~ Updated on: 2020-02-03 (Original Post: 2017-07-14)

We are often asked: what is the best computer for photo editing? If you have the cash to burn, you can simply go out and buy the best computer to run Photoshop and Lightroom. In the real world, however, buying a computer for photo editing is a daunting and expensive experience; especially for new photographers who have just started. After buying a camera, lenses, and all the extras, your cash reserves might be depleted. The reality is, that all your expensive camera gear will come to nothing if you don’t have a reliable and fast computer system on which to edit your photos.

In this article, which we update regularly, we shed some light on what we think is the best computer for photo editing and hope to save you a lot of time, money, and heartache…


Desktop, or Laptop?

high end desktop pc

“High-End Desktop PC”

Another uncertainty is whether you should buy a Desktop Computer or a Laptop?

The first question you should ask yourself is; do you travel around a lot, or do you mostly work from home? Desktop PC’s have great upgrade potential but are a hassle to move around. Laptops, despite their limitations in terms of hardware and upgradeability, are better for people who are constantly on the move. 

Another aspect you should take into consideration is screen size. Editing on a big monitor is much more pleasant than struggling with a smaller laptop screen. If you consider buying a laptop only, then also consider buying an additional large screen for photo editing. 

What most professional photographers do, is buy a laptop for on-the-road work, and then have a beast of a system at home or office, for editing that demands a lot of disk space and processing power.

We recommend staying away from All-in-One PCs (where the hardware is built into the screen) as they seriously lack upgradeability.  It’s also impractical for photographers who need multiple drives for storage. The general exception, however, would be the Microsoft Surface and the iMac, which both have impressive specs and offer excellent monitors. These high-end, very expensive machines, will last years before needing an upgrade.


PC, or MAC?

for editing, the iMac will run the latest photoshop and lightroom apps seamlessly

For editing, the latest iMac will run the latest Photoshop and Lightroom apps seamlessly.

One of the most frequently asked questions and a widely-debated topic is: which is better, Windows or macOS?

My advice is, get the system that you are most comfortable with. I grew up with a PC and am often a bit confused when using Mac. However, the opposite will be true for someone that knows their way around Mac. One definite advantage of Mac is the more “limited” product range compared to the vast variety of Windows-based PCs. In other words, if you buy a new Mac, which only comes with medium – high-end specs, you can be pretty sure that it will be able to run your editing programs seamlessly; whereas an uninformed user, might buy a low-spec PC, which can’t do the job. On the other hand, if you do your research and buy a proper PC, you will get more “bang for your buck” as well as future upgradeability.  


  Windows PC Mac


  • Best
  • Limited
  • Vulnerable to viruses and malware due to the open nature of Windows
  • Less susceptible to viruses and malware due to the exclusivity of macOS
Battery Reliability
  • Depending on the brand
  • Best 
Affordability (SA) 
  • Affordable
  • Expensive 
Availability of Peripherals 
  • Best 
  • Limited 
  • Windows has a greater variety of software available, especially if you are into gaming
  • macOS has a very limited choice of software as it is a specialised operating system
  • Third-party software for syncing across devices
  • An interconnected, but exclusive, ecosystem for all Apple devices
  • More susceptible to random errors/freezing
  • Less prone to errors


Hardware Requirements

The five most important hardware components for editing in Lightroom and Photoshop are:

  • Storage Drives (SSDs and HDDs)
  • Memory (RAM)
  • The Processor (CPU)
  • The Graphics card (GPU)
  • Monitor


1. Storage Drives

a photo of a samsung solid state drive

“Solid State Drive (SSD)”

The Hard Disk Drive (HDD) has been around for so long that all drives are generally referred to as Hard Drives. In recent years, however, the Solid State Drive (SSD) has become ever more popular. In a nutshell, the difference between a Hard Disk Drive and a Solid State Drive is that the one has rotating disks inside it and the other is solid, with no moving parts. This, in effect, causes the SSD to be able to access data extremely fast, whereas the HDD has to wait for the rotating disks to warm up before you can access the files.

I’m listing the storage drive first as I believe it to be the most important part that will save you time. It determines the speed at which the computer can access the data stored on the drive. This is where Solid State Drives come in handy as it can reduce your computer start-up (boot) time to under 10 seconds! If that got your attention, then the next question is, probably; how much storage capacity should my SSD have? SSD’s generally have smaller capacities than their older HDD counterparts and the larger ones are quite pricey!

That is why we recommend using an SSD to run your Operating System, software,  Lightroom catalogue and cache drives while using a large capacity hard drive for storage. Typically, a 500GB SSD will be adequate for your OS, Photoshop, Lightroom, and any other software you might be using. We then recommend getting a second or even third Hard Drive of  2 – 4 TB which you will then use as storage for all your photos, data, and documents. You will need an additional external hard drive(s) to backup your Photos and Lightroom Catalog(s). 

Minimum Specs

Recommended Specs

2 Hard Drives:

  • 2-4 TB HDD to run the OS, and hold your data, program files, and photos
  • 2-4 TB External HDD (Backup)

3 Hard Drives: 

  • 500 GB SSD or higher (System and Lightroom catalogue) 
  • 2-4 TB HDD (Photo storage)
  • 2-4 TB External HDD (Backup)


2. Memory (RAM)

make sure you have a minimum of 16gb ram if you are running the latest cloud applications i.e. photoshop cc and lightroom classic

“We recommend 16GB RAM if you are running the latest Creative Cloud applications i.e. Photoshop CC and Lightroom Classic.”

RAM is the second most important hardware, as it increases the number of tasks the CPU can handle at the same time. Simply opening Lightroom or Photoshop uses around 1 GB RAM each. Once you open a file (PS) or start scrolling through your pictures (LR) they each start using up to 4 GB RAM. Combined with the Operating system using about 2GB RAM for itself to run the latest Lightroom Classic together with Photoshop, we recommend a minimum of 16GB RAM. Anything less will cause your PC to slow down or even stop responding; especially when carrying out strenuous tasks like creating an HDR or Panorama.

Minimum Specs

Recommended Specs

Not Recommended

  • 12 GB DDR4 2400MHZ or higher
  • 16 – 64 GB DDR4 2400MHZ
  • Anything less than 8 GB RAM


3. Processor (CPU)

intel core i7 best cpu for photo editing

“Intel Core-i7 CPU”

The CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the part the computer that is commonly referred to as the “brains” of the computer. It is responsible for carrying out all the tasks you (or any software) give. How effective Lightroom will work when applying filters or adjusting sliders, depends on how good the CPU is. Adobe’s software is usually built to better support Intel products. Therefore we recommend the Intel “Core-I” CPU Range. Don’t buy anything that has “Pentium” or “Celeron” in the name, unless you like wasting time or hate yourself!

From benchmarks available on the net, and from testing it ourselves, it seems Lightroom prefers CPU’s with faster internal clock-speeds. This is great news, as it means that you will get better performance from an affordable Quad Core i5 running at a clock speed of 3.8GHz, or a Core i7 running at a clock speed of 4.2GHz than what you would get from a ridiculously expensive Core i9 with 18 cores running at a clock speed of 3.2GHz. 

Interestingly, this seems to be true for Photoshop as well. Therefore, if you mainly use Photoshop and Lightroom, and are not running any other high-end applications that require many cores, you can stick to the more affordable i5 or i7 CPUs!

To quickly see what generation an Intel CPU belongs to, look at the first out of 4 digits after the brand name. For example, Intel Core i7 – 6700. The “6” in 6700 indicates that it is a Sixth Generation Intel CPU.

Minimum Required Specs

Recommended Specs

Not Recommended

  • 6th-gen Intel Core-i5 / i7 or higher
  • 8th-gen Intel Core-i5 / i7 or the equivalent AMD Ryzen processor or higher
  • Core-i3 or less
  • Anything with “Pentium” or “Celeron” in the name


4. Graphics Card (GPU)

a photo of the nvidia geforce useful for photo editing

“NVIDIA Geforce Graphics Card”

Both Photoshop and Lightroom Classic will benefit from having a fast, dedicated graphics card. Although Photoshop has been supporting graphics hardware acceleration for some time now, previous versions of Lightroom were under-performing with the graphics processor turned on. However, it seems that the latest version Lightroom Classic is now taking advantage of the graphics processor. We recommend you enable it and see what it does. Note that if Lightroom decides your graphics card is not strong enough for hardware acceleration, it will automatically disable this feature completely, to avoid negative performance issues.

For editing, we recommend a dedicated graphics card with at least 2 GB VRAM. If you’re using large, fancy pants, high-resolution 2K (QHD) or 4K (UHD) monitors, it is recommended that you get one of NVIDIA’s new RTX series graphics cards to keep up with the high demand a monitor like that requires. These new RTX cards feature special drivers called “Studio Drivers” that are exclusive to the RTX series and specifically tuned to improve the performance of professional photo and video editing software. If you plan on buying or already bought one of the new RTX series cards, be sure to enable the Studio Drivers from within the GeForce Experience software.

Recommending a specific graphics card is tricky, especially since new cards are released frequently. However, we recommend buying a mid-range to high-end NVIDIA, or Radeon card, that supports DirectX 12 or OpenGL 3.3, or later: 

Minimum Required Specs

Recommended Specs

  • Dedicated onboard graphics
  • NVIDIA GeForce 1050, 1060, 1070, 1080, 1650, 1660, 2060, 2070, 2080 or equivalent Radeon. 
  • 2 – 4 GB Dedicated VRAM


5. Monitors

photo of a premium 27 inch QHD dell monitor for photo editing

“Dell 27 inch QHD Monitor”

Buying a proper high-resolution display with accurate colour is essential for photo editing. With Quad-HD (QHD) and Ultra-HD (UHD) monitors on the rise, we can now view our photos with crisp, sharp details. QHD and UHD resolution typically range from 2560 x 1440 to 3840 x 2160. Unfortunately, in the South African context, these monitors are expensive, but getting one now will be more “future proof”. If you’re on a tight budget go for at least a Full HD screen (1920 x 1080). In the case of Windows-based laptops, make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of buying one that supports a lesser resolution than Full HD.

This brings me to another important aspect. Does size really matter? For photo editing, it does! We recommend getting a minimum size of 27 inches or consider getting two 24-inch screens, which is perfect for multitasking and editing. If you have the cash to splash, then consider spoiling yourself with at least a 32-inch ultra-wide, curved monitor and make sure it supports UHD resolution. It will be expensive, but being surrounded by so much real estate will be utopian!

Another aspect you should consider is the screen technology, which determines the image quality, colour accuracy and viewing angles. Go for a backlit LED screen with IPS technology, or similar technologies like PLS (Samsung) or AHVA. Stay away from TN and VA panels, which don’t cut it for editing.

Finding a screen that offers colour accuracy and a wide range of colour (gamut) is equally critical. The two most important colour spaces offered in screens are sRGB and Adobe RGB. sRGB is the general standard for the Internet and most software applications but covers a limited colour range compared to Adobe RGB. Adobe RGB was developed to represent the full range of colours achievable on CMYK printers. Even though Adobe RGB covers a wider range of colours, it might be counterproductive in that Windows and other software applications will show the colours incorrectly. Photoshop, however, will display Adobe RGB colour space perfectly, whereas Lightroom uses an even larger colour space, ProPhoto RGB, which is not yet supported by monitors.  If you use Lightroom mostly, then the difference between an sRGB or Adobe RGB monitor will be negligible. 

Some professional, top of the range monitors offer Adobe RGB and even built-in hardware calibration, to assure absolute colour accuracy. These high-end monitors can cost tens of thousands of Rands and are overkill for the average photographer. If you wouldn’t spend that much money on a professional screen, consider buying or borrowing an optional calibration tool, such as the Spyder Pro, or X-Rite ColorMunki and buy a monitor that covers 99% – 100% of the sRGB colour space. 

Key specs to look for in a monitor:

Panel Technology 
  • IPS
  • PLS
  • AHVA
  • FHD 1920 x 1080
  • QHD 2560 x 1440
  • UHD 3840 x 2160
  • Desktop: 27″ and larger 
  • Laptop: 15″ and larger
Colour Space
  • sRGB 99 – 100% coverage
  • Adobe RGB (Expensive)


A note about Colour Management and Workflow:

If you are considering professional commercial photography, where colour accuracy – from shooting to print – will be of the utmost importance, I recommend reading John Fox’s article on Colour Management. This is perhaps one of the most comprehensive articles you will ever find on the topic.


6. Input Devices


  • A critical piece of hardware that is commonly overlooked.  Having a good mouse goes a long way in speeding up and easing retouching. We recommend getting yourself a Gaming Mouse, which will offer ergonomics and improved control. Some gaming mouse devices, even come with additional weights, which can improve accuracy when performing precision tasks! Finally, remember to get yourself a proper mousepad, which will enable you to use the mouse with increased accuracy on any surface.


Card Reader:

  • A compatible USB 3.1 card reader that can read the type of card (s) your camera uses, will save you the hassle of connecting your camera to the PC every time you download photos. 


Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS): 

  • To add an extra layer of protection, you can safeguard your setup by adding a UPS, which allows you to save your work, and safely turn off your computer in the event of a power failure.



Recommended Specs 

Buying a machine according to the specs below will assure fluid and relatively “painless” editing: 





  • 500 GB SSD or larger
  • Alternatively1-2 TB HDD (Budget choice)
  • Additional external HDD to back up your photos and Lightroom catalogue
  • 3 x Hard Drives 
    • 500 GB SSD or larger (System, Lightroom catalogue, cache)
    • 2-4 TB HDD (Photo storage)
    • Additional External HDD to back up your photos and Lightroom catalogue

Memory (RAM)

  • 12 GB or more  
  • 16 – 32 GB

Processor (CPU)

  • Intel Core-i5 / i7, 8th-gen or the equivalent AMD Ryzen processor or higher
  • Intel Core-i5 / i7, 8th-gen or the equivalent AMD Ryzen 7 1700 or higher

Graphics Card (GPU)

  • Onboard Graphics similar to a desktop with 2-4 GB dedicated VRAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce 1050, 1060, 1070, 1080, 1650, 1660, 2060, 2080 or equivalent Radeon.  
  • Minimum of 2-4 GB VRAM. The more VRAM a graphics card has, the better.


  • 15 inch or larger
  • 1920 x 1080 (FHD)
  • 27 inch or larger
  • 1920x 1080 (FHD) or 2560×1440 (QHD)
  • IPS, PLS or AHVA panel
  • 99 – 100% sRGB coverage


  • Gaming mouse and pad
  • Gaming mouse and pad
  • Compatible USB 3.1 card reader
  • UPS


How can we help you?

I hope that this article has shed some light on the hardware side of photo editing. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions, or connect with us on our Facebook Group

We also strongly recommend that you read our article on Getting more speed in Lightroom Classic

Below are a few other links, related to this post you should read: