The Best Desktops for Photo Editing [January 2021]
Anyone who works in virtually any visual creative field knows that there are only certain types of computers that have the processing power and graphics abilities to get the job done right. Whether you work as a salaried photo editor for National Geographic or a freelance Photoshop guru for a variety of print and online publications, every professional visual artist need the right machine in order to bring out the best from both photos and videos in a variety of environments and mediums.
Of course, you could invest in a MacBook Pro and spend over three-thousand dollars in order to get all the bells and whistles you need, but unless you travel on a regular basis and need your computer for other pro-level tasks, you’d be throwing away a lot of your money. In fact, it’s possible to land a desktop computer that can provide all if not more of the processing and graphics power you need at a fraction of the price, and there are a variety of HD monitors that you can pick from in order to ensure that the accuracy of your edits is unparalleled when it comes to both quality and style.
In fact, even if you do most of your edits on a laptop, it’s important to be able to compare the final result on a desktop using a slightly different processor and graphics card, in order to ensure that your work translates properly on different machines. We’ll walk you through what to look for in a desktop, plus take a look at some of the best desktops for photo editing you can buy in 2021.
What to Look For in a Desktop
If you’re buying a desktop with photo editing in mind, it’s important to know what you’re looking for before you go in. Not all desktops are created equal, and even if something seems like a good deal, it might be missing out on a key component to make your photo editing experience truly shine. There are four areas you need to keep an eye out for when shopping for a desktop, though depending on how often you edit photos, your needs may change.
- CPU: It’s important to know what to look for in modern processors. The majority of computers sold today are powered by Intel CPUs, though AMD is making a major comeback with their Ryzen line of processors. Photoshop and similar photo editing tools primarily use your computer’s CPU for most of their tasks, so this is truly the most important on our list. Keep an eye out for at least a 9th-gen Intel Core i5 processor in your desktop, though a Core i7 or Core i9 will serve you better. On the AMD side, look for a third-gen Ryzen 5 at minimum, though the Ryzen 7 or Ryzen 9 will serve you better.
- RAM: In 2021, applications and operating systems have become more memory-hungry than ever, and that includes Photoshop. If you’re looking to edit photos, you’ll need a desktop with at least 16GB of RAM, and if you can afford it, you may want to consider stepping up to 32GB.
- Hard Drive: Obviously, having a large drive to store your photos is a necessity for anyone looking for a desktop perfect for Photoshop. However, a lot of cheaper and older desktop PCs still rely on older disk-based hard drives that can slow down your performance when editing. When you shop for a new desktop, you’re looking for something with an SSD in it. Unlike traditional disk-based hard drives, SSDs use integrated circuits without moving parts, which means they’re generally considered more reliable. They also give your laptop a huge speed boost in day-to-day performance. Unfortunately, SSDs still tend to run more expensive for less storage than traditional hard drives, but if you can find a desktop that uses both SSDs and HDDs, you’re far better off than just relying on a HDD by itself.
- GPU: Although photo editing primarily relies on your CPU, your computer’s graphics card shouldn’t be overlooked, especially for anyone looking to edit videos in addition to photos. Most users will be satisfied with either an integrated GPU, but the graphics card inside your computer can really assist when performing heavy tasks that the CPU might be too weak on its own to handle. For that reason, it’s important not to ignore the strength of your GPU when building or buying a computer.
Remember, although buying a computer can save a lot of time, if you’re up for a challenge, you can also build your own desktop. With that said, these are our top desktops for editing
If you’re starting completely from scratch, without a monitor, a keyboard and mouse, or speakers, you’ll probably want to look for an all-in-one option, which grants you access to a powerful computer without the compromises of a tower desktop. Dell’s All-in-One Inspiron PC is the perfect computer in this category, because it includes everything you need to get started with your photo work. Since the hardware is built into the 27″ monitor, along with an included mouse and keyboard, there’s nothing else to buy once this computer arrives at your house.
Powering that 1080p display is a quad-core 11th-gen Intel Core i7-1165G7. It’s not the most powerful processor on the market, but it’s more than enough for running Photoshop or other photo editing software. More important than that processor, of course, is the 12GB of RAM included to help manage your work as you edit photos. If you’re working with larger photo files, including RAW file formats, you’ll want to make sure you have at least 8GB of RAM, so seeing this AIO model from Dell come with double that is fantastic. Just as important is the included storage, and while the 1TB HDD isn’t the fastest in the world, it thankfully includes a 256GB SSD for speedy boot times and application launching.
On the back of the device is your port selection, an important piece of any computer. It’s a solid lineup for any PC in 2021, especially with the improvements made in this new model over last year’s . Instead, you’ll find just a single USB 2.0 port, three USB 3.1 ports, and a single USB Type C port. There’s two HDMI ports—one HDMI-in port and one HDMI-out port—a headphone and microphone jack, an audio line out, an ethernet port, and most importantly, a 3-in-1 card reader that supports SD, SDHC, and SDXC cards. There’s also a webcam along the top of the device.
While the Inspiron AIO from Dell might not be the prettiest or most powerful device on this list, it’s a fantastic computer for photo editing that makes it easy to get started. Plus, for under $1,000, you can use the savings you get from some of the more expensive desktops on Amazon to pick up a Photoshop subscription.
- Huge amount of storage
- Everything included
- Good display
- Not really upgradable
- Not as powerful as a Core i7
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, you’re undoubtedly familiar with Apple’s famed iMac computers, which combine incredible processing power with a gorgeous display in a single, sleek all-in-one unit. Well it turns out you don’t have to dish out an exorbitant amount of cash in order to enjoy everything iMacs have to offer. This incredibly stylish and powerful Acer machine is ideal for photo and video editors who don’t want to break the bank in order to enjoy pro-level desktop computing, and it even comes loaded with a variety of tools that make it slightly superior to the iMac when it comes to visual editing functionality.
Featuring 12GB of RAM that allows for extensive multitasking with pro-level applications, this stylish and compact desktop and monitor combo comes loaded with enough power to conquer even the most difficult visual jobs. You can choose between multiple hard drive sizes in order to fit your workload, and a 9th Generation Intel Core i5 9400T quad-core processor provides high-efficiency renders at blistering speeds. (Your processor will also automatically kick into TurboBoost mode when you need that extra power for multiple tasks.)
One of the most impressive features of the Acer Aspire Z24 is its screen, which features a 23.8-inch full HD display (1920 x 1080) and a widescreen edge-to-edge LED back-lit projection—making it ideal for editors who want to attain the most realistic image possible without sacrificing their light sources. The color is also surprisingly rich without deceiving the eye—an all too common problem for visual editors who want to have their images transferred flawlessly to glossy print.
You’ll enjoy the latest 802.11AC wireless system that provides a smooth Internet experience and connection speeds, along with Gigabit Ethernet LAN and Bluetooth 4.2 technology for added functionality and connectivity for your various devices. This computer also comes loaded with a variety of ports—including an HDMI output, USB 2.0 ports, USB 3.1 ports, and more. Its pre-installed Windows 10 platform also comes with a series of features that make it easy to quickly edit on the fly, without having to deal with a sea of self-written automation that only ends up complicating matters further.
- Good display
- Half the price of Dell's AIO
- Slower storage
Don’t be fooled by its small size. Although this desktop computer may not look traditional, it packs an amazing amount of power and all of the connectivity options you’d need for virtually any visual project. Powered by an 10th generation 6-core Intel Core i7 processor running up to 4.7GHz, this tiny yet mighty machine is able to take on pro-level image and video rendering projects like no other. It packs 16GB of memory for advanced multitasking and app support, along with high-bandwidth RAM that can smoothly run your games and editing applications with ease. It also comes loaded with a 512GB solid state hard drive that’s much faster than traditional spinning drives, and helps ensure that it’s virtually impossible for your data to get lost (since it’s much easier to recover in the incredibly unlikely event of a crash).
You’ll also enjoy fast, long-range WLAN 802.11 connections along with Bluetooth 5.0 functionality, and there are two USB ports along with an HDMI out that can be used to connect a monitor. This unit is also small enough to take with you on the go without issue—making it ideal for people who want to shuttle their work between home and the office.
- Small size
- SSD support
- Warranty covered by third-party
- No included accessories
Dell is a trusted name in the world of computers—it’s why their Inspiron all-in-one manages to grace the top of our list. Still, if you already have an external monitor, keyboard, and speakers, it doesn’t make sense to pay money for an all-in-one. For about the same price, Dell’s XPS 8930 is a complete workhorse, one designed to carry out everything you need in your day to day editing structure.
Where would a computer roundup be without a Dell—those trusty workhorse machines that can carry out an endless number of tasks for a reasonable price. This machine does just that, thanks in part to a super-fast 9th Generation Intel i7-10700 8-core processor that’s capable of carrying out a seemingly limitless number of tasks simultaneously, along with 32GB of DDR4 2666MHz RAM and a 512GB solid state drive, complete with a 2TB hard drive for storage. Yes, this machine is the most expensive on our list, but for as powerful as it is, it’s a great desktop for editing photos. The only drawback is the lack of dedicated graphics card, but if you’re focused primarily on editing still photos, not videos, you should be good to go.
- 32GB of RAM
- Fast 8-core processor
- Tons of storage
- A bit expensive
- Needs accessories
- No dedicated graphics card