New to web design and looking to upgrade computer

Discussion in 'Web Design and Development' started by josevem, Dec 4, 2013.

  1. josevem macrumors newbie

    Dec 4, 2013
    Hey friends...I'm new to the forums so thank you in advance for taking the time to provide your input.

    I've had a strong interest in Web Design for years, and I'm just now taking the plunge. I'll be taking a certificate at a local community college, and hopefully continuing with some side jobs (one done so far).

    At the moment I'm working with an old 13 inch Macbook (2008 Unibody). I've upgraded the memory from 2GB to 4GB when I started doing more work with graphics, but I know that my current machine will not be up for the tasks ahead. My Macbook has had a great run (5 years), but it's time to look at a new machine.

    I have done a ton of research, but I'm still uncertain as to what type of machine I would need for web design. I plan to also do a lot of back-end work, as well as some graphic design stuff too (hopefully).

    I'm not sure what makes sense, so please weigh in. I've been stressing out about this for a few months now. I want to make a good decision, but also be very mindful of my budget ($1.5k to $2.5k). A few questions:

    *How much memory do I actually need? A programming buddy of mine suggested at least 8GB. I'm thinking I'll need at least 16GB...and that's if I go with a MBP.

    *Should I go MBP or iMac? While I'd love the portability, I'm more concerned with having a product that will last me an additional 5 years. 15 inches is an upgrade from my 13 inch, and I'd be happy with that, but my memory is capped at 16 while the 27 inch iMac gives me up to 32GB (then again, would I every NEED that much?)

    *Is a discrete GPU an absolute necessity for the type of work I'm doing? I'd prefer the discrete GPU, but if the integrated graphics can handle what I'm doing then I'd like to save the money.

    *Can I pass on the SSD? Will I see a considerable difference in my computer's functionality?

    *This may be one of the silliest questions, but could a Mac Mini provide me with everything I need sans discrete GPU? And another silly question...could I link that bad boy to a small 22/24 inch HDTV? Since the costs have dropped considerably, I thought that might be a "different" approach.

    Edit: Also...are there other non-Apple machines you would recommend? I love this ecosystem, but I'm worried about my I may be able to get more features for cheaper (though I'm not sure other machines will perform as well or last as long). I've done some research on Lenovo (IdeaPad Y), HP (Elite), and possibly Dell.

    Once again, thank you in advance. I appreciate all who read, and of course all who read and respond. You may save me from a few more grey hairs!
  2. josevem thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 4, 2013
  3. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    You won't need anything particularly special computer-wise to do web design work.

    The most taxing thing is having the grunt to run whatever art package you are using, but creating screen-size illustrations, icons etc. isn't going to make most modern Macs break a sweat.

    A Mac Mini should be fine.

    8GB is probably a sensible minimum, but I'd only get 16GB if buying a MacBook Retina/Air or 21.5" iMac with non-upgradeable RAM - otherwise you can always get a 3rd-party RAM expansion at your leisure & more cheaply.

    I'd go for dual displays - its really, really useful to have one screen to preview your site or show documentation, and a second screen for editing/working. Even if one of your screens is a 27" iMac screen it can be easier to use a second screen than continually faffing about tiling your windows. So either a Mini with 2 screens (I'd go for 2x24" 1920x1200) or a MacBook with an external screen (maybe consider a Dell 27").

    You will probably want to run Parallels, VMWare or VirtualBox for two reasons:

    1. To run Windows so that you can test sites in Internet Explorer or (heaven forbid) use Microsoft server stuff.

    2. You may find you want to run Linux in a virtual machine to act as web/database server. All the common open-source backend stuff is available on OS X but sometimes you might want something that more closely emulates your target environment (e.g. you may want a specific version of PHP, MySQL etc).

    …that's a good reason for having 8GB RAM and at least 256GB HD.


    SSD is nice-to-have, about the most effective 'upgrade' around for speeding up your computer: ignore all the testosterone fuelled talk about how many GB/second it can shift - the key factor in general use is the vastly faster seek time, which makes lots of things load faster and feel 'smoother'. However, unless you push the boat out on a 512GB or larger drive, you'll have to be fairly disciplined about disk housekeeping without an additional 'bulky data' drive or a Fusion setup.

    For web design I don't think OS X can be beat unless you've drawn the short straw and are obliged to develop for Windows server (even then, you could run that in a vm). Its the only single system that lets you write and test sites for OS X, iOS, Android, Windows (via a VM) and Linux (via VM). You can develop in a natural UNIX-y environment similar to LAMP, but you can still run "industry standard" applications like Photoshop, Dreamweaver MS Office if needed.

    My only personal reservation is the lack of a version of Xara Designer for OS X, which I've found to be head and shoulders the most productive system for producing icons and sketching out page designs… just can't get into Illustrator, Eazydraw etc. but then I've been using that and its ancestors for 25 years so maybe I'm just stuck in the mud. Parallels to the rescue...
  4. 960design macrumors 68030

    Apr 17, 2012
    Destin, FL
    As already mentioned web development is not very CPU intensive, but you will use quite a bit of RAM, mostly due to the IDE and having several tabs open in each browser.

    My personal work tool listing is pretty large, now that I'm actually making a list, how about only list the stuff I use everyday:
    2011 MacBook Pro, 16GB RAM
    2012 iMac 21.5, 8GB RAM
    iPad Air

    Software: Coda2, Photoshop CS6E, MAMP, git ( version control )

    I run MAMP for the easy localhost and PHP development, a remote developmental server and a staging server.

    The extra RAM is needed to prevent SWAP from getting out of hand when I have several tabs open in 3 browsers at the same time. 8GB of memory is definitely enough, I just 16GB because, well I was upgrading the memory and thought the extra $40 was worth twice the RAM. I haven't used a swap in a while. Check for yourself: Applications->Activity Monitor->Memory Tab. If you see that your swap is hitting 2GB then you need more memory. Running the HD like that will seriously hurt performance and eat battery life. If you are running an SSD the hit will not be so noticeable.

    I will update my macbook pro to the highest end macbook pro that Apple makes around mid next year. I will update the iMac to a 27in this Christmas. I refresh about every 3 years.
  5. josevem thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 4, 2013
    Thanks for the feedback! I actually hadn't given any thought to a VM. I'm glad you mentioned that.

    I think the most sensible, cost-effective approach may be the Mac mini with the dual displays as you suggest. I don't know exactly where the wind will be taking me after I complete my program, but I could always upgrade afterwards. Would I run into any issue running VirtualBox on the Mac mini?

    And you don't feel the lack of a discrete GPU will be a problem?


    Well right now my Macbook only has 4GB of memory, and since dabbling in design work I've observed some serious issues (lags, fans a' blazin', etc.).

    So you think anything over 8GB would be overkill? Is there any disadvantage to getting 16GB (or 32GB if I decide the iMac 27)?
  6. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    I wouldn't think so - the higher spec Mac Mini is pretty powerful.

    Not for web development. Its really 3D games, pro video and graphics apps (working with large images) that benefit from GPUs - and then you'd need to check that your software could take advantage of the GPU. If you want to push the boat out and run 3 displays then you should check that's supported.

    If you go for the iMac 27" or Mini you can painlessly upgrade the RAM if and when you need to - usually much more cheaply than by getting it from Apple.

    The iMac 21.5" and the retina MacBooks can't be upgraded. If I went for one of those, I'd go for 16GB rather than regret it later.

    Overall, though, it makes sense to get the best system you can reasonably afford. As a general rule, RAM and SSD are better investments than .5 GHz extra CPU speed.
  7. fig macrumors 6502a


    Jun 13, 2012
    Austin, TX
    I'm a working pro designer/developer and I end up doing most of my work from the couch with my 2008 13" Aluminum Macbook, mostly because I like my couch. It's a bit laggy when I get into high res files (the laptop, not the couch) but for 90% of my work it's just fine.

    My next laptop will be a 13" Air, they're now more than fast enough to handle most anything you can throw at them. If you decide to go with desktop grab a Mini with the Fusion drive and you're going to feel really, really fast (a dual 2.6ghz i7 Mini is my current desktop).
  8. josevem thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 4, 2013

    Thanks for your feedback. If I go with the Mini I was definitely going to do the Fusion Drive. I was on the fence about the MBA though, but some of this feedback (specifically about 8GB being enough), it might be worth an honest look. I think it could do the trick for school and do everything I need as I'm just starting out, plus I could use the savings to put towards an iMac down the road.


    Thanks for your feedback. This was incredibly helpful. I feel like I'm in a much better position to pull the trigger.
  9. woodlandtrek macrumors member

    Jan 21, 2008
    I'm a full-time web designer/developer and would recommend going with the mac mini. About half a year ago I upgraded from a 2010 MBP (2.4 C2D, 8GB) to a 2.6 i7 Mac Mini with a Fusion Drive. It came with 4GB of ram, which I upgraded to 10GB by replacing one of the 2GB with an 8GB module. The difference between the MBP and the Mini was amazing. I can run 2 virtualbox VMs, a few creative suite apps, Transmit, Sublime Text, and about 10 other apps, and the only thing I ever need to wait for is the external hard drive to spin up.

    The processor usage is rarely above idle, so you probably wouldn't notice much difference going for a dual core processor.

    Also, kind of ironically, the mini is one of the more upgradable macs, especially after your warranty runs out.
  10. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
  11. ezekielrage_99 macrumors 68040


    Oct 12, 2005
    13" MBA 8GB, i7, 256HDD and an external keyboard, mouse and monitor would be my suggestion.

    There are some rather good current specced out 13" MBA on the refurb store BTW.
  12. pppppenguin macrumors newbie

    Nov 3, 2009
    just going to weigh in on this. I know it might exceed your budget but have you given any thought to a mbpr 15? the 2880x1800 res may all but eliminate your need to go down the multi monitor route and having the res on hand may give you a new perspective on what your page will render at in the live environment at such a res. I tend to flip between two vm's and whatever other programs I am using at the time + web browsing at either 1920x1200 / 2880x1800 - text is small and controls are tiny but maybe a don't notice it so much as I generally use shortcuts for everything and zoom the areas I need to see fine detail.

    The mobility of a laptop over desktop will be a winner when out and about or in your case classes and you'll always have your personal machine in whatever environment you are in. I think you'll get away with a 256gb / 8gb old 650m machine if you can find one second user however if you go new i think you'll be limited to the more expensive (and over budget) 750m model if you want the dgpu.

    maybe something to consider if you can stretch to it and obviously justify it for secondary usages as a personal machine depending on what you do in your spare time.

    sorry for the grammar / layout of my text - it's been a long day :/
  13. cgk.emu macrumors 6502

    May 16, 2012
    You do not need a powerful computer for web design.
  14. thejadedmonkey macrumors 604


    May 28, 2005
    I'm finishing a cloud based SAAS project. I run multiple VM's at once, as well as some light photoshop work. I have 8gb of RAM, and my computer is from 2009. Anyone who tells you that you need more for web design is full of BS. The majority of the work you do will be less taxing on your computer than opening and viewing a few of your friends pics while chatting with Facebook messenger.

    Now if you plan on doing any mobile app development, I'd recommend something more, but otherwise I'd just wipe and reinstall OS X on your current mac, up the RAM, and you'll find you have a perfectly good computer to use.
  15. blanka macrumors 68000

    Jul 30, 2012
    What's your mobility demand? If it is like working in 2 places, the Mini with 2 displays is great and cheap.
    Mini + 2x Dell U2412M is about the same as similar MBP. But then you have two nice large 24 inch 1920x1200 screens, that offer lot of real estate for coding, and easy on the eyes. You can even pivot if you like.
    On the MPB you CAN select 1920x1200 working area, but then things are REALLY tiny.
    The Mini is really easy to carry. Lighter and smaller than MBP, equally fast and sans adapter. And in the cases I go to a hotel, other office etc., I always find a TV or monitor to hook up to. It only does not work if you're hardcore commuter.
  16. nitromac macrumors 6502

    Jul 29, 2012
    I'd get an MBP/MBA and a good external display instead of an iMac. You'll be getting more accurate color reproduction (fairly important for graphic design...) and a larger screen space to work with (very useful for code, especially HTML where lines sometimes get long).

    I do web development in Rubymine (rails apps) and run the local server all the time while having multiple files open in Photoshop, multiple tabs in Safari and Chrome, and an iOS simulator for testing on a mobile platform. 16GB is way more than enough for all this. That being said I only went with 16GB to future proof myself because this will be my machine for a long while.

    I'm stuck with 4GB on my Windows PC at home because DDR2 memory is too outdated and thus stupidly expensive nowadays. That definitely isn't enough for any of my creative work. And it's a shame because I use my PC all the time at home, macbook's only used at work and school.

    As for MBP vs MBA, it comes down to what ports you need, expandability, and screen size. I opted for the high res screen and upgraded the RAM and HDD myself later.
  17. trenthanover macrumors newbie

    Oct 4, 2013
    I would like to suggest you . . .13" MBA 8GB, i7, 512HDD and an external keyboard, mouse etc.. .
  18. Moshu macrumors member

    May 3, 2012
    I earn my living doing web development, both front-end and back-end and i've been doing it in the last 2 years on a 2012 MBA 4GB RAM 256 GB SSD with an external 24" monitor (1920 x 1200), keyboard and mouse.

    I'm running Windows in Parallels, which is like the most important software you will want as a web developer with a Mac.
    I occasionally use Photoshop and other demanding software, but the MBA can handle it decently.

    I am though considering moving to a 15" MB Pro 16 GB RAM 256 GB SSD or more, due to the fact that the virtual machine could for sure use more RAM, the fact that I want the 2 extra CPU cores (4 cores instead of the MBA 2 cores), and I need the processing power as I'm building complex websites with huge databases behind, which need processing, updating etc, all which takes time... on a 15" MB Pro will be much faster so I'll head that way soon.

    Best of luck to you, try to get at least 8 GB of RAM and if you consider moving around a lot and budget is a constrain, get a MBA.

    Don't worry too much about the SSD size, invest the money in RAM. The USB 3 ports are great, you can hook a 2.5" USB 3 Hard Drive with amazing results (i obtained about 120 MB/s when copying large files which is as good as an internal hard drive).

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17 December 4, 2013