Desktop Choice for design

Discussion in 'Design and Graphics' started by beangibbs, Jul 5, 2011.

  1. beangibbs macrumors member

    Jan 26, 2011
    Hi all.

    I'm a design student of two years...should be wrapping up my final few classes in the next semester or two.
    I've already been talking to professors and other pros who suggest that I should go all out when purchasing a computer.
    We use some badass Mac Pros at school.
    However, I don't have $2400 on hand to buy just the tower.
    I've been looking at the iMacs, and one of my professors told me to get the top of the line, 27 inch, fastest i7 processor with the biggest and best hard drive offering and maxed out RAM.
    Obviously, that sounds cool and all...but I've built that machine several times in the "Build Your iMac" section of the Apple site.
    More and more, I'm looking at a laptop, or the high end 21 inch iMac.
    Downside to all of that even with the extra grant money, after classes are paid for and the few supplies I read/write CDs, flash drives and sketchpads are bought...I only have about $1200. And because of some...odd circumstances earlier in life...I never had a job until I I was 19, and I have family members who are slowly ruining my credit through some bs.

    My questions are as follows...
    Do I really need the top of the line 27 inch iMac?
    Would I be better off taking a loan out to buy it, or wait and stockpile the cash?
    Would it be a smarter investment to buy a used Mac Pro, and customizing and upgrading as I need?
    Is a laptop better? If so, which one?
    Is the 21 inch iMac capable of handling graphic intensive applications without overheating and cooking itself?
    Solid state drive, traditional hard drive, or a hybrid?
    Is anything under the i7 capable of handling graphic intensive programs like Illustrator, Sketchbook Designer...etc. ?
  2. ezekielrage_99 macrumors 68040


    Oct 12, 2005
    Honestly, I'd try a refurbished mac. My last 3 mac have been refurbs, great machines at a great price IMHO.

    I'd go:
    15" Macbook Pro (the one with the 1GB Graphics)
    21" iMac (27" if you can afford it).

    An i5 or i7, with 4GB RAM, 512MB-1GB Graphics and 500GB HDD should be enough to last you for a few years (my 2008 Macbook Pro is still serving me well) if your looking into a decent machine for design.

    You can always add more RAM later while $100 for a USB HDD is always a very good purchase for additional space. I'd only max out everything if you're going into 3d and motion graphics otherwise the 21" iMac will do what you need it to without the massive cost.

    Desktop vs lappy really depends if need to be portable or not. My preference is still a mid-range refurb Macbook Pro if it's any help then updating the RAM and HDD yourself (you'll save several hundreds of $$$).
  3. Jim Campbell macrumors 6502a

    Jim Campbell

    Dec 6, 2006
    A World of my Own; UK
    FWIW, I'm running the i5 15" MBP with the 512Mb graphics card as a full-time desktop replacement for print design and production, so it's getting fairly heavy CS5 use and hasn't shown any signs of struggling yet.

    Mine's a refurb and I couldn't be happier with it -- assuming you're in the US, the refurb store currently has a selection of 15" MBPs at $260-$330 off list price.

    I used to run a desktop and a laptop, but keeping the work-related files in sync was always a pain -- I can't see myself ever going back to a dedicated desktop, TBH.


  4. bluetooth macrumors 6502a


    May 1, 2007
    Did you get any kind of warranty or was there one offered at a price when you purchased your refurbished Macs?

    OP, Sorry, didn't mean to hijack the thread just curious...I am running a Mac Mini, 2.66 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo with 4GB memory (can go up to 8GB) and a 500GB HD. I run CS4, itunes, stream video, watch movies all fine with no problems. I also work with large files, over 100MB at times. It's a great little machine and has a lot of power. It was about $1300 total CDN. The thing I like the most is that you can upgrade if needed but I have not needed to.
  5. ezekielrage_99 macrumors 68040


    Oct 12, 2005
    @bluetooth When I purchased my refurbished MBP I got the standard one year warranty and I also ended up purchasing Applecare.

    To date the only thing I've done to my MBP is add 4GB RAM and a Seagate Momentus XT, it's been a great little machine for the last 4 years.

    @Jim Campbell I mentioned the i7 with 1GB RAM because it seems to be the best value for a refurb, you're getting a faster CPU, more HDD and a much better video card. My work mac is a dual core i5 with 512MB and I'm using it for high-end mapping, and it works fine I wasn't saying a 256MB-512MB was sub standard rather there's better option that have been released.

    For the sake of $200, IMHO the 1GB card version is a much better and has more longevity if you're buying a refurb. Otherwise the i7 with 512MB nVidia card is still a very good buy.
  6. lucidmedia macrumors 6502a

    Oct 13, 2008
    Wellington, New Zealand
    What type of design work are you doing? That's what will define how much power you will need.

    Frankly, "traditional design" -- both print and web -- is no longer overly processor intensive and does not require a fast mac. For the past few years I have been working in studio off of my macbook air (plugged into a large screen) and for day-to-day indesign, illustrator, low-res photoshop, flash, coda (etc) its totally workable. The latest version of CS5 does like at least 4gb of ram however.

    If you are doing motion graphics, video editing, or high-res photoshop work then you will need more power. We have a mix of i5s and i7s in my studio as well and are happy with them.

    Deciding to buy a mac pro is simple, only buy one when no other computer will suit your needs (i.e. you need massive storage, need to run multiple PCI cards or need many displays) AND it will pay for itself.

    For a designer using adobe tools, clock speed is more important that many cores, so keep that in mind.

    As a designer leaving school I would advise you to get a decent 15-inch laptop instead with a large screen. Portability and flexibility over pure horsepower. Let your clients (or employer) pay for the big iron when it comes to that...
  7. Messy macrumors 6502

    Sep 5, 2010
    Wait wait wait.

    Hold on.

    I've just scanned on through these posts and why the hell are people implying you need a bad ass graphics card?

    Design wise the biggest factor you'll encounter would be the CPU, even when doing 3D modelling etc.

    Fyi i use 21.5" iMac, this is my latest work:
  8. bigus7674 macrumors member

    Jan 4, 2005
    Graphics card..

    @Messy: because nowadays, Photoshop and even some 3D software out there are actually utilizing the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit - ie. graphics card) to process the data and relieve the main CPU(s) from having to do it, so that's why it's becoming more important these days to have a higher end graphics card.

    Plus, who doesn't wanna take a break from a day of designing and waste some time on a game of Crysis, Bioshock, or any other game that could benefit from a higher end video card? =)
  9. beangibbs thread starter macrumors member

    Jan 26, 2011
    Sounds so far like the 15 inch...either the new 2011 models, or a refurb are the best deals...and if I need more screen real estate...just buy the larger display when I can afford it. Or let the client afford it. I have found some very nice deals in the refurb section of the I may target one of those computers and see about trading in a guitar or two to pay for it.

    To answer the question of what kind of design I'd be using the computer for...your basic Illustrator work, InDesign, possibly some Photoshop work...although I do tend to shy away from Photoshop. Sketchbook Designer also comes to mind. I wouldn't be doing any high def video production or 3D work.
  10. Jim Campbell macrumors 6502a

    Jim Campbell

    Dec 6, 2006
    A World of my Own; UK
    I have mine hooked up to an external display -- I use the laptop screen as a second monitor, full size keyboard plus mouse, both wireless. All the benefits of a desktop, but as soon as I need to be mobile, I unplug and go.


  11. hrafnaass macrumors newbie

    Jul 6, 2011
    Cork, Ireland.
    Or buy a cheap "PC" monitor and a MiniDisplay -> DVI/VGA adaptor :) You can get some decent 24" screens with 1920x1200 (or 1920x1080) for around €200 (slightly more in $ I guess, and slightly less in £).

    The Apple Cinema displays are beautiful, and include 3 extra USB ports (at the cost of one on the computer...but hubs aren't expensive), inbuilt speakers, "iSight" camera, microphone and power for any MacBook/MacBook Pro, but they're darn expensive :S
  12. ezekielrage_99 macrumors 68040


    Oct 12, 2005
    $1,529.00 for a i7 2.0Ghz and 256MB 6490
    $1,869.00 for a i7 2.2Ghz and 1GB 6750

    Not much price difference for a far bet GPU and more CPU grunt. I agree though the standard will have enough power for design but as I've stated the 1GB option is a far better buy.

    (And they have some older 512MB 330M GT versions for $1500 which would also be a very good option).
  13. ezekielrage_99, Jul 24, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2011

    ezekielrage_99 macrumors 68040


    Oct 12, 2005
    @OP If you haven't gotten a computer yet I'd suggest going with one of the new Mac Minis with the AMD graphics and adding 8GBRAM yourself.

    I'm really impressed with then and they'd be a great little unit for design IMHO, I'm ordering one once I get my tax return.
  14. Shimiko macrumors newbie

    Dec 21, 2007
    My advice would be NOT to get a laptop unless you NEED the portability, you generally get more for your money with desktop machines.

    I agree with the other posters about Apple refurbs, you can get some great deals, i've had two and they've been fantastic.
  15. HawtTuna macrumors member

    Oct 30, 2010

    This is true but the performance increases are pretty much negligible. If the TC already has a monitor and keyboard, I'd probably tell him to get the mac mini. GPU's are only important to 3d designers and gamers. 2d design is a piece of cake for most computers nowadays.
  16. BBrandDesign macrumors member

    Feb 28, 2011
    Design & Innovation

    While the Design & Innovation awards, organized in cooperation with world-leading industrial design institution if Design, honor products that stand out through excellent design. Their evaluation criteria include degree of innovation, design quality, choice of materials, environmental friendliness, functionality and brand value, among others.
  17. ezekielrage_99, Aug 5, 2011
    Last edited: Aug 6, 2011

    ezekielrage_99 macrumors 68040


    Oct 12, 2005
    Sorry I have no idea of the relevance to this post... It's completely inane.
  18. BJMRamage macrumors 68020


    Oct 2, 2007
    I am a print and partial web designer.

    I bought an iMac a few years back. not top of the line but a very decent one. I've worked on a MacPro tower a few years back. And currently for work I am on a Mac Mini (others here use iMacs/MBP). I really like the Mini. it works and is fast (8gb Ram) and we have two nice monitors hooked up to it. (Samsung I think)

    be sure to get some memory for the computer.and external backup drives.
  19. designs216 macrumors 65816


    Oct 26, 2009
    Down the rabbit hole
    Hearing you mention your instructors' "spare-no-expense" attitude brought me a chuckle. They haven't changed a bit.

    I chose my current refurb 15" MBP after making the mistake of paying previously to customize a strong octocore MP which was never fully utilized. The MBP's got plenty of grunt for the usage you describe and can go with to client meetings. The current Adobe apps don't efficiently capitalize on available cores anyway so the quad core MBP will serve you well for at least the next several years. Get yourself a decent monitor (consider others besides the ACD) and you've got a setup with a good balance between cost, flexibility and longevity.
  20. mikelegacy macrumors 65816


    Dec 5, 2010
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Dude, you need the 27 as a designer. The screen space on the 21 just isn't enough.
  21. definitive macrumors 68000


    Aug 4, 2008
    i originally went with a 24" imac. if i had to do it again, then i'd go with a 15" mbp + 24-27" display instead for portability reasons.
  22. steveash macrumors 6502


    Aug 7, 2008
    You don't mention if this computer is for business or personal use. If it is for a new business/freelancing I would try to spend as little as you need to get a basic set up. If your business is a success you will soon have the cash to expand/replace it. When you are just starting out you don't really know what you will need until the work builds up. If it is for personal use then a laptop is much more versatile and holds its value better.

    Frankly any newish mac will be great for the kind of work you are talking about. Make sure you have plenty of memory (4GB+) and a good size screen.

    I have had a graphics business for 7 years and currently use a 2 year old Macbook Pro 15" with an external monitor. I regularly work on medium format photos in Photoshop as well as Illustrator and Indesign and have no problems at all. I know top level designers who do the same with a Macbook Air.

    Most of all, don't borrow money to buy gear. You will just be digging yourself into a hole. As said, try a refurb, I've had two and they looked exactly like new just the seal broken on the box.
  23. Mutinygraphiks macrumors regular


    Jan 5, 2011
    Las Vegas, NV
    I do the same thing with my 2008 whitebook, at home have it hooked up to a 23 inch 1080p display or my 36 inch television depending on what im designing but again when i need to head out to do house calls or meet ups for viewing i pack up and go.
  24. boss.king macrumors 68040


    Apr 8, 2009
    I'd suggest either a refurb Mac Pro, or build a Hacintosh (it'll save you a lot of money). As for displays, I recommend looking into a multi-display setup. I currently have a 15" laptop screen and a 19" external monitor but it feels sooo much bigger. I honestly don't think I could go back to a single display.
  25. Jim Campbell macrumors 6502a

    Jim Campbell

    Dec 6, 2006
    A World of my Own; UK
    This statement (I'm not specifically talking about Hackintoshes but all DIY computer builds) is only true if you place no value on your time.

    A Hackintosh will require research, time to order all the individual components, a certain amount of trial and error or tweaking to get a stable configuration, plus the possibility that your unsupported hardware may get borked by any random patch that Apple pushes out over Software Update.

    If you intend to be self-employed or freelance, then your time not only has value, but comes at a positive premium. The purchase of work-related hardware can be offset against income to reduce your tax liability, so the actual cost to you of purchasing an off-the-shelf or refurb system will be considerably less than the headline price tag.



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