In the world of schooling, there are many fields of study. However, not every laptop is built for the specific task you are asking it to do. Today we are comparing a couple of laptops for one of our readers (thank you!) named Susan.

My daughter is in college; her major is fine arts. She has asked for a strong graphics computer since her interest is leaning toward computer graphics. At this time the only computers with what looks like good graphic cards are for gaming and cost oodles of money we don’t have. Is there a way we can get what she needs with out spending a thousand or more?

This is a very good question, as we all know, college isn’t cheap, but you sometimes need proper tools to get the classwork completed. Let’s have a look at some machines that I think may get the task done, and well.

Apple MacBook Air – 11 and 13 inch

Frankly, you cannot suggest to me any other company that has been the face of professional computer graphics or design in the past, say, 20 years. Anything involving music, graphical design or artistry has a good chance of being designed or produced on a Mac. And the new MacBook Air is no different. While there is a larger battery available on the 13 inch model, they are mostly the same, other than the availability of the largest SSD HDD. Let’s go over a few features of why these machines are built for design.

I’ll start with the screen. With the 11 inch boasting FWXGA resolution at 1366 by 768, the 13 inch running WXGA+ resolution and the DisplayPort output allowing for an external monitor to be connected at 2560 by 1600, the MacBook Air has a ton of graphical prowess. Using the built in graphics on the 4th Generation Intel Processor, called Intel HD 5000, the MacBook Air has no qualms about pushing HD movies to the laptop’s screen, or editing a large digital file on an external WQXGA monitor. While the screen is smaller than most laptops, the fact you can purchase a separate monitor when required, to do higher resolution work on the same machine, is a certain positive.

MacBook Air design_unibody jpg

Let’s talk about battery life. The 11 inch claims 9 hours of use and the 13 inch claims 12 hours of use. While we can all understand that everything is different and certain programs detract more from the battery than others, 9 hours is a good long time for a true laptop to last. Not to mention these laptops weight in at sub 3 pounds, which is mighty impressive.

A con of these machines is that the memory can’t be upgraded past 8 GB of DDR3. While it sounds like that is a lot, when you are dealing with graphical design, some programs being used (like Adobe Photoshop for example) can chomp off quite a bit of RAM in order to hold information about the photo or digital art, and maintain the clipboard information during the editing process.

Just running on the history of Apple, and the MacBook in general, I’d say running with either of these models would be a good bet for a computer design machine.

Product: MacBook Air

Lenovo T440p

Back in 2005, after Lenovo completed the purchase of IBM’s personal computer division, I didn’t think it would last, personally. However, they have kept it running with the same mentality IBM did. Pump out reasonably priced, rugged laptops, with business tools and features, all including a good warranty. I’ve had the pleasure of using a few of them since then, and was pleasantly surprised with their performance and their owner’s praises. Their site is reminiscent of Gateway 2000 type customization, where you could change everything from processor type, to hard drive, to optical drive even. This is where Lenovo shines in this battle.

Using the tools on the site, you’ll find the “Select & Customize” button on every range of laptop. If you select the T440P you can choose any number of processors, RAM size, hard drive size and different graphics card. Let’s assume we’ve done some customizing, and that we’ve included more RAM and the NVIDIA graphics card, for a bit more power.

We are going to run the T440P with an Intel i5 Processor, 8 GB of RAM, the 500 GB HDD, and the NVIDIA GeForce GT 730M graphics card. This puts me right at $905. Let me go into a few reasons why I’m going to run the machine like this.

lenovo-laptop-thinkpad-t440p-front

First of all, computer design relies on graphics power. While the MacBook Air is using the on-board Intel HD 5000, the Lenovo ships with the younger and slower cousin of that, the HD 4600. I know it seems like only numbers, but I wouldn’t sacrifice $130 to end up with a machine worse at it’s job than the now, less expensive MacBook Air. The default screen selection is a FWXGA monitor with a resolution of 1366 by 768, and goes up to a 14 inch monitor with a 1920 by 1080 FHD resolution. Comparing apples to apples here (pun unintended) we’ve opted for the FWXGA screen.

You can also preview/create HD video up to 4x faster and perfect/share photos in less than half the time. Lenovo on the NVIDIA graphics card

This quote here shows the prowess of the NVIDIA card in this laptop. If you are doing anything with graphics, like computer design, a proper independent video card is always important, and can be the make or break point.

The RAM was bumped up to the 8 GB mark to compete with the MacBook here. My thoughts are that Mac OSX uses RAM a bit more efficiently than Windows, so having a bit more on the Lenovo could be beneficial as well.

The T440P ships with the Intel i3 if no customization is made, but I feel that there’s no reason to buy the laptop on an entry level processor when you are asking it to perform in the company of a prebuilt machine that doesn’t even have that low of an offering. Plus, the overall operating system feel will be enhanced by this upgrade to an Intel i5 processor.

This machine boasts a 6 cell battery claiming 13 hours of use. Even if we get 9, that’s a good run, especially with the upgraded video card, as that will slurp additional power. You can upgrade to a 9 cell battery for additional battery life, but I don’t think the gains are worth the price in this case.

The only con of this device, especially in comparison to the MacBook Air, is the SSD HDD. While the MacBook only contains a 128 GB SSD, the speed difference between a standard hard drive and an SSD is monumental. The caveat is as such; do you skimp on the video card and have a potentially useless machine for computer design, and have a fast hard disk, or get the upgraded graphics card, and upgrade the hard drive at a later time, to an SSD (which is possible). I would always choose the thing that can be installed at time of build, but not later, to be the customized piece, hence the slower hard drive.

This machine was the only one I’ve found that could even compete on the level asked of both the MacBook and the original question. Dell, Gateway, and the like seem not to offer the “Customize & Build” options as I remembered in the past.

Product: Lenovo T440P

Computer Design Laptop Conclusion

This was difficult. Of course someone may find something in a week that compares nicely to one of these laptops, but right now I’m not seeing anything but these machines that meets the sub-$1ooo mark. However, for the price point, I don’t think you’ll find something better than these two machines, unless you go used, which, without a warranty, can be dicey.

For the history, I’d go with MacBook. I’m not a fan of built-in graphics of any nature, but it seems this Intel chipset isn’t too shabby. For customization, I’m all over Lenovo. You can make this machine almost $2000 with all the add-ons, or you can add just what you need and make it work for you, as we’ve done here.

Other than the cons listed, I don’t think you’ll get into trouble with either of these machines at this price point. Big plus on the Lenovo for further upgrades however, both on RAM and a different HDD. This can renew the machine and give it another year of use down the road, which could make this preliminary searching all worth it!

About the author

Jeff Trocchio

Apple IIe green screen is whence I came. Where I go, only technology knows. If its Automotive, Mobile, Gaming or Computer tech I'll try my best to give my thoughts on it.