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Photo Editing Photography

Ultimate Guide – 10 Best Laptops for Photo Editing on a Budget

These are my 10 favorite budget laptops for photo editing!

These past weeks have been quite fun, and they took me back to my years as a gaming enthusiast and PC crafter. I tested 10 budget-friendly laptops and found the HP Pavilion Gaming 15″ Micro-EDGE to be the best laptop for photo editing on a budget.

Why You Should Trust Me?

As with all of the Ultimate Guides I create, I have poured countless hours of research into this article to make sure you have all the information you need to make the best decision.

I have seen way too many camera articles that either don’t cover everything you need to know or they’re not updated frequently. Technology changes quickly, so to have the best information, you need the most updated information. 

I’ve been a professional filmmaker and photographer since 2018 and have been lucky enough to work on projects all over the world with brands such as Alaska Airlines, Kayak.com, Prague Tourism, Visa, Airbnb, and many more. If you’re curious to see the full list of companies we’ve worked with, just head over to our Work With Us page.

From these experiences, I think I’m in a good position to help you find the a good budget laptop for photo editing.

Most importantly, I’m just a message away. So, if you have any questions, just leave a comment below, email me at tom@witandfolly.co, or send me a DM on Instagram @tom.shu.

P.S. I answer every question that is sent 🙂

Why this Laptop Anyway?

If you are in a hurry, here is a quick digest on my pick. But of course, read further and you’ll find more information on other great laptops for photo editing as well.

Trust me, one simply can’t go wrong with gaming-oriented setups since they are designed to perform under heavily demanding circumstances. So every laptop that has some sort of gaming market orientation, might be a good choice.

Since 2018, I’ve had the fortune of living the ultimate dream, making my income and life out something I deeply love. That is, taking photos and videos as a professional thing.

And in this world, time matters.

Therefore, I can’t wait to arrive at my place and start doing the aforementioned image-related tasks that any raw file demands. I need to squeeze out every second I can, and I need a laptop I can rely on for that.

Under that under-$1K sweet price, lies an impressively fast processor that surely delivers. This laptop comes with a 9th Generation Intel(r) core(tm) i5-9300h Processor, quad-core 2.4GHz (up to 4.1GHz with Intel’s) Turbo Boost. And that mighty extra kick is what made me fall in love.

Back in the days in which I was far from reaching a camera, overclocking was a risky task. Popping that extra decimal of Giga-frequency might result in frying the whole setup; and as a kid, resources were even scarcer. So having such a boost in a safe matter was something I had to try for myself.

But Tom, Other Laptops Have That…

Sure, the Micro-EDGE isn’t the only laptop out there capable of such fine trickery but is perhaps the lightest while still being under $1K.

But there’s more! As I said before, mobility is crucial for any professional photographer and videographer, and this bad boy has an average battery life of 8.5 hours and an impressively accurate screen.

Keep Reading!

Now let’s take a brief yet sufficient dive into all the other 9 laptops I tested these past days!

Reviews of the 10 Best Laptops for Photo Editing on a Budget

Upon questions about which could be the best laptop for photoshop or lightroom, the answers are pretty straightforward. Almost any laptop on the market can run them, but the thing varying among them will be performance, or the computational power capable of making your interaction with the software as smooth as you may need it to be.

But before diving into them, I need to make something clear about the following selection.

I got access to 10 laptops, but the selection took availability and disposition as a priority, so please forgive me if your favorite or most expected laptop isn’t mentioned here. I acknowledge that making lists is always a challenge, and I want to be transparent about this fine group of equipment.

Oh, and for me, “on-budget” means under $1,000. So from here on, stop worrying about pricey surprises.

1. Acer Nitro 5 AN515

If you like having a sturdy and firm working space with the benefits of a laptop, then this one might be a good choice for you. As said before, the fact that a piece of equipment has been conceived for gaming doesn’t mean that it cant be used for other purposes, like running adobe CC for example.

Pros

  • It is sturdy indeed.
  • Beyond high definition, the screen is extremely accurate when rendering color
  • DDR4 RAM can be expanded up to 32GB.
  • Acer CoolBoosttm technology chills everything out thanks to the mighty power of two impressive twin fans.
  • NitroSense helps keep the temperature on the watch.

Cons

  •  
  • With 2.30 kilograms it isn’t exactly a lightweight setup, and for the type of photography that I do, every ounce matters to my back.
  • There’s no memory card reader, meaning some non-elegant solutions for transferring files.
  • I had my hands on one with 1TB HD, which isn’t the best type of hard drive on the go, but some configurations allow solid-state drives too.
  • The outer design is quite bland.
  • It tends to crash when operating at 100%, so make sure to change power settings and lower the CPU power from 100% to 90%.

2. ASUS TUF Gaming F17

Prepared for some serious mistreatment and real-world imaging demands, the F17 is a fully-loaded laptop that will spark your images like you always wanted them to be. Efficient self-cleaning cooling combines with TUF’s signature military-grade durability to make this a reliable ally for photographers on the go.

Pros

  • It is impossible to ignore the Intel Core i5 10th Gen.
  • I’m not a fan of big screens, but 17.3″ is a sweet spot for commuting, traveling and everyday sat-on-a-table working schemes.
  • Durable MIL-STD-810H military standard construction.
  • Its design is beautiful, especially from below.
  • Interesting expansion options for memory and storage.

Cons

  • Maybe not much of a con, but its refreshing rate changes from 144Hz to 60Hz when running solely on battery
  • Call me old-fashioned but I’m quite skeptical of always running at such high CPU speeds (4.5Ghz)

3. MSI GL65

The dragon spirit is present for sure, and what I loved the most about this black beast is the innovative cooling system it has. Sure, it is overqualified for imaging purposes, but I find the thermal dissipation system inside this laptop to be quite ingenious and worthy of checking out. Maybe for some heavy video rendering tasks, this might be needed though.

Pros

  • The 10th Gen. Intel Core i5 processor delivers more than sufficient power
  • For such a beast, it is slim and quite lightweight too.
  • That amazing Cooler Boost Technology ensures optimal thermal dissipation.

Cons

  • There have been a lot of complaints of people receiving non-listed parts, hopefully, they have taken some action already but it makes you think twice for sure.

4. ASUS VivoBook 15.6″ FHD Touchscreen

It is marked as a business-oriented laptop, but don’t let that ambiguous label derive you from getting your hands on a decent notebook for visual content creation at a very friendly price. Everything on this laptop sounds ordinary and feels good for doing some Excel sheets until the Intel Core i5-1035G1 1.0GHz With Turbo Speed Upto 3.6GHz, 6M Cache makes up to the scene.

Pros

  • Lightweight indeed, this laptop has some nice travel-friendly dimensions and is incredibly lightweight, 3.75 pounds.
  • Solid-state drive is always a good thing to have, pack some external SSDs and you’ll be all set to go.
  • Amidst invisible threads, this one is quite interesting. This laptop is protected by using the new ASUS BacGuard antibacterial treatment which inhibits the growth of bacteria by over 99%.

Cons

  • Despite announcing it to have a backlit keyboard, the sad reality is that it doesn’t have one.
  • It does feel a bit plasticky and cheap.
  • Don’t expect great video call quality with that 720p webcam.

5. HP Micro-EDGE 15″

As stated before, this one got my heart at that boosting kick of 2.0Ghz, but let’s overview it with an objective gaze. This thin yet powerful laptop lets anyone experience high-grade graphics and processing power that will meet the pickiest imaging needs.

Pros

  • This will be the last time mentioning it, I promise, that Turbo Boost!
  • 12GB DDR4 RAM, because who doesn’t love some extra GB beyond 8GB?
  • It looks awesome, and it is prepared to handle Windows 11 when available.
  • 15.6″ FHD (1920 x 1080), IPS, micro-edge, anti-glare, 250 nits, 45% NTSC.
  • Amazing thermal cooling technology that optimizes your overall performance and stability.

Cons

  • The screen needs to be grabbed by the center when lifting it; otherwise, it produces an anxiety triggering and horrible shake to it.

6. Dell G3 15″

Engineered to meet the demanding needs of the aforementioned gaming audiences, this laptop is a perfect choice for photo editing on the go. And with a powerful NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1050 with 4GB GDDR5 graphics memory, you can be sure that all your raw files will look as detailed as camera manufacturers expect them to be.

Pros

  • Seamlessly access all your preferred shortcuts with the WASD backlit keyboard.
  • HDMI 2.0 port enables 60Hz 4k output for a wider imaging setup; honestly, who doesn’t like working with more than one monitor?
  • 128 GB (SSD) Boot + 1 TB 5400 RPM [SATA] HDD Storage

Cons

  • Maybe having a secondary 256GB or 512GB SSD instead of having a 1TB SATA as the secondary storage bay.

7. HP 17-CA

Marked as a traditional laptop, this is a perfect solution for those photographers that rather spend time shooting and less time behind the screen developing countless raw files. But that doesn’t mean that this laptop isn’t capable of delivering, and if like me you are a fan of AMD, this one has Ryzen built-in.

Pros

  • As stated above, that sweet AMD Ryzen 5 3500U Quad-Core Processor is tempting.
  • And what better graphic input for Ryzen than some Radeon Vega 8 Graphics.
  • 12GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB SSD.
  • DVD-Writer, which might feel a bit vintage but still helpful, especially when those types of clients arrive. And you know whom I am talking about.
  • The touchscreen is sometimes useful so thanks HP for it as well.

Cons

  • No expansion options
  • It is a bit pricey
  • Display maximum resolution is 1600 x 900 pixels

8. HP – Pavilion 15.6″ Gaming Laptop Shadow Black

Pretty similar to the one that stole my heart, but with an AMD Ryzen 5 4600H processor and NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1650 Graphics. Although, the aforementioned feeling when pulling up the screen isn’t present in this one since it has a wider design.

Pros

  • The Ryzen CPU is impressive and behaves better than average Intel ones.
  • It is lighter than it seems, which is always a much-appreciated feature.
  • Ready to work in less than a minute

Cons

  • There’s no way to change the green keyboard backlight.
  • The extremely edgy borders make carrying it around a bit of risk, especially if you have some clumsy hands like me 🙃.

9. Lenovo Ideapad L340

Built with the latest Intel Core i5 processing and next-generation NVIDIA GeForce® there’s no raw file this inconspicuous laptop couldn’t handle. All the power and performance you need to bring your files to life and a full-sized keyboard with ambient back-lighting packed in a slick design.

Pros

  • If like myself you are into developing your files with some nice music, then this laptop will indulge your ears like no other from the list*.
  • 180 degrees screen tilting.
  • On average the battery can last up to 9 hours with a single charge.
  • Keep your private things private thanks to a physical shutter on the webcam so you can shut off your camera from the outside world at any time.

Cons

  • Not as many USB ports as one could wish or need (just 2)

10. Acer Aspire 5 A517-52-59SV

And last but not least, a classic-looking laptop for a change. Ultra-thin and all-metal design, this laptop is made to break some performance boundaries for sure. Not to mention the latest 11th Gen Intel Core i5 processor that comes inside its sleek-looking body as well.

Pros

  • The slim 0.78″ body and aluminum top cover give the Aspire 5 a premium feel and appearance.
  • It is certified with WiFi 6
  • Get truthful colors and sharp details on the 17.3″ FHD IPS display.
  • 512GB of fast-loading SSD, which is of course highly appreciated.

Cons

  • That Intel iRIS Xe graphics processor isn’t the most impressive thing in the world.
  • I have the feeling that the silver light color could wear out rather quickly.

Bonus

I know no surprises were promised, and I also am aware that this is a laptop guide, not a tablet one, but I do think that for on-the-go visual content creation, this might be a good solution for sure.

And this is the 11″ display iPad Pro. This little monster behaves almost like a MacBook Pro while still being under $1,000. Oh, and don’t forget the Magic Keyboard for a laptop-like experience. Although, that increases the price a bit further above the $1K line.

What to Look for When Buying a Laptop for Photo Editing

Looking for a new laptop is way more complex than looking for a new camera or lens, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun along the way!

Pretty much any laptop on the market will do the job of opening raw files on Lightroom or Photoshop, the difference will be how well they’ll behave while developing these, not to mention the needed power for working with a batch of raw files at once (like one usually does in Lightroom, for example).

Above I crafted a list composed of some laptops that I had the opportunity of personally testing, but of course, there are zillion more options out there. And if budget isn’t a problem for you, then this list of laptops under $1000 might feel a bit too shy for you without a doubt.

Without further ado, let’s see what you need to look for when buying a laptop!

What Processor to Look for

In terms of brand, there aren’t many options for us to look for, which is something nice, to be honest.

Either AMD or Intel will be fine (this is like the Canon vs. Nikon debate, they both deliver good quality), and the best call is to pick as many cores your wallet allows.

Oh, and frequency is extremely important too, but take into account that that extra Ghz comes with a thermal price that must be balanced out.

Screen Quality and Size

For photo editing, you’ll be fine with a 60Hz refreshing rate so don’t fall for the 144Hz trap; unless you want it of course. And of course, this could also be a matter of taste. In my case, I love moving around, so a diagonal size of 15″ is fine and a screen resolution of 1920×1080 is just perfect for me.

Importance of RAM

Both Processor and RAM are crucial for any computational task, but when it comes to Adobe’s solutions, the importance of these takes a whole different level. Try getting a laptop that has at least 8GB of RAM and with expansion capabilities if possible.

* Sidenote on Storage: A lot of people still think that having a huge hard drive is crucial for their apps to run, and that’s not true. With a 128GB or 256GB SSD, you can be more than efficient, as long as you have a fast and reliable external storage device. Also, cloud storage is a good option for keeping all your precious raw files. Backblaze is a good solution for this, but there are several other options too.

These sections could be understood as the following when it comes to cameras:

  • The processor is something similar to your camera’s imaging processor.
  • Screen quality and size could be understood as the sum of the sensor (performance, size, pixels, etc), screen, and electronic viewfinder.
  • RAM can easily be compared to your lens’ aperture.

Which is the Best Laptop for Photo Editing Then?

Well, as in photography, the one that makes the job will be the best for that particular moment in time. But if I had to pick from this list, I’ll go first with the Micro-EDGE from HP due to the extra 4GB of RAM for a reasonable price and the ability to safely overclock from 2.5Ghz to 4.5Ghz when needed.

But, I have to admit that it was a tough call between that and the MSI GL65 which has a fantastic thermal dissipation technology. The perfect setup would be the Micro-EDGE’s processor inside the GL65’s construction.

Where to Buy?

As you might have already noticed, all the links above redirect to Amazon, but there are some other great sites like Adorama and Newegg for buying laptops of course. Although, Amazon has some nice deals from time to time, so if you are interested you can check out more on the Micro-EDGE here and the MSI GL65 here.

By Tom Shu

Hi! I’m a Washington State-based professional photographer and filmmaker. I quit my corporate job in 2018 to pursue this passion full-time and have been lucky enough to work on projects all over the world with brands such as Visa, Airbnb, and prAna. Here are examples of the work we do in case you're wondering. My goal with all these articles is to help you out, so if you ever have any questions just send me an email at tom@witandfolly.co, DM me at my Instagram @tom.shu or leave a comment on any of the articles!

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