Choosing a laptop with programming and photography in mind (reloaded)


This is sort of a reboot of this thread, but well, this is two years later… So, I’m looking for a laptop with:

  • A decent CPU
  • Around 16GB or RAM
  • A 14-16" display, doing at least 1080p, and good color rendering
  • An Ethernet port
  • A SD card reader
  • A SSD+HDD (both reasonably easy to replace/upgrade: standard parts, not soldered)
  • A decent keyboard

The not really important factors: weight, battery life, thickness, trackpad.

It will be used with Linux, but since it seems I can re-use tthe OEM Windows licence for a VM that runs on it, a Windows pre-load is OK.

Any inputs?

(Pat David) #2

I’ve been a fan of the Dell XPS laptops. I have one for work (XPS13) that I was able to purchase from Dell with Ubuntu installed (and supported). In the US they’re referred to as “developers edition”:

I’ve not had any experience with the other systems. The color rendering was pretty darn good on my XPS 13 (~98% or so of sRGB covered, but I do need to re-profile the display soon).

(darix) #3

Thinkpad … for the simple reasons: trackpoint. matte screen :stuck_out_tongue:

(Mica) #4

(Alberto) #5

thinkpad screens suck though – I have one (t460s). dell latitudes have much better screens, still non-glossy, and overall the feeling is very similar to moder-day thinkpads. also the trackpoint comes close. note I also had a dell latitude (e7450 iirc), but then I “upgraded” to a tp just because I had the chance and I’ve always been a tp ‘fanboy’. in retrospect, I should have kept the dell – maybe a bit worse keyboard and trackpad, but much better screen. btw no problem with Linux on either.


I have a ASUS G551JW laptop which meets all these requirements, plus a matte IPS display (which is great for photo post-processing). It plays very nicely with Linux (Ubuntu in my case) and I am extremely satisfied with it since I bought it 3+ years ago. I am sure its successors (or equivalent models in N-series) would be a good choice for you. The only drawback is that it lacks a dedicated “End” button which can be a bit annoying during programming.

(Andrew Keech) #7

I’ve got an older W520 (blessed hand-me-down), and it’s a wide-gamut screen with a low glare coating on it. It’s not a full-blast color reference monitor, but it’s a heap better than many cheap sRGB screens I’ve profiled for other people for that use.

Also for the OP, if you’ve got a budget there are the HP Zbooks as another option to consider, but I have no personal experience with them.


My job PC is a P50, the successor of the W series…


My current (work) laptop lacks Home and End keys… Whenever possible I program uisng an external keyboard.

(Alessandro Amato Del Monte (Aadm)) #11

I am also interested in getting a good laptop for Darktable (and other routine tasks, but Darktable is the most demanding app).

I am now using an old Lenovo Thinkpad X260 (i5, 8Gb, onboard Intel graphic chip, 256Gb SSD, full HD 12.5" screen). This is where I’m testing linux distributions and the other various bits to complete my transition from years of Mac. So far settled on Ubuntu 18.04, very smooth and clean, compares favourably to Mac OS! The prvious distro was Manjaro, just because I wanted to save space and make a fast machine, but honestly Ubuntu runs much better (e.g., when I put the laptop to sleep, when I wake it up it’s instant-on now).

I thought a Dell XPS15 could be my next one. Good looking machine, powerful, external GPU that is a plus in Darktable (can you confirm that?). But I’m not sure about two things:

  1. new XPS vs last years’ model: the new has Radeon RX Vega 870 4Gb as GPU, the old has a Geforce GTX1050 4Gb. Which one is better? Is the new Radeon well supported in Linux/Ubuntu?

  2. normal HD vs touch, 4K screen; big jump in price with the 4K, plus it covers full AdobeRGB spectrum. Don’t care about touch, about 4K I’m not sure (I would use it with the whole UI scaled it donw to have more PPI), I would probably connect it to an external monitor most of the time. But if the 1920x1080 display is crappy then I’ll get the 4K. So any experiences on this? Would you recommend one or the other?



This is exactly what I do :wink:

(Alberto) #13

I’d strongly suggest that your reconsider the “normal HD” choice. An SSD is probably the single most important/noticeable upgrade you can possibly have on a machine. It’s a night-and-day difference vs a regular (or even a fast) HD. Especially if you are already used to a SSD, going back to a spinning disk will be painful IMHO.

(Alessandro Amato Del Monte (Aadm)) #14

Thanks Alberto but I wasn’t talking about HD=hard drive vs SSD! I dont’ even think that Dell XPS have that option about hard drives, it’s all SSDs I believe.

I was talking displays, HD=1920x1080 pixels, and I wondered if it was worth the upgrade to 4K resolution that from one side costs a lot, from the other gives apparently ampler color gamut (specs say “full AdobeRGB”) but then what’s the situation with Linux and hi-dpi displays, also I don’t really need a touch display etc.

Sorry for the confusion, I thought it was clear from the context but probably it wasn’t!

(Alberto) #15

…of course :man_facepalming:
Indeed, it was clear for everybody else I believe :blush:
sorry for the noise (I was reading it as “I will trade an SSD for a better display”)

(Mica) #16

Gnome and KDE don’t do fractional scaling yet, so 4k might be slightly clunky. The extra resolution plus dedicated graphics will mean your batter life will be pretty poor. What’s the color space coverage of the regular HD screen?

(Morgan Hardwood) #17

KDE DIsplay Configuration 5.12.4
KDE Frameworks 5.45.0
Qt 5.9.4 (built against 5.9.4)

Scaling from 1x to 3x with a resolution of 0.1 seems to work pretty well in KDE.

More screenshots of intermediate steps here:

(Mica) #18

Color me wrong, I’m glad KDE supports fractional scaling.

(Morgan Hardwood) #19

@aadm have you physically come into contact with a Dell XPS15?

I ask because I have a Clevo W860CU, which gets rebranded and sold for a higher price as a Dell Alienware M15X, marketed in 2010 as the best gaming laptop one could buy. In retrospect, that was a bad purchase. I thought it would be nice to have a ferrari of a laptop which I could use to process photographs fast and yet be portable. It’s not portable. It weighs a lot and is not the kind of thing you would take anywhere with you because of its weight, because the battery lasts under 45m when new and dies within 3 months (I’ve been through a few, then gave up), because it’s too expensive to take with you anywhere, and it’s too noisy (CPU + GPU fans + disks) to use at night when others are trying to sleep, and even if you’re alone the noise can get too much without headphones. A desktop would have been way cheaper, far more upgradeable, quieter, and just as not-portable.

I’ve been using the ASUS ZenBook UX305 for something like 2 years now, it’s not fast for crunching numbers but its faster than my Clevo at anything else, the deskop manager (KDE) flies and using it is pure joy. Battery life is ~10 hours. I work on it (programming) and I process all of my photos on it. Processing a 24MP photo in RT takes on average 3-12 seconds. More info here: Choosing a laptop with photography in mind

Consider this before investing in one of these ferrari (tractor?) laptops, you might be better off with a desktop.
The owls are not what they seem.

(Mica) #20

At least here in the States, the XPS line is pretty portable:

(Morgan Hardwood) #21

I hope you’re right @paperdigits, but I read the last two comments at the bottom of that page and they did not bode well…