easily calibrated."
  • Best for Desktop-Grade Performance: Dell Precision 7530 at Dell, "With up to 64GB of RAM and three drive bays, it'll handle absolutely anything...you throw it"
  • Best Bang for Buck: Dell XPS 15 2-In-1 at Dell, "The gorgeous "InfinityEdge" display is the feature, but the company hasn't skimped on what's inside either."
  • Best for Tablet Lovers: HP ZBook X2 at Amazon, "The machine is bundled with Adobe's Creative Cloud suite, clearly showing who this device is aimed at."
  • Best for Work and Play: Acer Predator Helios 500 at Amazon, "Doesn't get excessively hot, which translates to better performance and battery life."

Our Top Picks

Best Overall: Apple Macbook Pro 15"

Apple's premium Macbook Pro range has been a bit of a mixed bag in recent years, with quality issues and a lack of high-end configuration choices, but the 2018 refresh changed all that and puts this model right back at the head of the pack.

It's now possible to get anything up to an Intel i9 processor, 32GB of RAM, and a 4TB solid state drive. Paired with an AMD Radeon Pro graphics card, the Macbook Pro is blisteringly fast and can handle even the most demanding of design tasks with ease.

The screen is bright and sharp with accurate colors, and while the 2880 x 1800 resolution isn't the highest on the market, it's more than enough for most people. Battery life is rated at up to 10 hours, and you'll likely get pretty close to that unless you're pushing the machine particularly hard.

Apple's MacOS operating system has long been popular with designers, praised for its ease of use and wide range of professional-grade software. The built-in Touch Bar adapts to whatever app you're using at the time, providing useful shortcuts for common functions.

As always you'll pay a premium for the Apple logo, but for many creatives, it's well worth the extra money. 

Best Budget: Acer Aspire E 15

Graphic design pushes most laptop hardware to its limits, and we'd always recommend buying the best machine you can afford as a result. If you're on a strict budget, however, not all is lost—there are a few machines out there that get the job done without breaking the bank.

Of those, the Acer Aspire E 15 is the best option right now. The standard specification of an 8th Generation Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, plus an NVIDIA MX 150 graphics card, hits the sweet spot of affordability while still being powerful enough for many design tasks.

Unlike many modern laptops, it's easily upgradable after purchase if you decide you need more memory or storage. The machine can take up to 32GB of RAM.

Battery life is rated at 15 hours, surprisingly high for a lower-cost machine like this, and unusually, there's even a built-in DVD drive. There's a weight tradeoff that comes with that, of course — at 5.3 pounds, you'll definitely know this laptop is in your bag, but it's not unmanageable. 

It's about as generic-looking as a laptop can be, but if you care more about affordable performance than good looks, the Acer Aspire E 15 is a very solid budget option.

Best for Flexible Power: Microsoft Surface Book 2 15"

Microsoft Surface Book 2

Courtesy of Amazon

Microsoft's original Surface Book was a revolutionary machine when it came out: a high-powered laptop with a removable screen that acts as a fully-featured tablet computer, and unique input options aimed squarely at designers.

The second edition improved on almost every aspect, configurable with the latest CPUs, plenty of RAM and storage, and a high-end graphics card. No matter which version you buy, you can add the Surface Pen for drawing directly on the screen, and the Surface Dial, a puck-like device with customized shortcuts depending on the app you're using.

The Surface Book 2 is available in 13" and 15" versions, with the larger version also having the best graphics card (NVIDIA GTX 1060.) We'd recommend getting more storage than you think you'll need—those design files aren't small!

The crisp, high-resolution 3240 x 2160 screen has exceptional color accuracy and is easily calibrated for your specific requirements. You'll get up to 17 hours of battery life in laptop mode, so you can keep working late into the night if inspiration hits.

This is by no means an inexpensive machine, but there's nothing else on the market like it for graphic designers. For the ultimate power and flexibility, you can't go past the Surface Book 2.

Best for Desktop-Grade Performance: Dell Precision 7530

Dell Precision 7530

Courtesy of Dell

If all you care about is performance, regardless of size or cost, look no further than the Dell Precision 7530. It's a beast of a machine in every way, with a vast array of configuration options, desktop-grade components, sky-high performance, and a weight and price tag to match.

Touted as being "VR-ready" due to its Xeon processor and NVIDIA Quadro graphics options, this machine has the potential to absolutely fly. With up to 64GB of RAM and three drive bays, it'll handle absolutely anything design task you throw it, and the optional 97Wh battery means it'll take longer to run out of juice while it does so.

The Precision 7530 has a wide range port options, from RJ45 networking to three different kinds of external monitor outputs, plus an SD card reader and both USB-A and USB-C. High-end features like smart card-based security and systems management tools betray the machine's corporate origins, but if you've got the money, it'll perform equally well in a home or small office setup.

This laptop has a starting weight of 5.75 pounds, and can get even heavier if you start adding extra drives. As a result, it's unlikely to be the machine you slip into your carry-on for an overseas trip — but it'll be the first one you turn to when it comes to getting the real work done.

Best Bang for Buck: Dell XPS 15 2-In-1

Dell XPS 15 2-In-1

Courtesy of Dell

Simply put, the latest version of Dell's XPS 15 convertible laptop offers some of the best performance for the money of any laptop right now. The gorgeous "InfinityEdge" display is the feature, but the company hasn't skimped on what's inside either.

Configurable with up to 16GB of RAM, 2TB drive, a Radeon RX Vega graphics card, and 4K touchscreen, you'll get great performance out of this machine at the high end, but can mix and match to suit your budget more than with most other manufacturers.

The tiny side bezels make the XPS 15 smaller than most other 15" laptops, with the folding display making it more useful as well. That's especially true when drawing on the screen with the optional Dell Active Pen, which attaches magnetically to the side while not in use.

If you won't use the ability to turn the machine into a (very large) tablet, there's also a standard laptop version that's often a little cheaper. If you're on the road a lot, consider the 13" model instead—but you'll be trading off graphical power as well as screen size if you do.

Best for Tablet Lovers: HP ZBook X2

If you love the flexibility and form of tablet computers for hand-drawn graphic work but need the raw power of a workstation-class laptop, there aren't many options out there. Enter the HP ZBook X2, a dedicated tablet with more power than you find in most laptops.

Running the latest i7 processors, it can handle up to 32GB of RAM and 1TB SSD, and the NVIDIA Quadro M620 can be paired with HP's gorgeous 14" DreamColor 4K touch display.

There's a detachable Bluetooth keyboard included, and a Wacom pen that doesn't need charging for when the creativity flows. The machine is bundled with Adobe's Creative Cloud suite, clearly showing who this device is aimed at.

The built-in kickstand lets you use the ZBook X2 on a desk without any other accessories, but there are both Thunderbolt 3 and HDMI ports for running external displays if needed.

All that power doesn't come cheap or particularly light and don't expect all-day battery life if you're pushing the machine hard. Still, for portable, flexible power, there's really nothing else on the market quite like it.

Best for Work and Play: Acer Predator Helios 500

If you're looking for a machine that is equally good for creating your latest masterpiece and relaxing at the end of the day, check out the Acer Predator Helios 500.

The large 17.3" IPS display feels expansive, and its 144Hz refresh rate, combined with a blisteringly fast NVIDIA GTX 1070 GPU, means it has exceptional graphical performance.

Backed up by the latest i7 processors, up to 64GB of RAM, and dual drives (256GB SSD for fast performance, and 1TB HDD for storage of large files,) this is a machine that can handle pretty much anything you throw at it without issue.

The machine's gaming origins are obvious in its design, although it's more understated than many similar models. One advantage of this type of design is the extra cooling — even under heavy extended load, the Helios 500 doesn't get excessively hot, which translates to better performance and battery life.

With support for up to three monitors, plus a range of USB and networking ports, expandability is definitely not a problem with this machine. Don't expect to be taking it too far from your desk — at nearly nine pounds, and with only a few hours of battery life, it's very much in the desktop replacement category — but when it comes to versatile performance, it's hard to beat.